It’s been eight years since former police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke — who shot McDonald 16 times — was convicted of killing the teenager in 2018. Van Dyke was released from prison Thursday after serving less than half of his 81-month sentence.
Some of McDonald’s family members, along with political leaders and community activists, are calling for the federal government to bring civil rights charges against Van Dyke.
McDonald’s grandmother, Tracy Hunter, says it is difficult to see Van Dyke leaving prison.
“It’s a very hurt feeling because that man did not serve his time. He did not serve his time. The man took my first-born grandchild from me,” Hunter said.
Hunter says she thinks about McDonald every day. She said he liked to make jokes, dance and ask his grandma what she was cooking. She says people called him “Bon Bon.”
“His life wasn’t so easy, but it wasn’t bad … He played sports and got trophies. You don’t know the pain that I have to live with every day not seeing my grandson, not hearing his voice, not talking to him,” Hunter said.
Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, was disappointed in the sentence Van Dyke received. He thinks it should have been longer. But he said the conviction was still an accomplishment.
“I still stand that it was a victory because Jason Van Dyke did get prosecuted. We have not had a police officer prosecuted in 50 years — in recent history, and I think that is a major victory for Black people because before Mr. Van Dyke, no one was ever held accountable in this country for what they were doing to Black people,” Rev. Hunter said.
But, Rev. Hunter doesn’t feel federal charges should be brought against Van Dyke at this point. Instead, efforts need to be focused on making systemic changes in the government and its laws.
“If Jason VanDyke gets a thousand years it won’t stop me as a Black man from being mistreated by police officers that have biases against me because of the color of my skin, to change that I must change the laws,” Rev. Hunter said.
However, political and civil rights leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush are calling on the Department of Justice to bring charges against Van Dyke for violating McDonald’s civil rights.
“I want the people of Chicago and the people across the nation to know that we’re not just raising an alarm about this now. This is not new for us. The moment that he was sentenced to 81 months in prison we rang the alarm to the Department of Justice,” said Will Calloway, an activist at a news conference Wednesday.
Calloway was influential in pushing for the dashcam footage of the shooting to be released in 2015, a year after McDonald was killed. The footage led to outrage and protests across the city, and ultimately to charges being brought against Van Dyke.
Richard Wooten is a retired Chicago police officer. After the footage and reports of cover-up related to the shooting came out, Wooten says he saw another side of the police department that was willing to cover up “something that they knew was wrong.”
“It’s not an easy job at all but it’s a responsible job — they tell us that we are held to a higher standard. If they’re [going to] hold us to a higher standard in the streets, then we need to be held to a higher standard in the court of law as well.”
McDonald’s grandmother, Tracy, says she’s going to keep speaking out, for McDonald, but also for the other mothers and grandmothers who haven’t gotten justice for their loved ones who have been killed by police officers.
“Why can’t I get justice for my grandson? [I’ll] keep speaking out. I'll keep having my voice be heard until federal charges come against Jason Van Dyke,” said Tracy Hunter, McDonald’s grandmother.