Jason Van Dyke probably didn’t expect to be the face of police violence in one of the city’s most violent and divided cities. But, since the 39-year-old former officer emptied a clip into the body of a largely defenseless teenager open the city’s south side four years ago, he’s become just that. His place amongst the fraught history of the police department and citizens in Chicago became more apparent last week as protestors filled the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 2650 S. California Ave. inside and out for his latest hearing. Those in attendance made sure that Van Dyke and those supporting him were aware that they haven’t forgotten about the trial. While some cases of similar circumstance lose steam or interest over time, the McDonald murder has remained a catalyst for the community in railing against police misconduct.
At the hearing, Van Dyke’s lawyer made sure to mention that he would be filing a change-of-venue motion because he didn’t believe his client would get a fair trial in Chicago. While that may be true, the point of the American justice system is to be judged by a jury of your peers and in Chicago, the consensus seems to agree that the 2013 shooting was an unnecessary and egregious use of force. Multiple marches, rallies and talks have been held across the city in the years since the striking dash cam footage was released and his name has even found a place in pop culture. Chicago rapper Vic Mensa made direct reference to the McDonald shooting with his 2016 single “16 Shots” which became a rallying cry for protestors and Chance The Rapper made a point to adjust lyrics in his single “Ultralight Beam” to directly reference Van Dyke on national television several times.
With more hearings and an eventual trial still ahead, you can expect the voices to stay just as loud as they were last week. It’s become obvious that in a world led by Donald Trump and serviced by a contingent of officers and community organizers that do little to hold their own to any sort of responsibility, Van Dyke may well become the poster child for this recent spate of police-involved crime. As similar cases across the country have found cops innocent one after another, the stakes for the Chicago officer’s upcoming trial seem larger than ever.