By Fighting Words Staff – Chicago
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, over 150 activists gathered in 10-degree weather to march in protest and to reflect on years of the struggle to secure some justice for the family of Laquan McDonald.
On January 18, Jason Van Dyke, the cop who murdered McDonald, was sentenced to 81 months in prison after being convicted of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each bullet he shot into the 17-year-old’s back. Due to the common collaboration between the judge, state prosecutor, and police in these cases, Van Dyke will likely only serve three years in prison, a term far too lenient for the horrendous murder of a teenager.
Just prior to this sentencing, three police officers were found not guilty for falsifying police reports, a slap in the face to activists who demonstrated for over a year before Chicago Police and the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel released the damning footage of McDonald walking away from Van Dyke as he opened fire. One protester, Maryam Ikuforji, told Fighting Words that she sees the sentence as a message from the city, saying that despite decades of activism and reform, Black lives are still disposable.
In the United States, fighting for cops to be held accountable amounts to engaging in class warfare, as the police are tools of the capitalist state and enemies of the working class. The Laquan McDonald case highlights the truth of the criminal “justice” system in the United States: it was designed to violently oppress Black people in order to protect the interests of capital. In this particular case, the system was forced by community activists to punish an oppressor, however lightly. Due to mass demonstrations, the state was forced to choose between sacrificing Van Dyke or assuring other servants of capital that they would be protected.
Throughout the people’s campaign against Van Dyke, numerous city officials were forced out of their positions. These included former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who recently announced he will not run for re-election. Ultimately, the white judge was able to protect Van Dyke with this short prison sentence, but without Chicagoans waging a four-year campaign for justice, it is highly unlikely that Van Dyke would have faced any repercussions for the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald.
“From the west side, to the south! CPD, we want you out!” chanted groups such as Black Lives Matter Chicago (BLM), Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) led the march on MLK Day, just three days after Van Dyke’s sentencing. Communist Workers League Chicago (CWL-C), the Chicago Teachers Union, Anakbayan Chicago (an anti-imperialist organization of militant Filipino youth) and other community leaders were also present. The group was completely surrounded by cops throughout the entirety of the march down King Drive on the south side of Chicago. They stopped outside the park where Ronald “RonnieMan” Johnson was shot and killed by a CPD officer in 2014, just eight days before Laquan McDonald was killed.
RonnieMan was 25 years old, unarmed, and a father of five. His mother, Dorothy Holmes, spoke at this point in the rally, urging marchers to continue the struggle to root out corrupt politicians and fight for justice. Other speakers at the march and rally highlighted the struggle in Chicago for mental health services, community-controlled public schools and an elected police accountability council; they also spoke against the $95 million “cop academy” that the city is now pushing.
One BLM organizer, Ariel Atkins, told Fighting Words that the march’s location on the south side (home to Chicago’s Black, and poorest, neighborhoods) constitutes a response to feedback from the Black community that organizations like BLM should be more present and involved in the most oppressed communities of this segregated city, rather than concentrating on protesting in the affluent city center. This represents a redirection for BLM, since historically the organization has relied on support from other activist groups who are vocal in their support for Black liberation but are hesitant to travel to Chicago’s Black south or west sides.
Atkins also reflected on the need for Chicago’s many separate activist groups to engage with each other, saying that the character of the march, where many different dedicated groups showed up but marched in isolation, illuminated the need for Chicago activists to build relationships. Indeed, some elements in the action showed great potential for solidarity; for example, Hillary Valenzuela, chair of Anakbayan Chicago, expressed that Filipino youth personally understand the impact of police violence since it’s such a prevalent feature of oppression in the Philippines, and remarked to Fighting Words that police brutality in the U.S. exposes the workings of an imperialist empire within its own borders.
The Laquan McDonald murder case has already influenced the contentious mayoral and aldermanic elections that are coming up in Chicago. This case has taught us not only that we cannot rely on the racist city government for justice, but that getting justice will depend on the ability of oppressed Chicagoans to unite and fight for the clear goal of national liberation instead of acceptance into a white supremacist society, as the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960s understood. In the streets, Black Chicago residents can be heard casually saying “they gave that cop the sentence they would give someone for killing an animal, it’s just like how they’re locking up immigrant kids, in cages like dogs.”
While this march on Chicago’s south side is a first step in connecting with the conscious Black masses who are often ignored, it is imperative that the entire working class stand with Chicago’s Black community in their battle against police terror and the concentration camps known as the U.S. prison system.
George Jackson famously wrote, “The entire colonial world is watching the Blacks inside the U.S.…” Today, it’s more important than ever for all of the working class to stand with Black people and to look at the third world and study how our sisters and brothers in Venezuela, Cuba, the DPRK, China and elsewhere have gotten out from under the thumb of U.S. white supremacy that would have us all illiterate and hungry. The real force that will end the centuries-long suffering and exploitation are those already conscious and oppressed masses who understand that this “justice system” does not and cannot serve the Black and Brown masses, those who understand the mutual interests of the migrant worker who now works on the plantation and the Black person totally prevented from getting a job.
Fidel Castro started the liberation of the Cuban people with less than 100 men. With over 37 million Black people in the United States, it’s no wonder that there are almost daily executions carried out by the police to prevent organizing for revolution. Unity in fighting against U.S. racist violence and imperialism will lead to national liberation for all, and this unity is the greatest threat to U.S. capitalists and white supremacy.