Jason Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, was released from prison on Thursday. He had served less than half his seven-year sentence for the murder of Black teenager Laquan McDonald. This angered community leaders who felt that Van Dyke’s punishment wasn’t fair.
A corrections official stated that Van Dyke, 43 years old, was released from Taylorville Correctional Center, central Illinois at 12:15 AM. His parole conditions and his plans for the future of Van Dyke were not immediately known.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer to be convicted for murder in an on-duty killing. Many people believed that his 2018 conviction for second-degree murder and battery would signal a new era for police accountability and the treatment of Black residents. They said that Van Dyke was released for good conduct after he had served three years, four months of the sentence.
The Rev. said that this was the best example of how Black lives don’t matter as much to other people. Marshall Hatch was a prominent minister from the West Side of the city. “To get such a short time for a crime sends a negative message to the community.”
Lori Lightfoot (Black Mayor) made a similar point.
She said that she understood why the sentence was being given to her Thursday, adding that “many Black and brown men are sentenced to much longer prison terms for committing far lesser crimes.”
The NAACP asked U.S. attorney General Merrick Garland this week to bring federal civil rights cases against Van Dyke in order to give justice to the teen and community. Tracie Hunter, Tracie’s grandmother, asked for the same.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson handed a letter to Chicago’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, asking for federal charges. Protesters were gathered outside the federal courthouse.
Van Dyke’s arrest comes at an extremely difficult time for the police and city. Chicago is witnessing a rise in violent crime. There were more murders in Chicago last year than any other quarter century. The city continues to pay multimillion dollar settlements to victims of police abuse. Prosecutors announced this week that they would exonerate nearly 50 other people falsely or framed by police for drug crimes.
The 2014 shooting led to a court-ordered consent order which resulted in many reforms including the creation a civilian-led oversight board for police and new rules for police shooting investigations. After refusing to release the McDonald’s police video for over a year, and only after a judge ordered it so, the city must now release the videos within 60 days.
Lightfoot, however, pointed out Thursday that the city had made “historic reforms”. However, the changes have been slower than anticipated and the city has not met some of the consent decree deadlines. Lightfoot’s administration attempted to block a television station from showing a video of a botched raid by police in which a naked Black woman was handcuffed. The botched raid resulted in a $2.9million settlement with Anjanette.
Hatch and other supporters see Van Dyke’s early release as a reminder of what they knew.
Chico Tillmon, a senior researcher at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said that “it just reinforces this sense of hopelessness among African American communities, as well as reinforces the belief that police can continue to oppress those communities and be either exonerated, or given light sentences.” He is also a former member of a gang.
He said that he had served 16 years and three months for conspiracy to buy drugs, and that a person who was openly and publicly convicted of murder did 3 1/2 years. This kind of thing happens repeatedly.”
Hatch’s anger is partly rooted in the feeling that the criminal justice system was almost there to help a Black victim to police violence. But, the judge sentenced Van Dyke for second-degree murder. This allows defendants to serve half of their sentences if they behave well in prison and not for any of the 16 counts for aggravated battery.
Craig Futterman, University of Chicago law professor, was instrumental in pushing the city to release the video. He called the sentence “a slap on the face of Black people and those of us concerned about police accountability.”
Futterman stated, however, that it was “nearly unbelievable” that there had been a murder conviction and prosecution.
The Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, said that the sentence was inadequate but it does not take away from the importance of the case.
Hunter stated that Jason Van Dyke would have been in prison if he had been the first to be convicted. “Police across the country have been convicted of killing Black people since then.”
Joseph McMahon was the special prosecutor that led the team of lawyers that secured Van Dyke’s conviction. He asked the judge to impose a 18-20 year sentence. He said that he hopes people won’t believe Van Dyke escaped death.
He said, “I understand that this is hard to accept, particularly for minorities marginalized by the police and criminal justice system for decades. But this (the conviction) is a sign for progress.”