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Laquan McDonald Murder Trial Begins In Chicago


First-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct - those are the charges facing Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke. His trial got underway today with jury selection. Van Dyke, who is white, is accused of killing Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old, in 2014.

McDonald had been walking down a street holding a knife. Officer Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times. The city only released a dashcam video of the shooting after being ordered to by a judge a year later.

Now, outside the courthouse this morning, protesters held signs that read justice for Laquan and 16 shots and a cover-up.






CORNISH: Columnist Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun-Times describes the circumstances of this case as a combustible brew. She joins us now to talk more. Welcome to the program.

LAURA WASHINGTON: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Now, it's been four years since Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by Officer Van Dyke. And in your most recent column, you raise this question. Is Chicago ready? What do you mean by that?

WASHINGTON: Chicago has never gone through the experience we're about to encounter. It's been four years, first of all, and that's a very long time to wait for justice in the minds of many people. There's never to my knowledge been a police officer who's been convicted of first-degree murder in a case like this. So there are a lot of people who have very high expectations and, fair or not, believe that Van Dyke is guilty. And if he is found innocent, if the outcome is anything different from what they're expecting, there may be some anger, resentment, and it may even be explosive.

CORNISH: The issue of police brutality is a longstanding one in Chicago. There are many communities of color that have trust issues with the police. What's been the effect of this McDonald case on that debate?

WASHINGTON: I think that there have been for at least 50, 60 years allegations - very credible allegations - of police misconduct. We've had a number of investigations. There have been some officers who have been charged and convicted for torturing criminal suspects. But there's never been a case quite like this one. I think there are a lot of expectations that are being put on this case that finally we will see justice after maybe decades of being ignored, decades of being disrespected.

But these cases are very complicated. And you have a big divide in terms of how people view the police. People of color, people in the south and west sides of Chicago don't trust the police, don't have a very personal relationship with them, whereas people in other parts of the city, people who haven't seen misconduct, are wondering, well, what's wrong with the police? They're there to protect us. They're our friends.

CORNISH: Yesterday Laquan McDonald's family called for complete peace. Do you think that is achievable for Chicago when it comes to this case?

WASHINGTON: I have high hopes that it is because Chicago, unlike many other cities, has not had terrible street violence in the aftermath of a trial for a very, very long time. Back in 1968 during the Martin Luther King riots was the last time I can remember that there was widespread violence. We'd like to think that we respect justice, that we respect the system. And I was heartened to see Laquan's family come forward. But I'm concerned that there aren't more folks in the community that are calling for peace. There's going to be potential for a lot of very volatile protests every day outside the courthouse. Tempers are going to be very high, and that could be a very challenging situation for the city.

CORNISH: The backdrop to all this - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not seek re-election. He took a lot of criticism for the delay of the release of the dashcam video of this shooting. What do you think that means for the city's ability to move forward?

WASHINGTON: I think there's some relief particularly from folks in the city who believe that Rahm Emanuel was part of a cover-up, that he deliberately misled the public about the circumstances of this case. They're glad to see him gone. But the big problems and challenges especially around policing and police reform remain. And they won't be resolved quickly, and they certainly won't be resolved by this trial. Even if folks feel comfortable with the outcome of this trial, there's still a lot of mistrust. And there's a lot of violence in communities. And there's a huge barrier between the police and citizens in many communities in Chicago, and that's going to take a long time to overcome.

CORNISH: Laura Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Thanks for speaking with us.

WASHINGTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH FOSSILS' "MODERN HOLIDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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