West Side clergy react to verdict

'It's a great day for justice,' they say of Van Dyke guilty verdict

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By Bonni McKeown

A group of West Side clergymen gathered in front of the old Water Tower on Michigan Avenue on Oct. 5 to express their relief after the verdict of Jason Van Dyke. Earlier that day, a Cook County jury found the former Chicago Police officer guilty of second-degree murder. 

In anticipation of disorderly protests after the verdict, multiple stores closed early that day and police clustered throughout the area, but the streets were calm after joyous protestors marched on City Hall. 

"It's a great day for justice," said Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and co-chair of the Leaders Network, a West Side faith-based organization. 

"Jason van Dyke is a symbol of what's wrong with policing in America," he said. "We appreciate the jurors for not being intimidated or misguided by the defense's animated video, hired-gun witnesses or deceptive attorneys. God works in mysterious ways … with only one black person on the jury, God uses who he chooses."

Rev. Marshall Hatch, senior pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in East Garfield Park and Leaders Network co-chair, echoed Acree's sentiment. 

"The jury was diverse in other ways," Hatch said. "They had eight women, Latinos, Asian people — 21st century Chicago. The defense miscalculated. They just tried to get blacks off the jury.  But the jury looked like regular people you'd see downtown, on the bus or 'L'. They just aimed to do the right thing."  

Rev. Cy Fields, the pastor of New Landmark Baptist Church in East Garfield, said that "we need to end the decades of non-accountability of police and use of excess force. Hopefully today's victory for justice will move us closer to better police and community relations, and end the Tale of Two Cities."  

Fields said that he'd talked to several police officers who acknowledged the need to get bad cops out of the department.  

"Most of them believe Van Dyke went too far," he said. "We need to protect the good cops and call for any politician, black or white, to stand up for justice."  

Hatch said the next step in a better judicial system is enforcement of the federal consent decree for more accountable policing.  

The West Side pastors said many of their congregants have been affected by police brutality, over-policing, harassment, "phony warrants," and "ransacked houses." 

William Calloway, a young South Shore activist who exposed the original police video of teenage LaQuan McDonald's death from the 16 shots fired by Van Dyke, spoke after the verdict on WGN TV. 

He called for more accountability for police officers and City Council members who went along with the year-long cover-up of the 2014 shooting. 

Calloway also called on the city to cancel plans to spend $95 million on a new police training academy that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been planning in the 37th Ward.   

Hatch called the police academy "preposterous." He said no public officials had asked his opinion on it, even though his church has properties, including housing, and a development corporation in Garfield Park.  

"The decisions were made by people already committed to the mayor," Hatch said. "But we have a new vision for Garfield Park. Not simply re-gentrification, but one that includes people who live there."

Acree called the academy "a bad idea," and said that the "money should be used for economic investments in the community."

CONTACT: bonni@barrelhousebonni.com

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