A local police union has hired the officer facing murder charges in the shooting of Laquan McDonald, outraging police accountability advocates and setting up a potential showdown with the city's new police chief.
Jason Van Dyke, the white police officer indicted for first-degree murder in the October 2014 shooting death of McDonald, a black 17-year-old carrying a small knife, is working as a janitor and performing odd jobs at the headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Police, according to news reports.
Van Dyke is suspended from the police force without pay. The job at the FOP pays him $12 an hour, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“We do this for our membership and this is what the FOP stands for, fraternalism. This officer is in a very difficult situation, financially, he has a family and we would do it for anybody that works as a Chicago police officer,” Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Chicago FOP, told Chicago's Fox 32 news channel.
The union has “probably” either directly employed or found jobs for 100 officers deprived of their pay for an infraction, Angelo told the Sun-Times.
Chicago activists fighting to end perceived impunity for police officers who kill unarmed black men immediately responded to Van Dyke’s hiring with anger and disbelief.
Protesters called for Angelo's resignation as FOP president and the immediate firing of Van Dyke. At a press conference Thursday, they broke into a chant by megaphone: "Who's gotta go? Dean Angelo!"
Jedidiah Brown, a community leader active in recent police accountability protests, said a protest is planned outside the FOP at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. He was unsure of the number of people or groups who would attend, since the protest had been hastily organized, he told The Huffington Post.
“We’re reaching out to organizations and people expressing outrage over his hiring to give voice to the citizens who feel affected by this,” Brown said.
Father Michael Pfleger, a longtime community activist and pastor of St. Sabina church on the city’s South Side, also said Angelo should resign. He called Van Dyke’s hiring a “disgrace.”
“This is an insult. It’s arrogant. It’s the reason we have broken relationships between police now and the community,” Pfleger said. “You take this horrific case that turned the city upside down and now you take us back to ground zero again.”
The Catholic priest said that the police union could have found Van Dyke a job elsewhere if it wanted to help him.
“If I hired someone at the church here who was indicted for killing a cop, they’d have ate me up,” Pfleger added.
He said he was not sure if he would be able to attend the protest, however.
News of Van Dyke’s comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) seeks to restore trust in the city’s police force and improve his political standing in the process. Emanuel appointed Eddie Johnson as the city’s interim police chief on Sunday, rejecting the candidates recommended by the city’s police board. Appointing Johnson, an African-American veteran of the Chicago police force, as interim chief makes it easier for the mayor to keep him in the top job permanently, should he choose to do so.
Pfleger said he has spoken to Johnson several times and believes he understands the need to rebuild relations between police and the community. But the police union's hiring of Van Dyke “kicks the new police chief in the face,” Pfleger said.
Brown called the Van Dyke controversy Johnson’s “first major test.”
“I am pressuring him to speak to the citizens about their concerns that Van Dyke is being hired even though he shot the young man 16 times,” Brown said. “He has to speak to the heartbeat of it. He will either validate or invalidate further his appointment with what he does in this situation.”
The Chicago Police Department declined to comment, referring requests to the FOP. Angelo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.