Van Dyke trial has Chicago, local media on edge

Jason Van Dyke. (WMAQ/NBC Chicago)

LaQuan McDonald trial has city on edge; local media is ready to cover with CLTV airing live proceedings

September 5th began the biggest trial the city has seen in decades.

Police officer Jason Van Dyke is being tried for the murder of LaQuan McDonald, videotaped in October 2014 and wasn’t released until a year later, when it was shown worldwide. McDonald was shot sixteen times and killed as he was walking away from police in the middle of South Pulaski Road in the Southwest Side’s Archer Heights neighborhood.

When the tape was finally released in November 2015, protests took place all over Chicago, including Downtown and the Magnificent Mile. Many activists accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of preventing the release of the video until after he was re-elected in 2015 as the case took its toll on his African-American support (the case is cited as one of the reasons Emanuel would not seek another term as mayor.) The McDonald case followed recent patterns of African-American men murdered by police – notably Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, leading to Colin Kapernick and others kneeling during the National Anthem before football games, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.

Now after several years of delays, Van Dyke is getting his day in court. Jury selection began last week and barring any last-minute changes, the trial will take place at the courthouse at 26th and California. Protests are expected every day during the trial’s duration; it could be as quick as several weeks…or it could drag out as long as the O.J. Simpson trial, which took over a year and was noted for numerous shenanigans.

Two years ago, WMAQ and Carol Marin won a Peabody Award for their investigation of how the Chicago Police Department handled the case, resulting in several shakeups. Among the findings: 86 minutes of footage missing from a fast-food restaurant’s surveillance tape near where the shooting occurred.

Tribune Media-owned CLTV plans to air gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Van Dyke trial, just weeks after they aired live proceedings of the two separate trials related to the suspects accused of murdering Hadiya Pendleton. The moves are similar to what Miami PBS station WLRN-TV did in December 1989, when it aired gavel-to-gavel coverage of the William Lozano trial. Lozano was a Miami police police officer accused of shooting and killing an African-American man in January 1989, triggering nights of rioting in Overton and Liberty City neighborhoods days before the Super Bowl and weeks after a major network affiliation change in the market. The decision to televise the trial was made in order to defuse racial tensions in Miami, noting the city suffered through a deadlier riot in 1980 over a similar police-involved killing.

Viewers can also stream the trial on WGN’s website at, especially those who don’t receive CLTV on their cable or satellite systems (CLTV is not carried by DirecTV or Dish.)

It is unknown what the reaction would be if Van Dyke is found innocent. Activists are hoping for peace and hoping to avoid the same kind of fate Los Angeles had in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, whose beating was also videotaped – a first at the time – as the four police officers were acquitted and triggered days of rioting. Let’s hope residents keep calm regardless of what the verdict is – Chicago has already suffered enough negative worldwide press as any kind of disturbance could drive the nail in the coffin of a great city. While Los Angeles has successfully rebounded from their uprising 25 years ago, the same can’t be said for Detroit, whose baggage from the 1967 riots continues to this day despite parts of the city making a comeback.