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Brown: Rahm will get chance to expound on ‘code of silence’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in March. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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At the height of the uproar over the Laquan McDonald police shooting video, Mayor Rahm Emanuel went before the City Council on Dec. 9 to make the biggest speech of his political life.

We can only assume, therefore, that Emanuel very carefully considered all his words that day, including these:

“As we move forward, I am looking for a new leader of the Chicago Police Department to address the problems at the very heart of the policing profession,” the mayor said.

“This problem is sometimes referred to as the Thin Blue Line. Other times it is referred to as the code of silence. It is the tendency to ignore, deny or in some cases cover-up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues,” Emanuel explained.

Did Emanuel base his comments that day on actual knowledge of such cover-ups in his role as the city’s chief executive, or was he speaking about his general beliefs based on life experiences? Or was he just saying what the political moment demanded?

OPINION

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The mayor very well may get his chance to explain.

On Friday, a federal judge reaffirmed his decision to require Emanuel to come to court to testify about what he knows about a police code of silence.

I’m thinking the mayor’s speechwriters never anticipated that.

Emanuel’s testimony is sought by lawyers for a pair of police officers, Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, who sued the city in 2012, alleging they were victims of retaliation within the Police Department for their role in helping the FBI bring down a corrupt cop, Sgt. Ronald Watts. The trial is slated to begin May 31.

It is a case that has clearly confounded the city.

After originally taking the position that there is no police code of silence and that any references to such should be barred from trial, defense lawyers offered Friday to concede its existence in exchange for keeping Emanuel off the witness stand.

But lawyers for Spalding and Echevarria rejected the deal, arguing they’d rather hear from the mayor. Judge Gary Feinerman upheld their request.

That leaves the city in the awkward position of now having publicly admitted to a code of silence, while still not officially conceding the legal point for the purposes of the lawsuit.

On Friday, defense lawyers even sought to block testimony about findings about a code of silence in the report of the mayor’s own Police Accountability Task Force — by diminishing the qualifications of the citizen-led group appointed by Emanuel.

I have my doubts Emanuel knows much more about the police code of silence than you or I do, although certainly his position as the boss of both the city’s police and law departments would put him in a position to hear plenty.

It reminds me a little of the scene in the Blues Brothers where Jake accuses Elwood of lying to him while he was in prison.

“Wasn’t lies, it was just … b.s.,” Elwood responded, without the abbreviation.

That’s not to suggest the mayor was just b.s.’n about a code of silence. But it’s also hard to believe he’s going to say former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told him all about it.

Only police really know about the code of silence, which is what makes this case so interesting.

Many a citizen has gone to court to accuse police of covering for each other, but not many police officers.

Spalding and Echevarria say they were branded as “IAD rats” by then Narcotics Division Commander James O’Grady, given lousy assignments and warned by fellow officers they had been instructed not to back them up on the street.

At the end of Friday’s hearing, the judge asked both parties if they had anything further.

“No, unless counsel wants to talk,” said Jeffrey Taren, an attorney for the whistleblower cops, in an obvious reference to a possible settlement.

Might be too late for that.

At this point, I don’t think Emanuel can afford leaving the impression he’s settling this case to avoid the witness stand.

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