News Violence

White Chicago Policeman Charged in Black Teen’s Shooting Death

Jenn Stanley

Jason Van Dyke has been charged with murder a day before release of a video showing Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

A white Chicago police officer was charged on Tuesday with first-degree murder for the 2014 shooting death of a Black teenager. Jason Van Dyke, a 14-year police veteran, allegedly shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, after responding to a call about a man with a knife on the city’s southwest side.

Van Dyke is being processed at Chicago’s main criminal courthouse and is appearing before a bond hearing today, according to a statement from State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Van Dyke has said that the shooting was justified because he feared for his life. Some police claim that McDonald refused to drop a knife when officers responded to a call about a man with a knife in October 2014.

Despite national unrest over police treatment of Black people, the case garnered little attention until April 2015, when McDonald’s family received a $5 million settlement from the city, despite never having filed a lawsuit regarding the shooting. Questions then arose about a patrol car dashboard camera video.

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Chicago over the past decade has spent more than $500 million on settlements, judgments, fees, and other costs related to police misconduct, according to a 2014 investigation by the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group. Last summer, the city agreed to pay $5.5 million in reparations to the torture victims, mostly Black men, of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his reign of the “Midnight Crew” from 1972 to 1991.

It has been decades since a Chicago police officer has been indicted for fatally shooting someone while on duty, several local media sources reported.

The first-degree murder charge comes days after a judge ordered the release of the video, which shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times. The police union opposed the release of the video after a freelance journalist requested it, saying that it would taint a potential jury. McDonald’s mother is also opposed to the release of the video, according to the New York Times.

“She is very, very distraught,” Michael D. Robbins, a lawyer for the family, told the New York Times. “It’s a reminder about the loss of her son—and it’s going to come as this big, glaring, publicly displayed event. She is very emotional.”

The journalist who originally requested release of the video, Brandon Smith, has said that the public has the right to know the truth.

“I do not begrudge them their position wanting their son’s death to not be public,” Smith told the Chicago Reporter. “That said, it’s a high price to pay to keep that video private, and that price is the chance that reform does not happen.”

The video will be made public on Wednesday. 

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