MINNEAPOLIS (CBS Chicago/CBS Minnesota) — Chicago activist Ja’Mal Green headed to Minneapolis Tuesday for the verdict in the trial of fired police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd – and said the last time he saw such relief and elation at a conviction of an officer in someone’s death, it was when Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted.
Green talked with CBS News’ Jeff Pegues Tuesday after Chauvin was convicted on all counts. He said he was surprised that Chauvin was found guilty.
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“This isn’t something that we see on a day-to-day basis in these cases,” Green said. “The last time I’d seen people cheering like this, it was in Chicago. I was one of the organizers of the Laquan McDonald movement, and Jason Van Dyke was one of the first, or the first officer, in Chicago.”
On Oct. 20, 2014, Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. It was not until November 2015 that dashcam video of the shooting was released, showing that the first shot sent McDonald on the ground as he was walking away from officers.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, but the defense had asked the jury to be allowed to consider a verdict on second-degree murder instead of first-degree. In order to do so, they were required to determine the prosecution proved the elements of first-degree murder, that the defense has shown Van Dyke believed he was justified in shooting McDonald, but that his belief was not a reasonable one.
In October 2018, Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one count for each time he shot Laquan McDonald – but was acquitted of one count of official misconduct.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer convicted of murder for an on-duty incident in more than 50 years.
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“He’s one of the first officers in Illinois to be held accountable, so to see this as one of the first officers in Minnesota, you know, I’m happy, I’m shocked, but we need to continue holding officers accountable, but we need real legislative change in this country, and really look at how we can move the needle – because this can’t keep happening,” Green said. “This cannot be our reality each and every day – bracing for videos, and bracing for if a jury or judge is going to find an officer guilty.”
Green has noted that he has family members who are police officers, and the issue cannot be simplified to one of community versus police. But Green said weeding out bad apples is not enough.
“That’s a hard thing to do. It has been so much that happened over the years that this system is so corrupt, that how do you even figure out where to start with that?” he said. “We’ve really got to step back and rethink public safety as a whole.”
Last May, video seen around the world showed Chauvin hold a knee down on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes. Floyd’s death at Chauvin’s hands sparked outrage, protests, and unrest in Minneapolis and around the country – including Chicago.
The jurors heard closing arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin Monday. The two sides split most significantly on the cause of death. The prosecution argued that all the law requires is that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that Chauvin’s knee restraint was a “substantial cause” of Floyd’s death.
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The defense stressed that Chauvin did what any reasonable officer would have done and said it was wrong to look only at nine minutes and 29 seconds when Floyd was on the ground.