Today we say: The movement won this.

by Rossana Rodriguez

Today we say: The movement won this. Jason Van Dyke is being held accountable because of the people who crowded Chicago’s streets, spoke Laquan McDonald’s name, and insisted that his murder should not go unpunished.

We celebrate this accomplishment, even while we recognize how far we still have to go.

Since Laquan McDonald’s murder, the city and the Chicago police worked nonstop to criminalize him, and to paper over the racist system that set him up for tragedy. Laquan McDonald grew up in a Chicago neighborhood where nearly half of all young black men are out of school and out of work. Without sufficient funding for counselors and special education aides, the public education system resorted to suspensions and expulsions that pushed him out of school and onto the streets.

As an educator at an alternative high school in Chicago, I taught many students who could have been Laquan. Many had experienced violence or homelessness. Instead of getting the resources they needed to learn and succeed, they were pushed from school to school. Some of my students were gang-affiliated, and many were not—either way, they were criminalized. Young people of color in this city are punished relentlessly, with poverty, with school suspension and expulsion, with police harassment and, sometimes, murder.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the summer before he was killed, Laquan was working with a mentor who was helping him find a job. There was somebody who believed in him and was trying to get him to believe in himself. With more of that support, Laquan could’ve led a full life. Instead, the Chicago Police Department cut it short.

The conditions that created this crime were avoidable: We are spending $4 million a day on the police, when we don't have enough social workers and mentors to work with kids like Laquan, and when schools and mental health clinics are being cut and closed.

Our mayor and our alderman, Deb Mell, have committed to spend a further $95 million of our city’s money on a new police academy, ignoring calls from Black and Brown communities to invest that money instead in jobs, after-school programs, and healthcare.

These priorities are backwards, and the people who created the situation we have today are not going to solve them.

We need real accountability for police. I support the calls for the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), the strongest measure currently being advanced by movements demanding real community control of policing. We also needed fully funded public schools and services.

If justice for Laquan McDonald is going to be served, it is going to take a bold transformation of our city’s agenda. Our communities are ready for this, even if our politicians aren’t.

Robert Quellos