A white Chicago police officer was found guilty of murder Friday for fatally shooting a black teen, in a killing that triggered months of protests in America’s third largest city.
Jason Van Dyke fired 16 bullets into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald during the 2014 confrontation. The slaying was captured on police video that showed the knife-wielding teen appearing to walk away from officers when he was shot.
The 12-person jury reached a verdict just one day after beginning deliberations, choosing to convict Van Dyke of a lesser second-degree charge, instead of first-degree murder.
He was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm — for each bullet he fired — and acquitted of one count of official misconduct.
A crowd outside the court house celebrated as the verdict was read and began chanting: “Justice for Laquan!”
“This is historic for Chicago,” community organizer Janette Wilson told reporters.
“I would hope that the people of Chicago will really look at this case as a model for the nation.”
Under Illinois state law, a second-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of four to 20 years in prison while aggravated battery with a firearm means six to 30 years.
– City on edge –
The case hinged on the police dash-cam video footage in which the officer was seen continuing to fire after the teen fell to the ground and lay motionless.
The jury reached its verdict after 10 days of testimony in which the officer claimed self-defense, while the prosecution accused him of making a rash and unjustified decision to shoot.
The city was on edge in advance of the verdict, as some activists had called for demonstrations against police abuse regardless of the outcome.
City officials and business owners beefed up security, while police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said thousands of officers were being deployed.
“As always, any and all criminal activity that jeopardizes the safety of the people of Chicago will not be tolerated,” Guglielmi said on Twitter.
The city of Chicago had already reached a $5 million civil settlement with McDonald’s family.
There were months of protests and calls for resignations following the dash-cam video’s release to the public, more than a year after the shooting and only after a judge compelled city officials to do so.
There were also allegations of an attempted cover up, as Van Dyke wasn’t criminally charged until the day of the video’s release.
The shooting has become emblematic of decades of police abuse in the Midwestern city — often targeted at Chicago’s African-American population.
It has taken on the same dimensions as other similar, high-profile and deadly encounters between police and African Americans that led to the foundation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But prosecutions around the nation have been rare and officers often have avoided conviction — demonstrating the difficulty of holding police officers to account for split-second, life-or-death decisions.
In Chicago, the aftermath of the McDonald shooting has convulsed the city’s politics and led to significant changes in its police department.
The city’s police chief and lead prosecutor both lost their jobs. The new police chief, Eddie Johnson, recommended that seven officers be fired for filing false reports about what had taken place.
Three of the officers have been criminally charged with conspiring to mislead about the threat McDonald had posed. They are awaiting trial.