In his first comments since he was charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald, Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke rejected the idea that he was a racist officer.
“Everyone wants to be part of the bandwagon of hatred. Anyone who knows me, knows me personally, knows … that I’m not a racist,” he told The Chicago Tribune. “That’s a great false narrative. … It’s just slander.”
“I think I was a great police officer,” he added. “I always made efforts to treat everybody fairly and with respect and the way I wanted my own family to be treated.”
The comments were his first public statements since Van Dyke, who is white, fatally shot McDonald, a black 17-year-old, in October 2014. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other firearm offenses on the same day that video of the interaction was released in November 2015, sparking protests across the city.
The incident began when police received reports of a young black man attempting to break into vehicles. As police officers arrived to the scene, Van Dyke stepped out of his vehicle and fired at McDonald for 15 seconds, shooting him 16 times, an autopsy found.
Van Dyke said after the incident that McDonald had a knife and was swinging it in an “aggressive, exaggerated manner,” and his fellow officers backed up his account.
However, the release of video of the shooting contradicted the police version of events and led to protests in Chicago and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.
Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is scheduled for September 5.
Ahead of the trial, Van Dyke spoke with the Tribune for 40 minutes and did not comment on the shooting or its aftermath. He argued that the investigation into McDonald’s shooting was different than others, the Tribune wrote.
“I think there’s been a lot of external political pressures,” he said. “It just seems like politics has been involved with this since the beginning.”
He also said that he prays every day for McDonald’s family: “I offer up a rosary every day.”
Van Dyke could face up to life in prison if he’s convicted of the murder charge. He told the Tribune he’s nervous about that possibility.
“Of course, I’m extremely nervous,” he said. “I might be looking at the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for doing my job as I was trained as a Chicago police officer.”