A couple of weeks ago, Chicago mayor and former right hand to the president, Rahm Emanuel, did what a scoundrel naturally does when he gets caught: he threw his pal under the bus to try to save his own skin. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy went from a lead role in the play about police reform to mutt. A month earlier, he was one of the bold-faced names in the scam of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, then boom, he’s gone.
It’s not that McCarthy didn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus, but that Rahm deserved it as well. More, actually, given that Rahm’s desk is where the buck stopped, and Rahm’s promise was to clean up the mess. But promises are words, and words mean nothing if a mayor is held to account for them.
Was it possible that Rahm Emanuel didn’t know that his police department, his city, was fighting to the death to prevent disclosure of a video showing a black kid murdered in the street? Is it too harsh, too presumptive, to believe that the mayor was complicit in this cover-up of murder?
Nope. Because he’s doing it again. And after the fallout of Laquan McDonald, there is no possibility that Rahm is in the dark.
Last Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed the arrival of a fresh new era of sincerity and openness concerning policing in Chicago. “I know that personally, I have a lot of work to do to win back the public’s trust, and that words are not enough,” the mayor told the City Council.
Referring to the video of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, Emanuel said: “Every day that we held onto the video contributed to the public’s distrust. And that needs to change.”
Cool story, Rahm.
The mayor fought for months to suppress the video showing the slaying of the 17-year-old McDonald. And now he’s continuing to fight to suppress videos of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman almost three years ago.
At the moment, the name Laquan McDonald has seized the public consciousness. It’s a pretty small consciousness, only big enough to hold a few names at a time. Any more than that and the pressure builds, causing a slight headache, and making people run for the medicine cab for aspirin. People really hate headaches.
But there is a new name of a 17-year-old, Cedrick Chatman, and you need to know it. Say it with me, Cedrick Chatman. “Who? What? Why do I have to remember yet another name?”
Chatman was fleeing from a strong-armed robbery committed in the South Shore neighborhood on an afternoon in January 2013. He was alone in a Dodge Charger when police officer Kevin Fry and his partner, Lou Toth, caught up to the car at a stoplight on 75th Street just east of Jeffery. Chatman dashed out of the Charger across 75th, with Toth on his heels. When Chatman got to the sidewalk on the south side of 75th, he turned west, sprinting toward Jeffery. The distance between Chatman and Toth widened, and Chatman neared the corner.
Fry meantime had run diagonally into 75th Street, his semiautomatic pistol drawn. Chatman, five-foot-seven and 133 pounds, was unarmed, but he had a dark gray iPhone box in his right hand. He “slowed down at the corner and began to turn to his right,” Fry would later tell an investigator for the Independent Police Review Authority. “I was able to see a dark object in his hand which I believed to be a handgun. . . . In fear of Officer Toth’s life and my own life, I fired four shots.” One of the shots struck Chatman in the right side. He was pronounced dead within the hour.
And guess what? There’s a video! Yay? Not so fast, Rahm-fans. Steve Bogira foia-ed the video, and ran smack into the brick wall of Chicago.
On Thursday, Sergeant Landon Wade, who works in CPD’s FOIA department, called to inform me that CPD wouldn’t be making its deadline. My request was “under review,” Wade said. “We will have responsive documents, but I can’t say definitively when that date is.”
In a follow-up e-mail that afternoon, I asked CPD to explain why it would be missing its deadline. I haven’t gotten an answer.
Less than a week ago, Rahm Emanuel tried to cover his complicity in the concealment of Laquan McDonald’s murder with the words, “It starts today. It starts now.” And even as those words left his lips, the video of Cedrick Chatman’s murder remained concealed.
People far more optimistic than this old lawyer about reform spend their time explaining how the empty rhetoric from guys in important official positions demonstrates . . . something. They explain how tepid reforms, if reforms at all, will change everything. Having lived through such rosy predictions before, and watched as it all fell back to shit as soon as public attention turned to the next shiny thing, I wasn’t buying. It’s not that I wanted to be right, but that experience hardens one to the difference between talk and action.
Talk is cheap. The continued concealment of Cedrick Chatman’s video is the action that belies Rahm’s effort to soothe the gullible public. And before anybody thinks this is just a Rahm Emanuel, the Second City’s First Liar, problem, he’s not “the” problem, but just the poster boy for the scheme to calm the looming disaster of public outrage and mistrust of police.
The gullible keep pointing at official responses, from citizen committees to oversee police murders to the Department of Justice telling local police departments not to violate constitutional rights, when its own agents are doing so with impunity, all of which end up in the same place. We breathe a heavy sigh of relief, place our confidence in someone else cleaning up the mess, and go back to doing stuff that doesn’t give us a headache.
Greg Prickett, using the eyes of a 20-year police veteran, tries to tell his brothers that if this murder in the streets doesn’t end, the public is going to do . . . something. I want to agree with Greg, but there is a problem that prevents me from hopping aboard his train. It’s not that all right-thinking people don’t hate seeing these videos of atrocities perpetrated by cops in our name. They do.
But there are two ways to rid us of this outrage. The first is to put a stop to it. The second is to listen to official guys like Rahm spewing palliative nonsense, feel the warmth of bullshit cover our festering anger, and believe that it will all be fine so the headache goes away.
Until the video of Cedrick Chatman is revealed. Then we start all over again, as if it never happened before and Rahm didn’t lie to our faces about it. It’s easier to take two aspirin than look at Rahm Emanuel’s face on the poster of police reform lies.