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Elation, relief around city as Van Dyke verdict announced

Mayoral candidate Ja'Mal Green and fellow activists listen to a livestream as the jury reads the verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial in the murder of Laquan McDonald. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

About 200 people crammed onto the sidewalk on the west side of City Hall, huddling around cell phones to listen as the verdict in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke trial was announced.

Cries of elation and relief echoed down La Salle Street, followed soon by tears of joy.

Speaking to the assembled group on a megaphone, Frank Chapman, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said the groups who’d protested and rallied for change since the Laquan McDonald video was released still have work to do.

But for now, Chapman said, “we got something to celebrate.”

“This is the beginning, the beginning of changing that we’ve been needing in this city for a long, long time,” Chapman said.

RELATED: Read the live blog from the Van Dyke trial

Amina Henderson, of the advocacy group Good Kids Mad City, echoed Chapman’s sentiments.

Henderson said she was still focused on the alleged efforts to cover up the McDonald shooting.

“I’m relieved, but this isn’t the end of our fight,” she said. “It’s more than just Van Dyke that we have to convict, you know. It’s more than just him who knew about [the McDonald shooting video]. It’s so many people to hold accountable.”

After a short rally outside City Hall, the group, which grew to several hundred, marched to Madison and Clark, where they chanted “f—- 12” — with “12” serving as a colloquialism for “police.”

Police had kept the group confined to the sidewalk, but about 2:50 p.m., the group burst onto westbound Madison Street, frequently pausing to rally and clogging up traffic in the Loop.

Between La Salle and Clark, the group chanted, “we made history.”

Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools have canceled all athletic competitions Friday night and over the weekend but left decisions about after-school activities up to individual principals.

Jones College Prep High School in the South Loop dismissed students an hour earlier than scheduled and also canceled activities, including Friday evening’s homecoming dance.

Amundsen High School cancelled everything Friday, including Friday night’s homecoming dance. “We will work to get all students off of our campus safely and securely at 3 p.m.” Principal Anna Pavichevich wrote on Facebook.

Citing the verdict, several private schools closed early and canceled Friday sports and activities.

“As a result, we are dismissing our students immediately to give them enough time to get home safely,” De La Salle Institute officials announced. “In addition, all after-school and evening activities scheduled for today have been canceled. We are monitoring the situation and will have updates on how this impacts additional events this weekend.”

St. Rita High School also announced early dismissal and canceled its football game, and Fenwick High School in Oak Park announced early dismissal.

Providence Catholic High School has already forfeited football games scheduled at Mount Carmel High School on Saturday.

“As of now, Providence Catholic has forfeited the sophomore and varsity game this weekend. Obviously, we are disappointed, and we pray for peace in our communities,” said Dan LaCount, Mount Carmel’s athletic director.

DePaul University closed its Loop campus early Friday afternoon, officials said, but not its Lincoln Park campus.

Chicago police surrounded City Hall Friday as the verdict was announced.

Officers were stationed outside every entrance Friday afternoon as activists gathered outside.

Extra police have also been stationed across the city. Some 4,000 additional cops were called into duty in the wake of the verdict.

“This afternoon and evening thousands of Chicago Police officers are at the ready to safeguard neighborhoods and defend the rights of peaceful demonstrations,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted. “As always any and all criminal activity that jeopardizes the safety of people of Chicago will not be tolerated.”

As the verdict was read live, dozens of workers who had been allowed to go home early stood watching with rapt attention at Chicago News Room bar at the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

Most said they were glad that they had been dismissed early — given the potential for violence — but few expected any following the second-degree murder and aggravated battery conviction.

“We’re probably OK. I don’t think there will be as many protests given the verdicts,” said Terri Thanepohn, 54, heading home to Glencoe.

Thanepohn, who works in PR, said she and her boss made the decision to send employees home three hours early based on their office’s location at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street.

“We’re kind of at ground zero for any protests,” she said.

Mohammad Hassan, 18, stopped off at the mosque on State Street after his noon class at UIC. In the middle of prayers, an urgent voice came over the loud speaker.

“They were telling people to get out of here as fast as possible. They said, ‘if you need to use the back exit, please do so,’” Hassan said.

The guilty verdict calmed Hassan’s fears of possible violence.

“I was definitely kind of nervous because I know what people are capable of when something like this happens and the decision is questionable — especially in a city like this,” said Hassan, who was at Ogilvie waiting to catch a train home to West Chicago.

Outside a row of stores on Madison Street east of Pulaski Road on the West Side, motorists honked their horns, seemingly in approval of the guilty verdict. Clusters of police officers, stationed on the street corners, looked on. A CTA bus full of officers arrived on the block about 20 minutes after the verdict was announced. Residents weren’t interacting much with the cops, except for one woman who yelled, “stay safe out here!”

People on the sidewalks — young and old — said the jury should have found Van Dyke guilty of first-degree murder.

Breanna Williams, 11, said McDonald was killed on her birthday.

“If you see someone dead when you’re shooting, you should stop shooting him,” she said.

Breanna and her mom, Sylvia Dixon, thought it was first-degree murder.

“But I’m satisfied with the verdict,” Dixon said.

Gregory Davis, 56, agreed, but he said the West Side could still boil over with anger if Van Dyke gets a sentence that’s perceived to be light.

“So far it’s OK. He was found guilty. But if they try to sentence him to like two, three, six years, people will be upset by that. I mean it was totally unnecessary,” he said.

On the South Side, a protest in South Shore took place steps away from where in July a Chicago Police officer shot local barber Harith Augustus.

Lillian Barr, a South Shore resident who was walking down the street as the verdict was read, said she believes Van Dyke got off easy and that if it had been a black man on trial, he would’ve been convicted of first-degree murder.

“He should’ve been treated like the rest of us would’ve been treated. If the other police weren’t worried about the knife, why was he?”

Lee Brandon Coleman, also a South Shore resident, said he believes the verdict is a step in the right direction.

“As this is the first time a Chicago Police officer was [on] trial for killing a black man, I think this is a positive step. You can’t do everything at once.”

Lashauna Mabry, also of South Shore resident, came out of her home when she saw the protest on TV.

“What’s going to happen next? Is this going to make a difference in future trials? That’s what we’re ultimately hoping for,” Mabry said. “We can use this to make a positive step in the right direction.”