Activists that gathered outside Chicago’s City Hall on Friday afternoon cheered loudly after the second-degree murder conviction of Officer Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
But they said a lot remains to be done to achieve real change in the city.
“The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” the crowd of about 100 activists chanted on the sidewalk along LaSalle Street, in front of the main entrance to City Hall.
For needed police reform to occur, they said, more changes must come next year – in the elections for mayor and the City Council.
“Not only are we celebrating, but we are going to keep moving forward, because it does not stop with Van Dyke,” said activist Ariel Atkins, who wore a black hoodie and a black Chicago Bulls cap as she spoke through a bullhorn.
She said aldermen helped outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel “keep a secret of this murder” until the public finally saw a police dashcam video of Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into McDonald as the knife-wielding teen ran away from him.
“They need to be out of office,” Atkins said of Emanuel’s council allies. “We need to get everybody that is sitting in this city, that is keeping secrets, that is supporting police-sanctioned violence, state sanctioned violence, out of here.”
She also blasted the Fraternal Order of Police, the officers’ union that continued to defend Van Dyke after the jury verdict.
After the police dash-cam video was released in 2015, prompting the criminal case against Van Dyke, protesters called for the resignations of then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, then-Cook County State’s Atty. Anita Alvarez and Emanuel.
McCarthy lasted only a few more days in his job, Alvarez was unseated in the 2016 election and, on the eve of the Van Dyke trial’s start last month, Emanuel announced he would not seek another term in the 2019 election. It’s not yet clear how many aldermen will run for re-election.
“This whole entire city administration is guilty, and in the people’s court, we’re going to put them on trial,” said Frank Chapman, an activist with Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “If we don’t make any political changes, we’re missing a big opportunity here.”
Many of the candidates who say they are running to succeed Emanuel issued statements soon after the verdict. The mayoral hopefuls who voiced agreement with the verdict included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot and businessman Willie Wilson.
“I am grateful there is some justice for Laquan McDonald,” Preckwinkle said. “This is an important indictment not only of the actions of an individual but of the code of silence within the police department.”
Lightfoot said the jury had done what most people in the city would have done.
“This is a significant milestone in Chicago’s history,” she said. “Going against a national trend in which juries almost always acquit on-duty police officers on criminal charges, this jury found the evidence powerful and compelling – as have so many Chicagoans in the years since Laquan McDonald’s tragic death.”
Wilson said he was praying for the Van Dykes as well as McDonald’s family, but added, “Justice has been served.”
Former public school principal Troy LaRaviere, who also is running for mayor, said the jury should have convicted Van Dyke of the more serious charge of first-degree murder. But he hailed the “rare instance of a police officer being held accountable for unlawful actions he took against an African-American resident.”
Bill Daley – the son and brother of former mayors who now wants the job himself – issued a far more milquetoast statement, avoiding criticism of police. The whole city, Daley said, needs to unite and “work to rebuild trust between the community and police.”
McCarthy now is running for mayor, too, often expressing strongly pro-police positions. Like Daley, though, he did not offer any clear opinion on the verdict against Van Dyke.
In a statement, McCarthy said the verdict showed that the time has come for Chicago “to stop paying so much attention to the things that divide us.”