CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised Chicagoans he would hold police officers accountable for lying about what really happened when officer Jason Van Dyke fired all 16 bullets in his gun at Laquan McDonald until the black teenager was dead.
The promise came in early December 2015, on the day he named John Escalante Chicago’s top cop. The mayor said, “When I’m given the chance and the materials, I will take action and make things right if they are wrong and hold people accountable.”
Eight months later, Emanuel has had plenty of time.
And this week, Emanuel’s administration got the “materials,” too — a report from Inspector General Joe Ferguson that, according to news reports, recommends firing officers involved in backing a bogus version of events that lead to McDonald's death on police reports that didn’t jibe with what the world saw on YouTube.
Instead of doing what he said he would do, Emanuel has, as one City Hall reporter described it, passed the “political hot potato” to police Supt. Eddie Johnson, a nice guy who sometimes has trouble telling Chicagoans the truth.
When asked about the inspector general’s report, Emanuel said, “I don't really have much to say on this particular issue until Eddie makes his decision. He'll make that decision, and I'll back that decision up."
Before you laugh at the idea that Johnson is allowed to make his own decisions, let’s be clear: Emanuel isn't just taking his turn in a game of political hot potato.
This looks like a Machiavellian move the mayor hopes will keep up the illusion that the police department is separate from his City Hall administration.
And Emanuel’s political play comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice investigates our police department, which many Chicagoans don’t trust.
Since the feds announced their probe of the polices and practices of the police department they’ve had their watchdog noses pointed in the wrong direction, away from City Hall, that is.
Everything that stinks about corrupt cops in Chicago is perpetrated by two things: the “Thin Blue Line” code of silence in the department, and a City Hall bureaucracy that has set policy and settles civil lawsuits to allow bad cops to keep their jobs. A culture of misconduct has been allowed to continue for generations.
Emanuel, after all, is the guy who apologized for going along with city corporation counsel Steve Patton’s recommendation to follow a longtime City Hall policy of keeping potentially damning evidence secret for the sake of protecting the integrity of an investigation in the Laquan McDonald Case.
“Just because we have done it like this for 40 years doesn’t mean it’s right," Emanuel said. "Just because that’s how we’ve done it, I should have along the way challenged the entire legal team and others, of how a practice that was actually undermining the very value that I think is essential to the public safety and wholeness of the city.”
Maybe Emanuel thinks we forgot about his emotional performance before the City Council when he acknowledged that a code of silence exists in the police department, and he promised to start holding people accountable in hopes of rebuilding the public trust.
Because now, nearly two years after officer Van Dyke gunned down Laquan McDonald, Emanuel is leaving the decision on how to punish police to somebody else — Supt. Eddie Johnson, the mayor’s new human shield.
That’s leadership, the Rahm Emanuel Way.
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