Craig Futterman on the Van Dyke Trial and the Chicago Police Code of Silence

With long odds in Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial, the cover-up case offers hope

“We average about one police shooting a week. Multiply that over 30 years,” University of Chicago Law School policing expert Craig Futterman said in an interview. “One thing that hasn’t changed in those 30 years is that 70 to 75 percent of the people shot by CPD have been African-American. I’m over 50, and never in my lifetime has an on-duty CPD officer been criminally prosecuted for killing a black man, woman or child.”

Van Dyke’s trial will be historic, then. But so will the newer, parallel case in which multiple CPD officers are accused of conspiring to cover for Van Dyke and concoct a false narrative about McDonald’s death that would justify their colleague’s decision to shoot the teenager more than a dozen times within 15 seconds of arriving.

In the end, the conspiracy case is an indictment of the department as a whole, while the murder case fits into the “bad apple” basket of solutions. Their outcomes naturally have different implications for the project of repairing relationships between Chicago’s people and their police.

“It’s difficult to weight these things against each other. Both are historic,” Futterman said. “The police code of silence is entrenched practice here. It’s nothing short of criminal, but it’s never been challenged as such. If we care about addressing that code of silence that has allowed so many officers to hurt so many people without fear of punishment, this matters. And it also matters if we care about ending the rash of police killings of young black men in Chicago.”

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