This week the trial of former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke gets under way. To say it’s highly anticipated is an undersell. In the four years since Van Dyke emptied the clip of his firearm into the body of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald, and the two years since dash cam footage was released, he has largely become public enemy number one for good reason. His actions that night and the subsequent attempts by fellow officers and city officials to cover it up led to widespread protests, national headlines, the firing of then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and an investigation from the Department of Justice to boot. Van Dyke feels as though his side of the story isn’t being told. For some reason, the Chicago Tribune allowed him that opportunity with a story yesterday, just before he sets foot in the courtroom to learn his fate. On it’s surface it may come off as timely journalism or simply getting a scoop, but at its core it plays into the machine politics seeking to exonerate the man.
For the most part, the piece paints the alleged murderer as a misunderstood cop trying to good. At one point, he describes his feelings heading into the trial,
“Of course, I’m extremely nervous,” he said. “I might be looking at the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for doing my job as I was trained as a Chicago police officer.”
He then stopped to collect himself.
“Being away from family,” he said tearfully. “Every day.”
Not to get too off-topic but it’s sickening to see. Sure, it’s possible to empathize with a man who may never leave a jail cell the rest of his life, but Laquan McDonald’s family members don’t get to visit him at all. They didn’t choose this reality. He wasn’t just doing his job. The framing of the piece throughout continues in a very similar vein, one that seems to try to present him as a good cop that made a bad decision.
Audio of the interview was used by WBEZ-91.5 FM; Van Dyke also gave an interview to the Chicago-area Fox affiliate.
Today, less than 24 hours since the piece ran, a special investigator on the case has pushed for charging Van Dyke with contempt of court for his comments. In particular, a phrase from Van Dyke where he described himself as “a political scapegoat and the victim of ‘the bandwagon of hatred’ on social media.” It’s an obvious attempt to challenge the prevailing narrative across the city that the sixteen bullets Van Dyke pumped into the body of McDonald before preparing to reload were not necessary in any sense.
The Chicago Tribune story may be one part of a larger mechanism, seemingly always at work in Chicagoans periphery whether they notice or not. Machine politics are very much alive and the feelings about this case from those inside it have been felt. At the recent Bud Billiken parade, officers gave Vic Mensa who was serving as co-Marshall of the event a hard time for a sign that said “Van Dyke is Guilty”. A similar sign, albeit much larger and hanging from a tent was cause for concern last weekend at Mensa’s “Anti-Bait Truck” initiative. It’s obvious where allegiances stand, and Wednesday’s story further belies the point that the reach extends beyond the precincts and government buildings.
While certain inevitabilities persist in Chicago, there is hope. Another casualty of Van Dyke’s actions has been Anita Alvarez, former State’s Attorney voted out in the wake of her handling of the McDonald case and choice to delay release of the dash cam footage. In her place is Kim Foxx who has made a point to reverse the problems of her predecessors since taking office. In November of last year her office oversaw the largest single exoneration in the state’s history when she overturned the convictions of 15 men. Those wrongful imprisonments were a symptom of the old Daley guard which included the truly evil former CPD Commander Jon Burge who used torture and coercion to get false confessions.
The Chicago Tribune has proved itself to be less than trustworthy in the wake of it’s move away from its longtime headquarters. However, Chicagoans can take uncomfortable solace in the fact that instead of the fourth estate having our backs, it’s the reversal of the great machine that might actually see justice done here.