Chicago ver­dict raises hope of greater po­lice ac­count­abil­ity

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Obituaries/ News -

A rare scene in the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem un­folded Fri­day in a Chicago court­house: A white of­fi­cer stood be­fore a mostly white jury and was con­victed of killing a black teenager.

It was the sec­ond such ver­dict na­tion­ally in two months. Ja­son Van Dyke’s guilty con­vic­tion for sec­ond-de­gree mur­der and mul­ti­ple counts of ag­gra­vated bat­tery for fa­tally shoot­ing 17-year-old Laquan McDon­ald 16 times came two months af­ter a Texas of­fi­cer was con­victed in the killing of a 15-year-old un­armed black boy.

The pair of guilty ver­dicts could sig­nal a shift in mo­men­tum af­ter years of de­layed ar­rests, non-in­dict­ments and not guilty ver­dicts. Ac­tivists and ad­vo­cates say that their ef­forts, along with the ubiq­uity of cell­phone cam­era ev­i­dence, could be chang­ing the power bal­ance be­tween po­lice and black com­mu­ni­ties.

“We’re start­ing to see some ver­dicts that are in line with jus­tice,” said Rashad Robin­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Color of Change, a civil rights group that has sup­ported elect­ing re­form-minded dis­trict at­tor­neys in cities such as Chicago and Philadel­phia. “No ver­dict is go­ing to bring Laquan back or change the way he was taken from his fam­ily, friends or com­mu­nity. But be­ing able to start send­ing a mes­sage to law en­force­ment that they are not above the law is im­por­tant.”

It was not an out­come some ex­pected, de­spite ev­i­dence in­clud­ing a video of McDon­ald’s shoot­ing. It is ex­tremely rare for po­lice of­fi­cers to be tried and con­victed of mur­der for shoot­ings that oc­curred while they were on duty. Be­fore the con­vic­tion Fri­day, only six non-fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cers had been con­victed of mur­der in such cases — and four of those were over­turned — since 2005, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by crim­i­nol­o­gist and Bowl­ing Green State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Phil Stin­son.

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