CHICAGO (Reuters) -- The main Chicago police union is standing behind the white officer who was charged this week with first-degree murder for gunning down a black teenager. It is facing a backlash from leaders of the city’s black community as a result.
On its website, the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), has posted a bail fund appeal for the officer, Jason Van Dyke, who is accused of shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times just six seconds after emerging from his patrol car on a street in Chicago on Oct. 20, 2014. An earlier link on the FOP's front page to a GoFundMe campaign was removed after the fundraising site said it violated a policy against its use by criminal defendants.
The FOP also is paying the lawyer representing Van Dyke, Daniel Herbert, himself a former FOP member the union pays to represent Chicago cops in misconduct cases. Funding such a defense is a common practice among U.S. police unions.
The FOP’s support for Van Dyke appears to have support within the union, according to email and phone interviews Reuters conducted with a number of white and black active-duty and retired cops, as well as union and black police association officials.
They stopped short of defending Van Dyke’s actions - which were caught in a graphic video made public this week - but did say it was important to place them in the context of a racially divided city beset by violence.
Some of the officers say they are concerned the city’s police force has become a political football and is not getting enough support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Garry McCarthy. These officers also say the decision by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder, rather than the lesser charge of second-degree murder, was a politically motivated effort to head off outrage about the video.
"First degree is a high bar to set, and of course it's political," said one active duty police officer who asked not to be named, and who responded to written questions from Reuters by email.
A second police officer said most people would not understand the pressures on Van Dyke and other cops when they are dealing with someone holding a weapon, in this case a knife, and have to make split-second decisions.
"A police officer sees that video and has a different mindset than the rest of the people out there. It could be one of us,” the officer said.