The way city officials have handled the fatal shooting of McDonald—including the fact that it took prosecutors a year to charge Jason Van Dyke and release footage showing he fired several shots after the 17-year old had fallen to the ground—has put intense pressure on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff during his first two years in office.
On Wednesday, Earnest declined to assess how Emanuel, who on Tuesday fired the city’s police chief Garry F. McCarthy, had tackled the issue of excessive use of force by police and said Chicagoans could decide that for themselves.
“And I think people will rightly judge him and his handling of these issues based on his response to this incident and on his ability to keep his commitment to be focused on implementing these reforms over the long term,” he said. “He has obviously confronted this situation over the course of the last week quite directly and already taken some steps to indicate his own commitment to addressing some of the problems that he has seen. But again, it's up to the people of Chicago and the mayor himself to evaluate his performance in responding to the situation.”
Asked whether the president and Emanuel remained friends, Earnest confirmed that they were still in touch, but described it in somewhat neutral terms.
“Mayor Emanuel does have an opportunity to… come to Washington periodically in his role as the mayor and it--it would not be unusual for him to come by the White House when he does. And when the president was in Chicago a month or so ago, the president had the opportunity to visit with the mayor then too,” he said. “They worked closely together for a couple of years while Mr. Emanuel served as the president's chief of staff.”
During Emanuel’s time at the White House, Earnest said, he focused primarily on economic issues rather than the question of criminal justice.
“I know that… most of his time was spent focused on the economic policy development process that has yielded important results for the American people and for the American economy,” the press secretary said. “I think that is a pretty good endorsement of his service and his tenure here at the White House.”
The most extensive statement Obama has made on McDonald's shooting came in the form of a Facebook post on Wednesday when he said he "was deeply disturbed by the footage of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald."
"This Thanksgiving, I ask everybody to keep those who've suffered tragic loss in our thoughts and prayers, and to be thankful for the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform who protect our communities with honor," the president wrote. "And I'm personally grateful to the people of my hometown for keeping protests peaceful."