Those who lived in Chicago saw a promise of justice when Jason Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, was found guilty in 2018 of the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald: Mr. Van Dyke would serve time in prison for shooting the Black teenager 16 times, an act that was captured on a dashboard camera and widely viewed by the public.
Mr. Van Dyke, who is white, was freed from jail on Thursday, three years after beginning a nearly seven-year term. Illinois prisons authorities announced his release. Ms. Van Dyke’s release had been met with indignation by activists in Chicago, who urged on federal authorities to bring civil rights charges against him, claiming that his jail sentence fell well short of what they considered an appropriate penalty for murder.
Mr. Van Dyke’s early release was made possible by Illinois statutes that reward inmates for good conduct while in jail. Activists have long argued that the initial sentence of 81 months was much too mild and should be reduced.
Despite this, Mr. McDonald’s great-uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, who has served as Mr. McDonald’s family spokesperson, said that he had no plans to join in a scheduled rally on Thursday or oppose Mr. Van Dyke’s release.
Police misbehaviour targeting African-Americans was brought to light after the death of Mr. McDonald in October 2014. The incident triggered reforms within the Chicago Police Department, including the use of body cameras while on duty, and the termination of its superintendent. A significant element in Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to run for a third term as mayor of Chicago was the aftermath from the video, which was revealed to the public 13 months after the death and only after a court ordered it to be published.
Last year, at his confirmation hearing for the position of United States ambassador to Japan, Mr. Emanuel was asked about his handling of the issue. He has since been confirmed.
Mr. Van Dyke’s release has been a source of controversy, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected last year, has defended her record on law enforcement problems while conceding the case’s long-term ramifications. Her attempts to keep her daughter from viewing the footage of the incident, which was published in 2015, were revealed in detail during a press conference held earlier this week.
Ms. Lightfoot was the chair of a group that investigated the Chicago Police Department after the murder of Mr. McDonald before becoming mayor. The panel discovered a pattern of systematic racism inside the department following Mr. McDonald’s death. According to her, there have been significant advances since then, particularly in police training and monitoring, while she noted that more needs to be done.
Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one count for each bullet he fired, making him the first Chicago police officer to be convicted in an on-duty murder in nearly 50 years. Mr. Van Dyke was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite the fact that prosecutors sought at least 18 years in jail, Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced him to less than half of that amount.
Judge Gaughan sentenced Mr. Van Dyke merely on the murder count; if he had been convicted on the aggravated violence charges as well, he may have faced a far lengthier prison sentence.
Mr. McDonald’s murder, according to William Calloway, a community leader who in 2015 pushed for the publication of the footage of Mr. McDonald’s death, was a watershed point in Chicago’s reaction to the shooting and subsequent conviction.
Police officers on Chicago’s Southwest Side responded to a complaint of a guy brandishing a knife and attempting to break into cars at the city’s trucking yard. Mr. McDonald was shot after cops arrived on the scene. Officers pursued Mr. McDonald for many blocks before requesting that an officer equipped with a Taser be sent to the location. Mr. Van Dyke arrived on the scene not long after and opened fire as Mr. McDonald looked to be drifting away from cops, according to witnesses.
Activists and family members, including Mr. McDonald’s grandmother Tracie Hunter, were to meet on Thursday afternoon outside a federal courtroom in Chicago to call for a federal civil rights probe into Mr. McDonald’s killing. Mr. Calloway was among those expected to attend.
Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth wrote to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Tuesday, requesting an update on an inquiry that the Justice Department launched in 2015. On the progress of the probe, a Justice Department spokesman did not provide any information.