Ministers and Community Activists Respond to Decision to Charge CPD Officer with Murder

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With news that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald, we talk with activists and faith leaders about the charge and what reactions they expect from their communities.

Joining us in discussion are the Rev. Marshall Hatch, who is the pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church; the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church; and Jedidiah Brown, founder of the Young Leaders Alliance. We also spoke with Rev. Michael Pfleger by phone earlier today.

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Below, some highlights from our discussion.

On public reaction to the video

"People are very angry about it," said Hatch. "We already have a disconnect between the community and the police. This is going to exacerbate that. I suspect that there's going to be a lot of spontaneous reaction. Of course, we hope a lot of organized, and peaceful and constructive reaction."

"I believe that cooler heads will prevail," said Acree. "I think people will do just as Rev. Hatch alluded to: people know how to organize, how to voice their concerns. I think they will call for a special prosecution, to come in and investigate all three entities involved: the mayor, the superintendent and the state's attorney."

"In that he's the only officer to fire his gun, it just kind of stretches the credibility that somehow this was a justifiable act," Hatch added. "There were other policemen on the scene, but only one officer fired his gun, and he fired it 16 times. That makes him an outlier by definition."

On meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in advance of the video's release

"Basically he was trying to ask us to use our influence to call for calm," explained Acree. "That's what the meeting was all about. In one instance it got very contentious, because he even suggested that if we allow this city to blow up, that there'll be hell to pay."

"People were offended by that," added Hatch. "[That] somehow we are charged with keeping the peace. We're not peace officers. We can't take responsibility for a set of circumstances–and even an atmosphere–that we didn't create.

"It was clear to me that the mayor is disturbed personally, and also that it's a very nervous time for the city. I don't think any of us know exactly what to expect. I think that there's a lot of concern about people coming in from the outside, because the mayor himself is an obvious lightening rod for a lot of people with different causes. You could see that there is a lot of concern about what could happen."

"[The mayor] looked weak, he looked worn, he looked tired, he looked frustrated. You could tell he was on the hot seat," said Acree.

On how they describe their roles

"I supported the mayor's reelection," said Brown. "I've got one role, and that's to make sure my endorsement of him doesn't fall short of my expectations. I'm at the table to hold him accountable and to make sure that they understand that we will not go back to business as usual after this. There have got to be some results and not just rhetoric and catchy phrases."

"I was there for one purpose yesterday," said Acree. "My people feel betrayed; my people feel violated by three entities of government. I wanted to make sure that someone speaks for them. That's my role. I'll be speaking up for my community. That's who I represent."

"Our challenge, really, to the mayor–mine in particular, and others–is justice for Laquan McDonald," said Hatch. "Let's talk about that preeminently. Let's talk about what is the truth and let's be transparent and let that guide the way in this time of crisis."

"My concern going forward is just that ... is leadership not understanding that across the board, there's been a failing of the black community in the city of Chicago's South and West Sides," said Brown. "This situation is one that is at a tipping point; a boiling point. I'm concerned that our leadership would allow this to pass and not make sure that it doesn't go back to business as usual."

Play the video to hear our full discussion.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, is an outspoken activist who often speaks about violence in the city. “Chicago Tonight” spoke with Pfleger ahead of the release of the video showing the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a police officer in October 2014. 

The Rev. Michael PflegerThe Rev. Michael Pfleger If someone wants to publicly express their reaction to the Laquan McDonald video, what’s the best way for them to do that?

I believe in protests, and I believe in sit downs and sit-ins, and boycotts. I believe in civil disobedience. I do not believe in violence. It is never an acceptable response. I’m a disciple of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and [he said] if we resort to violence, than you become just like the perpetrators.

I said to my church on Sunday, please don’t resort to violence. Let’s not lower ourselves to the standard of the police officer that killed [Laquan McDonald].

I read an article that said you were calling for people to block Michigan Avenue on Black Friday to make a statement. What are you specifically calling for on Black Friday?

Boycott downtown Chicago shopping on Friday. Stay off Michigan Avenue. Stay off State Street. Don’t shop. Use the economic dollar to boycott. Secondly, if you do want to do a sit-in and civil disobedience: sit on the sidewalks and the street of Michigan Avenue on Friday, and disrupt the business flow of one of the biggest shopping days of the year. And I believe that is a much more powerful and long lasting message being sent than the breaking of windows or turning over of cars. The focus will be on the people who did that and take the attention off of what the police officer did.

Were you among the ministers and activists that met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel? What did you take away from that meeting?

Yes, I was. I think the mayor wanted to be clear that he needs all of our help to try and cause the city to be peaceful. People have the right to protest and demonstrate. He wanted us to call for nonviolence, and I have no problem with that at all.

What do you think of the timing of the release of the video?

The charges were filed today. Why did the federal government, which still hasn’t done anything, and the state’s attorney’s office take all of this time to file charges? It’s a disgrace. You know Anita Alvarez’s [investigation] and the federal investigation should’ve been done 11 months ago and charges should’ve been filed then. I think the length of time that’s been allowed to go on is fueling the anger and outrage, and I understand that. It is unacceptable.

What’s your reaction to the reports of what transpired in the video?

I have not seen it. I have only spoken to a person who’s seen it who told me it’s horrific. And until I see it, if I see it, I don’t want to make any comments on it till I’ve seen it myself. I think that, this reality of law enforcement being involved in the killing of black men is not a new, unfortunately, thing in our country. It’s going on all around America, and it’s enough of this. The killing of children whether it’s Tyshawn Lee in an alley or Laquan McDonald—it makes no difference—anyone who does it needs to be punished. But a police officer is paid to be a professional, paid to protect and serve, not paid to be a killer.

When it’s released, will you watch it?

I haven’t decided that yet. We’re contemplating inviting some young folks who want to see it to come together and watch it together and process it together. We’re still having conversations.

Interview has been condensed and edited. 

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