Tag Archives: Department of Justice

‘Senselessly Unjust’: Ex-Chicago Cop Who Killed Laquan McDonald Released From Prison

The Justice Department is facing pressure to bring federal charges against Jason Van Dyke, who served less than half of his 81-month sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder.

By Jessica Corbett.  Published 2-3-2022 by Common Dreams

Photo: C. Presutti/VOA

Critics of police violence toward Black Americans expressed outrage as Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago cop who killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014, was released Thursday after serving just over three years in prison for a state murder charge.

“A white officer who murdered a 17-year-old Black child by firing 16 shots into his body is walking free today after just three years behind bars. Think about that. Just three years for a violent, vicious attack that killed a child,” tweeted Kina Collins, a Democratic candidate running to represent Illinois’ 7th Congressional District, which includes part of Chicago.

A Cook County, Illinois jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in October 2018. He was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison the following January. The judge’s decision to merge all charges for sentencing was significant because the 16 battery counts each had a mandatory minimum of a six-year prison term.

“An 81-month sentence for the gruesome murder of a child was inadequate in the first place,” said Collins. “For Van Dyke to walk free in less than half that time is senselessly unjust.”

WGN TV reports that Chicago activists “plan on holding a ‘large demonstration’ in Federal Plaza Thursday around 4:00 pm to express their displeasure, with at least 15 social and civil rights groups pledging their attendance.”

Leading up to Van Dyke’s release this week, activists, the NAACP, and political figures have urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to update the public on an investigation that was announced in April 2015 and to pursue federal charges against the convicted murderer.

“We’ve been crying aloud for federal charges on Jason Van Dyke for the past three years,” community organizer William Calloway told WGN TV. “It shouldn’t take this to happen, to be on the cusp of his release, to get federal charges pressed on him.”

Tracie Hunter, McDonald’s grandmother, said of Van Dyke that “this man doesn’t need to get out. We are seeking federal charges. The time he did wasn’t enough.”

Collins, in her Thursday morning Twitter thread, said that “I’m calling on U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to intervene and bring federal charges against Jason Van Dyke to ensure that he is held accountable.”

The congressional candidate also blasted former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Japan. U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) on Wednesday similarly slammed Emanuel’s new post and called for federal charges against Van Dyke.

Bush also shared a letter that NAACP leaders sent to Garland Tuesday which said the “lack of resolution” in the investigation coupled with the release of the “disgraced” ex-cop is “clearly alarming” and “has given rise to very vocal concerns and unrest” in Chicago.

“We trust that you find the matters alarming as well,” wrote NAACP president Derrick Johnson and Illinois State Conference president Teresa Haley, urging Garland to close the investigation and “move forward with appropriate and applicable federal charges based on the federal grand jury findings and other relevant evidence.”

A DOJ spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the department received the NAACP letter as well as one from Illinois’ two Democratic U.S. senators, who wrote to Garland that “the facts of this case remain shocking and upsetting,” and demanded an update on the federal investigation.

As Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, the Senate Judiciary chair, detailed:

In April 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a joint federal and state investigation into the shooting; however, there was never an announcement that the federal investigation had closed after Van Dyke was convicted of state charges. In October 2019, when activists called for federal civil rights charges against Van Dyke and other officers involved in the cover up of the murder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to state whether the federal investigation was still ongoing or closed. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office again declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

Van Dyke’s state conviction and sentencing do not preempt or negate the interest of the federal government, if the evidence supports charging Van Dyke with violating McDonald’s civil rights under Section 242 of Title 18. The recent federal civil rights case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin demonstrates this; after Chauvin was found guilty by a state jury and sentenced to 22 years for murdering George Floyd, Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges under Section 242. Chauvin admitted that his willful use of unreasonable force resulted in Floyd’s death. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Chauvin faces a sentence of over 20 years in prison.

“We urge the Justice Department to carefully and expeditiously complete its investigation,” the senators wrote, telling Garland that they “look forward to your prompt report” on the probe.

Collins, in a statement Tuesday, said that “this is a step in the right direction” for the senators, “but let’s be clear: we don’t just need an update, we need charges filed.”

“This is an open and shut case,” she said. “This murder was a clear-cut violation of Laquan McDonald’s civil rights. Just like in Chauvin’s case, the federal charges against Van Dyke should be straightforward. It’s past time for the federal charges to be filed.”

U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, who represents Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, said Thursday that “there can never be justice for Laquan McDonald, but Jason Van Dyke’s early release negates even the small measure of accountability that his conviction provided.”

“Van Dyke’s early release is a slap in the face to our communities, and today I join the call for the Department of Justice to consider bringing civil rights charges against Van Dyke,” García added. “Laquan’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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Some Prisoners Released During Pandemic Can Stay on Home Confinement, Says DOJ

“We commend the attorney general for listening to thousands of families who asked not to be separated from their loved ones.”

By Jessica Corbett.  Published 12-21-2021 by Common Dreams

Protesters from the Decarcerate Minnesota Coalition and the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
outside the Department of Corrections headquarters in St. Paul.in July 2021. Screenshot: KARE 11

Rights advocates and progressive U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday welcomed an announcement that some federal prisoners released to home confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic will not be required to return to prison—a reversal of a controversial Trump administration policy.

“We commend the attorney general for listening to thousands of families who asked not to be separated from their loved ones,” tweeted the ACLU. “Thousands of people can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing they will be able to remain in the communities where they have been living and working.” Continue reading

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Lawyers for Landmark Kids Climate Suit Cut Off Talks With Biden DOJ

“When will our government act like the global leaders they claim to be and let these youth be heard?”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams.  Published 11-1-2021

A young person holds a sign in support of the youth climate plaintiffs. (Photo: Charles Edward Miller/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lawyers representing a group of young people in a landmark climate lawsuit said Monday that settlement discussions with the U.S. Department of Justice ended without resolution and that they’re now eagerly awaiting a trial date to argue that the nation’s fossil fuel-based energy system violates the youths’ constitutional rights.

First filed in 2015 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Juliana v. United States says the federal government’s actions allowing continued fossil fuel exploitation directly contributed to the climate crisis, thus violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, the public trust, and equal protection of the law. Continue reading

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‘Weapon of War’: Cori Bush Decries Unregulated Use of Tear Gas on US Civilians

“The current design of our law enforcement is militarized,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams.  Published 10-14-2021

Tear gas in front of Oakland Museum – Occupy Oakland January 2012. Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/CC

Following a call by Rep. Cori Bush to investigate the use of tear gas on civilians by law enforcement, the House Oversight Committee on Thursday released a memo showing that the federal government has never determined the unregulated chemical to be safe for use on humans—despite the fact that manufacturers earn millions of dollars per year providing tear gas to police departments across the country.

Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who chair the Oversight Committee’s panels on economic and consumer policy and civil rights liberties, respectively, released the memo decrying “a complete void in the regulation of tear gas, a weapon that is banned in war yet commonly used against U.S. citizens.” Continue reading

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Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

“Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-18-2021

The Women’s March on Washington in 2017. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili/flickr/CC

Advocates for reproductive freedom and LGTBQ+ equality on Saturday pointed to a legal brief filed in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could soon overturn Roe v. Wade as a crucial example of the broader goals of those fighting to end abortion rights across the United States.

“It’s never just been about fetuses. It’s about controlling sex,” tweeted Muhlenberg College assistant professor Jacqueline Antonovich, a historian of health and medicine. Continue reading

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Progressives Demand Probe After Revelations About FBI Investigation of Kavanaugh

“Survivors deserve justice, and the country deserves to know the full truth of this situation, as well as the lengths the Trump administration was willing to go to cover up the truth.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-22-2021

Protesters rally against Brett Kavanaugh outside the Supreme Court (Photo Phiend/flickr)

Rights groups and other progressives are demanding a probe of the FBI’s rushed and limited 2018 background investigation into U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after seven Democratic senators on Thursday revealed new details about the bureau’s actions.

Kavanaugh was nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump and narrowly confirmed by GOP senators in October 2018, despite allegations of sexual assault, which Kavanaugh has denied. A newly released letter to lawmakers from the FBI sheds light on—but also raises more questions about—how the bureau handled its investigation of those allegations. Continue reading

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‘Horrible and Unconscionable Betrayal’: Biden DOJ Backs Trump Line 3 Approval

“You are siding with a handful of corrupt corporate elites over honoring treaty rights, climate, water, and the future of life on Earth.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-24-2021

Photo: MN350/Facebook

Indigenous and environmental activists fighting against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline were outraged Thursday after the Biden administration filed a legal brief backing the federal government’s 2020 approval of the project under former President Donald Trump.

Critics of the project—which Canadian energy giant Enbridge has undertaken to replace an aging oil pipeline—blasted the U.S. Department of Justice’s late Wednesday filing (pdf) as a betrayal of President Joe Biden’s pledges to address the climate emergency and respect tribal rights. Continue reading

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Washington Post Publisher Says Biden DOJ ‘Intensified’ Trump-Era Attacks on Press Freedom

“The egregious acts by the outgoing Trump Justice Department, and the apparent doubling down on them during the Biden administration, should alarm all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.”

By Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-7-2021

The entrance to the Washington Post on 15th street Northwest DC. Photo: Dion Hinchcliffe/flickr/CC

In an opinion piece, the Washington Post‘s publisher on Sunday accused President Joe Biden’s Justice Department of exacerbating the Trump administration’s assault on press freedom and called for a “full accounting” of the Biden DOJ’s recent practices in order to prevent such a “brazen infringement of the First Amendment rights of all Americans” from happening again.

Recent reporting revealed that during the last days of then-President Donald Trump’s term, DOJ officials authorized subpoenas to secretly obtain the phone and email records of reporters at the PostCNN, and the New York Times. In the wake of the revelations, Biden last month condemned the unconstitutional actions taken by his predecessor’s Justice Department and vowed that his administration would protect the rights of journalists and, by extension, those of the public. Continue reading

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‘Get These Agencies Under Control Immediately’: Despite Biden Moratorium, ICE and CBP Deport Hundreds

“Don’t. Look. Away. We can’t trust ICE and CBP, even if their boss is a Democrat.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. published 2-2-2021

“How many more lives must ICE ruin before action is taken?”

That urgent question was posed late Monday by the advocacy coalition Families Belong Together following news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement—which progressives have characterized as a “rogue agency” that must be abolished—has deported hundreds of people since President Joe Biden took office last month, including a 27-year-old woman who witnessed the 2019 mass shooting targeting Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

The flurry of deportations over the past several days came after a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas last week temporarily blocked implementation of Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium, a ban that could have prevented some—though, given its limitations, likely not all—of the latest removals. Continue reading

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Director of National Intelligence Admits Government Used Section 215 to Track Browsing History

After initially denying the practice, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe admitted the government engaged in activity “that could be characterized” as tracking website visits.

By Brett Wilkins, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 12-3-2020

Protesters march in a demonstration demanding an end to government mass surveillance in Washington, D.C. on October 26, 2013. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

The Trump administration recently used one of the most controversial surveillance provisions in U.S. history to record an unidentified person or group’s visit to an unspecified website, the New York Times revealed Thursday.

The Times reports Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe wrote to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on November 6 to inform him that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act had not been used to collect internet search terms, and that none of the 61 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders issued in 2019 involved “web browsing” records. Continue reading

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