State of Mind

I started listening to the 16 Shots podcast in order to learn more about how the court could have ended up with such a white jury in the trial of Jason Van Dyke. It turns out I had forgotten that Cook County is whiter than the city of Chicago (it is about 24% black rather than 32%), so the jury should have had only 3 rather4 African-Americans, and the defense only had to use 5 of its 7 peremptory challenges to keep the number of black jurors down to one. (Jury selection is discussed in detail on episodes 8 & 9).

The prosecution only used 5 of its 7 also, so it’s an open question why it didn’t use them to try to get more African-Americans on the jury, or at least to exclude the young woman who says she wants to become a police officer. Would she be able to work as one in Cook County (or, indeed, anywhere in the U.S.) if this jury brings in a guilty verdict? Isn’t that a problem? (On the 16 Shots podcast, they mentioned that the defense had used one of its challenges on a woman who lived in McDonald’s neighborhood on the West Side, since how could she return safely to it if she were on a jury that brought in a not guilty verdict?)

Last night I watched a livestream of a panel discussion of the case and trial hosted by the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and Professor Futterman pointed out that the jurors had heard much more testimony about the character of Laquan McDonald than that of Jason Van Dyke. Even after hearing summaries of Van Dyke’s testimony it is difficult to understand what he was thinking when he decided to shoot McDonald. Van Dyke’s assertion that McDonald thrust the knife at Van Dyke and was still trying to get up and attack after he’d fallen to the ground are plainly demonstrated to be false by the video of the incident. I suppose he must stick to his story now or admit to have been lying then (as his partner also did earlier in the trial), but then what is the real story? After seeing the defense’s video recreation of the incident from Van Dyke’s point of view, I thought that perhaps Van Dyke had not realized how close he was to McDonald when he pulled up and jumped out of his squad car (McDonald was walking away from the mass of officers and police cars on the scene, but toward Van Dyke; only six seconds had elapsed after Van Dyke arrived on the scene before he started to shoot), and was simply startled by McDonald’s proximity and movement in his general direction, and started firing in a panic, which would explain why he continued to fire for so long after McDonald fell, emptying his full clip into McDonald’s prone body. However, Futterman pointed out that the pattern of the shooting was not panicked, but slow and deliberate, and this is shown by the video as well.

A defense expert in the psychology of police shootings who had interviewed Van Dyke told the court that, on the way to the scene, Van Dyke and his partner were listening to the radio traffic about McDonald, and Van Dyke asked his partner why the officers on the scene didn’t just shoot the suspect if he was giving them trouble. (Van Dyke and his partner would have heard on the radio that a unit with a taser was en route to the scene as well, of course; it arrived shortly after the shooting.) So is that premeditation? Was Van Dyke talking himself into the shooting before he even had a chance to assess the scene? And if he was that reckless, how did he get through 10 years of policing without shooting someone before 2014? What was different about that particular night? To answer those questions, I want to know what other experiences with violence he may have had as a police officer, and what else might have been going on his life at the time. How was his marriage? His personal finances? His relationship to his bosses and other officers? His performance evaluations? Did he have more than the average number of citizen complaints against him, and if so, what were they like? These are all questions that have not been answered, let alone asked, in the court proceedings.


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