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Activists want Jason Van Dyke to stay locked up with federal charges

After serving just over half of his 81-month sentence in prison, former Chicago police officer and convicted murderer Jason Van Dyke will be out of jail in less than two weeks.

The news touched off anger in Chicago’s Black community, where activists are calling on the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal charges against Van Dyke three years after he was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Under former President Donald Trump, there were five U.S. Attorneys General who led the U.S. Justice Department. Republican Jeff Sessions, who served the longest with 20 months, led the department when Van Dyke was on trial for murdering McDonald. However, no charges were ever brought against Van Dyke.

Now, activists are calling for a 16-day city-wide shutdown of the Chicago transit system, CTA, as Van Dyke is set to be a free man after serving just over three years for a brutal crime against a Black teenager.

The activists made the demands during a January 15 protest at the 95th Street Red Line Station.

“You got a white man that murdered a boy, shooting him 16 times in cold blood on camera,” said William Calloway, who helped persuade a Cook County judge in 2015 to order the release of the video of Van Dyke killing McDonald.

“And the federal government has not even touched him. That’s not justice. That’s racism. We got to call it what it is.”

Supporters of the CTA shutdown point to former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was federally indicted just weeks after being convicted at the state level of murdering George Floyd.

“We are demanding justice of the most simple and basic kind. In any other context, a federal indictment would be the bare minimum that we would see in a situation like this,” Patrick McWilliams, of the Answer Coalition, said.

La’Shawn Littrice, an activist with Make Noise for Change, said, “We did not get sleep last night. Look around at the faces that are standing here because we are outraged, we are disgusted, we are traumatized, and we are hurt, but we are hurt enough to form an organization and a coalition.”

Bishop Tavis Grant with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition says Reverend Jesse Jackson has given activists his full support. There were reports of an upcoming meeting between Jackson and U.S. Department of Justice leaders this week.

“We know the power of boycotts, we know the power of sit-ins, we know the power of marching, we also know the power of our pain, and turning our pain into power is what we’re doing,” Grant said.

After Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, he was placed behind bars in a Cook County jail before being transferred to a prison in Rock Island, Illinois. Van Dyke was then transferred to a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, where he was beaten by fellow inmates within hours of being admitted there. He was then moved to a low-security federal facility in Otisville, New York.

During Van Dyke’s incarceration, many Blacks in Chicago were concerned that he was getting preferential treatment and favoritism as a former Chicago cop. Many still believe that Van Dyke escaped justice after Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced him to just under seven years in prison for a crime that many believe should have kept him locked up for at least 25 years. Minneapolis Officer Chauvin was sentenced to over 22 years in prison after he was convicted last year of killing George Floyd.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul took an unprecedented step of ordering a review of Van Dyke’s sentence, but nothing ever came of it.

Van Dyke’s attorney, Jennifer Blagg, who handled Van Dyke’s unsuccessful appeals to overturn his conviction, said in news reports that her client was eligible to shave half the time off his prison term with credit for good behavior because he was convicted of second-degree murder. Blagg also said the case had taken a huge toll on McDonald’s family.

Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times at 41st and South Pulaski Road on October 20, 2014.

The video contradicted claims from Van Dyke and other Chicago police officers who said McDonald threatened them with a knife.

The city’s law department kept the video from the public for more than a year, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did not bring charges against Van Dyke until 13 months later. When the video was released in November 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused of covering up the murder as he campaigned in the Black community during a runoff race against Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia.

Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Alvarez lost re-election in a landslide defeat against Kim Foxx.

McDonald’s murder prompted a U.S. Justice Department investigation that ordered the police department to enter into a consent decree as part of an agreement for sweeping reforms in its community policing in Chicago’s Black and Latino neighborhoods.

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