Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologizes for the police killing of a Black teen, even as his lawyers convince a judge to keep video of a second police killing secret. Local activists want Emanuel to resign.
COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
CHICAGO – On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the video-recorded police killing of Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, “that happened on my watch” – on the same day city attorneys convinced a federal judge to keep a second video-recorded police killing of an unarmed Black teen from going public, and hundreds of protesters demanded the mayor’s resignation.
“If we’re going to fix it, I want you to understand it’s my responsibility with you,” Emanuel said in a rare speech to the full City Council. “But if we’re also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step, and I’m sorry.”
Emanuel, who has dismissed his police superintendent, parted ways with the head of the police shooting review agency and dropped opposition to the release of the McDonald shooting video during the last two weeks, framed the situation as “a defining moment on the issues of crime and policing – and the even larger issues of truth, justice and race.”
Seventeen-year-old McDonald was killed by a White police officer who shot him 16 times. It took 13 months for video of the incident to be made public by court order and for a murder charge to be brought shortly before the video’s release.
Video remains secret
Within hours of Emanuel’s emotional speech, a federal judge said he would not order the release of videos that captured a Chicago police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman as he fled officers in January 2013. City attorneys continued to oppose making the videos public, arguing the case should not be tried in the media.
Chatman had only a black iPhone box in his hand, according to the federal lawsuit filed by attorney Brian Coffman, who represents Chatman’s mother.
Several cameras outside a nearby food market and at local high school recorded different portions of what happened, according to Coffman and a report by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the city agency that investigates police shootings.
Took off running
Officers responding to a report of a carjacking at 1:46 p.m. stopped the car Chatman was driving.
Police said that as the two plainclothes officers approached, Chatman ran, with one of the officers trailing close behind. The second officer – identified as Kevin Fry in the lawsuit – ran diagonally to try to cut off Chatman’s path, police said.
At some point, Chatman “pointed a dark object back toward the officers as he continued to run,” according to IPRA. Fry, allegedly fearing for his life, fired four shots, striking Chatman once each in the right side of his body and right forearm, IPRA said in its report. He later died of his injuries.
The dark object police recovered at the scene was a black iPhone box that authorities believe he obtained from the carjacking, according to IPRA, which is under intense criticism for never finding an officer at fault for an on-duty shooting.
Coffman said the officer had not been disciplined for the shooting.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman cited a protective order entered in Chatman’s mother’s lawsuit as the reason why the videos can’t be made public at this point.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown had sided with the city in her decision Nov. 19 – the same day a Cook County judge ordered the Laquan McDonald shooting videos to be made public.
Then last week, attorney Brian Coffman, who represents Chatman’s mother, asked Gettleman to overturn Brown’s order keeping the videos confidential.
“When Judge Brown made her ruling, she was worried about the jury pool being tainted and the citizens of Chicago being traumatized by this,” Coffman said last week. “Unfortunately, now seeing the (McDonald) video, that (concern) doesn’t exist anymore. There needs to be transparency with what has gone on with the city of Chicago and its police officers, and also the investigation into it.”
Coffman, who has viewed the videos, denied they depict Chatman reaching behind him and pointing anything at the officers. Coffman also said the incident unfolded in less than 5 seconds.
“He was running as fast as he could away from police,” Coffman said. “He glances back, like anyone would if they’re being chased, and that’s it. As soon as he looks back, he starts running. For (Fry) to say he was somehow in fear for his life or in fear for his partner’s life is laughable.”
Emanuel’s address of 40 minutes or so, coming during a crucial time of his tenure, was more of a political speech designed to assuage Chicagoans than one filled with specific plans that several aldermen called for this week to deal with entrenched problems in the Chicago Police Department.
The mayor talked about many Chicagoans’ lack of trust in police officers, and returned to his oft-discussed argument that there are too many guns on Chicago streets. He reiterated his frequent argument that elected officials and community leaders have a responsibility “to earn back that trust and to change that narrative,” and said there’s a need for police to build trust with young African-Americans.
“This time must be different. It will be a bumpy road, make no mistake about it,” Emanuel said. “It is a painful process, and it is a long journey because of the issues we need to confront. But we as a city will not hesitate in the pursuit of what is right. We cannot shrink from the challenge any more than we can ignore the wrenching video of a troubled young man, a ward of the state of Illinois, failed by the system, surrounded by the police and gunned down on the streets of Chicago.”
The mayor was at his most emotional when he discussed the need for respect between officers and young Black men, and when he mentioned parents who have lost children to violence and people who get out of jail with few options.
He talked about a recent lunch with young men who had been in trouble with the law.
“So I asked them, tell me the one thing I need to know,” Emanuel said. “And rather than tell me something, one young man asked me a simple question that gets to the core of what we’re talking about. He said, ‘Do you think the police would ever treat you the way they treat me?’ And the answer is no, and that’s wrong,” Emanuel said, his voice rising before he began to pound the lectern.
“And that has to change in this city. That has to come to an end and end now. No citizen is a second-class citizen in the city of Chicago. If my children are treated one way, every child is treated the same way.”
Speech doesn’t matter
Within minutes of the mayor finishing his speech, protestors began demonstrating outside council chambers. There was no mea culpa great enough, no promises convincing enough to satisfy hundreds of protesters who converged downtown in a vociferous rebuke of how Emanuel has handled issues of police misconduct.
Even as he pledged to give citizens opportunities to more freely voice their concerns and worries, his administration confirmed spectators had to be on a list to be allowed inside to hear the speech.
Protesters streamed through downtown, stopping briefly in front of City Hall, the Chicago Board of Trade and at Congress Parkway near Interstate 290, snarling traffic and causing some bus delays.
They want Emanuel gone.
“This is not a Black problem, this is a democracy problem. We don’t want your apology, we want your resignation!” one woman yelled.
While the ire seemed mostly directed at Emanuel, demonstrators similarly are demanding the resignation of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Many citizens and political leaders have taken aim at how Alvarez’s office has prosecuted police-involved shootings. She came under scrutiny last spring after a Cook County judge acquitted Detective Dante Servin in the fatal shooting of Rekia Boyd in 2012. The judge intimated in his ruling that prosecutors should have charged Servin with murder, not manslaughter.
Criticism of Alvarez grew when she formally charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with McDonald’s killing, but did so the same day the city released the McDonald video.
John Byrne and Jason Meisner of the Chicago Tribune (TNS) contributed to this report.