In case you missed it, Rahm Emanuel penned a commentary for Thursday’s New York Times hailing his police reform efforts. With no disrespect for our Times colleagues: Had the mayor submitted his piece to the Tribune for publication, we would have performed heavier editing.
Emanuel’s column, titled “Lessons for police reform,” was the latest pit stop on his farewell tour. He leaves office May 20. The column spins furiously to his favor as he touts his insistence that law enforcement be consulted along the way. He compares Chicago and Baltimore, two cities that grappled with volatile cases of police misconduct and subsequent efforts to overhaul police protocols. Here, the catalyst for change was Laquan McDonald. There, it was Freddie Gray.
Emanuel praises his embrace of police reform and notes a drop in homicides since 2016; they’re down 27 percent. While he writes that it’s “too soon to draw a straight line from Chicago’s police reform efforts to the progress in crime reduction,” he goes on to do just that. He writes that he worked with Attorney General Lisa Madigan on a federal consent decree, which outlined deep and detailed changes needed in the Chicago Police Department. He says Chicago was proactive in equipping officers with body cameras, empowering sergeants and mandating training in de-escalation techniques. Those efforts have prompted results which are “promising,” he writes.
“It is time to move past the false choice of being anti-reform or anti-police, as if those are the only options,” he concludes. “By listening to rank-and-file officers and residents, Chicago has embraced an alternative path with promising results.”
It’s peculiar, though, that the lengthy essay in the Times’ opinion section leaves out the part where Emanuel’s City Hall spent months fighting the release of the McDonald shooting video — until after Emanuel was safely re-elected. His administration claimed making the video public would disrupt the investigation, but the judge who ordered it released ruled there were no grounds for that assertion.
Emanuel also skips over his halfhearted efforts at reform after a scathing task force report. He doesn’t mention his early resistance to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, to which he relented only under public pressure.
And he definitely suffers amnesia about Justice’s long list of recommendations to overhaul the department, his vow to work toward a federally enforced decree — and then his pivot from that position a few months later. Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who didn’t believe in all that federal interference, Emanuel advocated a watered-down oversight plan that would not be court-enforced. Wherever there was an escape hatch allowing him to avoid court oversight, Emanuel was lifting the lid.
That might have been the final fate of potentially drastic reforms. But Madigan, determined to block Emanuel’s end run, forced his hand with a lawsuit. When he found himself toe-to-toe with the Illinois attorney general, Emanuel finally got on board and stood by her side as she announced court action that would compel federal monitoring.
Yet in his 880-word commentary, the mayor didn’t make room to mention all of that.
The terms of the consent decree were finalized just a few months ago. This is only the start of more accountable police oversight in Chicago. Emanuel glossed over that, too. But that’s the thing with farewell tours and legacy-building. Sometimes you have to rush the ending.
We wrote a recent farewell editorial on Emanuel’s eight-year record as mayor. We praised him generously where he earned it. His role in Chicago’s struggle for meaningful police reform was not on that list.