Murder? Sixteen bullets? It seemed as if the former Chicago cop’s luck had run out. Hard as Rahm Emmanuel tried, he couldn’t hide the video forever. Hard as the blue brothers tried, their lies were revealed, even if they would be given a free pass for it. Unlike others, he was charged. Unlike others, he was convicted. And so Jason Van Dyke’s luck appeared to run out as he was to be sentenced.
“This is not pleasant and this is not easy,” Judge [Vincent] Gaughan said in delivering his ruling.
It’s not supposed to be.
In fashioning his decision, Gaughan said the law required him to consider the most serious charge for which Van Dyke was convicted. Common sense, the judge found, dictated that be second-degree murder, not aggravated battery. However, Illinois law considers aggravated battery with a gun the more serious offense of the two, carrying stiffer penalties.
“Is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be shot by a firearm or is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be murdered by a firearm?” Gaughan said in explaining his reasoning.
Judge Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke for murder, the crime “common sense” informed him was more serious. Had he sentenced him for the crime the law determined to be more serious, he would have received a mimimum consecutive sentence of six years apeice for two of the batteries, two of the 16 bullets he pumped into Laquan McDonald’s body.
As a result of this decision, Van Dyke will be eligible for release with good time in about three years. Had he been sentenced for the battery, he would have been required to serve 85% of his term of imprisonment. The prosecution sought a sentence of 18 to 20 years.
Watching from the defense table, Van Dyke wiped away a tear.
Toward the end of the hearing, Van Dyke himself stood and said the day he shot McDonald was the worst of his life.
It was the first time he had ever had to fire his weapon in the line of duty, he said, bending his head down to read closely from a handwritten statement.
“And I’m very proud of that fact,” he said. “… The last thing I wanted to do was to shoot Laquan McDonald.”
Van Dyke said he “tried to make the right decision in a rapidly escalating, dangerous situation.”
“It is a choice that I will live with forever,” he said.
It was Laquan McDonald’s worst day as well, but he will not get the chance to live with Van Dyke’s “choice” because Van Dyke murdered him. Emotional though it may be, it’s not meaningful whether McDonald was loved by his family. Even if they didn’t like him much, or he was a rotten human being, Van Dyke still doesn’t get to murder him. But the same can’t be said about Van Dyke.
He was a cop. This fact is why he possessed a gun and felt empowered to use it to mow down this kid in the street like a dog. He was given this gun because he took an oath as a police officer to use it to enforce the law. While “protect and serve” may be nothing more than marketing gimmicks, they still frame the vision of police in which cops wrap themselves.
So this was the first time Van Dyke fired his weapon in the line of duty? To murder? To pump 16 bullets in this black kid who didn’t remotely pose a threat to him or anyone else? And this makes it better, that he didn’t murder before, that his first time out of the box was a murder?
Judge Gaughan is retiring. He’s not a bad judge, but a judge who found himself in a particularly difficult position. Chicago is, as usual, a law enforcement disaster, and he was in the “unpleasant” position of having to make the call that could very likely cause a city to explode. Would it be the cops or the black community that burned and got burned?
When we hear of a sentence for murder, the numbers are usually astonomical, decades if not forever. And that’s only where death isn’t on the table. Yet here, a cop gets convicted of murder and he gets a setence of six years, nine months. And he could be out in about three.
Darren O’Brien, who also represents Van Dyke, told Gaughan that the case “screamed out” for probation given Van Dyke’s clean record and supportive family.
A cop is supposed to have a “clean record.” A cop is supposed to have a “supportive family.” A cop is not supposed to murder a guy in the street like a dog.
“This was the only time he ever fired his weapon in the life of duty. What does that mean? That’s huge,” he said. “It means whatever was going on in that street that night scared him more than anything else he ever saw.”
Was he really “scared,” even if it was an absurdly unreasonable fear, or was he a venal bastard who decided to fire his weapon into some black kid he deemed worthless?
Van Dyke caught one last bit of luck. Laquan McDonald caught 16 bullets. Van Dyke was a cop. McDonald is dead.