By Mikki Kendall | Originally Published at The Guardian and Observer. November 25, 2015
The mayor said he didn’t see the Laquan McDonald shooting video before its public release, but that doesn’t absolve him from leadership on this – or anything else
Chicago Mayor: ‘I understand people will be upset by police shooting footage’
It’s nearly impossible to believe that with his access to every office he would choose a tactic of exhorting residents that “it is fine to be passionate, but it is essential to remain peaceful”. This, without acknowledging the reality that the culture of Chicago’s police force is deeply flawed.
Perhaps the mayor’s intent was to project the same aura of calmness that he has been asking residents to display, no matter how many times an officer of the Chicago police department is caught engaging in serious misconduct. Yet his word choice makes it increasingly clear that no matter what problem is confronting the city, the most we can count on is that his choices will benefit his potential political aspirations, even at the expense of the city he leads.
Between teacher strikes, school closings, mental health clinics being closed and the ongoing saga of poor policing strategies, if Chicago residents are angry, it isn’t an overreaction to one tragedy. It is the rage of a city that is watching itself be abused by a government that keeps promising to do better.
Still, national focus the past few days has been on police misconduct, and outsiders can be forgiven for not understanding exactly why relationships between the community and the Chicago police department are so strained. But Emanuel should be well aware that with CPD’s checkered history – one that includes the Burge torture scandal and Homan Square – the problem here isn’t the residents.
As a parent of a 16-year-old black boy in this city, I worry more about the police than I do about gangs. My son is an honor student who loves art and computers and sports. He’s also 6ft tall with a deep voice, and if he were ever to have a crisis or need help, I can’t in good conscience tell him to turn to the police. I’m not the only black parent I know who feels that way.
I’m a native Chicagoan, and I had my first brush with police misconduct at 12, when officers decided a group of kids walking from the gifted program at one school to class at another needed to be stopped every day. I still don’t know exactly why it kept happening, but I do know that it made us late pretty often, and that when my classmate protested one day the officer made him get on the ground. A nearby adult noticed and came over to find out what was going on, and the officer was forced to let a group of crying eighth graders go.
So I can admit that the problem predates Emanuel’s tenure as mayor. But I can also see that he has done little to fix the underlying issues and has in fact made choices that exacerbate the gulf between many areas of the city and police, from appointing police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who oversaw the Newark, New Jersey, police department during a pattern of unconstitutional policing, to claims that crime rates were higher because police officers were “fetal” due to public backlash against brutality. Chicago’s residents are imperfect; we have our fair share of bad actors. The problem is that many of them wear badges or sit in city hall.
Emanuel on Tuesday said the things police officers and their families probably want to hear – he made Van Dyke an isolated incident, a bad officer that cost a child his life. This skirted the 18 prior complaints against this officer, and the long, problematic history that allowed Van Dyke to remain employed over the past year after his dashcam and witnesses recorded him shooting Laquan McDonald. The city’s elected leader should do better than shrug and pass the blame. He should be leading all of the residents toward that bright future instead of the chosen few who fit into his vision.
Mikki Kendall, a writer and occasional feminist, divides her time between two careers, a family and brunch. Her writing covers a wide of topics including media representation, police brutality, food insecurity and others issues that impact marginalized people. Her nonfiction work has appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Ebony, Essence, Time, Islamic Monthly and a host of other publications.
Copyright; Guardian News and Media Limited. Reprinted with permission.
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