Jason Van Dyke, Ex-Cop Who Murdered Laquan McDonald, Released From Prison
Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was released from prison on Thursday after serving less than half of his nearly seven-year prison sentence for the murder of Black teen Laquan McDonald.
A jury convicted Van Dyke in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery ― one for each bullet the white officer shot at the 17-year-old on a Chicago street in 2014. He was sentenced to 81 months, which meant that he could be released in about half that time with good behavior.
“The punishment that he received … does not match the criminal act that he committed on Oct. 20, 2014, and furthermore, there’s individuals in Cook County Jail that are spending more time in detention waiting to go to trial than what Jason Van Dyke has spent in the Illinois State Penitentiary,” said community activist William Calloway, according to WTTW-TV. Calloway was central in pushing for the city to release the footage of McDonald’s death, and he is leading the charge in calling for federal charges against Van Dyke.
Illinois law states that judges can sentence people only for the most serious crime they’re convicted of when they’re found guilty of multiple crimes for a single act. Prosecutors tried to make the case for sentencing Van Dyke on the aggravated battery conviction, which carries a minimum sentence of six to 30 years in prison for each count.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan decided to instead sentence him on the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, because he ruled that was the more serious crime. The decision led Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and special prosecutor Joseph McMahon to appeal Van Dyke’s sentence to the Illinois Supreme Court. However, the court ruled that the former officer’s sentence stood.
A growing number of voices, from activists to officials, are calling for John Lausch, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, to bring federal charges against Van Dyke. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said last week that Van Dyke should face federal civil rights charges, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) voiced her support on Monday for the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation into McDonald’s death.
“We are here because we are outraged, we are disgusted, we are traumatized and we are hurt. But we are hurt enough to be mad, to form an organization and a coalition, to stand against what is not happening that should be taking place,” Lashawn Yvonne Littrice, a Chicago activist with Black Lives Matter Women of Faith, said at a Jan. 15 press conference where a coalition of activists ― including Calloway and GoodKids MadCity’s Camiella Williams ― called for Van Dyke to be federally prosecuted.
“Holding John Lausch accountable is number one. But also holding these other elected officials that we mentioned earlier … they have some sort of political power that could move and make some changes ― they are sitting quietly,” Littrice added. “But what we’re not going to ignore is when all of these people ran for office, they ran on the back of Laquan McDonald. We heard ‘Laquan McDonald,’ they stood in the crowds with us while we were being kicked by horses and hit by bikes, and these people got in office because they said they were gonna do something different. And we know that they lied. Now we’re gonna hold them accountable because, guess what, election season is coming up again.”
Kina Collins is an activist in Chicago running for Congress against Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) with a platform that includes criminal justice reform. Part of that reform means combating police militarization, holding law enforcement accountable for violence, fighting white supremacy and funding a stronger social safety net for communities.
Collins, who has protested for years with fellow community activists over McDonald’s death, also called for federal charges against Van Dyke, saying the teen’s murder was “a lynching that happened on the South Side of Chicago” and “was covered up for over 400 days.”
Activists and officials called for federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department almost immediately after a judge forced then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to release the footage of McDonald’s death. The Justice Department released a scathing report two years later detailing a deeply flawed department that had no accountability for officers, a code of silence and disproportionate use of force against Black and brown Chicagoans.
“You know, this is not something that’s just happening here in Illinois. There are instances of police violence and excessive force happening all across the country,” Collins said, adding that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty on federal civil rights charges in December for the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“Why shouldn’t Jason Van Dyke be held accountable for violating Laquan McDonald’s civil rights as Derek Chauvin was?” she continued. “We think this is very realistic, and it’s the only common-sense and logical and the only just response to him getting out and walking early on his state conviction.”
Collins has protested for years with fellow community activists over McDonald’s death, saying “we’ve been in this fight … for nearly a decade.” She expressed similar frustration as the organizers over current elected officials who made McDonald’s death a campaign issue but then left Black Chicagoans disappointed when it came to fighting for justice.
“Yes, I stand in a place as a candidate right now running for the U.S. House of Representatives. But I know that people like William Calloway and Camiella Williams are my accountability metrics. These are people who have helped inform my policy platforms moving forth. They have included me continuously in the space, and they have an expectation of me as not just a candidate … but as an organizer and as an activist in that I don’t abdicate my responsibility of organizing once I get elected,” she said.
“So you know, for me, this isn’t a photo-op opportunity just to talk about policy. This is personal. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago. I’ve seen the police torture that has happened to people in my community, our community, and policing relationships have deteriorated and how that’s impacting families and neighborhoods in Chicago.”
On Monday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson joined McDonald’s aunt and grandmother in announcing a march in Chicago on Thursday in response to Van Dyke’s release. Activists also called on union members at the Chicago Transit Authority to stop service in protest.