Van Dyke Trial: When a jury “has to” convict
Editor’s Note: After the original posting, Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in shooting of Laquan McDonald. The jury also convicted Van Dyke of all 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for every shot he fired at Laquan McDonald, and acquitted Van Dyke of only one count – official misconduct.
The jury in the Van Dyke case is now deliberating. As you may recall, Van Dyke is the Chicago police officer who shot Laquan McDonald and who was caught on video doing so. From the video, if you can stomach it, you’ll see that Mr. McDonald was walking by police and doing nothing obvious at all to warrant shooting.
When these things happen, I’m normally the guy who thinks, “well, videos don’t tell everything and we shouldn’t rush to conclusions based on that.” And to be clear, I haven’t paid much attention to the trial beyond knowing it is happening. But I’ve actually watched the portion of the video and it’s hard for me to gainsay what I saw. I believe the officer is guilty of murder. Because I believe that, I also believe the jury should convict.
But unfortunately, that’s not the only reason I want the jury to convict. I have selfish, or at least self-interested, reasons. I’m afraid of what will happen to this city if Mr. Van Dyke is acquitted, and I’m afraid I or someone I care about will be caught in the crossfire of any riot or “uprising,” to use a term some of my leftist friends use to describe such things. I live about a mile from one of the neighborhoods in which huge riots erupted after Martin Luther King was assassinated, and while that neighborhood is (finally) on the way to recovery, it’s still a very rough part of town.
Intellectually, I realize my fear is exaggerated, callous, and based on questionable premises. It’s exaggerated because my own neighborhood, however close it is to other areas, would probably not directly suffer much. It’s callous because it reflects a “protect me and mine” attitude without considering the very real probability that any riot will be disproportionately likely to hurt people who are less well off and more marginalized than I am. The questionable premises on which my fear is based include the belief that a riot would be inevitable if the officer is acquitted, the notion that riots simply “erupt” out of some collective anger, and the related notion that “those people” are simply inclined to riot. I’ve read enough about U.S. history and about riots to know and believe things are more complicated than that, and I’m introspective enough to recognize the fact that by choosing to indulge my fear I’m also making a racist choice.
(I’ll also note, but only in passing, the very real frustrations about police brutality and targeting of poor persons and non-white persons. I disagree with some of my friends’ decision to call riots “uprisings,” with the favorable connotations that term can imply, but I must acknowledge their point that riots are never simply “riots,” that they exist in a political and historical context, and that there is often a very strong case to be made against features of the system in which riots happen.)
At any rate, fearing a riot is the wrong reason to convict a person, or to hope for their conviction. As I said, I believe Mr. Van Dyke is probably guilty, based on the facts as I understand them. Believing in guilt based on the evidence and thereby hoping for a guilty verdict are in themselves not wrong. However, hoping for a conviction because a conviction will spare me an (as yet only theoretical) inconvenience or harm is wrong. And yet I make that choice.