Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel should resign if it’s found he was involved in a cover-up of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed African-American teenager, several leading black members of Congress told The Hill on Wednesday.
It’s “disturbing” the video of the fall 2014 incident was released now, seven months after the Democratic mayor’s reelection, said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a former mayor herself and a past chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I think it was intentional and timed that way” so the video wasn’t released until after Emanuel’s reelection in April, he added.
“It’s pretty obvious to anybody that there is some cover-up taking place here,” added longtime Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in leadership and another former CBC chairman. “How high that goes up, I don’t know.”
Emanuel’s staff could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The harsh remarks from black lawmakers — many of whom served with Emanuel in the House — come as prominent members of the black community call on the Chicago mayor to step down. The New York Times editorial board has called Chicago’s handling of the incident a “cover-up,” saying Emanuel’s response “either by design or because of negligence, was to do as little as possible.”
Trying to quell the controversy, Emanuel on Tuesday fired his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy. But at a media event Wednesday, a defiant Emanuel said he himself would not resign from office.
“We have a process called the election. The voters spoke,” the mayor said at a Politico event. “I’ll be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I make.”
Before he was elected mayor in 2011, Emanuel served as chief of staff to President Obama. Yet White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to say Wednesday whether Emanuel should resign as mayor of Chicago, the president’s hometown.
A police dashboard camera video, made public over the Thanksgiving weekend, showed a Chicago police officer firing 16 times at teenager Laquan McDonald as he walked down a street in October 2014 holding a knife. Officer Jason Van Dyke wasn’t charged with first-degree murder until it was clear the video was being made public.
Emanuel has insisted he never saw the tape before it was released to the public because it had been part of an ongoing investigation. But he said he was aware of “what happened on the tape” because of testimony the city attorney gave in April, shortly before the City Council approved a $5 million settlement with the victim’s family.
Emanuel won a tight runoff election against Jesús “Chuy” Garcia just before the settlement.
If it’s revealed that Emanuel attempted to cover up the McDonald case before his reelection, several black leaders and other Democrats on Capitol Hill say he should quit.
“The possibility that not only the video but relevant information to this case was withheld till after the election is pretty damning,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “If it’s true, then it’s damning, and [resignation] becomes a real consideration for him.”
“I don’t know whether or not it will get to the point where the facts demonstrate that the mayor participated in the cover-up,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a CBC member. “But if they should show that the mayor participated by knowing what was on that tape and then taking affirmative actions to suppress its emergence publicly, then, yeah, he should resign.”
“Yes,” Fudge tersely replied when asked if Emanuel should resign if it comes out he had seen the video before its public release.
Clay said he understands the growing pressure on Emanuel to resign, pointing to the McDonald shooting as yet another example of excessive use of force by police against blacks.
“Here we have someone on Thanksgiving jump over the White House fence — no one took a shot at him. We have snipers on the roof of the White House, no one took a shot,” Clay said. “But a kid walking down the street, not threatening any cop, is shot 16 times? It’s excessive.
“If it shows that it was a cover-up and that [the mayor] knew prior to his election what had occurred,” Clay added, “then the people of Chicago should demand better from their mayor.”
Black lawmakers are calling for an independent Justice Department investigation into the shooting and whether Chicago officials participated in a cover-up of the incident. The topic dominated an hour-long CBC meeting Wednesday, where lawmakers decided to form a task force to craft a response to the Chicago shooting and gun violence in general, Clyburn said.
Several other CBC members were careful not to get too far ahead of the facts in the case.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said it’s “improbable” Emanuel did not see the video earlier. But he stopped short of calling for anyone’s resignation, arguing that the focus instead should be on overhauling a police department he characterized as being rife with abuse for decades.
“I’m not going to call for his resignation — not right now,” Rush said. “My emphasis at this point is on practices, patterns, the systemic issues.”
“We’ve been dealing with the Chicago Police Department — I have — for all of my adult life.
“I’m not looking for heads to roll,” he added. “I’m looking for changes in policies and practices.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who was mayor of Kansas City for nearly a decade, said he can’t envision being left in the dark after such an incident. But Cleaver also emphasized that such communication could be unique to Kansas City, which he maintains would not tolerate police misconduct.
Chicago, he added, has a very different reputation of systemic abuse, and he’s taking Emanuel at his word that the mayor was simply never shown the video.
“Nobody’s contradicted Mayor Emanuel ... so I actually believe he didn’t see it,” Cleaver said. “I served with him here, I know him, he’s too shrewd to make a blunder like that. And that would be a blunder.”