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Riot Warnings Surrounding Van Dyke Verdict Overblown, Racist ‘Fearmongering,’ Activists Say

Protesters want peace, an organizer said, but "fearmongering" has frightened those who aren't in activist circles.

Activists with groups like Black Lives Matter called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign during a protest at the Taste of Chicago in 2016. The protest came after the city was forced to release a video showing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.
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DOWNTOWN — Some Chicagoans were bracing for “riots” after the verdict was read in the trial of Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke.

TV news channels warned of potential chaos as businesses sent employees home early from work and parents pulled their children out of school. 

The response was excessive — and inappropriate, activists said. 

“It’s important to exercise our civic duty and to counter the horrible narrative and criminalization that CPD has been pushing through the media based upon no substantiated evidence that people are going to riot, that they’re going to tear the city up,” said activist Kofi Ademola, who plans to participate in demonstrations on Friday night.

Buildings have warned residents to move cars inside while Downtown businesses said employees could leave work early once the verdict came in. Chicago Public Schools canceled weekend activities. Chicago Police have packed into Humboldt Park and other parts of the city, ready for potential unrest.

But for weeks protesters have been calling for peaceful demonstrations, not riots, and prior marches over the case have been largely peaceful. Those who are calling protests “riots” or activists “thugs” are using “racist, insidious” language that mischaracterizes the work activists are doing” said Ademola, who works with anti-violence groups like Good Kids Mad City.

Van Dyke was charged with murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old. On Friday, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. His bail was revoked and he was taken into custody.

Organizers had previously called for or planned to participate in peaceful demonstrations if Van Dyke was found not guilty. Activist Will Calloway, whose work helped force the city to reveal a video showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald, had told supporters to take to the streets but to do so peacefully. Rev. Michael Pfleger had called for a “city boycott” in a Facebook post.

Other cities have seen violent clashes between police and protesters when officers were found not guilty in cases where they’d killed people of color. But as the verdict in the Van Dyke case was read, activists standing outside City Hall and the Cook County Courthouse celebrated.

“We finally got justice,” a group of people said outside the courthouse.

Ademola said he thinks people feared the reaction to the verdict because of the way police have been preparing for protests with “military gear” and a beefed-up presence Downtown and in other areas.

“I think, unfortunately, it’s the ‘cop-aganda,'” Ademola said. “It’s fearmongering. If I didn’t know any better, I would be afraid, too. I wouldn’t want to go to the very protests I’ve been invited to attend.” 

Video of the McDonald shooting, which was released via court order in November 2015, sparked citywide protests that shut down the Mag Mile. But those protests saw relatively few arrests and violence compared to demonstrations over similar case in other cities.

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