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As Van Dyke trial kicks off, more action expected outside courthouse than in

Rev. Marvin Hunter | Sun-Times file photo

Ever since video of the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald rocked Chicago late in 2015, the city has been bracing for the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the officer who fired the notorious 16 shots.

That trial finally gets underway Wednesday, but with a long slog through jury selection.

That’s why, on the trial’s first day, there promises to be more action outside the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse than inside the courtroom of Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan.

Activists have promised to demonstrate outside the courthouse at 26th and California every day of Van Dyke’s trial. Community organizer William Calloway predicted peaceful protests from a “strong coalition of organizers and community activists coming together to demand justice.”

City workers could be seen installing barricades outside the courthouse Tuesday. Meanwhile, McDonald’s family spoke out to let everyone know they are seeking “justice,” not “revenge.”

“We are asking for complete peace,” said Marvin Hunter, pastor at Grace Memorial M.B.C. on the West Side, and McDonald’s great uncle. “We don’t want any violence before, during or after the verdict.”

Hunter said no one — including Mayor Rahm Emanuel — urged him to speak out on the eve of Van Dyke’s trial. He said he’s concerned about “outside forces” causing problems.

Video by Ashlee Rezin | Surrounded by family members and supporters, Rev. Marvin Hunter, Laquan McDonald's great-uncle, addresse

“Most people who talk to me, talk to me as if they are trying to urge me or nudge me into saying this family is looking for revenge,” Hunter said. “This is horrific, it is terrible what happened to Laquan. Laquan is certainly the victim . . . However, we are not looking for revenge. We have no ill feelings toward the family of Mr. Van Dyke.”

He added, “all it takes is for the wrong people to get involved and we’ll have a Charlottesville or even what happened with Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Van Dyke is charged with six counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery and one count of official misconduct in connection with the fatal shooting of McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.

Little is actually expected to take place in the courtroom on the trial’s first official day. An extra-large pool of potential jurors will likely arrive to fill out a questionnaire. Lawyers will be able to review their answers, and the judge won’t begin to question members of the jury pool until Monday.

Outside the courthouse, City Hall has granted a permit to demonstrators who want to protest on the median walkway from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the trial until a verdict or decision is reached, records show.

Calloway said those demonstrations will not be affected by Emanuel’s surprise announcement Tuesday that he would not run for a third term in office. Calloway acknowledged that, “for three and a half years we’ve been vocal about trying to get this man out of office.” But he also said the frustration is “deeper than politics.”

“The next three to four weeks is going to be like the past three to four years,” Calloway said, “and that’s going to be, get justice for Laquan.”

Though Calloway promised that the coalition protesting outside the courthouse will be diverse in age and ethnicity, he called on activists from beyond the South and West sides to join it.

“We need our North Side supporters to come out,” Calloway said. “People in Lake View. People in Rogers Park. People in Logan Square. We need everybody to come out from all across this city and join us in this fight.”