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'16 Shots' Podcast Host Weighs In On Chicago Police Officer Verdict


There's been a verdict in the trial of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. He was found guilty last evening on second-degree murder and other charges for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald back in October 2014. More than a year later, dash cam video sparked large protests when it showed the officer shooting McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke testified that he felt threatened by McDonald. A podcast called "16 Shots" from member station WBEZ in Chicago and the Chicago Tribune have been following the trial. It's included riveting conversations with people from all walks of life who are connected to the story, including with Officer Van Dyke. And there was tape from the courtroom when the jury returned its verdict.


UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder. We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm per shot. We the jury find the defendant...

MARTIN: WBEZ's Jenn White is host of the podcast "16 Shots." We spoke with her at the start of the trial a month ago, and she's with us once again. Jenn White, welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us once again.


MARTIN: So let's start with the current state of things and then we'll talk more broadly. How would you describe the reaction when the verdict came in, and what's the mood of the city now?

WHITE: The reaction was one, I think, of overwhelming relief. There was some disappointment among people who have been following the trials, especially activists, who believe Jason Van Dyke should have been found guilty of first-degree murder. But there's also this sense that this is just one case. You know, in the seven years leading up to Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald fatally, CPD shot nearly 400 people, and all of those shootings were found to be justified. And so there's a sense that this is one officer, one case, but this is not indicative of reform.

MARTIN: What are the police saying about this, and are there people who continue to support Officer Van Dyke?

WHITE: We heard from the head of the FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police, who said that, really, this was a problem of a lack of officers on the street, that officers didn't have access to enough tasers, but that Jason Van Dyke was essentially responding to the training he'd been given. So that's the overwhelming sentiment. But there has been a stronger response as well from some circles, people saying, you know, officers are going to stop policing actively if this is how they're going to be judged when they're on the street doing their jobs.

MARTIN: What would you say were some of the riveting moments of the trial?

WHITE: I think the big moment, of course, was when Jason Van Dyke took the stand and testified to, you know, how that day started for him - waking up and spending time with his wife and his children and starting his day not with an expectation that he was going to have to fire his weapon that day, but also hearing from the psychologist the defense team put on the stand who brought actually a piece of evidence that was damaging for Jason Van Dyke.

In his conversations with Van Dyke, the officer said that, driving into the situation, he said to his partner something to the effect of, we're going to have to shoot this guy or, why are they not firing on this guy if he's not responding to commands? The jury took that to heart, and to them, it said, when Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene, he had the intention of pulling his weapon, of firing those shots. And that was a bit of damaging testimony.

MARTIN: Now, you've mentioned - in fact, the podcast has reported on the fact - that this opened up some, you know, strong feelings in the city about policing and a number of other issues. Do you have a sense that this is going to bring closure to some of these rifts, or does it just keep them kind of laid open?

WHITE: It certainly doesn't bring closure. We're looking at decades worth of history of abusive policing practices. After the video was released of the shooting, the Department of Justice came in and investigated CPD thoroughly and came away saying, listen, there is a policy and practice when it comes to especially black and brown communities in Chicago where police are overpolicing, where there are abusive practices. And so in talking to activists who are pushing for police reform, again, they say this is one case that we think some degree of justice was done.

But when we look at the police department as a whole, you know, what does reform look like? You know, what is it going to look like moving forward? Is this consent decree - and the city is in the process of enacting a consent decree to reform the police department - but is it going to be effective? Because there have been promises in the past that the police department was going to be reformed. There have been different panels formed to try to hold police accountable for their actions, and none of that has worked. So what's going to happen from here?

MARTIN: That's Jenn White. She's the host of "16 Shots." That's a podcast from WBEZ in Chicago and the Chicago Tribune that's been following the trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. She was kind of to join us from WBEZ. Jenn White, thank you so much for talking with us.

WHITE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.