Protest for Laquan McDonald highlights need for police accountability

Southern Illinois Unity Coalition (SIUC) organized a protest demanding justice for Laquan McDonald, which took place on Feb. 3 at 4:00 p.m. over Zoom and Facebook Live. The protest was set to be in-person but moved online due to the winter storm.

Laquan McDonald was 17 years old when he was fatally shot by then Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. Van Dyke was sentenced to six years in prison but was released on Feb. 3 after serving 39 months of his sentence.

Patrice Mannie, a member of SIUC who organized the protest, said protestors highlighted how convictions, like in Van Dyke’s case, don’t necessarily lead to punishments that fit the severity of the crime.

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Chastity Mays, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Southern Illinois, said recent convictions of police officers who killed Black community members were relieving, but don’t address the full scope of the problem.

“There has been lukewarm justice,” Unity Coalition Director Nancy Maxwell said. “I mean, this is a perfect example because the officer [Van Dyke] was arrested, he was charged, and now in a mere three and a quarter years, he’s out for murder.”

In the wake of McDonald’s death people mobilized en masse to protest, but eventually moved on, Maxwell said, but she wants to keep marching and retain awareness about these issues to elicit change.

“There can be changes made in the legal sense, but the right lawmakers have to be in power,” Maxwell said.

It’s important for locals in Southern Illinois to participate in protests like this because those actions can have a ripple effect across the country, Mays said.

“You always have those people who are in their local community with boots on the ground doing the real work,” Mays said.

Mannie said better bonds can be established with the police and their communities, by the police department hosting community events like Coffee with a Cop, or hosting community block parties. She also said police need to be able to understand their local communities to prevent incidents like this.

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“It’s necessary for police officers to understand all cultures that the community is comprised of so they can understand their reactions to certain situations,” Mannie said. “Carbondale has residents who come from other states and all over, so their experiences are very much different.”

The SIUC is known for marching and protesting different issues pertaining to racial justice.

“We actually received [an] award last year from the NAACP for our work, which leads people to pay attention when we come to march about these issues,” Maxwell said.

Mays also said the police need to be open to learning and listening to their community.

“What is the community asking for? What does the community need from them? The community needs to [ask] the same thing. These get open conversation,” Mays said. “That open court of communication is what really is the key to everything,”

“This event shows the public that racial injustice happens everywhere, and the victims and families are not alone,” Mannie said.

An additional issue is that officers are shielded from accountability, Mays said.

“The real reason police can get away with murder is qualified immunity,” Mays said. “So, until we look into getting rid of qualified immunity, we’re gonna still see these types of police shootings happen, because they have the law behind them.”

Qualified immunity is a legal statute protecting police from conviction when acting within the requirements of their job.

The proponents of qualified immunity say the practice allows police to make split second decisions without fear of reprisal.

The future is in the hands of the children of families in Southern Illinois.

“We must train our kids to understand that although people are different, we are all still human and have feelings,” Mannie said. “Everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, should be treated as equals, and given the same rights as the majority.”

Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter: @JoelKottman. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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