It’s interesting to see black politicians, pastors, nationalists and activists who were clinging to Rahm Emanuel like a cheap suit, during the mayoral campaign, suddenly find their voices.
I commend the clergy who supported Emanuel for re-election in April for admitting they have no faith in him now after the successive release of videos showing three young black men–Laquan McDonald, Ronald Johnson and Philip Coleman–being shot or beaten to death by Chicago Police officers. These pastors are vowing to circulate petitions to collect signatures pushing Chicago aldermen to take a vote of “no confidence” on the City Council floor.
Yet, while they have seen the light there are still others who remain “doubting Thomases.” They refuse to believe their buddy on the fifth floor betrayed voters, lied to voters or withheld pertinent information from voters about the shooting death of 17-year-old McDonald. Unlike the Apostle Thomas, these pastors have seen the video of McDonald being gunned down, but refuse to believe it was a part of any orchestrated cover-up.
Instead, they believe a contrite Emanuel who acknowledged in a 40-minute speech that police misconduct is nothing new.
“Nothing, nothing can excuse what happened to Laquan McDonald,” the mayor said. “Our city has been down this road before. We have seen fatal police shootings and other forms of abuse and corruption. We took corrective measures, but those measures never measured up to the challenge.”
Emanuel was all too familiar with serial torturer Jon Burge. A week after winning re-election, he announced the creation of a $5.5 million “reparation fund” to compensate victims tortured by the rogue police officer, and the code of silence that allowed him to operate with impunity for years. The mayor apologized then too.
Ironically, the city’s corporation counsel asked the Finance Committee to approve a $5 million settlement for the police-involved killing of McDonald a day later.
Leading up to the dashcam video release showing the teenager walking away from police, Emanuel held a series of hastily called meetings with ministers, activists and aldermen. According to two ministers, the mayor was his usual smug and arrogant self.
“Basically he was trying to ask us to use our influence to call for calm,” explained Rev. Ira Acree on Chicago Tonight. “That’s what the meeting was all about. In one instance it got very contentious, because he even suggested that if we allow this city to blow up, that there’ll be hell to pay.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch said those in the meeting were offended by the mayor’s bluster.
“That somehow we are charged with keeping the peace. We’re not peace officers. We can’t take responsibility for a set of circumstances–and even an atmosphere–that we didn’t create.”
“I was there for one purpose yesterday,” said Acree. “My people feel betrayed; my people feel violated by three entities of government. I wanted to make sure that someone speaks for them. That’s my role. I’ll be speaking up for my community. That’s who I represent.”
Instead of the mayor humbling himself before these ministers, he resorted to his default strong-arm tactics, which is just another in a long list of examples of what Emanuel really thinks of black people.
Knowing Chicago is on the financial brink and knowing the city has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars for police misconduct, Rahm Emanuel had many opportunities to get in front of this issue. He chose, however, to vilify Chicago schoolteachers, to invest in tourist attractions at the expense of neighborhoods in need, to continue the practice of using TIF dollars for vanity projects and to protect a police superintendent whose actions and policies were contemptuous.
Once again, we’re in campaign season. Politicians will ask to come to black churches to seek votes. Before any—black or white–are allowed to speak, we must demand they sign onto an urban agenda that addresses education, job training, jobs creation, community development, infrastructure improvements, affordable housing, violence and wellness. It’s not enough to say they’ll be with us. They must have a history of supporting issues that advance black people and acknowledge the racism and obstacles that continue to stand in our way.
As Rev. James Meeks said in 2011, “If he’s never done anything for African-Americans, wake up people. What would make us think he’s going to sail into town and start doing things for us now?” Unfortunately, in 2015, he had a change of heart and supported Emanuel.
Black politicians, pastors, nationalists and activists are at the fork in the road. We have one of three choices to make: we may either go right, or go left, or go back. Mayor Emanuel has given us the road map; the rest is up to us.
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”