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'I'm Not A Racist': Van Dyke Speaks To Chicago Tribune About McDonald Shooting

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For the first time since he shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald nearly four years ago, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is speaking out publicly, a week before his murder trial is set to start.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Van Dyke would not discuss the shooting itself, but said he's "extremely nervous" about the upcoming trial.

"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," he told the Tribune.

Van Dyke acknowledged he is trying to counter the image many people have of him as a racist, callous, out-of-control cop.

"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 said. "That's a great false narrative. … It's just slander," he said.

His lawyers requested all questions be submitted in advance, and would not allow the Tribune to record the interview on video. Van Dyke also was instructed not to answer some questions.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty shooting. He shot McDonald 16 times on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, as police were responding to reports the teen was slashing tires near 41st and Pulaski.

McDonald was armed with a knife and allegedly had slashed the tire of a police car before Van Dyke arrived on the scene. In a report he filed after the shooting, According to the official police report of the shooting, McDonald attacked Van Dyke, and swung the knife in an "aggressive manner."

However, dashboard camera video released the day Van Dyke was charged with murder contradicts the police account, and shows McDonald walking away from Van Dyke when he was shot.

Van Dyke said he has watched the video of the shooting, but his lawyers stopped him from giving his reaction to the footage.

The officer said it was the first time he ever fired his police weapon in more than 12 years on the job.

"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 told the Tribune. "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."

Van Dyke's trial on first-degree murder charges is scheduled to begin Sept. 5, and it's not yet clear if he'll opt for a jury trial or a bench trial. His attorneys have sought to move the case out of Cook County, but the judge has said he won't rule on that request until after jury selection has begun, in hopes of seating a fair jury in Cook County. Van Dyke can still choose to have a bench trial, in which Judge Vincent Gaughan would decide his fate.

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