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Sentence in Van Dyke police shooting case shows all black lives do not matter

Jason Van Dyke, Daniel Herbert

Ex-Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, center, and his attorney Daniel Herbert, right, listen to proceedings during Van Dyke's sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Friday. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

In the end, the life of teenager Laquan McDonald was not valued.

The 81-month sentence Judge Vincent Gaughan handed down to Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who shot McDonald 16 times, did not reflect the seriousness of the crime.

With time served and good behavior, Van Dyke could serve less time behind bars than it would have taken the 17-year-old McDonald to graduate from high school.

During the long sentencing hearing, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, read a statement he wrote as if the dead teen had written it:

“Please think about me and about my life when you sentence this person to prison because he chose to become judge, jury and executioner and never asked for forgiveness and [why should he] be free when I am dead forever?” Hunter said, reading from his statement.


Prosecutors and some legal experts had speculated that Van Dyke’s conviction on second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm could have put him behind bars for 96 years.

In closing arguments, prosecutors asked Gaughan to impose a sentence in the range of 18 to 20 years. But the judge chose to sentence Van Dyke based on the second-degree murder charge and rolled the 16 counts of aggravated battery — one count for each bullet that struck McDonald — into one act.

The sentencing came after a long day of tearful testimony from victims of alleged abuse at the hands of Van Dyke, who urged the judge to lock up Van Dyke for a considerable period of time — and from supporters, who begged the court to show leniency by sending the father and husband home on probation.

Van Dyke’s wife happy judge showed mercy

“The impact that this crime has had on Laquan McDonald and his family and the impact on Van Dyke and his family — that’s the shame,” Gaughan said before pronouncing the sentence.

“The family has suffered a tremendous amount of pain. I sat here time and time again … so senseless that these acts occurred. … This is a tragedy for both sides. This is not easy. My findings are 81 months in the Illinois Department of Corrections,” he said.

The sentence reflects a level of mercy that McDonald, and young men like him are not shown.

Instead of being treated like a murderer who unnecessarily took the teenager’s life back in October 2014, Van Dyke was given a sentence reflecting the belief that he made a mistake, not that he committed a heinous crime.

While several witnesses, including Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany Van Dyke, and his African-American brother-in-law described Van Dyke as a hardworking “gentle giant,” a “great father,” and a “great police officer,” a parade of African-American men who had been pulled over by Van Dyke in traffic stops, described him as a brutal man who abused black suspects over missing front license plates and loud music.

One witness, Edward Nance, who filed a complaint with the former Independent Police Review Authority and later won a $350,000 civil lawsuit, was so emotionally overwrought on the witness stand, he cried openly and didn’t want to look at Van Dyke.

Edward Nance

Prosecutors called Edward Nance to testify at former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court on Friday. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

And Eric Breathett, who also filed a complaint against Van Dyke for alleged abusive behavior, seemed to take delight in seeing the former officer in jail garb, telling the court Van Dyke was “wearing the right attire.”

Tiffany Van Dyke’s tearful plea that her husband, was doing what he was trained to do and her family had suffered enough was heart-wrenching, as were the letters, and testimony from Van Dyke’s supporters and family members.

Gaughan also likely considered that this tragic incident happened while Van Dyke was responding to a call about an armed assailant.

But this 81-month sentence — coming on the heels of the acquittal of three police officers charged with conspiring to cover up for Van Dyke by making false reports — seems like little more than a slap on the wrist.

Just last week Mickieal Ward, the young black man who was 18 years old when he fatally shot Hadiya Pendleton in 2013, while firing at what he thought were rival gang members, was sentenced to 84 years in prison.

Ward’s senseless act became a symbol of Chicago’s gun violence.

While the 84-year prison term is a tragic waste of a young man’s life, the sentence reflects the value the court puts on Pendleton’s life.

Van Dyke’s decision to shoot McDonald down like an animal in the street made him the symbol of Chicago’s long history of cop brutality.

The sentence should have reflected that.