All of Chicago is anxiously awaiting the verdict in the murder trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke.
It goes beyond our city, actually. A national media spotlight is shining on us, and for the worst of reasons: A white police officer pumped bullet after bullet into a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, who fell to the ground as the bullets kept coming.
Sixteen bullets — “16 shots,” as the protesters chant — all captured on a police dashcam video that City Hall and the Cook County state’s attorney were forced to release.
It‘s all an ugly, painful, horrific saga that Chicago now must, somehow, transcend.
As the jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon, fears of widespread violence, in the event that Van Dyke is acquitted, welled up. The Chicago Police Department responded with a plan to put 4,000 more cops on the streets once the verdict is announced. Schools could be put on lockdown if the announcement comes during school hours.
There is no doubt that African-Americans, in particular, are apprehensive. Black Chicagoans look at McDonald, lying on the ground in that video, and see their son, nephew, brother or cousin.
They see every male relative who could be the next black victim of a white police officer on a dark night.
All black Chicagoans understand why some of their neighbors and friends might erupt in anger, even if they vehemently condemn such a response. They understand the anger reflected in the utterly unacceptable calls for violence popping up on flyers and in social media posts.
“Hell yeah, we’re all thinking about it, and I’m worried it might send some people over the edge,” Sheri Stokes, an Austin resident, told NBC News.
We don’t know what the jury, who saw all the evidence, will decide.
But no matter the outcome, we have confidence that all the worries are overblown. We’re confident that most Chicagoans are responsible citizens who, if they take to the streets and protest, will do so vigorously but peacefully, as dozens of faith leaders and community activists have urged.
Peaceful protests are the public’s right.
Peaceful protests are the Chicago way.
And peaceful protests — this cannot be emphasized enough — work.
Remember what happened after officials finally released the Laquan McDonald video?
Furious, but peaceful, demonstrators hit the streets, and a whole system of institutional bias was forced to bend.
A police superintendent lost his job. A state’s attorney lost her re-election. The Justice Department was brought in to investigate the police department, which has led to a court-enforced plan for sweeping police reforms.
A mayor, one could argue, decided not to seek a third term.
All of that, from peaceful protests.
Laquan McDonald’s family is entitled, more than any protester or activist, to a lifetime’s worth of righteous anger. Yet it was the teen’s great-uncle, Marvin Hunter, who said before the trial, “We don’t want any violence before, during or after the verdict.
“Most people who talk to me, talk to me as if they are trying to urge me or nudge me into saying this family is looking for revenge,” Hunter added. “This is horrific, it is terrible what happened to Laquan. … However, we are not looking for revenge. We have no ill feelings toward the family of Mr. Van Dyke.”
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon began his closing arguments on Thursday by homing in on a key point: that Van Dyke, before he even arrived on the scene, spoke about possibly shooting McDonald.
“We know defendant Jason Van Dyke was contemplating shooting Laquan before he even arrived,” McMahon said. “Before he ever laid eyes on Laquan McDonald.”
But defense attorney Daniel Herbert, in his closing argument, insisted the shooting was “a tragedy but not a murder.”
The judge then gave the jurors options. They could find Van Dyke guilty of first-degree murder, he said, or second-degree.
The decision is in their hands.
Whatever it may be, the people of our city will rise above.
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