Like the 1955 Emmett Till case that ignited the civil rights movement, the conviction of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, has galvanized organizations across the nation causing leaders in solidarity to hold marches protesting the scheduled early release of Van Dyke on Thursday, February 3.
Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, joined Reverend Jesse Jackson, and a number of civil rights groups Thursday at the Federal Plaza across from the Dirksen Building, to protest Van Dyke’s early release, based on “good behavior.”
Protesting organizations want the U.S. Department of Justice to file federal charges against Van Dyke for violating McDonald’s civil rights. Civil rights leaders are insulted and angry that Van Dyke is being released early for “good behavior.”
“How can a murderer who shot a 17-year-old 16 times get out of prison early for good behavior?” asked Bishop Grant.
But, then Grant and Jackson also wonder how can a murderer get a six-year, nine-month sentence for shooting a 17-year-old teen 16 times and walk out of prison after serving only a little more than three years?
Activists are angry that Van Dyke, who was convicted in 2019 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery (one count for each shot) is being released after serving 6 years and 9 months. They are demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) file civil rights charges against Van Dyke for violating the teen’s civil rights.
Jackson and his team, which includes clergy from the West and South sides of Chicago, and community activists like Will Calloway, believe filing civil rights charges against Van Dyke is the right thing to do… as was done in the case of the three officers who helped former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kill 46-year-old George Floyd.
While their superior, Chauvin, had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, the trio, former Minneapolis police officers J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, who prevented bystanders from intervening, failed to give Floyd medical care. All three are on trial for violating Floyd’s civil rights.
On Sunday, January 30, 2022, during the “ON THE CASE” talk show, Attorney Antonio Romanucci said the three officers did violate Floyd’s civil rights.
So, the precedent of filing federal charges against police who violate the rights of those in custody exists. Grant said not only should Van Dyke have civil rights charges filed against him as well as the three officers on trial now, but also all policemen convicted of wrongfully killing unarmed Black men.
It is not just the Van Dyke case that is troubling and uniting civil rights leaders across the nation. It is similar cases involving McDonald, Floyd, Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old father shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer on August 23, 2020, and others.
“We think these cases are significant,” Grant told the Chicago Crusader. There is a pattern and practice in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system where Black laws are diminished, instead of us being innocent until we are proven guilty. We’re guilty until proven innocent.”
“Most specifically in the City of Chicago there are a number of cases where there have been a cover-up, a pattern of police abuse, misconduct, witness tampering, torture and men and women who end up losing significant amounts of their lives behind bars only to be found innocent after spending many years fighting for their freedom,” Grant said.
“It is important for us to fight for Laquan McDonald. It is important for us to fight for all of them because as long as they live then justice is possible even after death,” Grant said referring to McDonald who was killed by Van Dyke on October 20, 2014.
Referring to the Thursday rally and others in many places across the nation, Grant said the Rainbow PUSH Coalition was “joining a collaborative effort of raising the voice of the victim. It becomes important for those who are juxtaposed to the cause of social justice and civil rights.”
The rally, Bishop Grant said, was “To hear those voices lifted up and a sustained drumbeat of civil disobedience and direct action. February 3 is one of many days. Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times, and we can expect and anticipate 16 days or more of some form of direct action and civil disobedience until we get justice for him and those who died just like him.”
While some say marching doesn’t work, Grant said,” Marching has got us this far. It is not just marching. It is challenging the public policy. It is having the conviction to make sure that legislation like protecting the voting rights act, like making sure we have access to capital and we have equal protection under the law.
“Marching and civil disobedience are proven tools that civil rights and social justice can bring about not just change here in the U.S. but change all over the world. It still works,” Grant said.
Under his leadership, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition is investigating up to a dozen similar cases. “The irony is that persons are now realizing that civil rights organizations play a significant role in getting the victim and the family of victims an opportunity to raise the profile of their loved one and their cases.
“They are also learning how to fight back. They are learning the reality that silence gives consent and that it is only when we join together and use the tools of civil rights organizations, use the tools of appropriate litigators and the moral authority that everybody deserves equal protection under the law,” Grant said.
Grant noted of Van Dyke’s scheduled early release, “It is a grave and dark moment in criminal justice particularly for Black and Brown people who spent a better part of our existence in these Americas fighting for a central opportunity, to even entertain the idea of Van Dyke getting out on good behavior.
“On one hand, it is disappointing and discouraging, and on the other hand it is pain we will turn into power, and it will fuel this movement not just here in Chicago but across the country, that not only do Black lives matter but the value of Black lives is raised every day when we have to confront a Jason Van Dyke or confront the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery, of George Floyd. The price of Black lives goes up,” Grant said.
Regarding former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng who held down George Floyd while Derek Chauvin had his knee on his neck and who are currently on trial, Grant said, “This case has a very unique nuisance in that two if not three were in some type of training process and the person who was to train them was the perpetrator of the murder of George Floyd.
“It is a nuisance case for the Justice Department because it goes at practice, pattern and policy, many people don’t know that police department does not have a contiguous policy that applies to each police department. It is as if they are governed independently by way of their procedures, their policies, and their union contract,” Grant said.
“What is most interesting in the George Floyd case of the three officers is that they are using the defense that they are trainees, that they did not have the authority by way of pattern, practice and procedure to outrank their superior officer which was Derek Chauvin,” Grant reasoned.
“It is a nuisance case for civil rights and the Justice Department because we never had to go to policy juxtaposed to law.
“Police officers are part of the military operation. Civilians are part of the constitutional dynamic. This case will be very revealing for us to see how they live in two different worlds.
“There is the world of qualified immunity and there is a world of being guilty until innocent. That is a new day for civil rights in terms of us coming into the reality of what real criminal justice reform is all about. It is about going at pattern, practice, and procedure,” Grant said.