CHICAGO — Some 300 people rallied outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building here Sept. 5 on the opening day of the trial of cop Jason Van Dyke, who gunned down 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. Van Dyke is charged with first degree murder.
“We’re here to press for the conviction of Jason Van Dyke, and for the conviction of every killer cop,” Maria Hernandez of Black Lives Matter Chicago told the crowd.
Relatives of more than a dozen other victims of cop killings addressed the rally. “We’re going to help ensure that this is the first conviction and make sure it won’t be the last,” Hernandez said.
The protest was called by Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata’s Daughters, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Arab American Action Network and others, including Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.
Also addressing the protest were relatives of those framed by Chicago cops Jon Burge and Reynaldo Guevara, many of whom are serving long prison terms based on false confessions elicited through torture.
Armanda Shackelford, mother of Gerald Reed, one of those tortured and framed by Burge and his “midnight crew,” announced her son would get a new trial beginning Oct. 28. “We’re not just fighting for justice for Black folks, but for all who are victims of injustice, because an injustice to one is an injustice to all,” she said. “What happened to Laquan McDonald, what happened to my son, what happened to so many others, shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
After more than a year of protests, the cops released the damning and gruesome police dashcam video, which shows McDonald, who was African-American, walking away when Van Dyke shot him 16 times, 14 when he was lying on the ground.
Van Dyke was dispatched to the scene after cops reported McDonald was carrying a knife and had a “strange gaze about him.” After the shooting, the video showed, cops made no effort to check his condition or render medical aid. The video’s release sparked another round of weeks of protests at which “16 shots and a cover-up” became a popular chant.
When Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan began jury selection Sept. 5, Daniel Herbert, the cop’s attorney, called for all the prospective jurors to be dismissed, saying they couldn’t be impartial because they’d seen the protest outside the courtroom.
Van Dyke’s family members and friends were given the two front rows, while McDonald’s family and supporters were given only one in the back. The small amount of space meant only eight of the 23 McDonald family members who came could get a seat.
“We feel betrayed,” Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle, told the press. He said he had given the names in advance of all the family members planning to attend to prosecutors.
The killing, and the fact that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, prosecutors and the cops had suppressed the videocam footage for 13 months, claiming its release would damage the investigation, have had significant political repercussions. The city awarded McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement in April 2015 before they had even filed legal action.
In response to mounting pressure, Emanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy Dec. 1, 2014, just days after the video’s release. Fallout from the McDonald killing continues to dog Emanuel. The day before Van Dyke’s trial began, the mayor announced he wouldn’t run for a third term.