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In the racially charged Van Dyke case, lack of diversity troubling

Marilyn Hite Ross questions witness Monday during the trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/pool

After nearly three years of protests over how the city’s law enforcement handled the release of a videotape that showed Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, 16 times, the start of Van Dyke’s murder trial got off to a surprisingly subdued start.

Whether out of an abundance of concern over how the court would rule on Van Dyke’s lawyers request that the white police officer would not get a fair trial because of protests or something else, there were only a handful of protesters outside the courtroom at 26th and California.

That made the dire pronouncements made by defense attorneys that the city would erupt in rioting if Van Dyke were acquitted seemed more like racial fear mongering than legitimate concerns.

William Calloway, a staunch advocate for victims of police misconduct, continued his vigil inside the courtroom despite being called out in a motion by defense attorneys seeking to have the case moved out of the county.

“It’s been intense, but we are optimistic despite the propaganda,” Calloway told me.

Video by Ashlee Rezin

“They implicated me and a couple of more activists that have been attending these hearings as intimidating jurors,” he said.

“But these demonstrations for Laquan McDonald have been peaceful and will remain that way as long as I, and the rest of the co-leaders, continue to lead,” he said.

But the weight of obtaining justice for a then-troubled 17-year-old ward of the state would fall on the shoulders of special prosecutors from outside of Cook County, among them Marilyn Hite Ross, the African-American chief of the criminal bureau for the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office.

While Ross didn’t give the opening statement, her presence brought much-needed diversity in a case that exposes the racial animus that still exists between the Chicago Police Department and communities of color.

Indeed, it was Ross who argued that the defense was using discretionary strikes to remove jurors based solely on their race.

For all the fuss that defense attorneys raised about Van Dyke not being able to get a fair trial in Cook County, it is scandalous that the white police officer accused of killing a black teenager has ended up with a jury where only one black person will help decide the outcome of this racially charged case.