CHICAGO — Make no mistake, ousted police Supt. Garry McCarthy was Mayor Rahm Emanuel's sacrificial lamb — a political peace offering to black ministers who helped keep protests peaceful after the world saw the video of a Chicago police officer pumping 16 bullets into a black teenager.
McCarthy, of course, knew he might lose his $260,004-a-year job in the storm that erupted over Officer Jason Van Dyke's shooting of Laquan McDonald.
As soon as Emanuel said he “stands behind” McCarthy, everybody knew there was a chance that the boss would stick a knife in the top cop's back to buy time to save himself.
But McCarthy didn’t see it coming on Tuesday.
The superintendent started his morning getting berated on TV talk shows during a pre-planned attempt at damage control for the Emanuel administration on a day when, interestingly enough, the Sun-Times editorial board called for McCarthy to resign or be fired.
The editorial included a particular fact — one the mayor’s press office proactively provided to the Sun-Times on Monday — that later became an Emanuel talking point and, ultimately, the mayor’s defense against accusations that he played a role in a cover up to save his political life.
“But in calling for McCarthy to step aside, we want to be clear we’re not buying into every conspiracy theory. There is no sound evidence, most importantly, that Emanuel intentionally tried to hush up the McDonald case until after he was safely reelected,” the Sun-Times wrote.
“On the contrary, city lawyers say, McDonald’s family first reached out to the city — not the other way around — on Feb. 27 to seek a quiet financial settlement. The final amount was $5 million.”
Emanuel told reporters Tuesday that he started a discussion with McCarthy on Sunday about changes that need to be made at the department, hinting that the talks were a precursor to removing McCarthy from his post.
If that was the case, McCarthy didn’t get the message, sources said. Indeed, McCarthy told WGN radio's Steve Cochran, "I'm a little bit busy and a little bit stressed out but staying the course."
In his media rounds Monday night and Tuesday, McCarthy made it clear that he didn’t plan to resign amid the controversy and explained that current regulations for dealing with police officer misconduct didn’t allow him to fire Van Dyke or suspend the officer without pay until criminal charges were filed.
And every time he was asked, McCarthy repeated that he believed he had the mayor’s support.
Monday night, appearing in an exclusive interview with CBS2, McCarthy said something that caught City Hall’s attention. When a reporter asked McCarthy for his first thoughts after hearing that officer Jason Van Dyke shot a black teenager 16 times, the police superintendent’s answer included one sentence that encapsulated the real truth about why he’s out of job.
“It’s a very high-charged, political atmosphere that we’re living in right now,” McCarthy said.
That’s probably the most honest thing any one in the Emanuel administration has said about the fallout from the release of the McDonald shooting video.
Well, the truth has consequences in Chicago, a city governed via political spin and self-protected by a code of silence. That silence has eroded trust in its police department and in the mayor’s office. It's a silence that's demanded of the Independent Police Review Authority by police union contract terms that keep police misconduct claims secret.
The day after McCarthy’s comment about the “high-charged, political atmosphere,” he was summoned to Emanuel’s office and fired before his scheduled round of TV interviews were complete.
WLS-AM 890 reporter Bill Cameron asked Emanuel a very important question, “What did Garry McCarthy do wrong?”
“He has become an issue rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction,” the mayor said before praising McCarthy for his work to reduce crime by 34 percent.
Emanuel expressed his “loyalty” to the police chief he fired, adding that McCarthy had to go because “no one person trumps my commitment and my responsibility to the city of Chicago and it’s future.”
Or as top city source put it, “Even Stevie Wonder could see McCarthy was set up" as Rahm’s fall guy.
In the end, McCarthy is out. But what of Rahm? When a shepherd leads his flock over the cliff, you can't blame the sheep.
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