This was the right result. Thank goodness the jury did the right thing in this instance. We all have seen the video of this shooting, and it was homicide by a police officer, plain and simple. However, as plain and simple as some of these cases may be, we have seen too many officers avoid liability. They must be prosecuted, held accountable, for one very simple reason, so central to our justice system: NOBODY (are you listening, Doofus Donald?!) is above the law.
Excerpts from the Article:
For three years, Chicago was racked by the political, legal and emotional impact of a chilling video that lasted only seconds: A black teenager could be seen collapsing onto a street as a white police officer shot him over and over, 16 times in the end.
On Friday, the officer, Jason Van Dyke, was found guilty of second-degree murder, a decision this city had anxiously awaited for months. Officer Van Dyke, who silently folded his arms behind his back as he was taken into custody, was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm — each count read aloud in the packed courtroom, one for each bullet that struck the teenager, Laquan McDonald.
No Chicago police officer had been convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting in nearly 50 years, and this city had braced for the possibility of an acquittal and a furious response that seemed certain to follow. But when the verdict came, protesters who had gathered outside the courthouse suddenly broke into cheers. Others wept, calling out: “Justice for Laquan! Justice for Laquan!”
For some residents, the trial became a proxy for years of anger over police mistreatment of black Chicagoans and over decades-old doubts about police accountability and transparency. They said they were relieved at the outcome and hopeful that it might force changes in policing and relations with city residents.
Dashboard-camera video from a police car gave a clear view of the shooting, though the city for months resisted releasing the images and Chicagoans only saw it 13 months after it happened, on a judge’s orders. The fallout was significant: The police superintendent was fired, the local prosecutor lost her re-election bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced shortly before the trial began that he would not seek re-election next year.
“That video had a profound effect upon this city, not just on policing but on politics, and not just in black and brown neighborhoods — it rippled across every neighborhood,” said Lori Lightfoot, a former president of the Chicago Police Board, an oversight agency, who is now running for mayor. “People saw it and just said, ‘Dear God, what happened?’ and ‘What do we need to do so that that never happens again?’”
Police union leaders and supporters of Officer Van Dyke sharply criticized the outcome, and said it would have an instantly chilling effect on officers who were simply trying to do their jobs and stop crime. “This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back,” Chris Southwood, a state leader of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, suggested that the verdict could affect policing beyond Chicago, particularly when officers confront residents carrying knives and knifelike weapons. “Departments will be taking a second look at how they train officers to deal with individuals with edged weapons,” Mr. Wexler said.
Officer Van Dyke, who is 40 and joined the Chicago police almost two decades ago, confronted Laquan, 17, along a darkened road on the city’s Southwest Side on Oct. 20, 2014. After a truck driver reported that evening that someone was breaking into vehicles in a parking lot, police officers followed Laquan, who was carrying a three-inch pocketknife and refused to stop when they told him to. The pursuit — with Laquan walking down the street and officers on foot and in squad cars behind him — ended when Officer Van Dyke arrived in a car, stepped out and shot him repeatedly, even after his body was crumpled on the street.
The jury deliberated for fewer than eight hours — a shorter period than some people had expected — and some jurors told reporters after the verdict was announced that two of them had at first leaned toward acquittal. The main debate though, the jurors said, was whether to convict Officer Van Dyke on first- or second-degree murder.
Officer Van Dyke had testified on his own behalf during the trial, saying that Laquan had given him a menacing look and angled the knife in his direction before he started shooting — actions that were not visible on the video, which jurors were shown again and again.
“He seemed scared on the stand,” said one man on the jury, who like other jurors did not give his name. “He was fumbling around trying to remember things exactly how they were, and his memories and the facts and other evidence didn’t line up.”
Prosecutors had charged Officer Van Dyke with first-degree murder, but Judge Vincent Gaughan also gave jurors the option of convicting him of second-degree murder, which carries a shorter prison term. Jurors were told to convict on second-degree murder if they decided that the shooting was unjustified but that Officer Van Dyke believed at the time that he was acting reasonably. Officer Van Dyke could face decades in prison when he is sentenced at a future hearing.
Along the streets of downtown Chicago on Friday evening, demonstrations that had been planned for weeks went forward, though some now felt more like celebrations than protests. At dusk, several hundred people marched through busy streets as the police blocked traffic to allow them to pass. Officers accompanied the demonstrators on foot and on bicycles.
The city had been on alert for days as the end of the case grew near, and many officials had drawn up plans for managing unrest in the case of an acquittal. City Hall developed a 150-page action plan, and police officers were ordered to work long shifts and cancel vacations. Schools issued alerts about safety. And some downtown businesses sent workers home early.
By evening, marchers were still moving through the streets, though their numbers were thinning. A Chicago deputy police chief, Kevin Ryan, said that a march involving several hundred protesters downtown had ended without any arrests. He said there had been no problems in other parts of the city.
William Calloway, a prominent Chicago activist who helped force the release of the shooting video three years ago, said he felt justice had been served. Nationally, even in the rare instances when officers are charged in deadly shootings, prosecutors often struggle to get convictions. He said the verdict proved to the city and the country that a white police officer can be held accountable for killing a black person. “It means everything,” Mr. Calloway said. “It means more than what words can explain.”
“To shoot someone down like that with no cause is first-degree murder,” said Rebecca Johnson, who walked near the front of the crowd. “So there’s anger. But there’s relief, too, that we at least got a murder conviction.”
Some people spoke more somberly, noting that no conviction, no march should fail to remember Laquan.
“As long as this trial was going on, our family felt like we had never gotten closure,” said the Rev. Marvin Hunter, Laquan’s great-uncle, who was speaking at the Chicago church where the teenager’s funeral had been held. “And now we can go home tonight and sleep knowing that Laquan is at peace.”
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