Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan McDonald and Black Rebellion in Chicago

Counterpunch, December 4, 2015

Beneath a carefully constructed pretense of concern for racial justice, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has long been a dedicated corporatist “law and order” enemy of Black America. During his time as a top political operative in the arch-neoliberal Bill Clinton White House, the notorious bully Emmanuel (later to be nicknamed “Rahmbo”) was a driving force behind the 1994 federal “three strikes” Clinton crime bill.

That draconian measure helped make Bill Clinton “the incarceration president” and contributed to a significant increase in the monumental hyper-imprisonment and criminal marking of Black Americans. Among other terrible things, the law put 100,000 more officers on the streets, allocated $10 billion for new prison construction, and eliminated Pell Grant funding for inmates pursuing college degrees while in prison.

Prior to that outrage, Emmanuel joined up with Bill Daley to lead Clinton’s passage of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) – a critical investor rights measure that helped capital drain millions of jobs away from industrial regions where impoverished Black populations desperately needed paid employment.

NAFTA-encouraged deindustrialization notwithstanding, Emmanuel was a leading force behind Clinton’s vicious 1996 “welfare reform.” The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act’s” elimination of poor families’ former entitlement to basic family cash assistance has wreaked havoc on Black families stuck in jobless ghettoes ever since.

As Barack Obama’s original White House chief of staff, Emmanuel consistently steered policy rightward, towards the interests of the nation’s predominantly white 1% and contrary to those of America’s disproportionately nonwhite lower and working class.

As Mayor of Chicago, Emmanuel moved quickly to shutter 54 public schools in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods in the largest deliberate mass school closure in history. Emmanuel’s schools chief provided principals with a guide on “how to handle civil disobedience and to report the names of any teachers and students involved in protests.” The schools closure program has always been a big taxpayer money grab for wealthy Emmanuel allies seeking to build private charter schools in the wreckage left by public school closings.

Emmanuel has stonewalled on numerous abusive and criminal practices on the part of his city’s police force. He flatly denied the Chicago Police Department’s operation of an illegal “black site” detention facility (Homan Square) where thousands of mostly Black and Latino suspects have been “disappeared” and forced into false confessions. The Black Site hellhole was exposed by The Guardian earlier this year. Its existence was well known across Black and Latino Chicago.

Sadly enough, Emanuel has won solid majorities of the Black Chicago vote in both of his Chicago mayoral election victories to date (in April 2011 and April 2015). As the left Black commentator Bruce Dixon noted last spring, “Rahm Emanuel’s biggest asset was the overwhelming support of Chicago’s well-established black political class of preachers, business types, ‘community leaders’ and public officials….Nearly every prominent black elected official in town, Democrats all, came out for Rahm, for privatization, for gentrification, for austerity, for more of the same. This is the state of black politics in 2015, and the reason that Rahm Emanuel carried every single one of Chicago’s majority black wards.”

The facts of the Laquan McDonald case are well understood by now. Anyone who follows the national news closely knows that:

* White Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke executed a Black male teenager in cold blood on a busy street on the city’s South Side on October 20th, 2014. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, riddling Laquan’s body with bullets while the victim lay in the pavement.

* The Chicago Police lied about and covered up the murder, going so far as to threaten eyewitnesses with arrest and delete more than an hour of videotape from a fast food restaurant near the murder site.

* The City of Chicago rushed to offer McDonald’s mother $5 million on the condition that she stay silent.

* The city buried a dash cam video that clearly displayed the savage killing for thirteen months because Emmanuel feared its release would spark civil unrest (this during the ongoing protests over racist police murders in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere around the nation) that might endanger his re-election chances the following April.

* The video might have never surfaced if lawyers and journalists had not been tipped off to its existence and but for the order of a county judge last week.

* Emanuel, running for re-election at the time of the shooting, fought to keep the video from going public. He claimed that releasing it might taint a federal investigation even though the U.S. Justice Department did not ask the city to hold off.

* Emmanuel demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension of the public’s outrage over the killing and its cover-up when he claimed this week that he decided to fire city police chief Garry McCarthy because he had become “a distraction” – not because McCarthy has for years overseen a police department notorious for racist abuse and corruption.

* Emanuel’s arrogant response to the McDonald scandal has been to “do as little as possible — until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand.” (New York Times editorial board).

The part of the emerging story that blows me away the most, however, is less well known. It concerns a meeting that Emmanuel held with Chicago’s leading Black ministers and pastors right before he finally released the Van Dyke murder video last week. As local reporter Mike Fourcher determined, the alleged purpose of this gathering and other meetings held with Black constituents was to assuage Black fears and anger about how City Hall had dealt with the case. When speaking to the ministers, however, Rahmbo had a different and more iron-fisted message for the city’s Black religious leaders. He warned them that they’d pay if protests went too far. Da mare wanted the pastors to know that he would withhold money for jobs programs in the city’s Black ghettoes if violence ensued. By Fourcher’s account:

“The Mayor…asked the group to stress peaceful protest through the Thanksgiving weekend and to avoid violence. ‘He encouraged us to encourage the community to exercise their first amendment rights, but to do so peacefully,’ said Rev. Barrett. ‘The point of the meeting was how to encourage that peaceful protest.’ According to attendees, the Mayor then told the group that if there was violence over the weekend, he would not be able to find resources to bring jobs into their community. ‘He said, if things go bad then don’t come looking to me for jobs,’ said Rev. Brooks. ‘There was something about how if you don’t encourage peace, don’t look to me for resources,’ said Young Leaders Alliance head Jedidiah Brown, who was also present.”

It doesn’t get much more offensive than that. It takes real sociopathic chutzpah to bully normally obedient Black pastors like that after you have just been caught with your racist police-state pants down in hideous fashion. Curiously enough, Emmanuel seems to have at least momentarily lost the outward loyalties of the city’s Black bourgeois elite. As Glen Ford notes on Black Agenda Report, reflecting on mass, Black youth-led protests that took place last Friday in Chicago’s tony Michigan Avenue shopping district:

“It seemed as if the protective shield of Black Misleadership Class collaboration that has for the last 30 years insulated white mayors from the wrath of Chicago’s outraged Black rank and file, had suddenly been stripped away. Black ministers joined militant youth in marching down the city’s ‘Magic Mile’ Michigan Avenue shopping district, demanding that heads roll for hiding video evidence in the death of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. For 400 days, Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez refused to indict the cop, or release the police dashboard video of the shooting, or to explain why another critical video had apparently been destroyed. Alvarez finally bowed to pressure – and a court order – indicting the cop for first degree murder and releasing the death video….But the community’s rage could not be contained. The Black Caucus of Chicago’s Board of Aldermen demanded that Police Superintendent McCarthy resign. So did Rev. Jesse Jackson and even Bobby Rush, the sell-out Black Congressman who has been a dependable servant of the Emanuel administration. The strength of the movement in Chicago can be measured by the fact that so many elements of the Black collaborationist political class have been forced to take a stance in opposition to Mayor Emanuel and the white corporate forces that he represents, and ultimately to compel the mayor to fire his favorite cop.”

Soon, however, the misleaders can be expected to resume their normal role of collaboration with the city’s predominantly white and corporate masters. As Ford notes:

“The young people that are soldiers of this struggle understand that movements are defined by their demands. In a joint statement by the Black Youth Project 100, We Charge Genocide, Assata’s Daughters, the #LetUsBreathe collective, and a Black Lives Matter chapter, they declared that ‘Indicting cops does not change the policies that promote the violence and trauma inherent in the Chicago Police Department.’ They want Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, too. The Black Youth Project also demands defunding of the Chicago police, and investment of those dollars in the Black community. They call for reparations for slavery, Jim Crow and mass Black incarceration; an end to all profit in the criminal justice system; a guaranteed income for all; a federal jobs program, and freedom from discrimination for all workers; and an end to displacement of Black people through gentrification…. These are demands for social transformation – demands that will put the young activists on a collision course with the Black Misleadership Class who are the first line of defense for the white ruling class, and who will soon close ranks in Chicago and elsewhere to try to stop this movement.”

The fight for racial justice in Chicago, as across the nation, requires rank and file class struggle within the Black community itself. The white, Latino, and Asian working class could learn from that.

Paul Street will speak in Chicago twice next week. He will talk (with Bruce Dixon) on U.S. Imperialism and the 2016 Elections with the Illinois Coalition for Peace, Justice, and the Environment on Thursday December 10, 6:30 pm, Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. He will speak on Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan Mcdonald and the Racist Mass Incarceration State at the Open University of the Left, Saturday, December 12, 2:30 pm at the Logan Square branch of the Chicago Public Library, 3030 West Fullerton (North Side).

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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