Laquan McDonald and the Future of Police Reform in Chicago

Former police Officer Jason Van Dyke is likely to spend about three years in prison for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

On Friday, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan handed down an 81-month sentence to Van Dyke – six years and nine months – based on his conviction of second-degree murder. Van Dyke was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the case, but Gaughan chose to base his sentence on the murder charge, ruling that to be the more serious offense.

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For some, the sentence was a small but mighty victory – it’s been half a century since a Chicago cop was convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting. But others expressed outrage over the sentence, which they say did not bring justice. It was a sentiment compounded by the fact that on Thursday – just a day before Van Dyke’s sentencing – three other officers were acquitted of conspiring to cover up details of McDonald’s shooting.

Journalist Jamie Kalven, whose early work was instrumental in bringing attention to the 2014 shooting, said the verdict in the conspiracy trial was particularly disheartening because it put the so-called police code of silence in the spotlight.

“Part of it is just human nature because no one likes a tattletale and the solidarity of (police) partners is very important,” Kalven said. “Those are honorable impulses, but they can metastasize into something completely monstrous and terrible.”

Former Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo, who led the police union at the time of the shooting, rejects the idea of a code of silence in the department.

“I do not believe that in 2015, which is when all this came out, that officers would risk the livelihood of their families and careers, which rides on their employment, and change their documents to try to cover up for a police officer they know did something wrong or criminal,” Angelo said. “I still believe that.”

In Kalven’s eyes, the culmination of both cases, combined with a federal consent decree for police reform and a new mayoral administration on the horizon, present a watershed moment and opportunity to work towards improving relations between the police department and the communities it serves.

“It would be a great loss if people became demoralized by these judicial decisions or concluded that the problems are intractable,” Kalven said. “The great task ahead means taking on systems that produce such unjust results.”

Kalven and Angelo join us in discussion.

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

Related stories:

Jason Van Dyke Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison

How Will the Laquan McDonald Conspiracy Trial Impact Police Reform?

Chicago Cops Found Not Guilty in Laquan McDonald Cover-Up Trial

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