Photo by Erick Johnson
For nearly a month, it has been a familiar scene outside the double-glass doors of the mayor’s office at City Hall. Here, on the fifth floor, the ornate crown moldings and Italian marble walls have been the backdrop of contentious press conferences and protests calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to leave City Hall once and for all.
The calls have been made since the release of a police video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014. Since its release on November 24, the city and the nation has been against Emanuel, whom many believe orchestrated a cover-up of the incident by burying the video and paying the family a $5 million settlement while the Black community propelled him to a second term in the city’s highest office.
While anger has cooled in some of the city’s neighborhoods, protests continue in others.
The city’s ritzy Magnificent Mile—still reeling from a massive demonstration that shut down some stores on Black Friday—is bracing for another protest by the Buy Black Alliance on Christmas Eve from noon to 5 p.m. However, there will be less calls for Emanuel to resign as more activists and leaders take a somber look at who can fill the mayor’s shoes should he resign.
With Emanuel’s apology, Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation and the U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation into the police department, more and more are willing to allow the mayor to remain in office as he makes good on his promises to implement sweeping policy reforms that would improve policing and opportunities in underserved neighborhoods.
Although many more activists still believe Emanuel should resign, the embrace of the mayor by some has left the Black community divided.
Activists of all ages are questioning the loyalties of the Black elected officials. While some have criticized the mayor for his role in the McDonald case, the majority of the city’s aldermen have refused to denounce the mayor or join calls for his resignation. Most have been silent amid accusations of being Emanuel’s quiet supporters while the communities they serve suffer from poverty, unemployment and closed schools.
On Sunday, Dec. 20, thousands of residents in Chicago learned where U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush’s (1st) loyalties lie: With the mayor. Many believe Black aldermen feel the same way, but are too cowardly to express their views.
In a letter to the Chicago Sun Times, Rush boldly declared his support for the mayor and said his resignation would be bad for the city.
“If Rahm were to resign, Chicago would only move from one chaos to another chaos,” Rush wrote. “That is not the best strategy to ask the mayor to step down. We have, at this time, a critical point to bargain for real change.”
Rush also said in the letter, “Chicago is at a boiling point. In order for us to move forward, we must do so with one aim.
“It appears as though Rahm’s primary goals are to rehabilitate the image of Chicago around the world and in our nation. Rahm is probably the only person in our city right now who can handle this with good results. As mayor, he has the ability and power to reinstitute and reform police authority with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Independent Police Review Authority.”
The Crusader was unable to reach Rush at press time Tuesday evening. An email to his office was not answered.
With his ties to Washington and shrewd leadership style, some believe Emanuel is the city’s best hope through its financial crisis. If he resigns, the city’s vice mayor, Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) will take the helm. Some believe the city would not do any better under Reilly.
“It’s not a win-win situation,” said Mark Finley, 56, president of the Buy Black Alliance organization, which is leading the march on Christmas Eve. “I think we should let him ride this one out and let him stick to his word.”
Those beliefs differ from many activists and Black clergy, who believe Emanuel is part of the problem and the city would be better off without him.
In addition to his handling of the McDonald case, they point to his closing of 50 schools two years ago and the practices of the police department that went on under his administration. Despite empty calls for diversity and sweeping out bad officers, many have grown disillusioned with Emanuel because he supported McCarthy, who he fired after the McDonald case confirmed long-held suspicions about the police department.
Many believe Emanuel has lost the trust of residents. A recent online survey by the Illinois Observer showed that of 739 likely Chicago voters, only 18 percent approved of Emanuel’s job performance in the wake of the McDonald case. The mayor had a disapproval rating of 67 percent and more than half those polled thought the mayor should resign. Nearly 64 percent said they thought Emanuel lied when he said he did not see the McDonald video during settlement negotiations last spring.
As thousands of Chicago Public School teachers prepare to strike and the CPS debt load reaches $7 billion, many activists believe the city would be better off without Emanuel. Fresh leadership, many believe, is the best solution to rebuild trust and heal the city.
In the Black community, young activists believe they would also be better off without their Black aldermen, whom they have urged to join their calls for Emanuel to resign.
Their calls for change in their neighborhoods have fallen on deaf ears. In addition to Emanuel, many activists believe Black aldermen are out of touch with their wards and are helping the mayor remain in office. It’s a concern that’s been expressed in recent community town hall meetings on the city’s West and South Sides.
“I think they’re part of the problem,” said Lenyena Williams, 24, who attended a community town hall meeting at Liberty Baptist Church in Bronzeville on Dec. 7. “I think they’re helping the mayor cover up everything.”