Emanuel downplays police controversy

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - After nearly three months in the eye of the storm, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is downplaying the crisis of confidence caused by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, arguing that every Chicago mayor and virtually every American city have faced a similar police crisis.

“On the police use of force, this is not [new]. Everybody knows we have had other issues as it relates to the Abbate case, the Burge torture, the Summerdale [district scandal]. Every mayor, my predecessors — have dealt with this in one way or another,” Emanuel said during a taping of the WLS-AM (890) Radio program, “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“I am determined that this opportunity not be lost and that we finally fix what’s broken in the system — not just in the police department and not just in the oversight and accountability, although that’s important. But also in the more important part to me: the relationship building that has to happen between the community and the police department.”

The video played around the world of a white police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of a black teenager has placed Chicago at the center of the controversy. But Emanuel maintained that Chicago is not alone among big cities grappling with policing problems.

“Cleveland has this. Cincinnati has this. Los Angeles with Rodney King had this. Baltimore has it. New York — the Garner case starts today. They have it. This is not unique to Chicago,” the mayor said.

“What’s unique is, we have a history and we’re going to finally, once and for all, make the greatest, longest, deepest effort in making the reforms necessary to help build and sustain the trust between the community and the police department, which is essential to public safety.”

Emanuel has been under fire for keeping the McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year and waiting until one week after the April 7 mayoral runoff to authorize a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family even before a lawsuit had been filed.

The video was released on the same day that Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, only after a judge ordered the city to do so.

In December, Emanuel apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” police shooting death and acknowledged the “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department he once tried to keep out of a court record.

A cathartic and emotional speech by Emanuel before a special City Council meeting did nothing to silence demands for his resignation.

The mayor has emphatically denied keeping the dashcam video of the McDonald shooting under wraps to get past the election.

But he has acknowledged that he “added to the suspicion and distrust” of everyday Chicagoans by blindly following the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.

In his struggle to regain the shattered public trust and fend off demands for his resignation, Emanuel has fired a police superintendent he promised to keep, ousted an Independent Police Review Authority chief he once defended and welcomed a federal civil rights investigation he once called “misguided.” He has agreed to pay newly-retired Philadelphia police chief Charles Ramsey $350 an hour to help guide the Chicago Police Department through the U.S. Justice Department investigation.

The mayor has also asked former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to conduct a third-party review of a Law Department he initially claimed could not possibly be part of the “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department.

After the police shooting of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and the accidental shooting of LeGrier’s neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, in December, Emanuel doubled the number of Tasers available to Chicago Police and ordered officers retrained in so-called “de-escalation” tactics.

All of those moves,  along with a massive email dump on New Year’s Eve demonstrating behind-the-scenes maneuverings at Emanuel’s City Hall, have invited only more questions about what the mayor knew and when he knew it.

On another front, Emanuel’s handpicked school board was forced to pay more to borrow less just to keep the school doors open, coming after Gov. Bruce Rauner floated a plan to take over the Chicago Public Schools and put it into bankruptcy. And the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a new four-year contract because it doesn’t trust CPS.

During the radio interview, the man who has served as an aide to one president and the chief of staff to another was asked whether he has “ever had a pair of crises this bad to work on” than the police and school funding controversies.

“It was not exactly, `Happy Days Are Here Again,’ when we walked into [the White House on] President Obama’s first day,” Emanuel said, recalling the financial crisis and the near collapse of the auto industry.

“You call `em crises. I see `em both as challenges and as opportunities.”

As for the state budget stalemate that has stalled the $480 million pension help from Springfield already built into the CPS budget, Emanuel could not resist yet another jab at his old friend and former business associate Bruce Rauner.

“There are 48 states with a budget. There are two states without a budget: Pennsylvania and Illinois. You know what they both have in common? Both have governors that come from the private sector with no political experience,” the mayor said.

“I’m not saying political experience is everything. But knowing how to work with people creating a compromise — there’s a skill that comes with that. It comes with ideas, persuasion, cooperation, trust-building from Day One.”