Only the twelve men and women on the jury that convicted Jason Van Dyke of 2nd-degree murder will know what motivated their decision. The shooting death of Laquan McDonald and the subsequent release of dashcam video showing the incident has further widened the gap between Chicago police and the people they serve.
There have already been plenty of protests as well as political repercussions. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired shortly after the video was released. Mayor Rahm Emanuel went from being a rising superstar for the Democrats to choosing not to run for reelection. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was voted out of office.
One thing is certain. Had the jury not convicted Van Dyke, Chicago would be a huge riot zone today. Property would be burning. Fights would be breaking out. Guns would be used in a city that’s not supposed to have guns. It would be chaos unlike anything the city has seen in decades.
Did the jury convict to save Chicago?
The two pieces of evidence that made conviction easy were the attempted police coverup of the events and the dashcam video. The coverup will lead to more trials, keeping the wounds from the shooting open in Chicago for a while. But the video was likely all that was needed for jurists to justify their decision.
Here’s the incident itself. Warning: It is graphic.
This appears to be a situation where use of non-lethal force such as a stun gun would seem appropriate. The knife-wielding McDonald was clearly dangerous. He was energized by a false sense of invulnerability by the PCP coursing through his veins. Walking in the middle of the street in a threatening manner meant that he needed to be taken down.
But he could and should have been taken down without 16 bullets being fired at him. He didn’t lunge at the police as was originally reported. He represented a clear and present danger to the police and everyone around, but with multiple officers around and an empty street, the need for lethal force is hard to argue.
A tougher job than most realize
The infamous 21-foot-rule says that a person wielding a knife can kill a person carrying a gun if they’re within 21 feet of their target. This rule applies to holstered weapons with their safety applied. Van Dyke’s and other officers’ guns were out and ready to be fired. Nevertheless, McDonald was much closer than 21 feet when he spun around just prior to being shot.
Did Van Dyke fear for his life? It’s possible. What many citizens do not acknowledge is that situations like the ones police face with assailants like McDonald require extremely difficult split-second decisions. It’s easy to say McDonald was not a real threat for people watching the video, but being tasked with taking him down 14 feet away makes it very difficult to know when to shoot.
Here’s a Mythbusters video that put the 21-foot-rule to the test.
Being a cop is a tough job. I personally support the police and their decision-making the vast majority of the time. This particular incident is challenging to defend. I stand by my assertion that non-lethal force could have been used.
It can be debated whether or not Van Dyke should have been convicted of 2nd degree murder. Chicago is not burning as a result. Should that justify the verdict or did it stand alone on its own merits? Only those in the jury box know for sure.