Speaking at an event hosted here by Politico, Emanuel said he did not take an early look at the dashboard camera video that showed officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. The footage drew national attention to Chicago at a time of increased scrutiny over how police officers use deadly force.
“I don’t look at any evidence in a criminal investigation,” Emanuel told Politico writers Mike Allen and Natasha Korecki when asked whether he had seen the videotape. “You don’t release evidence that’s primary to an investigation because it could compromise or taint that investigation.”
The city paid $5 million to McDonald’s family in April, but resisted making the video public until ordered to do so by a Cook County judge last month. On Nov. 24, prosecutors charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder and, hours later, the city released the video, sparking heated protests. Van Dyke posted bond Monday and was released.
On Tuesday, a week after the video was made public and the charges announced, Emanuel dismissed Garry F. McCarthy, the police superintendent, saying that the veteran law-enforcement official had become a distraction. In addition, Emanuel also announced Tuesday the formation of a task force aimed at increased oversight of the Chicago police force, the country’s second-largest local law enforcement agency. This task force will be advised by former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (D), who spent much of his youth on Chicago’s South Side.
Emanuel, who has called the shooting “profoundly hideous,” denied that politics played any role in his refusal to release the video in the months between the shooting and the mayoral election. He said he was following standard Chicago procedure, but will consider updating rules and practices “on the books for years.”
Soon after the shooting, Cook County prosecutors opened the investigation that led 13 months later to the criminal charges against Van Dyke. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago also began an inquiry that is still underway.
Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) appealed Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a civil rights investigation, declaring that “trust in the Chicago Police Department is broken, especially in communities of color.” The Justice Department will review Madigan’s request, a spokeswoman said.
Emanuel noted that six months before Anita Alvarez, state’s attorney for Cook County, filed murder charges against Van Dyke, the city had asked the American Civil Liberties Union to work with the police department on “the racial component” of police stops.
Emanuel is facing the gravest challenge of his 4 ½ years in office. Forced into an unexpected runoff earlier this year, he has struggled to persuade voters that he understands the pain and fear of life in many Chicago neighborhoods. He said Wednesday that he meets with families of young shooting victims in a city that has recorded more than 400 homicides this year.
He also said he holds un-publicized community conversations so constituents “know that I’m listening to what they have to say.” Emanuel said he did so on the South Side as recently as Sunday, visiting a church and several stores, the media not in attendance. Speaking up for community policing, Emanuel said he recognizes that strengthening public safety requires “building public trust.”
The mayor’s immediate challenges in a city of 2.7 million stretch beyond issues of crime and policing. The city is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from a state legislature that has been unable to pass a budget for months. The Chicago Teachers Union, a major Emanuel foe, has scheduled a strike vote for next week.
To top it off, “Chi-Raq,” a movie about Chicago violence directed by Spike Lee, opens in the city this week. Emanuel has made no secret of his frustration with the title, which echoes the bloody factional fighting in Iraq.