Mayor Emanuel apologizes for Laquan McDonald's death, vows reforms

CHICAGO (FOX 32 / AP) - Mayor Rahm Emanuel, known for keeping vise-like control over Chicago and his own political image, finds himself in the weakest position of his long public career as he struggles to respond to a police scandal, claims of cover-ups at City Hall and calls for his resignation.

But the former White House chief of staff has said repeatedly that he will not step down. The nation's third-largest city has no process for a mayor to be recalled, though a state lawmaker from Chicago introduced a proposal Wednesday to allow for it. And most of the cries for Emanuel to resign have come from grassroots activists and residents, not from the city's political powerbrokers. The next election - should he seek another term - isn't until 2019.

On Wednesday, the mayor used a special meeting of the Chicago City Council to try to calm the firestorm, apologizing for the fatal shooting of a black teen by a white officer and promising "complete and total" reform.

"I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. And if we're going to fix it, I want you to understand it's my responsibility with you," Emanuel said during a sometimes-emotional speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. "But if we're also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step.

"And I'm sorry."

The remarks were Emanuel's lengthiest and seemingly most heartfelt since the public got its first look last month at the squad car video that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald veering away from officer Jason Van Dyke before Van Dyke began shooting, hitting McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder.

Critics have repeatedly accused Emanuel of keeping the footage under wraps until after he won a tougher-than-expected spring election for a second term. The mayor has denied the claim and acknowledged Wednesday that he should have pressed for prosecutors to wrap up their investigation sooner so the video could be made public.

But his contrition did little to ease the anger in the streets. Hours after the speech, protesters overflowed an intersection in front of City Hall, then marched through the financial district and blocked a major intersection for a short time as police directed traffic around them. Officers guarded the doors to the Chicago Board of Trade as demonstrators approached.

Outside City Hall, retired schoolteacher Audrey Davis carried a sign reading, "Mayor Emanuel is morally corrupt!"

Calling the speech "politically expedient," Davis said, "I don't want to hear anything from him except, 'I tender my resignation.'"

Davis, who is black, said she fears for her 25-year-old grandson when he comes home from college.

"Each time he comes home, my heart is in my throat in case he meets up with a racist cop," Davis said. "We shouldn't have to live like this."

The mayor promised "complete and total" reform of the police. But among African Americans, in particular, he faces deep skepticism.

"If he wasn't man enough to clean it up when he first got in there, he needs to step over and let somebody do the cleaning," said Englewood resident Herb Sandifer.

FOX 32: So, you'd like to see him resign?

"Yes, I do," Sandifer said.

A number of patrons at Powell's Barber Shop in Englewood, where Spike Lee shot scenes for his movie "Chi-Raq," said Mayor Emanuel should resign. Few expect he will. Some are willing to wait and see.

FOX 32: You don't want him to resign?

"Not if he's gonna do what he says he's gonna do. Instead of talking about it, he has to do it," said barber Terryell Wilson.

Hoping to show he really will do it, the mayor told aldermen he's focused on ending the sort of police abuse exposed in recent videos.

"If my children are treated one way, every child is treated the same way. There is one standard for our young men," Emanuel said.

FOX 32: Good speech, bad speech?

"Substance-wise, mediocre. But basically it was just a rehash of speeches from the past," said Alderman Scott Waguespack.

FOX 32: You're not impressed?

"No, I wasn't," he added.

"So, now we have an opportunity. And it sounds like the light bulb has gone off. Because I think the mayor - It sounded like he finally gets it, that we need total reform from top to bottom in the Police Department," said Alderman Anthony Beale.

That's what they want at Powell's Barber Shop, where some have personal stories of alleged police abuse.

"If he's gonna remain in office, he should do better and not just say he's gonna do better," said Englewood resident Derrill Miller.

"We have to clean up the garbage. And we have to start over anew," said Sunni Powell, owner of Powell's Barber Shop.

Since the video emerged, Emanuel has scrambled to contain the crisis. He fired his police superintendent after days of insisting the chief had his support. He also reversed course on whether the U.S. Justice Department should launch a civil-rights investigation, saying he would welcome it only after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats endorsed the idea.

In news conferences, he has appeared worn down, fumbling answers to reporters' questions or avoiding them entirely by walking away, with cameras rolling. On Wednesday, Democratic state Rep. La Shawn Ford filed legislation outlining a lengthy process for a city special election.

"I don't think I've ever seen him grapple with anything quite like this," said longtime ally and adviser David Axelrod, who also served with Emanuel in the Obama White House.

Axelrod said Emanuel worked on the speech all weekend, with input from him and others. But he said the speech alone isn't what matters.

"You don't earn trust back with one speech," Axelrod said. "You earn trust back with actions."

The most likely effect of the crisis will come in the form of pushback from aldermen, who have long been considered a rubber stamp for the mayor's initiatives, said political consultant Delmarie Cobb. She said the black community "has been awakened," and Emanuel can expect a tougher re-election if he tries again.

"He definitely won't run unopposed, and it will be a viable candidate," said Cobb, who is black.

The mayor won re-election in April by a healthy margin, but only after suffering the embarrassment of not getting a majority in a five-candidate February election, forcing the first mayoral runoff in decades.

At the time, he pledged to listen more and to "bridge the gaps between the things that divide us."

In the months that followed, his public schools CEO, who oversaw closings of about 50 schools that angered many residents, was indicted on corruption charges. Emanuel also pushed through the largest tax increase in city history to deal with a budget crisis.

His administration has warned of massive mid-year layoffs in the public schools and is in the midst of rocky contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union. This week, union members are voting on whether to authorize a strike. They could hit the picket lines as early as March.

After the video was made public, other flashpoints kept coming. Footage was released of another police shooting - this one deemed justified by prosecutors - and of another man who died in police custody. A review by the city's quasi-independent police watchdog agency showed that of 409 shootings involving police since 2007, the agency found only two with credible allegations against an officer.

Police reports from the McDonald shooting included officer accounts that differed dramatically from the video.

In his speech, Emanuel noted the problems are ones that have plagued Chicago for decades, and that there are no simple solutions.

"We have to be honest with ourselves about this issue. Each time when we confronted it in the past, Chicago only went far enough to clear our consciences so we could move on," he said. "This time will and must be different."

Here's a rundown on Emanuel's address and the most recent developments with the Chicago Police Department, which will undergo a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice:



The mayor told the City Council that he took responsibility for both the 2014 killing of a black teenager shot 16 times by a white officer and the city's handling of the case. He also apologized and promised "complete and total" reform. The release of video showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's killing set off weeks of protests.

The mayor, who at times worked himself nearly to tears, also declared: "No citizen is a second-class citizen in the city of Chicago."

"Talk is cheap," Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins said in reaction to the speech. "He can garner support if he is true to his word and if the reforms are meaningful and implemented swiftly."

Another alderman, Leslie Hairston, who is black, said she was particularly struck by the mayor's talk of unequal treatment because she was initially denied entrance to the council chamber Wednesday, while white colleagues went straight through without showing ID.

"I could not come through until I produced identification even though my picture was on the wall," she said.



The skepticism of Emanuel's promises extended to Chicago's streets, where crowds of protesters marched and blocked traffic near City Hall at midday and demanded Emanuel's resignation.

The rallies continued through the afternoon, blocking motorists along Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district and later in city neighborhoods.

The protests, which included prominent Chicago pastors, have been largely peaceful.

"We have some serious questions if there's ever going to be any trust again," said the Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, according to WLS-TV.



Emanuel and the new head of the agency that investigates police shootings said they want the city's inspector general to launch an investigation into the McDonald shooting.

Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting.

Both Emanuel and Sharon Fairley of the Independent Police Review Authority acknowledged that the U.S. Attorney's Office already is examining statements made by other officers on the scene - reports that portrayed McDonald as more threatening than he appeared on the video. That triggered accusations of a police cover-up.

But Fairley said it was important for "public confidence" that the inspector general get involved.



The police review authority also said it would reopen an investigation into the treatment of a 38-year-old black man who died in 2012 after officers used a stun gun on him and dragged him from a jail cell.

Fairley said there's "serious questions" about Philip Coleman's treatment.

The half-dozen officers were previously cleared of wrongdoing. But the city released a video this week of officers, several of whom are black, using the stun gun, then dragging an apparently unconscious Coleman away by his wrists. He'd been jailed after allegedly attacking his mother.

Officials have said he died later at a hospital after a reaction to an anti-psychotic drug.

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