Illinois police union chief blasts 'sham trial' after Van Dyke guilty verdict

The head of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, State Lodge president Chris Southwood, blasted the guilty verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial, saying, "This is a day I never thought I'd see in America, where 12 ordinary citizens were duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant."

It's a point of view shared by many Chicago police officers who are often on the firing line in the most violent city in America. 

Chicago Sun-Times:

"This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message to every law enforcement officer in America that it's not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it's the political operatives stabbing you in the back.  What cop would still want to be proactive fighting crime after this disgusting charade, and are law abiding citizens ready to pay the price?"

The head of the FOP in Chicago, Kevin Graham, was more cautious in his response to the verdict.

He told reporters outside the courtroom where the verdict was read that he was disappointed in the finding and said that many police officers he talked to didn't agree with the verdict.  He said he personally was upset the case had been used by critics to attack the entire police force.

"They have used this case to really kick around the Chicago Police Department, which has been unfortunate," he said.

Van Dyke, a 14-year veteran of the Chicago police force with a long history of citizen complaints for excessive force, fired 16 shots into the body of a 17-year-old black teen, Laquan McDonald, in October 2014.  He was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

One can certainly understand why there would be bitterness by police over the politics of the situation.  In fact, city leaders up to and including Mayor Rahm Emanuel are guilty of trying to cover up the incident.  The shooting was originally ruled as justified, but it took more than a year for dash cam video of the confrontation to be released showing Van Dyke pumping several shots into the back of the motionless body of McDonald lying on the ground.  By any reasonable standard, Van Dyke was guilty of a homicide.  But the officer was charged with first-degree murder because he told police who arrived on the scene before the killing that "you're going to have to shoot the guy," thus proving intent to the jury's satisfaction.  He was convicted of second-degree murder because of "mitigating circumstances."

The city erupted in protests that have gone on for three years.  Black activists used the incident as political leverage to pressure the mayor to sign a consent agreement that radically alters the way that Chicago police will be able to do their jobs.  Other activist groups have lionized McDonald – who had a record as long as his arm – as some kind of civil rights hero.  The bottom line, as stated by the prosecutor in his closing argument, is that McDonald deserved to be arrested, not killed. 

So there is something to the complaint that politics played a role in the trial and verdict of Van Dyke.  But before we rush to defend the police department, it should be noted that there are currently three officers under indictment for tampering with and destroying evidence in the case.  This goes to the basic corruption of the police force in the city, which, even more than the consent decree, makes it harder for Chicago cops to do their jobs.

Van Dyke is one of those cops who slipped through the cracks and got on the force.  His superiors looked the other way when citizens complained about his use of excessive force.  He never should have been issued a badge and a gun in the first place.

How many Van Dykes are still out there patrolling the streets of Chicago?  New York?  L.A.?  It's true that the overwhelming majority of police are decent, courageous, and honest.  But until we can figure out how to weed out the undesirables and prevent them from serving, there will be more shootings like that of Laquan McDonald to deal with.

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