Despite the fierce criticism Mayor Rahm Emanuel has faced, especially from the African-American community, it fell on him to give us all hope — citizens and police alike.
He did so by promising to marshal the city’s resources to fight this unrelenting violence on all fronts: In our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our homes, while also urging citizens to show more support for the Chicago Police Department.
“Adopting change is hard,” the mayor pointed out.
“While these changes are being implemented we are simultaneously asking our officers to serve in very perilous situations with a lot of illegal guns and emboldened gangs on the streets. . . . Our officers need your support. They need your reassurance, and they need to know they have to earn the public’s trust,” he said.
It was a tough but necessary balancing act.
There is a belief among many that the uptick in gun violence is due to a “stand-down” by police officers who feel they will be unfairly accused of using excessive force.
Emanuel’s remarks, delivered to a friendly crowd, couldn’t have come at a worse time for those charged with upholding our laws.
While Emanuel pointed out that the “overwhelming number of police officers in Chicago are doing good work under difficult circumstances,” hours earlier a Chicago Police officer, Marco Proano, 41, pleaded not guilty to federal civil rights charges that he used excessive force in 2013 when he fired into a stolen car filled with black teenagers.
And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, prosecutors were charging a white police officer, Betty Shelby, with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher.
On Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, the governor was forced to call a “state of emergency” after the city erupted into a second night of rioting over the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man, by a black police officer.
Emanuel vowed every police officer will have a body camera by next year, be equipped with Tasers, and that the city will hire nearly 1,000 police officers.
But those promises will likely do little to appease the army of young protesters who took to the streets after the Laquan McDonald video was released last November.
And if the intent was to bring all Chicagoans together, it didn’t help that these advocates were kept outside of Malcolm X College, where the mayor spoke Thursday evening.
Emanuel lamented the heinous crimes committed against innocent victims.
“Our hearts are torn. . . . Chicago’s heart is torn,” he said, giving a tragic roll call of the fallen: a 6-year-old girl playing on her porch; the son of a police officer home from college on summer break; an anti-violence activist and Army veteran and mentor killed in his car.
But it was the heartbreaking story of Arshell Dennis Jr., the Chicago Police officer whose son, Arshell Dennis III, was shot to death steps from his home, that moved Emanuel to tears.
“After tragically losing his 19-year-old son to gun violence, [he] found the courage and the strength to put his police uniform and his badge back on and serve the rest of this city with dignity, and duty and dedication . . .” the mayor said, his voice cracking with emotion.
“These are our heroes. They are not alone,” he said.
After facing a strong challenge in his bid for re-election, Emanuel promised that he would listen more to the voices in the community.
His gathering of stakeholders, community leaders and clergy for a preview of the policy address prior to Thursday’s delivery shows he is attempting to honor that promise.
Although early reports suggested Emanuel would blame absentee black fathers for the city’s rise in gun violence, Emanuel didn’t go there.
Instead, he focused on the role gang affiliation plays in the deadly violence.
“Many of the victims of gun violence are young men with gang affiliations. . . . We have to stop them from giving up on themselves and their future,” Emanuel said, calling the lure of gangs an “evil seduction.”
The mayor appealed to all Chicagoans and corporations to step up to support mentoring programs targeting young males — programs that the city will invest $36 million in over the next three years to expand.
“We cannot afford to lose another generation to the gangs and the street and the violence. Teaching responsibility should not be a taboo for our city,” he said.Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST