The Abolitionist Case for Prosecuting Killer Cop Jason Van Dyke

On fighting for justice, this side of revolution.

Aislinn Pulley and Frank Chapman September 28, 2018

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke listens during his trial on murder charges at the Leighton Criminal Court Building September 25, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Antonio Perez-Pool/Getty Images)

We must show up and demand that Chica­go police offi­cer Jason Van Dyke be held account­able for the 2014 mur­der of Laquan McDon­ald — right now in this cap­i­tal­ist, impe­ri­al­ist, het­ero­sex­ist, trans­pho­bic, vio­lent coun­try. To pur­sue the ambi­tious goals of police and prison abo­li­tion, people’s move­ments must force the sys­tem, as it exists right now, to be held account­able to its own rules — because this is part of its undo­ing. Main­tain­ing con­stant pres­sure and resis­tance to police and prison legit­i­ma­cy is an inter­ven­tion. It is a chal­lenge of pow­er. Look­ing away is, in effect, an act of com­plic­i­ty in the rul­ing order of police impunity.

True justice will not and cannot be received through the capitalist courts. True justice will be the end of police killings, torture and violence.

Abo­li­tion, the belief that the cur­rent polic­ing and prison sys­tem is inher­ent­ly unequal, bru­tal, tor­tur­ous and vio­lent and there­fore must no longer exist, requires that the entire sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ism be erad­i­cat­ed. Polic­ing and pris­ons house and con­tain capitalism’s excess labor — and main­tain social con­trol of a pop­u­la­tion that faces mass unem­ploy­ment, stag­nant wages, unaf­ford­able hous­ing and increas­ing­ly vio­lent nat­ur­al dis­as­ters. Mass incar­cer­a­tion exists because of cap­i­tal­ism, not in spite of it, emerg­ing as a com­po­nent of the neolib­er­al polit­i­cal order that took hold in the 1970s and began to flour­ish in the 1980s.

We must under­stand that, in order to upend this sys­tem and achieve abo­li­tion, we can­not sim­ply turn our faces away from demand­ing account­abil­i­ty right now. A true peo­ple’s upris­ing is orga­nized mass­es in motion mak­ing a con­scious deci­sion to take pow­er. This con­fi­dence and empow­er­ment, to make real our right to self-deter­mi­na­tion, is built, in part, by tak­ing action right now. That is what it means to orga­nize to demand the state hold itself account­able to its own rules every time it mur­ders us. It means show­ing up for Laquan McDon­ald right now by demand­ing Van Dyke be con­vict­ed. It means tak­ing cer­tain pow­ers of the state and putting them into the hands of the peo­ple. It means orga­niz­ing a mass demo­c­ra­t­ic revolt to make this hap­pen. It means rely­ing on the pow­er of the peo­ple to make change — and not rely­ing on an utter­ly cor­rupt, racist sys­tem of polic­ing to change itself. Because it will nev­er change itself.

There is no way one can wish a revolt into exis­tence. Abo­li­tion will not be actu­al­ized with­out the con­scious and active dis­man­tling of the cur­rent sys­tems. We have to agi­tate and orga­nize. If we are not will­ing to do that, then all we have left is a vision of free­dom that we are not will­ing to fight and die for, which means we have become com­pla­cent slaves, com­plic­it in our own oppres­sion. The peo­ple have an inalien­able demo­c­ra­t­ic right to demand con­se­quences for the police who are an occu­py­ing force in our com­mu­ni­ties. We, the peo­ple, have an inalien­able right to resist police tyran­ny and racist repres­sion in every instance that it exists, includ­ing demand­ing that the state use its own weapons against itself. This right is denied by those who exploit and oppress us, because they have inter­ests in using police as instru­ments of social control.

It is because of the people’s move­ment that Van Dyke stands accused of mur­der. And if he gets con­vict­ed it will also be because of this. Van Dyke was arrest­ed and charged with first-degree mur­der only because thou­sands took the streets after the dash-cam footage of Laquan’s exe­cu­tion was final­ly ordered to be released through a judge after hav­ing been hid­den by Rahm Emanuel for over a year. It is the con­se­quence of the hun­dreds and thou­sands of young peo­ple who took to the streets in rage that Van Dyke is on tri­al now. This out­rage forced the sys­tem to con­cede. We are not rely­ing on the exist­ing repres­sive state to pun­ish police crimes: It will nev­er do that. We are rely­ing upon the peo­ple to force the state to car­ry out the will of the peo­ple. And that, too, is our inalien­able demo­c­ra­t­ic right.

Towards true justice

On Sep­tem­ber 19, the pre­sid­ing judge in the tri­al of Van Dyke issued an edict restrict­ing peo­ple from attend­ing the tri­al by requir­ing the pub­lic to reg­is­ter a day in advance before being allowed to enter the court. This restric­tion is a puni­tive mea­sure designed to pre­vent the pub­lic from access­ing what could be the first con­vic­tion of a white police offi­cer mur­der­ing a Black per­son in the his­to­ry of Chica­go. This is a reflec­tion of the state’s fear of the pow­er of the people.

Also on Sep­tem­ber 19, for­mer Chica­go Police Com­man­der, Jon Burge, died. Burge over­saw the tor­ture over 120 Black and Lat­inx peo­ple from 1972 to 1991. The full breadth of the tor­ture he led is unknown to this day, with addi­tion­al sur­vivors still emerg­ing, includ­ing many who remain incar­cer­at­ed based on false con­fes­sions that were pro­duced through the tor­ture Burge and his hench­men inflict­ed. The tor­ture includ­ed tying peo­ple to chairs, giv­ing elec­tric shocks to gen­i­tals, plac­ing plas­tic bags over heads to induce suf­fo­ca­tion, water­board­ing, mock exe­cu­tions and oth­er hor­rif­ic abus­es. Not one offi­cer has ever been pros­e­cut­ed for these crimes of tor­ture. In fact, many Burge tor­ture sur­vivors remain incar­cer­at­ed to this day, while over $22 mil­lion in pen­sion pay­outs to Burge’s col­lab­o­ra­tors remains on going.

These two inci­dents are con­nect­ed because they under­score the fal­la­cy of the bad apple” nar­ra­tive and reveal the sys­temic real­i­ty of police tor­ture and mur­der — polic­ing as it nor­mal­ly func­tions against Black peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. Jon Burge nev­er was held account­able for the tor­ture he com­mit­ted and over­saw. Instead, due to the expi­ra­tion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, Burge was found guilty of per­jury and served three and a half years in prison. After being released ear­ly for good behav­ior, Burge was still allowed to receive his pen­sion. For many sur­vivors, and those who worked for over two decades to bring to light the hor­rif­ic abus­es inflict­ed by Burge, his per­jury sen­tence was not enough. This out­rage birthed the his­toric repa­ra­tions ordi­nance for the sur­vivors of Chica­go Police tor­ture, which was ini­tial­ly con­ceived as part of imag­in­ing what pos­si­ble true jus­tice could look like.

This ordi­nance remains the first and only of its kind in the Unit­ed States and includes a $5.5 mil­lion pay­out to sur­vivors, a pub­lic apol­o­gy from the City, a cre­ation of a pub­lic memo­r­i­al, a require­ment to teach the his­to­ry of Burge tor­ture in Chica­go Pub­lic Schools and free access to the City col­leges for sur­vivors and fam­i­ly mem­bers. Since the announce­ment of Burge’s death, sur­vivors have and will con­tin­ue to expe­ri­ence a vari­ety of emo­tions. Burge mere­ly dying is not jus­tice served. In fact, a loved one of a cur­rent­ly incar­cer­at­ed tor­ture sur­vivor sum­ma­rized this by say­ing, He was nev­er held to account for what he did.”

Much will be the same with Van Dyke. True jus­tice will not and can­not be received through the cap­i­tal­ist courts. True jus­tice will be the end of police killings, tor­ture and vio­lence. True jus­tice will be no more Laquan McDon­alds, no more Rekia Boyds, no more Ronald John­sons, no more Tamir Rices. True jus­tice is the clos­ing of Homan Square, the noto­ri­ous black site where over 7,000 peo­ple have been dis­ap­peared by Chica­go Police, and all of the oth­er unknown black sites all over. True jus­tice includes the end of police tor­ture, the end of police killings, the end of incar­cer­a­tion, the end of pover­ty, the end of home­less­ness and the end of all state vio­lence. True jus­tice is the end of cap­i­tal­ism, which neces­si­tates all of this.

Achiev­ing true jus­tice, how­ev­er, does not mean that we do not fight for the state to hold itself account­able to the laws it impos­es on us right now. True jus­tice like­ly will not be achieved in our life­time, but we can make impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to the gen­er­a­tions ahead who will car­ry the torch of this free­dom-mak­ing. In build­ing our pow­er to resist the vio­lence of the state as it is expe­ri­enced today, we — in turn — are build­ing a world in which that vio­lence no longer exists. It is imper­a­tive that we con­tin­u­al­ly bring to the fore­front the hypocrisy and con­tra­dic­tions that are foun­da­tion­al to the nar­ra­tives that allow our cur­rent sys­tems of injus­tice to flour­ish. Advo­cat­ing for abo­li­tion does not pre­clude this.

We must demand Van Dyke be held account­able. We must also artic­u­late that true jus­tice is the com­plete over­haul and end of this entire police sys­tem which exists pre­cise­ly to pro­tect the inher­ent inequal­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ism. Turn­ing the weapons of the state onto itself is an act of build­ing up and exer­cis­ing our own power.

Ais­linn Pul­ley is an orga­niz­er with Black Lives Mat­ter Chica­go. She was an orga­niz­er with We Charge Geno­cide, a found­ing mem­ber of Insight Arts, a cul­tur­al non-prof­it that used art for social change, and a mem­ber of the per­for­mance ensem­ble, End of the Lad­der. She is a founder of the young women’s per­for­mance ensem­ble ded­i­cat­ed to end­ing sex­u­al assault, Vis­i­bil­i­ty Now, as well as the founder and cre­ator of urban youth mag­a­zine, Under­ground Phi­los­o­phy.Frank Chap­man was wrong­ful­ly con­vict­ed of mur­der and arm rob­bery in 1961 and sen­tenced to life and fifty years in the Mis­souri State Prison. His case was tak­en up by the Nation­al Alliance Against Racist and Polit­i­cal Repres­sion (NAARPR) in 1973, and in 1976 he was released after being incar­cer­at­ed for 14 years. In 1983 he was elect­ed Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of NAARPR. He worked with Char­lene Mitchell, who pre­ced­ed him as Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of NAARPR, and with Angela Y. Davis on build­ing an inter­na­tion­al cam­paign to free Rev. Ben Chavis and the Wilm­ing­ton Ten, Joann Lit­tle, Geron­i­mo Pratt, Leonard Pelti­er and oth­ers false­ly accused and polit­i­cal­ly per­se­cut­ed. He was a part of the inter­na­tion­al cam­paign to Free Nel­son Man­dela. He has been a part of lead­ing the strug­gle in Chica­go for the past five years to stop police crimes, espe­cial­ly mur­der, tor­ture, beat­ings and racial pro­fil­ing. He is present­ly Field Orga­niz­er and Edu­ca­tion­al Direc­tor of the Chica­go Alliance Against Racist and Polit­i­cal Repres­sion. He believes in the inalien­able demo­c­ra­t­ic of right of Black peo­ple to deter­mine who polices their com­mu­ni­ties and how their com­mu­ni­ties are policed. In oth­er words, in com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of the police.
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