Van Dyke trial day one: Organizers rally outside courthouse

 
By Maya J. Horton & Julia Mondschean
 
 

On the early morning of Sept. 5, Jason Van Dyke entered the Leighton Criminal Courthouses surrounded by an entourage that included his fellow police officers. Jury selection began Wednesday for Van Dyke’s trial.

Van Dyke, a white Chicago police officer, is accused of fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teen, in October 2014, and has since been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct.

Dash-cam footage of the incident–which was released to the public one year after the incident–showed that McDonald, then 17, was walking away from Van Dyke and another officer with a knife in his hand. Van Dyke shot McDonald, who then fell to the ground, and continued to shoot at him. An official autopsy declared that Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times.

According to the Chicago Tribune, if Van Dyke is convicted it would mark the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years.

Outside of the courthouse, many community organizers and activists rallied for justice in the name of McDonald. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), the main organizers of the rally,  provided a lineup of speakers, including Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ; and Ester Hernandez, a mother whose son was tortured by ex-Chicago Detective Reynaldo Guevara and heads the Innocent Demand Justice Committee.  

“We lost a man that should have received mental health services,” Ramirez-Rosa said of McDonald. “We lost a young man that should have received the support he needed from a fully-funded public school. We lost a man that was abandoned by the state.”

Many of the rally’s attendees shared that this case is not only about Van Dyke. For them, the case puts the entire justice system on trial after decades of policies that protected police over Chicago’s black and brown communities.

Black Lives Matter organizer Maria Hernandez said she is concerned that Van Dyke has so far been protected from the full force of law by his status as an officer, remaining on the Police Force and receiving only a suspension without pay a year after the incident.

“It is difficult to see this man with all of this protection,” Hernandez said. “I’m not talking about physical protection. I am talking about the protection of a system that has kept him employed, kept him comfortable, catered to his needs.”

CAARPR organizer Jazmine Salis expressed a feeling of victory following Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Tuesday morning announcement that he would not seek re-election. Salis said she holds Emanuel personally accountable for the alleged “cover-up” of McDonald’s murder.

While Hernandez agrees with Salis that Emanuel’s resignation is a win, she urges Chicagoans to keep the pressure for accountability on the mayor’s office.

“It does not finish our work, but it validates our work because he could not have made it through this trial,” Hernandez said. “No matter how much money he pours into the election, you can’t buy the truth. We know what we are fighting for.”