Chicago police, schools brace for Jason Van Dyke verdict

CHICAGO — The City of Chicago is bracing for the verdict in the trial of Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald, as police, schools and entire communities prepare for whatever comes after the jury reaches its decision.

Jury deliberations ended without a verdict Thursday around 5:30 p.m. The jurors will be sequestered and resume Friday morning, according to officials.

Police preparations

Chicago police say they’ve been getting ready for this for months, and officers began working 12-hour shifts ahead of the verdict Thursday. The department is also canceling days off so officers can be deployed at any time.

Supt. Eddie Johnson told the Chicago Tribune last week that officers will wear their regular uniforms and will not be equipped with riot gear such as helmets, ballistic shields and masks unless it is necessary. Additional officers would likely be out patrolling on horses and bicycles.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Fire Department said its members are taking equipment home with them so they can respond to calls, no matter when the verdict is reached.

Waiting on a verdict 

Jason Van Dyke, now 40, is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery in the Oct. 20, 2014, slaying of 17-year-old McDonald, who was shot 16 times.

Jurors were told Thursday they are allowed to convict Van Dyke of second-degree murder if they feel that is more fitting than murder in the the first degree.

Van Dyke took the stand Tuesday to say he only shot McDonald after the teen refused to drop his knife and continued to advance at the officer. Van Dyke's testimony contradicts accounts from eyewitnesses, who testified McDonald was walking away from police when Van Dyke opened fire.

CPS preps for walkouts, private school to close after Van Dyke verdict

Schools in the city are also preparing for the outcome of the verdict. Chicago Public Schools are preparing for the possibility of student walk-outs, and at least one large private school is planning to send students home early.

St. Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side sent a message to parents Thursday morning, saying its 1,400 students would be dismissed early if they hear a verdict is due. Principal Brianna K. Latko said if parents feel like their child's safety is at risk, they can opt to keep them at home and the school will count those absences as excused.

"Our students come from the north, the west, the south city and suburbs. Train platforms and buses, so the call we’ve seen on social media that people will take to the streets no matter the verdict, we just thought it was in the best interest of our students," said Ryan Bergin, St. Ignatius College Prep.

Chicago Public Schools, together with most Catholic schools and private schools, contacted parents ahead of the verdict. Many also provided guidelines for teachers to handle the issue. CPS is urging classroom discussion after the verdict, and if students want to lead a coordinated walkout, the district is allowing them to do so on school grounds, while limiting the time to 30 minutes.

Students at Whitney Young High School said they hadn’t heard anything about the restrictions, but if they don’t like the verdict, they may walk out.

Protesters to gather at the courthouse steps

As the jury deliberates inside of the courthouse, authorities are ready for a demonstration on the courthouse steps. Crowd control barriers similar to the type you would see at a parade surround the Cook County courthouse, staffed by a number of police. Additional officers are already on standby outside City Hall as well.

Only a handful of activists have arrived at the courthouse so far, as the timing of the verdict remains unclear. Those gathered outside say whatever the jury decides could reverberate across the city and across the country.

"It could get real ugly out here, I feel like a lot of people here is angry and we’ve seen a lot of officers get away, and this is one officer that we feel should be convicted," protester Lenyea Williams said.

Courthouse visitors were met with parking restrictions, barricades and a visible police presence Thursday.

"I’m just tired of seeing all of these young people dying," one protester said.

Others see the jury’s forthcoming verdict as a sort of referendum on the question of whether or not police officers can ever be held accountable for their actions. Bobby Scott has been waving his flag of protest outside the courthouse since the beginning of the trial. He says the shooting of Laquan McDonald struck a chord in the black community after police released video showing the 17-year-old boy being shot 16 times.

"The police officer is supposed to serve and protect, not destroy and ask questions later," Scott said. "They could have told him to lay down on the ground and put his hands over his head.”

A small group of activists plans to hold a prayer vigil outside of the courthouse Thursday evening, where they say they’ll be praying for justice for Laquan McDonald.

Building owners advised to secure their properties

Last month, a security preparedness bulletin from police urged building owners to secure objects that can be used to cause damage, conduct security sweeps for suspicious items, and make sure surveillance cameras are working.

“Given the nature of mass gatherings, predicting who will attend and what their motivations will be is difficult and unreliable. It is possible that individuals unassociated with the group will imbed themselves to exploit the group’s emotions and/or to incite and/or conduct acts of violence,” the alert said.

Groups like the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago posted alerts on their websites, urging owners to secure their buildings ahead of possible protests.

On the South Side, Alderman Matt O’Shea sent an update to residents of the 19th Ward, where many police officers live, saying there will be a significant increase in CPD presence in Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood.

Chicago Marathon still planned for Sunday

Thousands of runners are descending on the city this weekend for the annual Chicago Marathon, which will take place whether or not the verdict arrives on the same day.

In a statement, organizers said: "Each year, they work closely with Police, OEMC, federal partners and private security firms, to develop comprehensive plans built around current conditions and circumstances.... and they’ll work through race day to ensure everyone’s safety."

Neighborhoods brace for possible protests 

Near the spot in South Shore where Harith Augustus was shot and killed by police last month, sparking protests over the use of deadly force, residents are closely watching the Van Dyke verdict.

Many opinions seem informed by a few key pieces of information: the dashboard camera video of the shooting that initially sparked outrage over the shooting, and the fact that no other officer fired, while Van Dyke shot 16 times.

If Van Dyke is acquitted, there are protests planned nearby at 71st and Jeffrey Boulevard. Officers in squad cars, on bikes and on foot are already canvassing the neighborhood.