Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: Former officer who killed teenager Laquan McDonald is no longer in prison

Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of violence.

Jason Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, walked free last Thursday after serving nearly half his sentence for killing Black teenager Laquan McDonald

On the evening of Oct. 20, 2014, 911 dispatchers responded to a call about an individual breaking into vehicles on the southwest side of Chicago. When officers arrived at the scene they followed McDonald, who was near the scene walking down the street.

McDonald refused to stop when officers told him to, and they called for backup. When Van Dyke arrived at the scene, he immediately shot at McDonald. 

Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke’s bullets struck McDonald’s body multiple times even after he lay helpless on the ground. 

An internal report was released in 2019 revealing several police officers gave false statements about the night of the shooting to distort the threat McDonald posed. 

Originally, Van Dyke said McDonald was a threat and he was fearful for his life. However, a video from a police cam showed McDonald walking away from police as he carried a pocket knife, seconds before Van Dyke fired his gun.

Prosecutors asked for Van Dyke to receive a prison term of at least 18 years, but Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced him to a lenient sentence of six years and nine months for second-degree murder. 

According to the Chicago Criminal Lawyer, in Illinois aggravated battery is a Class X felony with a mandatory sentence of six to 30 years. However, second-degree murder is a Class 1 felony and sentencing can range between four to 15 years in prison.

Van Dyke’s early release is granted under the Illinois rule which gives credit to prisoners for good behavior allowing years to be removed from their sentence.

The recent news has sparked protests and outrage.

A group of protesters peacefully gathered last Monday, outside the home of John Lausch, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, insisting he file federal civil rights charges against Van Dyke. 

Additionally, Illinois Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the Attorney General, Merrick B. Garland, asking for an update on the status of a federal investigation on the murder of Laquan McDonald that was announced in 2015.

“The facts of this case remain shocking and upsetting,” Duckworth and Durbin wrote in a conjoined letter.

The death of Laquan McDonald brought widespread scrutiny to the Chicago Police Department and the way they interacted with Black Chicago residents. Chicago officials announced an increase of officers wearing body cameras, but it is not a requirement.

Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer in almost 50 years to be convicted for an on-duty murder. Many people, including Chicago community activist William Calloway, described to the New York Times how he was pleased that an officer was finally being held accountable.

“We finally held a police officer accountable,” Calloway said. “The justice system didn’t give him the punishment to match his crime, but a just verdict was rendered for murder, so it gave us a lot of hope to keep fighting."

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