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Ex-Chicago Cop Jason Van Dyke Freed Early over Murdering Laquan McDonald; Activists Seek Fed Charges

StoryFebruary 04, 2022
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Image Credit: Twitter: @CAARPRNow

We go to Chicago, where protests erupted Thursday over the early release of the white ex-police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of killing a Black 17-year-old named Laquan McDonald in 2014. Van Dyke — who was the first police officer in the United States to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting — was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison but was freed early for “good behavior” after only serving a little over three years of his sentence. He was only convicted of murder a year after the shooting, when community activists pushed the Chicago police to release video footage of the incident showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald in the back 16 times as the teen was walking away from the scene. We speak with community organizer Will Calloway, who pushed for the video’s release, and activist Justin Blake, uncle of police shooting victim Jacob Blake, who supports calls for Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring federal civil rights charges against Van Dyke. The two were both arrested and federally charged after joining the protests on Thursday.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

In Chicago, the former police officer who murdered Black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 walked free from prison Thursday. Jason Van Dyke, who’s white, served a little over three years — less than half his nearly seven-year prison sentence — before being released for good behavior. Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, but the Chicago Police Department attempted to cover up the events with the help of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Activists are now calling for federal charges against Van Dyke. Several protests took place in Chicago yesterday, including in front of Federal Plaza, where Reverend Jesse Jackson hand-delivered a letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago backing the call for federal charges.

For more, we go to Chicago to speak with two activists who were detained and released last last night after their protest in the lobby of the Federal Building Courthouse with others, including Laquan McDonald’s grandma. Will Calloway is a Chicago community organizer, a violence interrupter, who pushed for the release of the video that showed Van Dyke murdering McDonald. Also with us, Justin Blake, uncle of Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed after he was shot by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he was reaching in his car and his children, three of his children, looked on in the backseat.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Will Calloway, talk about what has happened. I mean, ,Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 charges of aggravated battery for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. How did he get the seven-year sentence? And how did he get out with a little over three years yesterday?

WILL CALLOWAY: When it boils down to — first of all, thanks for having us on this morning.

And when it boils down to it, this is just a system that was created and designed to allow officers to kill African Americans with impunity and provide them this level, ensure their protection. This is the manifestation of that.

What Judge Gaughan did on January 19, 2019, was that he decided to only sentence Jason Van Dyke for the second-degree murder count and to completely ignore the 16 counts of aggravated battery, which in the state of Illinois carries six to 30 years for each count. The second-degree murder, unfortunately, only carried a minimally of probation up to 10 or 15 years. And that’s what the jury convicted him of. He was convicted of second-degree murder and convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, with a firearm. And in the state of Illinois, that carries six to 30, if they was ran consecutively. But, unfortunately, Judge Gaughan decided not to sentence him appropriately, and this is what we was left with.

Eighty-one months was his sentence. He did a bare minimum — a minimum of three years in prison, and now he’s able to come home. It’s individuals in Cook County Jail, several miles from where we’re at right now, there’s people in pretrial detention for nonviolent drug offenses that are in detention right now that have spent more time in the Cook County Jail than Jason Van Dyke has spent in the state penitentiary for murder. And that is a miscarriage of justice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the call for federal charges. For people to understand, the McMichaels in Georgia, they went through a state trial, then there’s supposed to be a federal trial. They’re trying to make a plea agreement there. You’ve got the police officers involved with the killing of George Floyd. You’ve got the state trial, and you’ve got the federal trial. Why weren’t there federal charges brought against Jason Van Dyke, Will?

WILL CALLOWAY: Right. And thank you for mentioning the situation in Georgia with Ahmaud Arbery and also the situation that happened with George Floyd, as well. Those cases are the precedent that set — and even in Carolina in 2015, with ex-officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott, that you get federal charges are applicable.

But when it comes to Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke, listen, when Jason Van Dyke murdered Laquan McDonald, several months after it happened, the U.S. Attorney’s Office then, under the Obama administration — Zach Fardon was the United States district attorney for our district. When he was in office, he specifically said he wanted to wait for the state trial to play out first — right? — because if he was to take over and the case went south, you wouldn’t have been able to hold Jason Van Dyke accountable because of double jeopardy, right? So he wanted the state trial to play out first.

But by the time the state trial played out, which was 2018, October the 5th, we had a new presidential administration that made it abundantly clear that they was not going to hold police officers accountable. So, basically, we had four years of a Department of Justice that did not actively have any civil rights probe investigations actively going for anything regarding police.

So, now here we are in 2021, 2022, with a new presidential administration and that has to be reignited and re-reminded about — be reminded, excuse me, about this case with Laquan McDonald. So, that’s pretty much where we are, was four years where this case was just completely tabled, and now we’re trying to get the new administration —

AMY GOODMAN: Is it too late for federal charges to be brought? You have Laquan McDonald’s grandmother, who was detained like you were last night, has called for President Biden to intervene. She said, “Come forward. We need your help. I need your help.” Could federal charges be brought now?

WILL CALLOWAY: Yes, absolutely. And again, for just a slight correction, she was detained and let go. We were arrested by U.S. marshals. We were arrested and federally charged by U.S. marshals yesterday. We had to appear before a federal judge last evening in order to be released out of federal custody. But to answer your question, there’s no statute of limitations for this crime, because what Jason Van Dyke — as a result of what Jason Van Dyke did resulted in the death of Laquan McDonald, therefore there’s no statute of limitations on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Justin, I want to bring you back into this conversation. It was great having you recently with your brother, Jacob Blake, talking about your nephew, Jacob Blake. The officer in that case was not charged. But talk about why you were there last night. Again, you both have been arrested, charged federally. Jesse Jackson was there, as well. Why is this critical to you?

JUSTIN BLAKE: As-Salaam-Alaikum. Thank you for having us again. My big brother sends his love to you.

Why are we here? The Blake family wants to be all around this country and around the world participating and fighting for justice for African Americans all over this globe. What happened here is unconscionable, to think that a young man was struck down with 16 bullets, and he would have been shot with more if one of the officers didn’t stop Van Dyke from reloading his gun. This is absurd. This is 2022. If anybody deserves rights, civil rights and liberties, African Americans should. We built this country. We made this country the richest country in the world for 400 years of free slavery. And the day is due where we’re able to walk through the streets where we are taxpayers and pay the people that are harming us ends.

And so we had to come back to our hometown to support my brother Will and the great work that he’s done with his family and to continue to keep the charge going and the torch lit that we need justice for this particular case. We have President Biden, who hasn’t done anything. The Floyd family members, Breonna Taylor’s family, big Jake, we all feel like he’s let us down and sold us out. How dare we talk about China and how they treat their people, human rights, when we in America have African Americans being gunned down in the street almost daily.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Will Calloway. I mean, you have Rahm Emanuel, who’s the former mayor of Chicago, involved with the cover-up of the murder of Laquan McDonald, now confirmed as the ambassador to Japan. But, Will Calloway, yesterday President Biden was in New York meeting with the new mayor, Adams, calling for an end to gun violence. You are called a violence interrupter. Explain what that is. And your response to what it would mean to end gun violence in this country?

WILL CALLOWAY: Great question. Well, for me, being a violence interrupter, what that includes is, in my community in South Shore — that’s on the Southeast Side of the city — what we do is, is we engage or we try to mediate different gang conflicts or tension between different factions inside of our neighborhoods or in the surrounding neighborhoods in the city. And we try to mediate that conflict by face-to-face interactions, relationship building, mentor big brother programs, finding a way to channel and funnel a lot of these young men and women out of a life of crime, out of the streets, and get them on a righteous trajectory.

So, we’ve had a lot of support. We’ve been highlighted by the Obama Foundation by the work that we do. But ultimately, it’s going to take funding. We need resources in our community. We don’t — we do not need in the African American community more policing. Scientifically, I think even the University of Chicago recently did a study. The Crime Lab showed that more police do not solve — not only does it not solve crimes, but it’s not preventative. It’s reactionary. In order for us to be proactive, we need people that’s in the community, that has relationship with people in the community, that will be at-risk gun offenders or possibly targets of gun offenses — we need those people to be proactive and provide them with the resources so they can go out and methodically eradicate this gun violence. For that — and, I mean, Laquan McDonald was a victim of gun violence.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there —

WILL CALLOWAY: And he was a victim of gun violence by a Chicago police officer.

AMY GOODMAN: — Will, but we thank you so much for being with us, Will Calloway and Justin Blake. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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