‘Victory' to ‘Tragedy': Van Dyke Sentence Reaction Varies

Mixed reaction poured in Friday after Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to six years and nine months in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

"I want to say to everyone, everyone in the city of Chicago and across this country, that if they had sentenced him to one minute, it is a victory,” said McDonald’s great uncle Marvin Hunter. “It is a victory because what has happened in this courtroom today has never happened in the history of this county, and it sets a precedent and it sends a strong message to unjust police officers that now you can and will go to jail if you're caught lying, if you're caught breaking the law."

However, Marvin also called for legislative change so police officers will be "convicted properly ... just like any other citizen in the state of Illinois and in this country." He said it was also a “sad day in America” because “this man has clearly committed murder.”

"We are being treated like second-class citizens here in the city of Chicago," he said, adding the sentence "reduced Laquan McDonald's life to a second-class citizen."

Van Dyke's defense, calling the case "emotionally draining," said they are "happy with the sentence." "We certainly wanted probation," said attorney Dan Herbert.

Herbert said Van Dyke "truly felt great" after learning his sentence.

"It was the first time I've seen the guy, honestly since this whole ordeal started, where he was happy," Herbert said. "He's certianly not happy about jail, he's certainly not happy about missing his family, he's happy about the prospect of life ahead of him."

Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said the case was a “tragedy” from the beginning.

"We know that no sentence will bring back Laquan McDonald or undo the hurt to his family and friends,” McMahon said. “Just like no sentence will fix the concerns of the African-American community in this city, cities like Aurora, cities like Elgin and Rockford and across this country."

Activist William Calloway, who was instrumental in the revelation of the video of McDonald’s death, said he was “devastated” by the sentence.

“We're heartbroken, but we're not deterred, we're not giving up,” he said. “We don't agree with the judge's ruling at all. We feel that what Jason Van Dyke did when shooting Laquan 16 times, he deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

“He got 81 months,” he added. “That's a slap in the face to us and a slap on the wrist to him.

As Van Dyke’s family left the courthouse, demonstrators could be heard shouting “no justice, no peace.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson released a statement observing the end of the lengthy legal procedure—but saying little about the sentencing itself.

“Today’s sentencing marks the end of a court case, but our work to bring lasting reform to the Chicago Police Department continues,” Emanuel and Johnson said in a joint statement. “While a jury and judge have rendered their decisions, all of us who love Chicago and call this city home must continue to work together, listen to each other, and repair relationships that will make Chicago safer and stronger for generations to come.”

Other mayoral candidates were quick to issue statements as well--including former police Supt. Garry McCarthy. He said the diversity of American should make its citizens stronger, not pull them apart.

"We must stop the polarization that exists in this city if we are to move forward," said. "We must view each other as human beings, not by our skin color, race, national origin, gender, age, occupation, sexual orientation, language, religion, or political affiliation. We need to come together as a society."

Susana Mendoza also issued a statement.

"While a historic step forward was taken when a jury convicted Jason Van Dyke of the murder of Laquan McDonald, today’s lenient sentence did not fit the severity of the crime,” Mendoza said. “The fact is that our prisons are populated with individuals serving longer sentences for much lesser crimes. While many are justifiably disappointed with this sentence, this has nonetheless sent a message to police officers that if they break the law, there will be consequences. As mayor, I will work tirelessly to rebuild the broken trust between police and our communities to heal our city. Today is just a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Gery Chico said the loss of a child is the worst burden a parent can ever bear and wished peace on the McDonald family. He said the judge’s sentence was “far too light for this crime.”

“Now, we as leaders of this city, have a responsibility to ensure we lead Chicago to be a more just and fair city to all of our citizens,” Chico said. “It is up to us to usher in new criminal justice reforms, world class police training, community policing, and vastly expanded social services. As mayor, I will fight my heart out every single day to achieve these objectives, and I will bring an absolute commitment to implementing the U.S. Justice Department's consent decree.”

Amara Enyia said a “unique sympathy and bias” is evident when police are put through Chicago’s justice system.

“Jason Van Dyke murdered Laquan McDonald in cold blood and will face no more than 81 months in prison -- barely a slap on the wrist for a crime that took the life of a child,” Enyia said. “Today’s sentence makes it even more difficult to make the case that our city is truly invested in repairing relations with the community when our justice system seems to exhibit a perpetual disregard for the voices and opinions of those very communities.”

Mayoral candidate and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the justice system failed “all of our Black and Brown communities” as well as Laquan McDonald.

“Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who shot Laquan sixteen times to death, was sentenced to just 81 months in prison, with legal experts saying he will likely only serve three years. This sentence does not reflect the severity of the crime committed or the senseless loss of a young life,” Preckwinkle said. “The sentence comes just a day after the three officers accused of conspiracy in covering up Laquan’s murder were acquitted of all charges. With so many members of our Black and Brown communities criminalized and jailed for non-violent drug offenses, Van Dyke’s sentence today shows that our lives don’t matter.”

She said law enforcement needs to be held accountable or Chicago will not be able to “move forward.”

“The two sentences this week show the bias, lack of equity and police code of silence in our criminal justice system,” Preckwinkle said. “My heart goes out to Laquan’s family and the activists whose tireless efforts have helped to expose the injustice of our system.”

Bill Daley also noted the strained relationship between law enforcement and the public it serves.

“The jury clearly found Jason Van Dyke guilty of multiple crimes. The court has an obligation to sentence him in a way that is consistent with other defendants,” Daley said. “The appearance of a lenient sentence is a problem at a time when we desperately need to rebuild trust between people and police. We must learn from these situations and work together to repair the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.”

Lori Lightfoot said she was saddened and frustrated by the sentence.

"Judge Gaughan’s sentence of 81 months for the murder of Laquan McDonald is a supreme disappointment," Lightfoot said. "While the judge gave a long oration on technical legal points, he failed to explain and justify this low sentence. Unfortunately, the lack of explanation will only fuel the perception and reality that police officers who commit crimes on duty, even murder, will not be held to the same standards as other defendants. We must continue our city’s long history of peaceful protest—protest that brought this case to light in the first place—as we continue to fight for justice."

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