Chicago leaders react to Van Dyke verdict

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke

The conviction of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald brought responses from political and religious leaders.

Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor and Chicago Police Board president, saw Van Dyke being found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery as a significant milestone in the city’s history. It was the first time in nearly 50 years that a Chicago police officer had been convicted of murder while on the job.

“Going against a national trend in which juries almost always acquit on-duty police officers on criminal charges, this jury found the evidence powerful and compelling — as have so many Chicagoans in the years since Laquan McDonald’s tragic death,” Lightfoot said. “I commend members of the jury for doing their civic duty in such a difficult environment.

“I hope that this decision marks not just a milestone, but a turning point as well. We must pray for Laquan McDonald and his family, and for all those in our city who have been affected by trauma and violence, and we must all work together tirelessly to build a Chicago where all can find justice and peace.”

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, who ran the Chicago Public Schools system, said the trial caused a great deal of pain in Chicago.

“The verdict serves as a watershed moment for police transparency, future law enforcement training and ensuring that there is more accountability following any police incident moving forward.

Vallas said people should remember that the overwhelming majority of Chicago’s police officers are “the highest-caliber individuals. They have chosen to serve because they love Chicago.”

He said first responders routinely risk their lives for others’ safety.

“This trial and the life of Laquan McDonald constitute a tragic example of why Chicago must be united in demanding that we address the inequities and lack off opportunity present in so many long-neglected Chicago neighborhoods,” Vallas said. “Let’s take this opportunity to view the verdict as a healing moment and begin moving ahead in a positive direction for all of Chicago.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is also running for Chicago mayor, tweeted: “While nothing can make up for the senseless loss of young life, I am grateful that there is some justice for Laquan McDonald. Like many, I saw the video and it was devastating. My heart goes out to his family and friends.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said that the verdict would be viewed through the lens each person brings and that some had speculated there would be an explosive reaction regardless of the verdict.

“This would be a repudiation of Laquan McDonald’s family’s plea for nonviolence,” Cupich said. “Let us listen to their voice and decide to pray and not strike out. To extend a hand in friendship, not in hate. To gather in our mutual pain and ask the Lord and each other for the balm of tolerance and love.

“If we choose peace, heart by heart, house by house, block by block, we will show our children and the world that hate has no place in Chicago. Let this be remembered as a turning point — when peace prevailed. Then as Dr. (Martin Luther) King said, ‘We will emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man’ into the bright daybreak of freedom and justice.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson issued a joint statement saying as the jury’s verdict is absorbed, “let us continue to hear each other and partner with each other — as public servants, police and members of the public — and let us ensure our collective mission is what endures for generations to come.

“We come from many neighborhoods, many walks of life and many places throughout the world, but for all of us, this is our home. This is the city we love. We have heard the message countless times in recent days and weeks in church basements, in community meetings and from residents in our neighborhoods. While the jury has heard the case and reached their conclusion, our collective work is not done. The effort to drive lasting reform and rebuild bonds of trust between residents and police must carry on with vigor.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner tweeted: “In the Van Dyke trial, 12 jurors reviewed the evidence and rendered their verdict. We should all respect their decision. Now is the time to move forward as a community.”

State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) wrote on Twitter: “I know I join many of you in breathing a sigh of relief that the officer who murdered Laquan McDonald four years ago was brought to justice. Nothing can take away the pain his family feels, and my deepest sympathies are with them.”

Libertarian candidate for governor Kash Jackson said the verdict alone won’t change things.

“Too many kids in the African-American community find themselves living under the same unfortunate circumstances Laquan McDonald lived through during his short life,” Jackson tweeted. “Until we address the root causes, nothing will ever change and Laquan will never get the justice he deserves.”

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (D-Chicago) said, “As a leader in the West Side and South Side communities, which consist of Lawndale and Englewood, I want to make it clear how important this trial is to the community that directly affects the Second District, our city and state.”

Chicago Ald. Michael Scott (24th Ward) said that he and Deer stand in solidarity with their community.

“We urge everyone to demonstrate peacefully,” Scott said.

In a joint statement, Deer and Scott said, “Our hope is that we take this time to come together from all across the city, county and state, and that all police officers who work within our communities treat our communities fairly and that justice is served.”

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— Chicago leaders react to Van Dyke verdict —