By Kathleen Foody
The Associated Press
Chicago organizers vowed Feb. 4 to continue protests calling for federal charges against Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer released from a state prison Feb. 3 after serving less than half of his nearly seven-year sentence for killing Black teenager Laquan McDonald.
The group speaking at a church on the city’s South Side included eight people arrested Feb. 3 inside the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago for violating the chief judge’s order for demonstrations. Their arrests followed a larger protest outside the building.
William Calloway, a community organizer among those arrested, said the group linked arms, chanted and refused to leave as a planned act of civil disobedience before U.S. Marshals took them into custody.
“We are willing to sacrifice our freedom in the name of justice. And whatever we have to do to continue this message, whatever we have to do peaceably to get our message heard and to get justice for Laquan McDonald, that’s what we are willing to do,” Calloway said.
Calloway said the group of nine people arrested together were in custody for several hours, appeared before a federal judge and were released the same day.
Van Dyke’s conviction made him the first Chicago officer in about half a century to be found guilty of murder for an on-duty killing. But local organizations argued that his sentence and subsequent early release for good behavior was another sign of inequity in the criminal justice system.
“We have to set the standard,” said Ja’Mal Green, a former mayoral candidate who was among those arrested. “We need federal charges so that other officers understand that if you be like Jason Van Dyke, you will be prosecuted on a state level and a federal level.”
The NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, on Feb. 1 also urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring federal civil rights charges against Van Dyke in McDonald’s death.
The Department of Justice did not comment this week on the written request addressed to Garland. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined comment on Friday.
Civil rights charges filed against law enforcement officers are rare, largely because prosecutors must prove that they willfully violated an alleged victim’s civil rights. That’s a higher bar than an accident, negligence or poor judgment.
One high-profile example began last month in Minnesota, where three former Minneapolis officers who were with Derek Chauvin during the arrest that led to George Floyd’s killing are accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights by failing to step in.
Kina Collins, who is running for the Illinois congressional seat long held by Democrat Rep. Danny Davis, was among those arrested Feb. 3. The next day, Collins referenced national Democrats’ public shows of support for Black Lives Matter and other protest movements and said Van Dyke’s release was an opportunity for them to take genuine action.
“Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden … Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, we want y’all all to come out,” Collins said. “Because in 2020, Black folks in this country did not make an excuse. We showed up to the polls. Now we’re asking you to show up for us.”
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Michael Tarm contributed.
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