Nearly four years after he killed Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald, police officer Jason Van Dyke suggested he was a political scapegoat and decried “the bandwagon of hatred” on social media, reports the Chicago Tribune. With jury selection in his case set for next week, Van Dyke, 40, gave his first interview, acknowledging a pressing desire to challenge the image many paint of him as a racist, trigger-happy cop who was indifferent to taking the life of a troubled 17-year-old. Van Dyke would not discuss details of the shooting but he signaled what will likely be a key part of his defense, repeating several times that he had never before fired his gun while working in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods for more than a dozen years.
“Any loss of life was extremely difficult. It’s something you try to mentally prepare yourself for just in case. … You don’t ever want to shoot your gun. It doesn’t matter if it’s to put down a stray animal or something like that. Nobody wants to shoot their gun,” he said. “I never would have fired my gun if I didn’t think my life was in jeopardy or another citizen’s life was. It’s something you have to live with forever.” He has been accused of using racial slurs on two different occasions. The allegations — which were deemed unfounded — have contributed to the portrait of Van Dyke as a prejudiced officer, an image he largely blames on social media. “Anyone who knows me, knows me personally, knows … that I’m not a racist,” he said. “That’s a great false narrative. … It’s just slander.” Van Dyke has been suspended without pay or benefits since he was charged. He has been working as a janitor at the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which has backed the officer.