The Washington Post and hundreds of protesters appeared to agree this week that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, is in deep trouble. Two weeks after a police dash-cam video was released of a white Chicago policeman shooting a black teen male 16 times, Emanuel apologized for the incident and took some responsibility for it. Speaking on December 9, Emanuel said in a meeting with the full Chicago City Council "I'm sorry" for the shooting of Laquan McDonald, which "happened on my watch."
Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, has been charged with McDonald’s murder. Charges against the officer came thirteen months after the shooting. Government critics alleged that the city and police had attempted a coverup.
Emanuel delivered a "genuine" and "heartfelt" speech about police over-reach and city violence that seemed "real," said the Chicago Tribune.
On the same day, protesters hit the streets in the Windy City to condemn the shooting, while also calling for Emanuel and state's attorney Anita Alvarez to resign. There was little evidence of support for the two officials among the protesters. The failure to address long-term problems in the Chicago police department, as well as Emanuel’s missteps in handling the case, has led to a loss of trust in local government. According to a poll by the Illinois Observer, Emanuel’s approval rating is currently at a record low of 18 percent, while 51 percent of residents think he should resign.
That it took more than a year for police to release a police dash-cam video that recorded the fatal shooting of teenaged McDonald. It took a court order to have the video aired, since police had fought for months to prevent its release. Police argued that race relations and community tranquility were at risk. Accusations emerged later that police officers erased footage from a private closed-circuit video camera at a restaurant close by the shooting. In addition, the city of Chicago paid $5 million to McDonald’s surviving family members in April 2014 in exchange for not insisting on the release of the video.
Pay-off at election time
At the time, Emanuel was running a reelection campaign, and the election occurred during that same month. Emanuel, though, wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune vehemently denying the accusation that withholding the video had anything to do with the election. Emanuel promised, "I own the problem of police brutality, and I'll fix it." He denounced the Obama administration’s Department of Justice probe into the Chicago police force as "misguided."
This came despite support for the investigation from Illinois' state attorney, a U.S. senator representing Illinois, the governor of Illinois, and Chicago native and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. An adept politician and former White House chief of staff, Emanuel sought to clarify his statement on the very next day. He wrote, "We have a long road ahead of us as a city, and I welcome people from many views to help us do exactly what we need to do."
Emanuel has since fired Chicago’s police chief, and has inaugurated an independent task force to study police violence. But more revelations are putting Emanuel’s tenure on the line. According to NBC Chicago, Emanuel’s press officer was made aware on December 8, 2014, of the possibility that Laquan McDonald’s death was recorded by a dash cam. This was two weeks after McDonald was shot to death by Officer Van Dyke.
Shannon Breymaier – Emanuel’s aide - was part of an e-mail chain that questioned whether the city should release video of the shooting. A top assistant in the counsel’s office replied, “This is not a lawsuit as of now.”
Emanuel’s press aides Adam Collins and Kelly Quinn were also part of a February 10, 2015 email chaing. It included an article by reporter Jamie Kalven who reported McDonald’s autopsy results and wrote: “the account…given by police cannot be true.”
Jeff Neslund – the attorney counseling the McDonald family – wrote a letter to Chicago’s Corporation Counsel's office on March 6, 2015. He wrote “This case will undoubtedly bring a microscope of national attention to the shooting” and “the City’s pattern, practice and procedures.”
More trouble brewing for Emanuel
State Representative LaShawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, introduced legislation on December 9 at the state capital to recall Emanuel. House Bill 4356 would set up the mechanism to begin proceedings for a recall election. If passed by both chambers of the state legislature and signed by the Governor, a recall election would occur if supported by at least two alderman and the signatures of 85,000 registered voters.
Rep. Ford says Emanuel is accountable if he fails to move the city ahead as promised. The recall bill will pass, says Ford, despite Emanuel’s opposition and his allies, who include Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan. The Illinois legislature will go back into session in January.
Sharon Fairley, who is currently the acting Chief Administrator for the Independent Police Review Authority, wants the Office of the Inspector General to undertake its own probe into the death and circumstances of McDonald. Even though there is an active criminal investigation into the incident, said Fairley, she said “we must also take what steps we can to determine how and why the case reports filed by police that night appear to differ from what we have all seen for ourselves.”