‘We knew it was going to happen’: Downtown protesters express disappointment, frustration over ex-police officer’s release from prison

By Olivia Cohen, News Editor

Chicago residents took to the streets Thursday to protest the freedom of former police officer Jason Van Dyke, released from prison after serving less than half of his sentence for the on-duty murder of a teenager captured on dashcam footage that was withheld from the public for more than a year.

Van Dyke, who was convicted in October 2018 of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and one count of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, was released three years into his prison sentence, which was originally six years and nine months. Van Dyke was granted early release on the grounds of good behavior.

McDonald’s murder sparked outrage throughout Chicago, as it was shown through police dashcam footage that McDonald was shot 16 times as he was walking away from police while only holding a knife.

Before protesters gathered in the afternoon, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx issued a statement on Twitter, saying, “Laquan McDonald’s life mattered.”

Foxx said the crimes Van Dyke committed “warrant a far greater sentence” and the three-plus years the former officer served “did not fit the 16 shots to the body as that boy laid on the ground.”

Chicagoans from all walks of life showed up to the Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse at 219 S. Dearborn St. to express their opposition to Van Dyke’s early release.

Terry Rudd, a member of the Progressive Labor Party for 38 years, has been following the McDonald case since 2014, the year McDonald was murdered. Rudd said although it was good that Van Dyke was sentenced, it is still upsetting to her that he was released so early.

“We went to the court hearings, and we knew he wasn’t going to get much time,” Rudd said. “The system doesn’t serve and protect our class — workers; they use the police to terrorize us and keep us in line. We have to get rid of their police, and the system they serve and protect.”

Even after the sentencing, Rudd said she thought that she would be back on Chicago’s streets protesting Van Dyke’s sentence.

“We knew it was going to happen,” Rudd said, referring to Van Dyke being released from prison early. “Workers can’t get justice under this system, so we’re going to have to just keep fighting and win more people to these ideas and finally get rid of the system that causes murderous cops.”

Four former Chicago police officers allegedly exaggerated the level of threat McDonald posed to the officers involved. Three of the four officers were fired via an unanimous vote of by the police board in 2019, as reported by the Chronicle.

The rally moved to the streets at 5 p.m., after some protesters, including Tracie Hunter, McDonald’s grandmother, were released after being detained, according to an article by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Other groups in attendance included Black Lives Matter Chicago and the Royal Black Panther Party. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church were also present and addressed protesters.

“The state did not do its job here. Crime and time does not correspond,” Jackson told protesters at the plaza, according to coverage by ABC7 Chicago.

Jackson called for federal charges to be brought against Van Dyke, and the two U.S. senators from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, have called for an update of an ongoing federal investigation into McDonald’s murder.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a press release earlier in the day validating the outrage some Chicagoans have voiced amid Van Dyke’s release.

“I know some Chicagoans remain disheartened and angry about Jason Van Dyke’s sentence for the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Lightfoot’s release said. “As I said at the time, while the jury reached the correct guilty verdict, the judge’s decision to sentence Van Dyke to only 81 months was and remains a supreme disappointment.”