We knew that this was coming. On Jan 18, 2019, at the sentencing hearing for former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, Judge Vincent Gaughan gave him a light punishment of six years and nine months. With Gaughan’s refusal to sentence Van Dyke on the 16 felony aggravated assault convictions handed down by an almost all-white jury, we knew that — coupled with Illinois’ early release possibilities — Van Dyke could be back out on the streets as early as February 2022. 

Eighty-one months later, here we are. In the wee hours of Feb 3, Van Dyke was released early from a minimum-security Taylorville Correctional Center, southeast of Springfield, Ill. In the days leading up to his release, a blanket of despair and anger covered Chicago and large parts of the nation. Community organizers and the family of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, killed by Van Dyke’s bullets and uncontrollable fear, hit the streets in protest on the day of his prison release, demanding federal charges.

Activists, politicians, and Laquan McDonald’s grandmother want more. 

On Jan. 28, in a press conference, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said of Van Dyke’s release, “The justice system isn’t always just, and I do not think that the outcome of the sentencing of Jason Van Dyke was proper,” Pritzker said. “I am disappointed, and I would have rather seen a different outcome. But this is where we are.”

In a rare display of empathy, Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement on Feb. 3, saying, “while the jury reached the correct guilty verdict, the judge’s decision to sentence Van Dyke to only 81 months was and remained a supreme disappointment. I understand why this continues to feel like a miscarriage of justice, especially when many Black and brown men get sentenced to so much more prison time for having committed far lesser crimes. It’s these distortions in the criminal justice system, historically, that has made it so hard to build trust.” 

Organizers ranging across generations agree. GoodKids MadCity (GKMC) organizer Reina Torres, 17, and Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) lead field organizer, Frank Chapman, 79; both helped to lead the Feb. 3 protest and press conference, where they delivered a letter from the coalition to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“He is a free man even though he killed an innocent Black man,” Torres said about Van Dyke. “We want to incentivize peace. We want this ongoing system to be abolished. We are tired of Black and Brown people being overlooked and being killed by those who are supposed to serve and protect them.”

Of the many people gathered at the protest, nine protestors were arrested by US Marshals after locking arms inside the federal building. According to news reports, the group included former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green, activist and former aldermanic candidate William Calloway and Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake. He was shot and permanently injured by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020.

“There was some arrest at a peaceful protest, but as always, it is cops agitating, cops starting it,” Torres said. She was at the protest for about four hours that day, ensuring that everyone got home safely, using a buddy system and ride-shares if needed. 

Chapman echoed the sentiments of McDonald’s grandmother, Tracie Hunter. At a press conference at St. Sabina on Jan. 27, she called for Van Dyke not to be released from prison.

“Our marker of success is Van Dyke back in jail,” Chapman said. “He murdered a teenager execution-style. After the first two shots, Laquan was on the ground. He fired 14 more times. I was there at the trial when they showed us the video. They showed us all those 16 shots — that was a lynching.


Although the organizers saw a large turnout at the protest, they also realized that many people wanted to support the coalition and take action. Still, they may not have been able to physically attend the rally — or future rallies even — for various reasons such as work, school, or physical ability.

CAARPR executive committee member Dod McColgan provided a list of other actions folks can take to support the movement. One of those actions is signing an online petition called “indict van dyke! Justice for laquan!” Here is the link to the petition.

“People can immediately add their name to the open letter that was presented to the U.S. Attorney demanding he bring charges against Van Dyke,” McColgan said. “The coalition that put the action together is still working on planning additional next steps. So, there will be more actions to come.”

Being an organization that caters to Chicago youth and young adults, GKMC takes a more viral approach. Their Instagram and Twitter pages are filled with numerous young Black adults holding an 8 x 10 sheet of white paper with #JusticeforLaquan written in black marker. 

GKMC invites supporters to participate in the campaign by taking photos of themselves, holding signs, and posting with the hashtag.

Torres says that while donations to coalition organizations are a key to organizers continuing to be able to do their work, she wants people to not only share their social media posts but to also ”take time to try and understand what we need, where we are coming from.” 

She wants folks not to jump to conclusions about the intentions of the youth organizers. “We aren’t ungrateful,” she said. 

Additionally, Calloway started a Change.org petition called, “Justice 4 Laquan McDonald.” At publishing time, the petition has nearly 19,000 signatures. Here is the link to that petition.

Lastly, there’s the 2019 Showtime documentary film, 16 Shots. It details the City of Chicago’s cover-up of the dashcam footage of the shooting, the subsequent protests, and the eventual arrest of Van Dyke, his conviction, and his sentencing.


If you are unfamiliar with the case and looking for a way to familiarize yourself with what the New York Times is calling “the case that changed Chicago,” the film is currently streaming on Showtime. 

In the film, Calloway, whose campaign for alderman of the 5th ward in 2019 unsuccessfully ended in a runoff, echoes several organizers shared with the TRiiBE. If they’re unable to get Van Dyke back in prison, the one thing they hope to do is prevent him from making any income — or becoming a celebrity, political figure, or commentator — off of his murdering of McDonald. They also do not want VanDyke to be able to keep his pension.

“I’m not going to stop protesting; that thought has never entered my mind,” Chapman told the TRiiBE

When the 79-year-old was asked if he had any advice for the 19-year-old out there protesting next to him, he said, “The struggle is long and difficult — but necessary.” 


He continued, “You may not win what you fight for, but you gotta fight for all you win.”