The prosecution of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald will be hard on us.
After all, three years after the tragic encounter between the white police officer and the black teenager, protesters were back on the Mag Mile on Black Friday chanting “16 shots and a cover-up!”
What happened under the cover of darkness is memorialized in a video that shows the white police officer firing repeatedly at a black youth who was armed with a small pocketknife.
It is on his lawyer, Daniel Herbert, to make the case that Van Dyke feared for his life when he unloaded his weapon.
Herbert, who has gained a reputation for being a cop’s lawyer, knows what he’s doing and he knows how this city works, so he must know that this racially explosive case could blow up outside the courtroom if it appears justice has been denied.
So I am stunned that Herbert would add fuel to the fire by comparing Van Dyke’s predicament to that of three black sharecroppers who were brutally tortured into confessing in the landmark Brown v. Mississippi case. In that case, a white farmer was murdered and three innocent black sharecroppers were tortured into confessing to the crime.
That 1936 U.S. Supreme Court case held that a “defendant’s involuntary confession that is extracted by police violence cannot be entered as evidence and violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Herbert drew on the twisted parallel during an argument on a motion to force Jamie Kalven, the independent journalist who broke the story of the 2014 police shooting, to reveal his sources.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan must decide whether Kalven had gotten information from reports that included statements Van Dyke made to the now disbanded Independent Police Review Authority.
“Am I comparing Jason Van Dyke to people that have suffered years of slavery? No,” Herbert argued.
But why even go there?
The public is still reeling from the first “mass exoneration” in the history of Cook County just three weeks ago, when felony convictions against 15 men arrested by corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts were tossed out.
“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that police were not being truthful and we could not have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony,” said Mark Rotert, head of Cook County State’s Attorney Conviction Integrity Unit.
And because of the disgraced former Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, Chicago had to pay 57 people reparations totaling $5.5 million.
Van Dyke wasn’t brutally tortured. He wasn’t beaten into a bloody pulp. No one put a noose around his neck in an act of pure hatred.
In fact, after the McDonald shooting several police officers allegedly built a blue wall of silence around Van Dyke.
That wall didn’t crumble until activists like Kalven started hammering.
Since then three police officers have been charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice and are accused of providing false reports.
Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said the officers “lied in order to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth.”
Four other veteran Chicago police officers were suspended, but they were put back on the payroll when the police board delayed disciplinary proceedings until after Van Dyke’s criminal trial.
Van Dyke was suspended without pay and has been off the street since Nov. 2015.
Last summer, the judge barred some of Van Dyke’s statements based on another Supreme Court ruling that did not have racial overtones.
“The Garrity motion is based on constitutional violations, immunized statements, should not have been used,” Herbert said. “It’s the same thing legally as those sharecroppers who were tortured.”
But what about morally?
Herbert’s argument makes a mockery of Chicago’s history of police torture.