As Jason Van Dyke leaves prison Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the former Chicago police officer’s 81-month sentence for killing Black teen Laquan McDonald a “supreme disappointment” that feels like a “miscarriage of justice.”
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections Van Dyke was released from custody at the Taylorville Correctional Center on Thursday after serving half of his sentence following his 2018 conviction on charges of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
“I understand why this continues to feel like a miscarriage of justice, especially when many Black and brown men get sentenced to so much more prison time for having committed far lesser crimes,” Lightfoot said in a statement Thursday. “It’s these distortions in the criminal justice system, historically, that have made it so hard to build trust.”
Van Dyke was charged more than a year after he shot McDonald 16 times in the middle of a Southwest Side street. Dash camera video of the shooting — which showed McDonald carrying a knife and walking away from officers before he was killed — made national news and sparked widespread protests and calls for reform of the Chicago Police Department.
Despite her issues with the sentence, the mayor said the successful prosecution of Van Dyke marked “significant progress,” as he became the first Chicago officer to be convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting in more than 50 years.
The shooting also led to a Department of Justice investigation of the Chicago Police Department, which eventually resulted in mandated reforms under the ongoing consent decree.
“This prosecution led to historic reforms, including comprehensive legislation that created the first-ever community police oversight body in Chicago, and a consent decree to oversee CPD reform,” Lightfoot said. “There is much more work to do, and it is by doing that work that we can heal from this and move forward towards justice and accountability every day.”
As Van Dyke’s release drew closer, several activists, elected officials and some members of McDonald’s family have been pressuring the federal government to file civil rights charges against the former officer. There’s been no indication such action is being considered, but a rally is expected to be held at the Federal Plaza downtown Thursday.
And while his release date has been known for some time, it had been unclear where Van Dyke was being housed in recent months. The Illinois Department of Corrections had repeatedly declined to state where he was been held, citing an interstate agreement that allows some prisoners to be held outside Illinois.