The outgoing mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, is preparing for life outside of municipal governance by rewriting Chicago history.
In a May 9 op-ed in the New York Times, Emanuel argues that the city of Chicago leads in police reform because he let the CPD have a seat at the table while working with the community. His entire premise could not be farther from the truth. In fact, it hovers on the pathological.
As an organizer of Black Lives Matter Chicago, I, Aislinn, was a part of the class action lawsuit that forced Rahm Emanuel into what is now termed the Consent Decree. This lawsuit was filed against Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department as a direct result of the former mayor’s decision to enter into an agreement with Donald Trump’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, effectively ignoring the Department of Justice’s findings that the CPD regularly engages in a pattern and practice of violating black and brown Chicagoans’ constitutional rights. Our June 2017 lawsuit stated, “The city has proven that it would rather pay for its officers’ continued use of excessive force than remedy the underlying problems giving rise to the abuses in the first place.” And it has paid out millions.
Rather than welcoming the opportunity to engage in a process of eliminating systemic, institutionalized police violence which produced a plethora of Constitutional and Civil rights violations outlined in the DOJ’s scathing report, Emanuel responded with a motion to dismiss and a motion to strike allegations from our complaints, thus engaging in legal battle which lasted almost a year.
On March 21, 2018, Emanuel and the city finally agreed to stop fighting the lawsuit; however, this was only after two more suits were filed by the ACLU and Illinois Attorney General. These three lawsuits are the primary reason Emanuel ceded his legal fight. He neither welcomed nor has he taken a proactive approach to what he described in his op-ed as playing a “leading role” in police reform.
Emanuel also argues that the Chicago police have been willing partners in the reform process. Again, he is referencing a reality that is not reflected in fact. The CPD has been a consistent and vocal opponent of any change, no matter how small. On July 27, 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago police union president Kevin Graham blasted the consent decree as “illegal and invalid,” calling it “politically motivated” while vowing to fight the plan in court. Further, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police attempted to intervene in the lawsuit that produced the consent decree, by arguing that the decree interfered with their contract with the city. Since then, CPD has opposed even the smallest of reforms, including writing a report every time they pull a gun on a person, unironically using the argument that they pull guns on so many people that writing reports each time would be too time-consuming.
Rather than being proactive and excited participants in the movement to hold Chicago police even minimally accountable, both Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department have resisted at every turn. This is neither unexpected nor news to the people of Chicago. For decades, the CPD continually engaged in torture under former Commander Jon Burge, who abused over 120 mostly black men and children, many of whom remain incarcerated to this day; the CPD continues to operate the predominantly black detention site, Homan Square, where over 7,000 people have been disappeared.
Emanuel’s hands are no less clean. He began his tenure as mayor by closing half of the City’s public mental health clinics. He followed that up with conducting the largest public school closing in U.S. history, closing 50 public schools in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods and entering into a historic fight with Chicago teachers which resulted in the city’s largest teacher’s strike in a quarter of a century. This all occurred before 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was murdered by former police officer and convicted killer Jason Van Dyke in 2014, and before Emanuel hid the video of the murder for over a year so that he could win reelection.
The video of Laquan’s murder was only released as a result of a lawsuit which was mandated by court order. Largely unknown is that this was not the only video Emanuel hid during that time. He also hid the video of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson, who was killed by Chicago Police officer George Hernandez eight days before Laquan. This video was released within days of the court order to release the video depicting Laquan’s murder, which resulted in regular mass protests, and calls for his resignation.
Despite massive disapproval and fallen favor, including GQ magazine listing him as one of the worst people of 2015, Emanuel continued his legacy of ignoring public outcry by beginning plans to build a new $95 million police academy on the city’s West Side. Chicagoans, still enraged over the divestment in our public schools and mental health clinics, were disgusted over yet another attempt to divert public money into expanding an already inflated policing system. (Chicago has more police per 100,000 than any other big city in the country and spends 40 percent of its budget on policing.)
Rahm Emanuel left the mayoral office of Chicago because he had no other option. Rather than leading the city or the country in police reform, Emanuel represents an old guard of top-down privatization at the expense of the public need. In Rahm’s last months of mayorship, the country’s first three charter school strikes occurred in Chicago.
He is now preparing for a career in punditry with an upcoming book release. Rahm is the brother of Ari Emanuel, who runs a Hollywood talent agency that has negotiated a book deal for him and has also arranged meetings with cable news executives. On Tuesday it was announced that Rahm will be a contributing editor at the Atlantic as well as a contributor to ABC News. He clearly, as Kelly Hayes wrote, wants you and the country to forget that he was a corrupt failure as mayor.
This past mayoral election produced the election of six professed socialists to Chicago’s City Council and unseated decades-long-held city government positions, likely a direct result of Emanuel’s disastrous tenure as mayor. Rather than being a beacon of success, Emanuel’s record is one of debacle, cover-up and inequality. The people of Chicago forced him out. Don’t let him get away with more injustice by rewriting the truth.
Aislinn Pulley is a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Chicago and co-executive director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center founded out of the historic 2015 reparations ordinance for survivors of Chicago police torture.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors is an artist, organizer and freedom fighter living and working in Los Angeles. Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and founder of Dignity and Power Now, she is also a performance artist, a Fulbright scholar, a popular public speaker and an NAACP History Maker.