Meet Garry McCarthy, Rahm Emanuel's Patsy

Poor Garry McCarthy. Only a few years ago he was on top of the law-enforcement world. He had risen through the ranks of the New York Police Department to become a deputy commissioner, from which position he was induced to cross the Hudson River and take command of the police department in Newark. During his tenure there, crime fell by 21 percent, with homicides down by 28 percent and shootings down by 46 percent. So impressed by this record was Rahm Emanuel that upon his 2011 election as mayor of Chicago, he invited McCarthy to become superintendent of that city’s police department.

It’s hard to imagine someone in Chicago longing for the good old days in Newark, but I suspect that’s just what McCarthy must be doing, for he is now out of a job, cast off as an expendable in the cause of keeping Emanuel’s name on the door at City Hall. McCarthy may have come to Chicago thinking he was going to show the rubes on the prairie how police work is done in the Big City Back East, but in the end it was the rubes who showed him how politics is done in Chicago.

If he didn’t see it coming, he had no business in the job in the first place. I can’t claim any great expertise in the ways of Chicago politics, but I am very much of a Chicagophile. Ever since my first of many visits to the city some 30 years ago, I’ve wondered how Chicago simultaneously produced some of the greatest people I’ve known and some of the most loathsome politicians the country has ever seen. Stuff for another column someday, perhaps.

But even with my limited knowledge of the city, I know that the first rule of Chicago politics, perhaps the only immutable rule, is that the Big Man at City Hall always survives. No matter how big the controversy, no matter how sordid the scandal, no matter how high the muck rises at City Hall, it must be stopped before it reaches the mayor’s office on the fifth floor. If some patsy must be sacrificed in the process of saving the Big Man, so be it. In the matter of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Garry McCarthy was that patsy.

You have no doubt seen the police dashboard camera video of the October 2014 shooting, in which Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald in the middle of Pulaski Road, on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the case, the legal and tactical issues of which we will explore shortly. For now, we will address the politics, in particular that brand of bare-knuckle politics which, though not unique to Chicago, is practiced there with an efficiency seldom matched elsewhere.

In the death of McDonald, Rahm Emanuel was presented with a threat to his re-election. Recall that in October 2014, the nation’s attention was focused on Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown had been shot and killed by a police officer two months earlier. That shooting gave rise to the Black Lives Matter Movement, which peddled the poisonous yet persistent myth of “Hands up, don’t shoot.” It’s only a 300-mile drive up the I-55 from Ferguson to Chicago, and the last thing Rahm Emanuel wanted was to offer the ruckus-raising rabble down in Missouri a reason to make that drive and bring their act to Chicago. The video of the McDonald shooting would have provided that reason, so it had to be suppressed. And not only was the video kept from public view, but in April of this year, Laquan McDonald’s family was quietly given a $5 million settlement from the city, this despite the fact that they had filed no lawsuit.