Topic: Decline of the West
I must say that my faith in cosmic justice has been reinforced by the travails of Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff in the Obama Administration and current Mayor of Chicago.
As a Democratic congressman and key player on Team Obama, Emanuel crafted a political reputation as a bare-knuckled, foul-mouthed brawler, mush addicted to such pungent words as fuck and shit. He it was who chortled over the 2008-09 economic meltdown, remarking that a good crisis should never be allowed to go to waste. Perhaps the failure of Obama to make effective use of that crisis soured Emanuel on our Community Organizer-in-Chief; anyhow, he left the White House to seek the mayoralty of the Windy City. He was elected as such in 2011 and survived a scare to be reelected earlier this year. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Emanuel quickly discovered that his tough-guy persona did not impress the motley collection of political grandees and interest groups that steers Chicago’s erratic course. About the city’s disastrous finances he could do little; about the violent crime that plagues inner-city neighborhoods he could do even less. Drastic budget cuts, necessary to finance Chicago’s fantastically bloated pension obligations, roused the outrage of citizens. Meanwhile the Chicago Police Department, badly in need of reform and politically hobbled by the city’s race-based political culture, proved incapable of stemming the murder epidemic. That Chicago’s status as the murder capital of America rests largely on the city’s culture of gang violence, with a large majority of the victims being black or Hispanic, raises issues with which no Chicago politician, Emanuel included, is prepared to grapple. The Mayor found himself reduced to ineffective jawboning and such pitiable gestures as a gun buyback program.
Now comes a considerable scandal: the apparent cover-up by Chicago officialdom of a police shooting. The victim was a young black man named Laquan McDonald; the shooter was a white CPD officer, Jason Van Dyke. McDonald, who admittedly was high on PCP and was armed with a small knife, was shot sixteen times. At least a dozen of those rounds went into his body after he was down on the ground. The incident was captured on video by a police dashcam.
It may well be that Van Dyke was justified in taking his first couple of shots. When ordered to stop, McDonald turned and swung his arm—and the knife—at the officer, who was several feet away. But it’s hard to justify sixteen shots, most of which struck home after McDonald was down. Perhaps Van Dyke panicked in the heat of the moment. But watching the video leads one to the conclusion that Black Lives Matter—and all of us—have good reason to be outraged at this police shooting of a young black man. Laquan McDonald was seventeen years old.
All that seems bad enough but get this: The dashcam video only came to light last week. For more than a year Chicago police and prosecutors sat on it until finally a judge ordered its release. When you remind yourself that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a gaggle of Chicago pols were up for reelection in April of 2015, the mists begin to clear. Many in Chicago believe—and you can’t blame them—that the video was hidden for base political reasons. Emanuel in particular was facing a tough reelection fight. (He was ultimately forced into a runoff election.) The last thing he needed was a loud and rancorous protest over a highly questionable police shooting. Maybe this conspiracy theory is true and maybe it isn’t—but plenty of people in Chicago believe it. And given the Windy City’s long history of political corruption and chicanery, I’m not prepared to dismiss it.
On the same day that the video was released Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder—another eyebrow-raising move on the part of prosecutors. In the circumstances it’s going to be hard to establish premeditation and the thought occurs that the first-degree murder charge lodged against Van Dyke is also politically motivated: an attempt to tamp down the outrage. All in all it’s a sorry spectacle and I have to wonder if Rahm Emanuel, that famous tough guy, still that you should never waste a good crisis. Perhaps things look a bit different now that he's in the eye of the storm.