By Stacy M. Brown
The conviction of Jason Van Dyke could prove historic, but much more needs to be done to stem the tide of police shootings involving African-Americans.
Contradictory, overly rehearsed and simply not believable – those were just a few adjectives jurors in the Laquan McDonald murder trial used after finding former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder.
Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times in Oct. 2014 and, although McDonald, 17, was carrying a knife, videotaped evidence showed he was veering away from Van Dyke and other officers and he posed no threat.
In fact, jurors noted the videotape that showed several officers at the scene with none of them firing a single shot. Van Dyke arrived and immediately opened fire, killing the teenager.
One white woman juror told the New York Times that it appeared that during testimony, Van Dyke “seemed kind of like he was finally giving the play after they had been rehearsing him for weeks.”
It’s that description – that “play” from what has been a tried and true playbook – that has allowed law enforcement officers to repeatedly dodge prosecution or guilty verdicts in the shootings of African Americans.
This time, advocates and court watchers noted that jurors didn’t buy it.
Their historic verdict not only has resonated throughout the nation, but also with the leaders of the National Newspaper Publishers Association – the Black Press of America, which includes 220 African-American owned newspapers and media companies in the United States.
“Black citizens of Chicago are stunned that finally a Chicago policeman has been convicted of murder and they are having peaceful demonstrations,” said NNPA National Chairman Dorothy Leavell, who publishes the Crusader newspapers in Chicago and Gary, Indiana.
“We are so proud of the sophistication the leaders, young and old, have shown as well as the jurors, who took their jobs seriously and convicted Jason Van Dyke,” Leavell said.
Following the verdicts, which will send Van Dyke to prison for at least six years and as many as 25 years, Leavell attended a Rainbow Push Coalition event in Chicago where the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others hailed the verdicts as a turning point for Black Americans who have continually been the target of wayward police officers.
“The verdicts were a “small sign of progress,” Jackson said, alluding to the various incidents of African Americans killed by police officers.
Over the past few years, several cases— including the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; Tamir Rice in Cleveland; and Freddie Gray in Baltimore — have seen white officers go unpunished for the killings.
“The people’s cup has run over with these police violations of people’s rights,” Jackson said. “People were hoping for the best and expecting the worst.”
The verdict is a step in the right direction, said Charlene Carruthers, an activist and national director of Black Youth Project 100.
“This is a moment where people are seeing that the blue wall that exists in Chicago has a crack in it. This is an opportunity to continue our organizing and act on the visionary demands that we have to transform our community,” Carruthers said.
Leavell, who’s editor at the Chicago Crusader, Erick Johnson, covered the trial, said Chicago residents are reenergized and will show their strength at the ballot box in November.
“It’s a new day,” she said.
The verdict handed down against Van Dyke was “a victory for the people of Chicago and should serve as a model for the country,” said Janice Garth of the Chicago Citizen newspaper.
“Justice prevailed in the McDonald case, however Justice failed countless of other young Black men across this country who also were victims of the same crime. We must continue to push and fight for a criminal justice system that works for all,” Garth said.
She added, “We must continue to work – pass legislation – fight – to elect accountable representatives – and march until change comes. Our Mental Health Status of our nation is past critical. We must continue the fight on the grassroots level to prevent the country from experiencing another LaQuan McDonald.”
NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., said the Black Press “forthrightly states that the racially-motivated police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago in 2014 was not an isolated incident.”
The conviction of Van Dyke could prove historic, but much more needs to be done to stem the tide of police shootings involving African Americans, said Chavis, a longtime civil rights activists and one of the famous “Wilmington 10” activists, who were wrongfully charged and convicted of arson and conspiracy in North Carolina in 1971.
“The Chicago police officer found guilty of the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald demands a full review of all racially-motivated police killings of Black people across the United States during the past 50 years,” Chavis said.
“This is a deadly systematic reality for Black America and the NNPA will not rest until all these police murderers are brought to justice,” he said.