Four years ago, a white police officer opened fire on a black teenage boy outside a Burger King in Chicago, according to The New York Times. The killing, captured on a dashboard camera, reshaped the city.
After a jury found him guilty of murder last year in the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke faced a judge on Jan. 18 to determine his sentence. According to Reuters, Van Dyke was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison, though he could have faced up to 20 years in prison for his second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery, one count for each shot he fired at McDonald.
According to Reuters, activists wanted a longer sentence due to the influence this case has had on Chicago and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Upon hearing his sentence, Reuters reported that Van Dyke sat expressionless and unshaven in his yellow-orange uniform.
Van Dyke’s conviction in October 2018 was a landmark verdict, as it was the first time an on-duty Chicago police officer was held criminally accountable for killing an African-American, according to Global News. The verdict sparked celebratory street demonstrations in Chicago, as the jury’s verdict followed numerous acquittals of police officers facing criminal charges across the country in the deaths of black men.
A recovered dashcam video showed the incident and prompted the dismissal of the city’s police superintendent. People also called for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign, according to Reuters. During the three-week trial, prosecutors showed the video repeatedly. Jurors faulted Van Dyke for escalating the conflict with McDonald when he could have waited for an officer with a non-lethal Taser weapon.
Police killings of mostly unarmed black men and teenagers elsewhere in the United States helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, and McDonald became a national symbol of police brutality, according to The New York Times.
The controversial case conjured up many emotions for the people of Chicago, and America at large, who viewed the incident as a tragic injustice against McDonald, according to The Chicago Tribune.
According to The New York Times, Eric Russell, executive director of Tree of Life Justice League (a group from Chicago’s West Side that advocates for police accountability), said that he and other leaders expected hundreds of people to protest the verdict on Friday before Van Dyke’s sentencing.
Despite falling short of the initial sentencing projections, prosecutor Joseph McMahon said he was satisfied with the sentence. According to Reuters, McMahon stated that “there’s nothing to celebrate here. … There is no good outcome. This is a tragedy on so many different levels.”