Despite his insistence that he will not step down from the post, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is facing calls from all sides to resign in the wake of a police shooting scandal that has shaken the city and further eroded trust in its public officials.
Leading black members of Congress joined the chorus on Wednesday, piling onto Emanuel and calling for his resignation should concrete evidence of a cover-up emerge.
"A mayor willing to cover for the murder of his constituent is no mayor at all."
—Jamani Montague, RootsAction
"The whole scenario stinks," Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who represents Ferguson, told The Hill. He said he thought the release of damning police video—after Emanuel's re-election in April—"was intentional and timed that way."
Emanuel was among those who fought for more than a year to keep dash-cam video of the October, 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by white officer Jason Van Dyke out of the public eye. A court ordered the footage to be released at the end of November. In addition to showing McDonald lying on the ground as Van Dyke unloads 16 rounds into his twitching body, the video contradicts the account given by officials in the immediate wake of the shooting.
Van Dyke has been charged with murder, and on Tuesday, Emanuel announced the firing of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy as well as the creation of a Task Force on Police Accountability.
But these steps have done little to quell public outrage or restore confidence in city leaders.
"Now, after he has been forced by court order to expose himself as being complicit in the horrid murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, this crooked Mayor is creating a Task Force on Police Accountability," stated Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression field organizer Frank Chapman in an op-ed this week. "We say no! We say what Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be announcing is his resignation."
"Everything about the killing of McDonald over 400 days ago, including the slithering about of Chicago officials in their efforts to suppress video of his murder, stinks to high heaven," wrote New York Times columnist Charles Blow on Thursday. "There is the $5 million settlement with the family, the timing of that settlement, the strenuous efforts to keep the tape from public view, the long delay in charging the officer who did the shooting."
"It all makes one ask: How much is the life of a teenager worth?" Blow continued. "To what length would officials go to bury visual evidence that he had been shot down in the street like a dog? Are officials so desperately afraid of losing their jobs that they would conceal details about the loss of a boy's life?"
Or as Jamani Montague of RootsAction.org—which has collected more than 15,000 signatures on a petition calling for Rahm's ouster—put it: "A mayor willing to cover for the murder of his constituent is no mayor at all."
Emanuel, a former White House Chief of Staff, has spoken of two competing principles in justifying the video's suppression: the right of the public and the media to see the footage, and the need to protect the integrity of investigations.
However, columnist John Kass argued in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday:
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Sadly, he forgot to mention the third, most important principle of all: keeping his behind on Chicago's mayoral iron throne.
If he had released that video before this year's election, he would not have won a second term.
If the public had seen Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 shots into McDonald, most of them while the 17-year-old was on the ground, here's what would have happened.
Chicago's black political and religious leaders on the South and West sides would have been unable to campaign for the mayor. A white cop shooting a black teenager? They'd have abandoned him.
"It's pretty obvious to anybody that there is some cover-up taking place here," added longtime Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in leadership and a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman. "How high that goes up, I don’t know."
"Emanuel has enjoyed baffling immunity from criticism from just about every elected Democrat outside the city of Chicago."
—George Zornick, The Nation
But among top Democrats, Clyburn is an exception, not the rule. As George Zornick wrote for The Nation on Thursday, Emanuel "has enjoyed baffling immunity from criticism from just about every elected Democrat outside the city of Chicago."
In fact, Zornick continued:
o political consequences for Rahm appear to be forthcoming, at least not from his Democratic colleagues. For different reasons—namely, a disinclination to mount a serious fight against police brutality—leading Republicans won’t go after Emanuel either, thus giving him a free pass from both sides. That’s a shame, because the mayor is already teetering on the brink of political collapse and exhibiting all of the signs of a politician whose tenure is in critical condition: scapegoating his police commissioner (after a long and telling period where he refused to do so), cancelling scheduled visits, and sniping with reporters. One nudge from the likes of Hillary Clinton, and Emanuel would surely be headed to an early retirement.
Neither Chicago nor Illinois law allows for the recall or impeachment of a politician, meaning that Emanuel's ouster will only come after the 2019 election or via his own resignation.
As the New York Times editorial board declared this week: "All along, Mr. Emanuel’s response, either by design or because of negligence, was to do as little as possible—until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand. The residents of Chicago will have to decide whether that counts as taking responsibility."