“We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder.”

With that sentence, justice of a kind arrived for Laquan McDonald and his family. With that sentence, palpable relief mixed with sadness settled over Chicago.

Relief because the painful, horrifying story of Laquan’s shooting was over. Relief, especially among black Chicagoans, that a jury — a mostly white jury — valued the life of a black teenager and decided that 16 bullets, pumped into him by a white officer seconds after he jumped out of his squad car, warranted a criminal conviction.

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Look across the nation at all the other police shootings in recent years that seemed equally indefensible, yet ended in acquittals. Chicago made history Friday with this verdict.

But we feel sadness too. Laquan is dead and will never have an opportunity to transform his troubled young life. His family is grieving.

Then there’s the Van Dyke family. A wife and two young daughters will see a husband and father, now behind bars, likely head off to prison for many years.

Jason Van Dyke

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s mugshot taken after he was found guilty in the Laquan McDonald shooting. | Provided photo

The tight-knit police community is hurting, too, though post-verdict statements from some police union leaders won’t do much to engender sympathy.

A “sham trial?” Twelve jurors “duped”? A “shameful verdict” that will hamstring officers from doing their jobs”?

Members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police said all of that, and it’s nonsense. The shame is on them for such poor judgment on such an emotionally loaded day.

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Chicago, in the glare of a national media spotlight, can be proud of how the trial was conducted, without grandstanding or unrest. The 12 jurors, far from being “duped,” handled their civic duty with care and diligence, fully weighing the evidence before handing down their verdict. 

And any cop who says this verdict will keep officers from doing their jobs, or from pulling their weapons when faced with a real threat, is simply not talking like a good cop. Remember, no other officer on the scene the night Laquan was shot found it necessary to pull their gun.

This verdict doesn’t put a chill on good police work, just horrific police work.

“We the jury find the defendant guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm.”

Van Dyke was convicted on all 16 counts, one for each bullet that hit McDonald.

Along with relief and sadness, we’re also hopeful that with this verdict our city has taken another modest step toward easing longstanding racial tensions. We trust it will help repair the fractured relationship between police and the black community.

Here’s where Mayor Rahm Emanuel can make a difference. After the verdict, an adviser to Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Emanuel, now a lame duck, not to take up renegotiating the police union contracts or the provisions of the city’s consent decree for policing reform.

We disagree. Because Emanuel is not running for a third term, he has freer rein to seize the moment. He can push even harder for reforms that could transform our police department into a national model for effective policing and support the thousands of fine cops who do their incredibly tough job every day with professionalism and integrity.

The mayor himself said it best after the verdict: “The effort to drive lasting reform and rebuild bonds of trust between residents and police must carry on with vigor.”

Here are four reforms we support in the FOP contract

  • Allow people to make anonymous complaints about police misbehavior without requiring a sworn affidavit or having their name turned over before an officer is questioned about an allegation. The current rules discourage people from coming forward because they fear retaliation.
  • Do not allow police officers to wait 24 hours before providing a statement after a police-involved shooting, or to amend their statements after reviewing video or audio evidence. Also, rescind the ban on rewards for whistle-blowing officers. That’s no way to ensure accurate internal investigations.
  • Eliminate rules that hide habitual police misconduct. It should be acceptable to use past disciplinary records in investigating complaints. A provision that requires the destruction of police misconduct records should be eliminated. It shouldn’t be necessary for the superintendent to authorize action on complaints that are five years old or older.
  • Do away with limitations on how interrogators can ask questions of officers when they are investigating police misconduct.

We also support other reforms that directly benefit police officers, such as better mental health services and a new public safety training academy.

The best person to push for all of this is an outgoing mayor who doesn’t have to count votes.

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