Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologizes for Laquan McDonald shooting

ByAnne Swaney WLS logo
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Rahm apologizes, some say too late
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized Wednesday for the Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- "I am the mayor. As I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. If we're going to fix it. I want you to understand it's my responsibility with you. But if we're also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step. And I'm sorry," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "Nothing less than complete and total reform of the system and the culture it breeds will meet the standard we have set for ourselves for the city."

VIDEO: Mayor's full 35-minute speech

Emanuel apologized for the shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17, before outlining his plan to restore the community's faith in the Chicago Police Department during a 35-minute address to the City Council. Critics say he'll have an uphill battle.

VIDEO: Emanuel apologizes

"What happened on October 20, 2014, should never have happened. Supervision and leadership in the police department and the oversight agencies that were in place failed. And that has to change," Mayor Emanuel said.

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times. The dash-cam video was released 13 months later, prompting protests across the city and, ultimately, the resignation of Garry McCarthy as CPD police superintendent. Van Dyke was eventually charged with first-degree murder.

VIDEO: Emanuel on respect

"A young man with a knife, agitated, surrounded by police officers, but until that point when Police Officer Jason Van Dyke got into the scene, this was a routine situation. It could have and it should have been contained and managed. Situations like this are diffused and resolved all the time without the loss of life," Emanuel said. "The majority of our officers do their job professionally every day."

Emanuel did not talk about his own role in keeping the video under wraps for more than a year or respond to allegations that he was part of a conspiracy to pay hush money to McDonald's family to keep that video from being released during his re-election campaign.

GRAPHIC VIDEO: Click here to watch the full, 6-minute, unedited video as released by the Chicago Police Department.

"The apology was also not for what happened, but also for the process of healing," Emanuel said.

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke introduced a resolution supporting an examination of police department practices.

The resolution says that the task force announced by the mayor last week should find ways to reform the department and restore the public's trust. Burke said Emanuel's remarks set the stage for what needs to be done.

"I know your remarks are true, that you own this. You're the man that is in charge. Just like the captain of the Titanic, when it hit the iceberg, even if the captain was in his bunk, he owns it," Burke said.

Burke said he thinks every member of the council is sorry that things have come to this.

"We can't get a cure until we know the diagnoses. And the diagnosis means knowing exactly the role that Mayor Rahm Emanuel played in the last 13 months," Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said.

After the apology, Emanuel called for an open conversation about systematic patterns at the Chicago Police Department and outlined a plan looking at "justice, culture and community."

He said, once again, that he welcomed a federal investigation from the Department of Justice into the Chicago Police Department, spoke about the new tasks of the IPRA, an agreement with the ACLU, and a new police accountability task force that will recommend police disciplinary changes by March 2016.

"No officer should be allowed to behave as if they are above the law just because they are responsible for upholding the law," Emanuel said. "We cannot ask citizens in crime-ravaged neighborhoods to break the code of silence if we continue to allow a code of silence to exist within our own police department."

"We cannot afford to wait for the Department of Justice to come back with a report with a set of recommendations. We need to get on top of this now," Alderman Will Burns, Ward 4, said.

VIDEO: Protests outside City Hall chambers

With strong emotion, Emanuel spoke about meeting with several young black men last weekend. He said it comes down to one thing: respect.

"They have asked me a question that has given me pause. Would the police ever treat me the way they treat them? And the simple answer is no. And that is wrong. And that has to change in this city. That has to come to an end and end now," Emanuel said. He said respect is a two-way street between police and those in the community.

"We also need to see what we can do in our communities to restore trust where it has been lost. I know some of you are afraid to work with police. You do not trust them," Emanuel said. "Now, while we have communities overrun by gangs and guns, we also have grandmothers who sit on porches watching kids go to school, people who mentor young men, and kids who are graduating and going on to college."

The mayor said he will continue efforts in neighborhoods to reclaim what credibility police officers have lost.

"Our city has been down this road before," Emanuel said.

In 2007, another video of Chicago police officer attacking a female bartender half his size brought calls for reform, as did police brutality allegations under the watch of then Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Those incidents and others led to the creation of the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA.

Skeptics said Emanuel's promises are similar to ones made by his predecessor.

A weekend poll found 64-percent of those surveyed did not believe the mayor when he said he did not see the McDonald police shooting dash-cam video before its public release.

"A significant number of people don't believe he's been completely honest. A significant number of people think that he should resign. He's going to have to turn that around. He's going to have put some of these big questions about the cover-up to rest. I think that's the biggest vulnerability he has right now. Answering questions about, what did you know? When did you know it?" ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington said.

As the mayor spoke Wednesday morning, protestors gathered at City Hall. Many are calling for his resignation. One organizer called the mayor's speech "nothing but spin."

"My reality is that I am a black woman in the city of Chicago each and every day. And I was reminded of that when I tried to enter these here chambers this morning and was denied access while I watched others come through that were white," Ald. Leslie Hairston said. "The way that that officer spoke to me. I know what these people are feeling. I live it each and every day."

The family of a man who died after being taken into Chicago police custody is upset his name wasn't mentioned during the mayor's speech.

A video released Monday night shows police using a stun gun on Philip Coleman before dragging him out of a jail cell. Officials said he later died from an adverse reaction to a drug he was given.

"I didn't hear the mayor say anything to me directly to my family or my situation. I never heard my brother's name mentioned one time. Not once. No apology for releasing the tape without letting us know," his brother Jeffrey Coleman said.

Coleman's family says he was mentally ill. He was taken into custody for allegedly attacking his mother.