Ignorance is not bliss: Why you should know about the Van Dyke trial| Oct 23, 2018
“Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder,” I said with relief to my friend last Friday afternoon. After nervously monitoring the news for days, I felt a calm rush over me as justice was served for the brutal murder of Chicago teen, Laquan McDonald. To my utter surprise, my friend looked at me and asked, “Who is that?”
A news topic that was incredibly important for my city (my hometown is a suburb 30 minutes outside of Chicago), and I thought for our nation, was one that my Princeton friend knew nothing about. This was not an isolated response: I asked a few of my other friends if they were watching the trial and none of them knew what I was talking about. In this moment, I realized that while attending Princeton, it is easy to ignore the rest of society. Remaining in our Princeton bubble is easy, but we all need to make more of an effort to stay updated on the news if we want to make a positive impact on the world.
McDonald was 17 years old when Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer, shot him 16 times, falsely claiming that the teenager was lunging towards him to attack. A video of the shooting, which contradicted the police officer’s story, was kept from the public for 13 months after the event. To add gravity to the situation, Van Dyke is white, and McDonald was black. Racial tensions in Chicago were already high, as the city has faced many race-based police brutality instances similar to this.
When I reminded my friends what the case was about, they all remembered the video of the black boy being shot repeatedly by a white police officer. They had forgotten about this event that occurred in 2014. Chicago did not forget — after the video was released, protests erupted in Chicago, making national news.
During the days preceding the verdict, Chicago prepared for the worst. The city worried that history would repeat itself, and unrest similar to that following the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., would erupt if Van Dyke were found innocent.
Luckily, justice was served and Van Dyke was held accountable for the murder of McDonald. Chicago rejoiced over a victory in the battle against police brutality and racism.
The most surprising part of the events of last week was the fact that no one at Princeton seemed to be aware of the trial. Being from Chicago, I felt personally impacted by the events. It shocked me that nobody was talking about the case at the University. Van Dyke’s trial is national news; the case was covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many other national news sources.
As Princeton students, we are all busy with classes, extracurriculars, and social activities. It is easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget that there is a world outside of Princeton. But none of these are excuses for ignorance.
I am not suggesting that Princeton students are oblivious to what is going on outside of the University. Within the last few weeks, talk of Brett Kavanaugh has filled campus. The Kavanaugh hearings are monumental in our nation’s politics, and extremely worthy of being discussed. The McDonald case, however, should also be on the minds of Princeton students.
The Kavanaugh case brought up the issue of sexual assault, which is arguably more relevant to college campuses than the issue of police brutality against minorities, which was present in the McDonald case. Princeton students, myself included, seem to focus mainly on news that affects them personally. If I weren’t from Chicago, maybe I wouldn’t have heard about the Van Dyke trial.
Most people either watched or heard about the video of McDonald being murdered in 2014, yet it seems that the majority of University students have not followed up with the case. It is understandable that people have forgotten about it as the trial took years to proceed. However, we should make an effort to continue following news reports. Even though we are bombarded with new information everyday, we should try to seek out conclusions to stories rather than forgetting them once we read a new sensationalized headline.
I challenge the Princeton student body to open up a news app and get educated on what is going on in our world. Ask your friends what is happening in their hometowns. In a few years we are going to be living as adults in the real world, outside of our Princeton bubble. We are studying at Princeton to become future leaders; during our time at college we are not just supposed to learn about our major. Rather, we need to learn about the issues in our world, whether or not they affect us personally. Everybody agrees that it is important to vote, but how can you vote if you don’t know what is going on in our country? How can you expect to expect to change the world if you are ignorant of what is going on in it?
Katie Goldman is a first-year from Western Springs, Ill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org