President-elect Joe Biden’s credentials in terms of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement haven’t been unimpeachable. His campaign for president was marked by him explaining away and apologizing for policies widely seen as contributing to racism and racist policing, among them his one-time opposition to desegregating schools and his support of the later-maligned 1994 crime bill.
Still, between Biden and Donald Trump—who has yet to apologize for essentially calling for the lynching of the Exonerated Five in a full-page ad and has done his best to further inflame America’s ever-present embers of racist violence during his term in office—the choice in this year’s presidential election was clear for any Black person with a modicum of care and self-preservation for themselves, their community, and their country.
I say all that to preface the news that Biden is apparently now considering Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Mayor, Democratic congressman, and member of the Obama administration, for a position in his cabinet.
According to a report from CNN, people familiar with transition discussions say that Emanuel is in the running to head up the Department of Transportation under Biden’s administration. Emanuel has reportedly said that his experience in the executive and legislative branches would make him an ideal pick to manage the nation’s infrastructure.
What Emanuel likely didn’t say—but should be patently obvious to the incoming president who recently told the Black voters pivotal to securing his victory that he will always have their back—is that his role in the cover-up of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police in 2014 should make his inclusion in the new administration a non-starter.
The Chicago Tribune wrote earlier this year about Emanuel’s shameful maneuvering while the city’s Police Department blocked the release of video footage showing McDonald in the back 16 times while he was walking away from cops:
The dashboard camera video of Laquan McDonald walking away from officers — posing no clear threat and then twisting to the ground as puffs of gun smoke curled up from his clothing — is now a haunting piece of Emanuel’s legacy.
Not until Emanuel was safely reelected in 2015, until the City Council approved a $5 million settlement for the teen’s family, until a judge forced the release of the video, until 80 minutes of nearby surveillance video went missing, until Emanuel could get his spin machine up and running, until the Cook County state’s attorney formally charged the police officer, did Emanuel finally acknowledge the city’s rightful outrage and his own vulnerability.
After the public release of the footage of McDonald’s killing, Chicagoans rightly protested Emanuel’s suitability to head up a city still grappling with generations of racial segregation, discrimination, and violence. Seeming to recognize that his failure and unwillingness to tackle the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police—unless forced to do so by court order and public censure—made him persona non-grata in the city, Emanuel did not run for a third term as Mayor in 2018.
This very recent history becomes even more relevant in the context of 2020, where it feels like every other month has been marked by the news that another Black person was killed by police. Biden awarding Emanuel a visible role in his cabinet, after running as a president who would fight against systemic racism, would be a slap in the face to the Black communities aching for racial justice and who went to the ballot boxes in droves to give Biden a mandate for pursuing it.
It would knock the air out of any hope that Biden as president will be more than just not-Trump, and head up an administration that promotes at least some progressive policies that will better the lives of the most marginalized in this country.
Ultimately, Biden selecting Emanuel for his cabinet would be a decision to betray the people who keep showing up for a democracy that so often does not show up for them.
According to CNN, Biden is not expected to make cabinet announcements until after Thanksgiving. Until then, it remains to be seen if the president-elect will really take such a cynical, insider-politics approach to kick off his time in the White House.