White cop convicted of murder in shooting death of black teen in Chicago

Jurors convicted a white cop of second degree murder Friday, nearly four years to the day after he shot and killed a black teenager armed with only a knife, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke could spend up to 20 years in prison after gunning down 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the city’s southwest side on Oct. 20, 2014. The prosecution hung their case on dash camera footage showing the moment Van Dyke unloaded his service pistol into the teen as he walked away from two squad cars parked in the middle of a busy street.

Autopsy results showed McDonald sustained 16 gun shot wounds and had PCP in his system at the time of his death. His fatal encounter with police came after neighbors witnessed the teen breaking into cars and slashing tires, according to the AP.

Van Dyke and the department insisted McDonald carried a knife in plain view that night, lunging at officers and refusing demands to drop his weapon. After a judge ordered the release of the dash cam footage, however, angry protests over police brutality against people of color erupted across the city, forcing the department to distance itself from Van Dyke’s version of events and press charges of first degree murder. Three other officers were charged with obstruction of justice in what became widely-viewed as a symptom of the department’s “cover-up culture.”

Prosecutor Jody Gleason told jurors during closing arguments Thursday the footage disputes Van Dyke’s entire narrative. “None of that happened,” she said. “You’ve seen it on video. He made it up.”

Defense attorney Dan Herbert argued testimony from witnesses, including Van Dyke’s partner Joseph Walsh, rendered the footage “essentially useless.” He said McDonald could have prevented his own death by simply dropping the knife.

“The video is not enough,” he said. “It shows a perspective, but it’s the wrong perspective.”

Jurors opted against convicting Van Dyke of first degree murder, despite arguments from Gleason citing defense testimony indicating Van Dyke — upon learning McDonald had slashed the tire of a squad car — told his partner “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”

“Laquan McDonald was never going to walk home that night,” she said, noting Van Dyke’s statement proves he premeditated the act. “They do not have the right to use deadly force just because you will not bow to their authority. This is not the Wild West out here … where an officer can shoot an individual … and try to justify it later.”

The second degree conviction indicates jurors believed Van Dyke feared for his life the moment he began firing at McDonald, though his reaction was unreasonable, according to the AP.

“I can’t rejoice because this man is going to jail,” said McDonald’s uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter. “I saw his wife and father. His wife and daughter didn’t pull the trigger. I could see the pain in these people. It bothered me that they couldn’t see the pain in us.”

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