Less than 24 hours after deliberations began, the jury in the trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke delivered a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of each of 16 charges of aggravated battery with a firearm, and acquittals of first-degree murder and official misconduct.
Despite countless shootings of unarmed persons and even bystanders in the past, this verdict marked the first conviction of a Chicago police officer for murder in nearly 50 years.
While some celebrated the verdict against Van Dyke and others protested the political system that tried to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald, both groups seem to agree that in the city of Chicago for people of color, even with this verdict, justice remains a work in progress.
“Is this going to change the culture of the police? I don’t think so,” said activist LaCreshia Birts, who was among hundreds who flooded downtown streets after the verdict.
Said Antonio Magitt of the social justice advocacy group Good Kids Mad City: “We don’t see this often. This is why you see these people out here right now still celebrating. They didn’t go home. They stayed out in these streets chanting and rooting in celebration that this cop has been brought to justice.”
Magitt said the next steps for his organization are to advocate for more community resources, speak up against police violence and hold accountable the public officials who kept silent on the shooting.
“It is a sign of change and progress,” he said of the verdict, “although there is a lot more that needs to be done. This is a sign that is telling us that as long as we continue to do this work and put pressure on the system, we are going to get progress and change.”
“It is a start. It is a beginning,” added Amika Tendaji of Black Lives Matter Chicago. “Definitely indict, convict, and send these killer cops to jail. But we need to go after the other folks who participated in the cover up: the aldermen, the mayor and change the system and then abolish the police.”
This verdict, Magitt said, puts the police on notice.
“They feel like that badge gives them super hero powers and nothing can touch them,” he said. “So today shows them that they are not above the law and that they cannot come into our communities killing our kids [and] our young sisters… and covering it up.”