Charges dropped against poet arrested during Laquan McDonald protest march

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Saying it was in the “best interest” of the city, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped charges Wednesday against a poet and community activist who was arrested during a protest on Tuesday.

Malcolm X. London had been accused of punching a Chicago Police officer in the face during protests tied to the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

“You are free to go,” Judge Peggy Chiampas told London.

London’s supporters cheered as they snaked their way through the hallways to give the good news to the larger crowd waiting outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

“Pipe down,” a sheriff’s deputy screamed at the activists who had packed into the courtroom — and who had been warned earlier to maintain the proper decorum.

Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto offered no reasoning why prosecutors had decided not to pursue the case against London, 22.

Later Wednesday, Anita Alvarez’s office released an emailed statement: “After a careful review of the circumstances of this particular incident, the State’s Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss this charge because we feel it is in the best interests of the City of Chicago.”

London’s attorney, April Preyar, told the Sun-Times she was “stunned” by prosecution’s decision. “I’m always stunned when Anita Alvarez does the right thing,” she said.

London, who was mobbed and hugged by his supporters, said he was happy to be with “my people” again but said his short stint in Cook County Jail made him realize how much reform is needed in the criminal justice system.

“Staying in this jail cell with the people that come from the places I come from, and the cats who are locked up in there, only made me realize how much harder we have to fight.” he said.

A supporter hugs Malcolm X. London outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse /Rummana Hussain

A California man was also booked on felony charges and three others were given for misdemeanors following Tuesday night’s demonstrations.

But it was London’s arrest that caused a collective uproar among his friends and fellow protesters, who started a #FreeMalcolmLondon hashtag on Twitter and called on others to raise money to post bail.

The crowd gathered outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue cheered after charges were dropped against Malcolm X. London. “We’re going to be all right,” they chanted. | Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times

London, who has rubbed shoulders with Chance the Rapper and actor Matt Damon, had been accused of punching an officer in the right eye in the 100 block of East Balbo.

After Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with McDonald’s murder and officials were about to release the grisly video of the teen’s shooting, London tweeted a video himself, telling his followers, “No matter what is on the video, your life matters.”

He also paraphrased Frederick Douglass and said, “The only thing worse than rebellion is a reason for it.”

London was identified after he was captured on a “Breaking News” site punching the officer, a police report said.

The officer suffered blue and purple bruising around the right eye, the report said.

Because London tried to pull away from the arresting officers, police said they used “escort holds and emergency handcuffing.”

London, of the 4900 block of West Huron Street, was charged with aggravated battery to a police officer.

But protesters said that the marches didn’t get violent until officers intervened. Many on Twitter said London was falsely arrested and “kidnapped” by cops.

London is a well-respected artist and alum of the Young Adult Council of the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre.

He is a “gem,” said Hallie Gordon, the artistic and educational director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults. “He means a lot to us and our organization.”

London has appeared at the Louder Than A Bomb annual youth poetry festival and on TED Talks, a prestigious online forum where speakers are invited to expound on a variety of topics.

Also arrested during Tuesday’s protest was 38-year-old Dean M. Vanriper for allegedly having hydrocodone pills.

Police arrested the California man when they noticed him holding a knife, prosecutors said Wednesday. In addition to the six-inch bladed weapon, officers also found that he had the drugs and a stun gun, an assistant state’s attorney said.

Chiampas ordered Vanriper held in lieu of $50,000 bail. If he doesn’t have the money to post, she recommended that he be released on his own recognizance and placed on electronic monitoring if he qualifies, the judge said.

Three others who were marching Tuesday were charged with one misdemeanor count each of resisting a police officer.

Chicago Public Schools teacher Johnae A. Strong, 25, of the 1400 block of East 55th Street; Troy T. Alim, 24, of the 4600 block of South Drexel Boulevard; and May Page, 26, of the 5300 block of South Harper Avenue were all released on their own recognizance, police said.

The confrontation between protesters and police had broken out Tuesday night near Michigan and Balbo.

In the full-on pushing match that lasted 15 minutes, officers, protesters and police bikes were left sprawled on the ground. When the scuffle ended, three protesters were hauled into a police wagon. A commander at the scene confirmed that four cops were injured in the scuffle.

One officer lost his cool, calling one young woman a “b—-.” The crowd was infuriated, and a commander came and removed the officer from the front line.

In a news conference earlier Wednesday, members of the City Council’s Black Caucus had wondered why it took just hours to charge London when it had taken 13 months to charge Van Dyke.

Dean Vanriper, 38, was arrested during the Laquan McDonald march Tuesday. | Chicago Police

Contributing: Andy Grimm and Sun-Times Media Wire

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