Potentially explosive emails between the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the police, and the supposedly independent review board show a close coordination in attempting to manage the fallout over the shooting of a black teenager.
Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in October of 2014. In the following months, there was a discussion via email about how to minimize the damage from the shooting as well as initiating a concerted effort for the mayor’s office, the police, and the Independent Police Review Authority to speak with one voice about the tragedy. At the time, Emanuel was involved in a fierce primary campaign for re-election — a point not lost on his aides between the time of the shooting and the point where a dash cam video showing the incident was released more than a year later.
Mayor Emanuel stressed the independence of the review board in public, even while coordinating with the Independent Police Review Authority in private.
Emanuel has denied ever seeing the video prior to its release, a contention many activists have said they do not believe. The emails do not appear to contradict Emanuel’s claim, though they show how City Hall grew increasingly concerned that the video could pose a major public-relations problem.
In early December 2014, Scott Ando, head of the Independent Police Review Authority — publicly touted by the mayor as uniquely independent in its probes of police shootings — singled out the case. He sent an email to the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Janey Rountree, with a link to a website that raised questions about police accounts of the shooting.
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins sent a flurry of emails about media inquiries into video of the shooting. His subject line on a Dec. 10, 2014, email to fellow Emanuel staffers included the headline in one Chicago newspaper: “If Chicago police have video of teen shooting, let’s see it: advocates.”
Things got very dicey for Emanuel a month before the primary vote when an attorney for the McDonald family tried to shake down the city:
The risk that a publicly released video could blow up not just locally but also nationally was made by lawyers from McDonald’s family, who reached out to the city about a settlement in early 2015, just over a month before Emanuel’s re-election.
Although none of the correspondence directly addressed Emanuel, in a letter on March 6 — after the family’s lawyers saw the video — attorney Jeffrey J. Neslund told city lawyers that the footage would reflect badly on the city.
“I submit the graphic dash cam video will have a powerful impact on any jury and the Chicago community as a whole,” he wrote. “This case will undoubtedly bring a microscope of national attention to the shooting itself as well as the city’s pattern, practice and procedures in rubber-stamping fatal police shootings of African Americans as ‘justified.'”
He demanded $16 million. The two sides eventually settled on $5 million, a deal approved by the city council shortly after Emanuel won a second term.
Nice campaign you got there, your honor. Be a shame if an embarrassing video were to derail it. Actually, I’m sure Emanuel didn’t bat an eye at this brazen attempt to use the coming election as a club to put pressure on the mayor for a generous settlement. It is, after all, the Chicago Way.
The mayor may be telling the truth when he says he never saw the dash cam video. But I find it hard to believe he wasn’t told what was in it in graphic detail. No wonder his staff was desperate to prevent that video from becoming public before the election.
The calls for Emanuel’s head haven’t stopped, but you should note that few major political or business leaders in the city are joining in. The Machine may not be as powerful as it once was, but it wields a lot of clout. Fear is still a weapon used to keep the troops in line.
So Emanuel will survive, albeit in a weakened position. And racial tensions will continue to rise, fed as usual by racialists who play upon the fears of the black community, setting them against the police. The police, under fire and feeling besieged, are in even more danger as a result of the public hysteria over the actions of a few.
This is not going to end well.