On Jan. 24, leaders from Chicago’s Black community and activists from across the city hosted a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters demanding that federal prosecutors charge former Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke with civil rights violations for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said at the event that he completely supported the campaign to bring federal charges against Van Dyke. In addition to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, over a dozen local and national organizations were represented at the press conference.
Van Dyke was found guilty of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in 2018 and is eligible for release Feb. 3. He has served three years, less than half of his already short sentence. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, and city officials refused to release a dash cam recording of the murder for over a year.
McDonald’s aunt and grandmother spoke at the press conference. His grandmother, Tracey Hunter, said of Van Dyke’s release, “If the tables were turned, my grandson would have never saw the light of day.” She also said there were still details about Laquan’s murder that have not been released to the public. “After [Van Dyke] killed [McDonald], he ran over his body. A whole tire mark across his t-shirt, and then he beat him to make it seem like he fought back,” she said.
She ended by asking President Biden to intervene in the case and called for the masses of people to take action, “We are going to do everything we can, and please, we are asking the millions of viewers to come out here with us on this hill.”
Activists point to the federal civil rights charges against Derick Chauvin and other officers in Minneapolis for the murder of George Floyd as an example federal prosecutors can follow. Similarly, the men who lynched Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia are facing federal hate crime charges in addition to the guilty verdict at the state level.
Community activist Will Calloway, who was instrumental in the campaign to release the video and bring state charges against Van Dyke, spoke at the event. He said, “There’s people that have been in detention centers waiting to go to trial longer than what Jason Van Dyke has spent in prison.”
He put the struggle for justice in the case of McDonald’s murder in the context of the wider struggle against racist police terror. “This is a clear and direct message to every awful law enforcement officer all across the country if Jason Van Dyke is released. He is the epitome of everything that is wrong with law enforcement in our country. It isn’t just about Laquan McDonald. This man had countless incidents with African Americans while he was in the Chicago Police Department. This was just the one where he killed somebody, and we caught him in the act. We need to make sure he is held accountable. Laquan McDonald is not an isolated incident when it comes to Chicago police.“
Activists are appealing to public transit workers to shut down the buses and trains on Jan. 31 in solidarity with the movement to indict Van Dyke. The predominantly Black workers have faced dangerous conditions during the pandemic, and the city has so far refused to provide relief like adequate PPE or institute hazard pay. Activists hope to build solidarity between the struggles against racist police terror and the fight for labor rights.
The event was also attended by Congressman Bobby Rush and other Illinois politicians, showing that elements of the Democratic Party are publicly calling for Biden’s Justice Department to intervene.
Those interested in the campaign to indict Van Dyke can sign a petition here. There will also be actions in Chicago demanding that federal prosecutors press charges over the next week in Chicago, leading up to a protest on Feb. 3 at Federal Plaza.
Feature photo: On Jan. 24, Laquan McDonald’s family members discuss the upcoming release of killer cop Jason Van Dyke, who murdered McDonald in 2014. Liberation photo