Summer 2018 was a difficult one for Chicago. The city was already dealing with the usual spikes in gun violence, but it also was creeping toward the start of the Jason Van Dyke trial. He is the Chicago Police Officer who fatally shot Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald 17 times in October 2014. A video of the killing came out the following year, which created a pressure cooker for city hall. Not only did the scandal do away with the Chicago police superintendent and the Cook County State’s Attorney — one was forced to resign, the other rejected by voters at the polls — but it forced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel into defense mode, which does not come naturally.
Things came to a head in July when police fatally shot 37-year-old Harith Augustus in the city’s South Shore neighborhood. I covered the aftermath for the Washington Post. Marches took place for days. Forty-five minutes I arrived there for the second day of marching, police tape cordoned off a block, just one block from where Augustus was killed. Turns out, more gang violence in broad daylight. Luckily, no one was killed. You can read my story of that incident here.
The next day, about 3,000 people descended down an on-ramp of the Dan Ryan Expressway to protest ongoing gun violence on the South and West Sides. It was a Saturday morning and the activists included parents of children gunned down on the blocks, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Fr. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who organized the march despite the early protests of Emanuel. Eventually, the state police relented and allowed the marches to take over two lanes of the busy expressway.
Read my WaPo story here.
By August, all media attention squared on the Van Dyke trial the next month. Van Dyke himself gave a tearful interview to the Chicago Tribune, attorneys on both sides battled on where the trial should take place, and some activists pledged to riot if Van Dyke was acquitted.
But then Emanuel said he was not running for a third term.
The timing of the announcement was unexpected, but not the reason. Although he said the reason was to spend more time with his family, the writing was on the wall for his continued electability in Chicago: Low approval ratings, disdain among most people of culture, inaction on police reform, and attention paid more to the interests of the luxury class than those who say the city became more unaffordable since he got into office.
Read my WaPo story here.
About one week later, Van Dyke entered the courtroom for what would become a three-week trial. I was in the courtroom that opening day and watched both legal teams paint the career police officer as either someone who felt under threat and fired upon duress, or someone who made the decision to fire his gun before he even stepped out of his car and then took steps to cover up his actions.
You can read my opening day analysis in the WaPo here.
As the weeks wore on in October, stories were getting out about what would happen if Van Dyke was acquitted. Chicago hasn’t had violence on the streets since the 1968 riots. And unlike Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., protests over police shootings of unarmed black men have largely been peaceful.
So I wrote a story for the WaPo that looks at what’s at stake for both sides in this trial. It was published the day of closing arguments.
Read it here.
The jury took a day and a half to come back with a verdict: Guilty on most counts. The fact that it didn’t take long came as a surprise Despite protests downtown, violence was averted. But all agree that October 5, 2018 was a historic day in Chicago: The first time a Chicago police officer was found guilty in a court trial for killing a citizen.
The story ran long and was updated throughout the day and night. Read the full recap here.
Unlike the summer, the story of gun violence in Chicago is not over. But this is one chapter all Chicagoans are happy has come to an end.