Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel volunteered an apology during a speech delivered in front of the Chicago City Council Wednesday morning, admitting errors which occurred during his tenure, pledging “complete and total” reform of the police department and expressing remorse for the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
“We are here today because Chicago is facing a defining moment on the issues of crime and policing, and the even larger issues of truth, justice and race. We can either be defined by what we have failed to do or what we choose to do.”
“I want to also speak directly to every resident of Chicago. I work for you. My first responsibility and your government’s first responsibility is to keep you and your family safe and to make sure that you feel safe in your neighborhoods. We have clearly fallen short on this issue and that needs to change. It starts by hearing out your fears and frustrations – as well as your hopes and your expectations.”
Censuring a culture of police corruption and blaming police leadership, Emanuel continued:
“This problem is sometimes referred to as the Thin Blue Line. Other times it is referred to as the code of silence. It is the tendency to ignore, deny or in some cases cover-up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues. No officer should be allowed to behave as if they are above the law just because they are responsible for upholding the law. Permitting and protecting even the smallest acts of abuse by a tiny fraction of our officers leads to a culture where extreme acts of abuse are more likely, just like what happened to Laquan McDonald.”
“We have to have better oversight of our police officers to ensure that they are living up to the high standards we expect from them. And we also have to create a place for the community to vent their understandable feelings and fears about the police without it devolving into acrimony.”
While the mayor delivered an often impassioned speech, it was greeted with skepticism by protesters who flooded Chicago’s streets, continued to demand his resignation and chanted “impeach Rahm,” “Rahm must go,” and “Rahm must resign.”
Protests began in mid-morning at Daley Plaza, moved north and were halted in mid-afternoon by a police blockade at Division Street, a largely residential section of Chicago.
As hundreds of protesters briefly blocked traffic on Congress Parkway, a major thoroughfare into the city, protests remained peaceful and slowly navigated north from the financial district toward the tony dining and shopping quarter along Michigan Avenue, known as the Magnificent Mile.
Other demonstrators huddled in front of City Hall, chanted “police don’t kill us,” and “Anita (Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney) and Rahm must go.”
Elsewhere, and adding to this anguish of failure, Mr. Emanuel’s unpopularity inspired State Representative La Shawn Ford to introduce a measure on the Illinois House floor to establish a procedure to re-call the mayor. Likely beyond their realm of influence, and of less concern to the mayor, this only adds to the swelling calls for his resignation.
Mr. Emanuel is fighting for his political survival.
Often an energetic agitator when a member of the Clinton and Obama Administrations who built a reputation for pitilessly destroying enemies, and a man of few visible attractive qualities, the normally truculent Emanuel blamed everyone but himself in his catharsis-like speech.
It is a familiar pattern for any elected official fighting for their political lives: Resist calls to step aside, the dismissal of subordinates, blaming underlings in public, promising a re-design of police procedures, establishment of a new board to address public concerns and a statistical light-show to demonstrate improvement in policing procedures.
Untangling the arguments and cutting through spin, Emanuel’s speech was more a soliloquy of self-pity than a speech to restore faith between the city’s law enforcement community and the public.
By sacrificing public officials and attempting to use words as antiseptic, Mr. Emanuel is clinging to the hope civic diplomacy can smooth out if not entirely erase failures his administration provoked through the delayed release of a police dash cam of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Mr. Emanuel is appreciably underestimating public wisdom.
Weeks are a lifetime in politics. Should Mr. Emanuel survive the spell of discord, this episode will be unlike numerous others: A variety of anger so prevalent at the moment is unlikely to be forgotten in the next election cycle.
[ThinkProgress.org] [AP] [ilga.gov] [dailybeast] [cityofchicago.org] [Photo courtesy GlobalGrind.com]