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Reaction to Conviction in Killing by Chicago Police Officer Reflects U.S. Divisions According to Criminal Justice Expert
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D. -- Author of Fifty Books Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D. -- Author of Fifty Books
Lafayette , CA
Monday, January 21, 2019

Criminal with a Knife


            Was Chicago white police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of killing black teenager Laquan McDonald, when he believed the teen was threatening him with a knife? If he was guilty, was the sentence of six years and nine months enough?  And did three officers in the Chicago police force conspire to cover-up video evidence in the deadly shooting?

            These were among the questions being asked after Van Dyke received his less than seven year sentence and the three officers were acquitted.  And predictably the verdict inspired protests from local activists who considered the sentence a slap on the wrist, believing that Van Dyke should have been given a much longer term.

            In turn, the debate over this trial and that of other police officers accused of killing black citizens reflects the deep divide in American society between different racial, ethnic, economic, and other groups.  As a result, even the actual facts of the case become subject to dispute, according criminal justice expert Paul Brakke.  He has not only written extensively about citizen and police relations in Crime in America and Cops Aren't Such Bad Guys, but he has looked at such divisions at length in his forthcoming book Fractured America.

            According to Brakke, the McDonald case is a perfect reflection of the different views of the facts of what happened, as well as the differing views of an appropriate penalty held by members of these opposing divisions.  That's because of their predispositions to view both the facts and penalty for a guilty verdict in a different way.

            As Brakke points out: "Whites and conservatives are already predisposed to see the police as justified in these shootings, because the police are often facing dangerous criminals and are tasked with keeping the community safe, so they are normally justified if they have a reasonable fear of their life.  As a result, most whites and conservatives will believe an officer's statement of being in fear of his or her life.  By contrast, black Americans and liberals are predisposed to view the cops as hiding behind the cover of their position to use racial profiling to judge blacks on the streets as likely suspects in a recent crime.  So they think the police are ready to shoot to kill based on imagining the suspects pose an immediate danger, even when that isn't true."

            Accordingly, for Brakke, the McDonald trial and verdict were perfect examples of how these different perceptions of the police shaped the opposing views of the trial and the results.   For example, the whites and conservatives believed, along with the jurors, that Van Dyke truly believed that McDonald was advancing towards him with a raised knife. That's why the jurors ultimately found Van Dyke guilty of manslaughter, but not murder.  By contrast, the blacks and liberals who protested the results believed that the video of the shooting did not show McDonald actually threatening him, since in the video he wasn't raising his arm.  However, it could be that a video taken from another angle or at a different time would show that McDonald did present a threat.

            Likewise, the response to the verdict showed this split.  On the one hand, those holding a conservative view believed that Van Dyke should have been found not guilty or at least be given a much shorter sentence.  Van Dyke's wife expressed this conservative view when she stated, "My husband does not deserve a lengthy sentence for doing his job as a police officer."

             On the other hand, the blacks and other protesters holding a liberal view felt the verdict and sentence should have been much harsher.  For example, from their perspective, Van Dyke should have been charged with murder, and he should have gotten a much longer sentence.  In their view, expressed by one local activist, Van Dyke got a slap on the wrist because "People want Jason Van Dykke to do virtual life in prison…Anything less would not be justice for Laquan McDonald."

             According to Brakke, this kind of division in viewing the both the evidence in the case and the verdict is reflected in most of these cases of the police killing blacks, making it difficult for the defendant to get a fair trial or for people on one or both sides to feel satisfied with the verdict.  Seeing such divisions is also what led Brakke to write his book Fractured America, describing the many ways in which America is divided not only by race and political attitudes, but by ethnicity, geography, income inequality, generations, and more.  As Brakke stated, "At one time America was seen as becoming a melting pot, but in fact, that has become less and less true, and we are broken up into lots of little pieces."

             Brakke also points out that even if a police officer is ultimately convicted of homicide or manslaughter in a particular killing -- or has otherwise been charged with and convicted of misconduct, this shouldn't sully the reputations of the vast number of police officers who are diligently doing their jobs.

             So what is the solution for these divisions in viewing a case?  Brakke suggests that the leaders of these different groups need to come together and discuss how to seek common ground and find ways to look at the facts more dispassionately.  Brakke's recommendations come after writing a series of seven books on the criminal justice system, including his most recent Crime in America, published by American Leadership Books, which includes a chapter on the divisions in American society.  This book discusses the major parts of the criminal justice system, including the police, courts, and prisons, and in Fractured America, Brakke discusses many ways of overcoming these great national divides. 

             Now, based on his research and recommendations in his book, Brakke is reaching out to legislators and governors to consult with them on the best approaches to criminal justice reform in their jurisdiction.  He additionally hopes to use his book to reach out to Federal and state government officials, politicians, and the media to help implement some of his recommended changes.

             In writing his book and working as a consultant, Brakke brings to the table a unique conservative approach to crime and criminal justice, since usually liberals discuss ways to reform the system through more of a social welfare approach.  But Brakke's  approach is more based on an economic business model of doing what works most efficiently to both cut down costs and create more productive citizens.

             Since publishing Crime in America, Brakke has made 30 videos featuring highlights from the book which are available on the American Leadership Books YouTube channel at https://studio.youtube.com/channel/UCfHgXXiW3jgODnaypgcYZFw/videos/upload

             To learn more, you can get a copy of Crime in America, which is now available through Amazon, Kindle, and major bookstores.  It is currently available on Kindle at reduced price during its special KDP Select Promotion at https://www.amazon.com/Crime-America-Conservatives-Approaches-Criminals-ebook/dp/B07MKZG84Z.  Also, free copies are available for government officials who are seeking ways to reduce crime and fix the criminal justice system and for members of the media at www.crimeinamericathebook.comFractured America will be published in early Febraury.

            For media copies of the book, more information on American Leadership Books and Paul Brakke, and to set up interviews, please contact:

Jana Collins

Jones & O'Malley

Toluca Lake, California


(818) 762-8353

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D.
Changemakers Publishing and Writing
Lafayette, CA
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