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Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke stands with his attorneys during his murder trial.
REUTERS/John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune
Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke stands with his attorneys during his murder trial.
VERDICT REACHED

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke has been found guilty of second-degree murder

By Natasha Frost

On October 20, 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was killed in Chicago, Illinois, after refusing police commands to drop his weapon: a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Less than ten seconds after leaving his squad car, Officer Jason Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times, after he allegedly lunged at officers with the weapon. On the ride over to the scene, a Chicago court heard last month, Van Dyke had turned to his colleagues and said: “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”

A little over a year later, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder—the first Chicago officer to be charged with the crime since 1980. Van Dyke said he had acted in self-defense and opted for a jury trial. Today (Oct. 5), after 18 days in court and two days of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. Van Dyke has since been taken into custody; he faces a minimum of six years in prison.

The immediate response to the conviction appears positive. Officials had anticipated unrest, stationing police officers around town to mediate potential clashes. Many schools and employers allowed people to go home early to avoid crowds, and . But after the verdict was announced this afternoon, crowds outside City Hall cheered and shed tears of relief.

In the three years since footage of McDonald’s death emerged, the city has been turned upside down by what many saw as hard evidence of fatal police discrimination against people of color. An official report from the Justice Department released in January 2017 confirmed their suspicions: Police repeatedly and rampantly used excessive force, principally against African-Americans and Latinos. Since then, the city’s police superintendent and top prosecutor have been replaced. Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek re-election.

The result is unlikely to put these months of unrest entirely to bed—or to mitigate the kinds of discrimination at their root. Chicago residents have long awaited closure on the case, and emotions will likely run high tonight: In response, Chicago Public Schools has canceled all sports and after-school activities. Van Dyke’s sentence is yet to be confirmed, but it will do little to change the damning findings of the report, or the very real experiences that underpin it.