Van Dyke’s African-American ‘brother’: ‘People need to know the Jason I know’

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Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke holds hands with his wife, Tiffany, as he walks out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He refers to Jason Van Dyke as his “brother” and his “best friend.”

Yet he’s given no in-depth interviews since the former Chicago police officer was arrested and charged with murdering Laquan McDonald four years ago.

But now Keith Thompson, Van Dyke’s African-American brother-in-law, is finally speaking out.

“We have maintained our silence up till now at Jason’s request,” said Thompson. “He was concerned for our safety.”

In speaking out now, Thompson is attempting to counter the claim that Van Dyke killed McDonald because he is racist.

“We may be a biracial family, but we are a blended family, a close family,” Thompson toldSneed in a late-night phone interview, after he got home from his job as a plant supervisor in Kane County earlier this week.“Although I’m an only child, this guy has become my brother, the only one I’ve ever had.

Thompson, 35, said he’s never agreed with the claim that Van Dyke — whom he and other family members call “Jay” — was a white cop who had no regard for a black life.

OPINION

“When Jay was first charged four years ago, I did not believe for one second this was a racial incident. No how. No way,” he told Sneed.“I never believed this was about color. I never believed what happened was motivated by racism because Jay is not that kind of guy.

“We are a family of no color.”

Thompson absolutely does not believe the shooting of McDonald constitutes first-degree murder, as prosecutors have alleged in a trial that continues this week at Cook County Criminal Court.

“I believed then and now this was not a premeditated murder,” Thompson said. “You’d have to know Jay to know that.”

Thompson, who declined to give too many details about his personal life out of fear for his family’s safety, has known Van Dyke for more than a decade.

The son of a military man, Thompson — whose parents were divorced — moved around growing up, attending 10 different schools. He said he met Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, through his job in Kane County 13 years ago, and then met her husband.

He started dating her sister, Kimberly, about a decade ago, and they are now married. Although they have no children, he and Kimberly are very close to his two daughters from a previous relationship.

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“Jay’s two daughters and our two daughters are very close,” Thompson said.

He and Van Dyke hadn’t always been able to hang out much because of their busy work schedules. But now, “we hang out together every chance we get.”

However, the shooting and the reaction to it has led the family to basically stay off social media and otherwise keep a low profile.

“We keep our curtains drawn and have gone off the social grid,” he said. “We are so aware of the hate that’s out there since the shooting happened.”

Family time has often been in the far suburbs where Thompson lives.

“They’d head out to see us because we live more of a country life and Jay likes to fish and barbecue . . . and our kids all love being together.

“Jay and I would just sit back and talk and have a few beers, just guy talk. But he never talked about work. We just talked family and wives and our four little girls.”

Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, tells Sneed: “Their biggest difference is that Keith is a Sox fan and my husband is a die-hard Cubs fan — and they’ll wear their rival jerseys at a family barbecue and rib each other.”

Added Thompson: “We love being sarcastic with each other, exchanging barbs.”

But they’ve bonded over more serious stuff, too.

“We’ve grown together. Our two oldest daughters are a year apart. Jay and I grew together like brothers.

“Jay is a strong Christian [Catholic] man, a regular churchgoer who has been very protective of his family,” added Thompson, who called Van Dyke “the gentle giant.”

“This is the guy in our family known for being calm, being able to settle things down. Jay’s quiet and 6-foot-4 inches tall, but he can be a talker when it comes to talking trouble down and getting things resolved,” said Thompson.

What would Thompson say to those who say he is speaking out now only because his brother-in-law has been widely vilified as the face of police brutality?

“People are always entitled to their own opinions, but what matters is the truth. People need to know the Jason I know. The guy I bonded with and have become close to,” he said.

While the past four years have been a hardship on the family, Thompson and his wife also want people to know that they are fully aware of the agony the McDonald family has gone through.

“Most importantly, we know we are not the only family suffering because of what happened. We pray for both families involved in all this suffering. We know we are all hurting,” he said. “The McDonald family is also in our prayers.”

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