Politicians are generally beholden to police. One need look no further than what the NYPD did to Bill De Blasio nearly a year ago, after he admitted in public that he had told his son to be wary around cops, to see to the lengths police departments are willing to go to exert authority over a city’s elected leadership.
(Or, for those with longer memories, think back to the NYPD riot against David Dinkins, proximately sparked by his proposal to create a body to investigate police corruption, but fueled by the widespread cop belief that New York City’s first—and, to date, last—black mayor wasn’t on “their side.”)
And the police, confident that the general public will always support them over any mere politician, will resort to tactics both immature and inflammatory to ensure that their power within, and over, a community is not weakened. This is why, even when police are at their worst, politicians will always be deferential towards policing and police officers. This includes politicians as high-ranking as Barack Obama, who has been respectful of police at-large in addressing recent officer-involved controversies. It also includes Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s ex-deputy and the current mayor of Chicago.
“One individual needs to be held accountable,” Emanuel said in a conference call in the days before his administration was forced to release video of teenager Laquan McDonald being gunned down by officer Jason Van Dyke, who now faces first-degree murder charges. But Emanuel was careful to keep a distance between the bad apple and the tree. Via the Chicago Tribune:
“Our Police Department and the individuals who make it up are entrusted both to provide safety throughout the community, trust with the residents who make up the community that they’re a part of providing that safety, and also to uphold the law,” the mayor said. “And a lot of our officers, by and large, the men and women that make up the department, do that every day and they do it very well every day.”
One of his officers had murdered a child, but there are some things that a mayor must say, and that all of his police are good except for the ones we know to be bad is one of those things. Emanuel must have realized that there would be a swift social uprising against his police department, but in weighing the tone and content of his public response, Emanuel decided to play it safe. Nobody wants to be the next Bill De Blasio, after all. Or the next Mayor Dinkins, who lost reelection to a man who actively supported that unruly police “demonstration”: Rudy Giuliani.
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Emmanuel read the situation incorrectly. After expressing confidence in his police department and the individuals within it, he abruptly fired Garry McCarthy, who as police superintendent controlled the force. This morning, the Department of Justice announced it would conduct a civil rights investigation into the practices of the Chicago PD, and this afternoon the city released a video of another man, Ronald Johnson, being killed by a cop in October 2014, just a week before the death of Laquan McDonald.
Today, Emanuel held another press conference, and his view of his police force was markedly different.
"We need it." Rahm Emanuel now, welcoming AG Lynch's investigation of Chicago Police, which he had previously opposed.— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) December 7, 2015
2 weeks ago, Rahm said McDonald shooting was about 1 bad officer He has now cut police chief, top investigator & backed inquiry of all CPD— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) December 7, 2015
Rahm now embracing a data point from critics -- that it "defies common sense" to have 400 police shootings and only 2 of them disciplined.— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) December 7, 2015
Rahm Emanuel on #ChicagoPolice: "It is ... the hard work of changing a culture."— natasha korecki (@natashakorecki) December 7, 2015
These statements are about as anti-cop as you’ll ever hear from a sitting politician. It’s eerily like the part in a television show or movie where the naive, idealistic populist politician says the thing they never say in real life—right before he learns the hard way how politics is really played.
But this is Rahm Emanuel. He isn’t idealistic, and he’s no populist. His appeal, such as it is, is precisely the opposite—he plays the inside game and gets, supposedly, results. But as he finds himself being moved by the tide shifting beneath him, it does seem pretty okay to call him naive.
[image via Getty]