In October 2018, four years after shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted guilty of second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated violence with a firearm. He was sentenced to only six years and nine months in jail in January 2019. While the punishment is obviously lenient in light of the multitude of offences committed, what little justice was being served came to an end this week when officials revealed that Van Dyke will be freed early after completing less than half of his term. Now, campaigners are pushing for the federal prosecution of this murdered officer.
"You've got a white guy who killed a child on tape, shooting him 16 times in cold blood," neighbourhood leader William Calloway said. "And the federal government has made no attempt to intervene. That is unjust. That is a kind of racism. We have to call it by its true name."
Calloway and other activists are now pushing for the Chicago Transit Authority to be shut down statewide until their demands for the city's top federal prosecutor are granted.
"We are here because we are upset," another protester said at a weekend rally. "We are repulsed. We have been traumatised and are in pain."
This case has been dogged by controversy since Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan opted to sentence Van Dyke on the second-degree murder charge rather than the 16 counts of aggravated violence that would have carried a lengthier term.
When we first reported on Van Dykes's brief term, we projected he would be released by now, having served less than half of the sentence. Regrettably, our assessment was right.
Van Dyke said that he feared for his life that fatal night as the adolescent moved slowly down the street, attempting to flee. However, the incident's videotape was so incriminating that the officer was prosecuted.
On October 20, 2014, when surrounded by authorities and accused of breaking into automobiles, McDonald attempted to flee from a group of Chicago cops when Officer Jason Van Dyke from his patrol car. McDonald was armed with a tiny knife and rushed at Officer Van Dyke, according to first accounts. Van Dyke shot the boy in the chest out of self-defence, fearful for his life and the lives of his fellow cops.
McDonald, though, was walking away when Van Dyke opened fire, according to witness testimony and police dashcam footage. Van Dyke kept shooting his firearm until his magazine was empty after McDonald dropped to the ground in a near-fetal posture. While Van Dyke was reloading his pistol, another cop had to urge him to stop shooting at the dying youngster.
McDonald's autopsy found that Van Dyke shot him 16 times, striking him twice in the back, seven times in the arms, twice in the right leg, once on either side of the chest, and once in the right hand, scalp, and neck with a single bullet. Nine of the sixteen entry incisions curved downward. None of the other five cops on the scene discharged their firearms.
Before McDonald's family could launch a lawsuit, the city offered them a $5 million settlement on the condition that they agree not to publicly disclose the teen's dashcam video. After 13 months of withholding the film, the city got a court order to disclose it. McDonald did not lunge at the cops before the deadly shot, according to dashcam footage released by the city in 2015.
Burger King district manager Jay Darshane accused authorities of destroying surveillance video after spending over three hours at the fast-food business on the night of the incident in May 2015. Darshane said that the camera equipment was operational, but 86 minutes of film from 9:13 p.m. to 10:39 p.m. vanished after the cops departed.
Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder, fired his first shot at 9:57 p.m. Darshane said affirmatively when asked whether he was convinced the cops destroyed the tape of the killing.
Although 86 minutes of surveillance tape were missing, including the time McDonald was shot, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez maintained the material had not been tampered with.
"We had no clue they'd sit and erase stuff," Darshane said. "I mean, we were only attempting to assist police officers."
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, unable to explain why the 86 minutes vanished, blamed the missing data on technological issues. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said at a news conference that no one tampered with the Burger King surveillance film. When Alvarez was questioned about who performed the forensic tests, he did not seem to know.
"That's all I'm going to say about this," Alvarez answered.
Although the police department and state's attorney maintain the officers did not remove those 86 minutes, keep in mind that this information comes from the same policemen who first lied about the incident and the same authorities who for 13 months withheld the police dashcam footage.
As with George Floyd's murder, Laquan McDonald's killing galvanised support for police reform around the nation, as well as in Chicago. Following the uproar surrounding his murder, the city of Chicago was obliged to reveal years of police brutality films, which showed the city's inhabitants being subjected to horrible mistreatment at the hands of their ostensible defenders.