Chicago, IL

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel May Not Easily Be Confirmed Despite Support from Great Uncle of Laquan McDonald

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the nomination of Rahm Emanuel for Ambassador of Japan, much of it centering around the accusation that he covered up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Rahm Emanuel was a superstar in the Democratic party going back as far as the Clinton administration. After serving as an adviser to President Clinton (1993–99), he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (2003–09) and then he served as chief of staff to President Barak Obama (2009–10). He was elected as mayor of Chicago in 2011, a position he held until 2019.

Criticism

There were those who criticized Emanuel, in particular for his long time focus on money, claiming he spent little time with community members, instead preferring to spend his time with wealthy contributors.

These criticisms resulted in the incumbent, despite the backing of the President, being the first Chicago mayor in history to be forced into a runoff in 2015. His ultimate win was attributed to the huge amount of money raised for his campaign which enabled him to outspend his opponents 8 to 1.

Relationship With Police

Most of the criticism the former mayor received had to do with his relationship with the Chicago Police Department. Known for pointing fingers at the morality of the criminals but never at the police even on days when murders reached well into the double digits, he spent a lot of his budget on hiring more police officers.

Emanuel upset many people especially in the South and West Side neighborhoods of Chicago, with his unwillingness to invest in the neighborhoods most impacted by the city’s violent crime. Despite supporting a mentoring program for teenage boys as one of his priorities, while he spent over $100 million to add police officers, he invested only $36 million in the mentoring program.

Laquan McDonald Shooting

It was his handling of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, however, that would cause an uproar not only in Chicago but across the country. At first, police claimed that the officer involved, Van Dyke, shot McDonald in self-defense as teenager lunged at the officer with a knife. Shot on October 20, 2014, it would be over a year until the officer who shot him would be charged. This only occurred after a Cook County judge heard a law suit filed by a journalist, and ordered the video to be released.

The video clearly showed McDonald walking away from the officer, who opened fire and emptied his entire clip into the teen. He shot him 16 times in about 14-15 seconds, 13 of which the victim lay on the ground. Van Dyke attempted to reload his weapon, but his partner stopped him.

While Emanuel had supported the self-defense claim made the CPD, when the video was released, he quickly changed course, condemning the officer. The mayor was accused of covering up the facts in the shooting for over 400 days, only accusing the officer once there was irrefutable proof of what had occurred which was seen by a large segment of the country. Van Dyke was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Although charges were never brought against the mayor, this incident was credited as the reason Emanuel refused to run again for mayor. His announcement came the day before the beginning Van Dyke’s murder trial.

Nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Japan

Now, Emanuel has been nominated to become the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, amidst much criticism over the idea of confirming someone accused of coving up such an obvious crime to represent the U.S. in a foreign country. Emanuel’s first day of hearings was on October 24th, oddly, the anniversary of the death of McDonald. Many found this to be in poor taste, while others found it downright offensive.

“To hold this hearing this Wednesday, the day that marks the 7-year anniversary of Laquan’s murder, is unthinkably callous,” said Chicago activist Kina Collins. “It is the result of a system that consistently and relentlessly devalues Black lives. For Rahm Emanuel to agree to a hearing date that marks the anniversary of the day a child was killed on his watch exposes his craven desire for power.”

A number of House members also spoke out against his nomination. These included Democratic Reps. Mondaire Jones (N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) have all called for the Senate to reject Emanuel’s nomination.

Protests

On the same day there were massive protests around the city as some Chicagoans found the former mayor’s attempt to return to a high-profile political role to be unacceptable even as their fight against systemic racism and police violence continued. Organizers said Emanuel is being “white washed” by a Democratic White House.

“He failed our city. He covers up the murder of a 17-year-old, He closed 50 schools on the South and West sides. He closed mental health clinics throughout the city of Chicago,” Organizer Will Calloway said. “You think that’s the best qualified candidate to represent the United States as an ambassador? Say that ain’t right.”

McDonald's Great Uncle Supports Emanuel's Nomination

In an unanticipated move, McDonald’s great uncle the Rev. Marvin Hunter wrote a letter in support of Emanuel’s nomination that the former mayor used to strengthen his case during his confirmation hearing.

The pastor said Emanuel had personally apologized to him and his family after he reached out to share his family’s intense pain related to the death of their 17-year-old family member, and the subsequent cover up.

“As a man of God, I felt like I had a moral responsibility to forgive him,” Hunter said during an interview. He admitted that he understood his position might upset some people.

. . .

Emanuel’s only response to questions about the murder of McDonald was to admit regret over his inability to evaluate the distrust of the city’s African-American community and to call the murder “a grave tragedy”.

It is expected that the former mayor’s nomination will successfully advance from committee to a full Senate vote without difficulty.

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