CHICAGO — Jason Van Dyke is set to be released from state prison Thursday. The ex-cop convicted of killing a Chicago teenager will have served less than half of his sentence.
In response, activists say they plan on holding a ‘large demonstration’ in Federal Plaza Thursday around 4 p.m. to express their displeasure, with at least 15 social and civil rights groups pledging their attendance. In the days leading up to Van Dyke’s release, some have called for federal intervention – while others have asked the city and demonstrators to focus on substance.
Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The police video of the murder was seen worldwide, leading to sustained protests, and was the basis of the landmark legal case that led to the first conviction of an on-duty Chicago cop in 50 years. The sentence also pushed police reform to the forefront of the national discussion, years before the George Floyd tragedy.
Because of the case’s lasting impact and symbolic power, civil rights activists are asking for federal intervention.
“We’ve been crying aloud for federal charges on Jason Van Dyke for the past three years,” community organizer William Calloway said. “It shouldn’t take this to happen to be on the cusp of his release to get federal charges pressed on him.”
The US Justice Department launched an investigation into the case in 2018, but it’s unclear where that stands, which is why both of Illinois’ senators have asked for the DOJ to “provide and update on the status.”
In the meantime, the president of the NAACP urged the US Attorney General to bring federal charges so that Van Dyke’s prison term could be extended, writing: “The murderous officer should be charged with a federal civil rights violation.”
Tracie Hunter, McDonald’s grandmother, said: “This man doesn’t need to get out. We are seeking federal charges. The time he did wasn’t enough.”
Chicago police reform activists have also asked for federal intervention.
“At this time, Mr. Van Dyke has served the time that was given him, certainly I’m not an advocate for him, but I am an advocate for the criminal justice system in this country,” said Rev. Marvin Hunter, uncle of McDonald, who says its time to move beyond Van Dyke as a symbol and continue to press for systemic reforms.
“The time of the citizenry would be more well spent in changing the laws the police are governed by rather than going after one officer and trying to extend his prison time.”