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Fury over early release of Chicago officer convicted of Black teenager’s murder

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Jason Van Dyke was convicted of murder in 2018, was sentenced to six years and nine months for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, after video showed Van Dyke shooting the teenager 16 times. (File photo)

A former US police officer who was sentenced to about seven years for the murder of a Black teenager in 2014 is now set to be released on 3 February, almost three years ahead of schedule.

The early release from prison of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke has sparked anger among relatives, community organizers and politicians who are questioning the decision to shave three years off his sentence for “good behavior”.

According to the ABC7, several law enforcement sources said that Van Dyke is already in an Illinois halfway house for prisoners who are in the process of being released.

Van Dyke was convicted of murder in 2018 and was sentenced to six years and nine months for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, after video showed the white officer shooting the teenager 16 times.

McDonald’s family members, local activists and political leaders have voiced their fury over the officer’s early release, noting that he served just a fraction of the 18 years prosecutors originally sought, much less the maximum 96 years Van Dyke could have received for his charges.

Last Thursday, McDonald’s relatives held a press conference at a local church during which the Black man’s grandmother, Tracie Hunter, called Van Dyke’s punishment a “slap on the wrist.”

“I just want justice, the right justice,” Hunter said. “I’m not going to rest or be satisfied until this man does his rightful time.”

“It’s crazy how I go to a cemetery and talk to a tombstone while this man can talk to his wife and two kids,” said Tanesha Hunter, McDonald’s aunt, in a separate press conference on Monday.

Local activists have led several protests over the past week. Also, a number of actions are planned for Thursday, when Van Dyke will be released.

Meanwhile, the Reverend Jesse Jackson said he is also organizing a march for Thursday.

Jackson has joined other organizers in urging the justice department to pursue federal civil rights crimes against Van Dyke.

“We all know that 81 months is not enough to fully hold Van Dyke accountable and we know that there is a movement in this city. That is the reason why Van Dyke is behind bars, so we are reactivating that movement,” Jazmine Salas of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, one of the organizations that signed a letter to the Department of Justice asking for federal charges, told WTTW.

Illinois governor JB Pritzker, who has been critical of Van Dyke’s shortened sentence, said last Friday that he was “disappointed” in the outcome.

“The justice system isn’t always just, and I do not think that the outcome of sentencing of Jason Van Dyke was proper,” the governor said. “I am disappointed and I would have rather seen a different outcome. But this is where we are.”

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