Crime

Police union blasts ‘sham trial and shameful’ Van Dyke guilty verdict

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police blasted the jury verdict finding Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the shooting of Laquan McDonald — a sentiment that was shared by many members of a Far South Side neighborhood where many police officers live.

In a statement issued Friday, the state FOP — based in Springfield — decried the ruling.

“This is a day I never thought I’d see in America, where 12 ordinary citizens were duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant,” the statement from State Lodge President Chris Southwood said.

President of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Chris Southwood speaks to reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse during the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke murder trial, Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 25, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

President of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Chris Southwood speaks to reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse during the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke murder trial, Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 25, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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“This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back. What cop would still want to be proactive fighting crime after this disgusting charade, and are law abiding citizens ready to pay the price?”

The head of the FOP in Chicago, Kevin Graham, was more cautious in his response to the verdict.

He told reporters outside the courtroom where the verdict was read that he was disappointed in the finding and said that many police officers he talked to didn’t agree with the verdict. He said he personally was upset the case had been used by critics to attack the entire police force.

“They have used this case to really kick around the Chicago Police Department, which has been unfortunate,” he said.

In Mount Greenwood, blue ribbons showing support for law enforcement remain tied around nearly every utility pole, streetlight and many trees along main avenues in the neighborhood. While many residents declined to share their reaction to the verdict Friday, others agreed that Van Dyke was the victim of politics and said they were worried about what it meant for the future of law enforcement.

“He’s a political prisoner. A sacrificial lamb,” said resident Tim Horner, a 47-year-old relative of police officers who work in the south suburbs. “This anti-police movement has gotten so strong these last few years and they made Van Dyke take the fall.

“Do you think he went out that night wanting to kill someone? He was faced with a threat and he had to act. It’s not murder,” Horner said while outside Lanigan’s Irish Pub, 3119 W. 111th. “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a police officer.”

Outside a Walgreens at 111th and Sawyer, resident Julie Grossman called the verdict “shameful.”

“Those lawyers had months to think about the case. Those jurors had weeks. That officer had half a second,” she said. “It seems like people these days don’t want the police to be able to do their jobs.”

The owner of AJ Uniform predicted many residents of Mount Greenwood would not be happy with Friday's verdict. | Paul Biasco/For the Sun-Times

The owner of AJ Uniform predicted many residents of Mount Greenwood would not be happy with Friday’s verdict. | Paul Biasco/For the Sun-Times

Richard Zdun, who for 50 years has owned AJ Uniform, a police uniform and supply store at 2758 W. 111th, predicted most residents of the area would not be happy after the outcome of the trial.

“Knowing the neighborhood and everything else and the problems it has had in the past, I’m sure that they are pretty upset with the decision,” said Zdun, who doesn’t have a background in law enforcement.

The reputation of the neighborhood as having a charged racial past is something that wasn’t lost on Zdun. He’s hoping everyone will move forward after the verdict.

“Someone said it’s the first step,” Zdun said. “It’s unfortunate but it is what it is right now. Hopefully things will change.”

A long-time resident of Mt. Greenwood, who was sitting on his porch drinking a beer and playing guitar, worried it might have a sobering effect on police officers trying to do their jobs.

While he called Friday a “sad day for all involved,” he said he doesn’t want to ”see police officers back down,” citing the so-called “Ferguson Effect.”

“The rights of all of these people [police] are being whittled away,” said the man.

That sentiment was echoed by an off-duty Chicago police sergeant doing yard work outside his home. He was surprised that the jury returned “so quickly” with a guilty verdict.

“I was hoping at least one juror would be able to put themselves in his shoes. You can’t tell everything about a situation from a video,” said the sergeant, who declined to give his name.

“Things have been different since the video came out. Guys out there are thinking twice before they do police work. That’s not what citizens should want.”

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