Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday urged Chicagoans to “step back from hot rhetoric” and find a way to thank police officers who feel “almost hunted” in the wake of police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
“It’s essential and imperative at this moment — if you talk to officers, they feel almost hunted — that you find a time to thank them and personally reach out,” Emanuel said.
“Both Dallas and Baton Rouge are stark reminders that men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day. Any call . . . can be a life-threatening moment for them. So I would ask every resident of Chicago to take a moment from your day — today, tomorrow or the next day — to thank individually an officer for both being a police officer and for being selfless in their sacrifice.”
The mayor was asked whether he believes the Black Lives Matter movement should “change its rhetoric.”
He would say only that it’s time that all Americans — from presidential candidates down to the protesters on the street — measure their words and search for common ground.
“I would ask everybody to step back from hot rhetoric, not adopt this . . . us-versus-them rhetoric and try to redouble your efforts and understanding what we share together,” the mayor said after an unrelated news conference to promote economic development in industrial areas.
“It doesn’t take a lot to identify our differences. . . . But given everything that’s going on — not only in the country, but in the world — it is incumbent upon us to work even harder in finding our commonality and to be more cohesive in our approach to bringing those threads together.”
He added: “Any rhetoric that is divisiveness is wrong by anybody. I don’t think anybody should be a victim because of their race, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity or the job that they do. And violence is never justified for any one of those reasons.”
Over the last week, eight police officers have been ambushed and murdered by lone gunmen in apparent retaliation for police shootings of unarmed African-American motorists in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Police officers in Chicago and across the country feel as if they’re under siege. If they’re not being attacked or threatened physically, they’re being provoked and verbally abused.
Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who was fired for becoming what Emanuel called a “distraction” in the unrelenting furor over the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, has referred to it as a new “lawlessness” sweeping the nation.
For months, Emanuel has been walking a political tightrope. He has been trying to craft a new system of police accountability to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
And he’s been trying just as desperately to coax Chicago Police officers concerned about being caught on the next YouTube video out of a defensive crouch, blamed in part for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings and a precipitous drop in police activity.
If police officers now feel “almost hunted,” as the mayor put it, Emanuel was asked whether he’s concerned that the apparent bull’s-eye on the backs of police officers might lead to a surge of police resignations in Chicago.
That’s a particular concern at a time when increased health care contributions tied to the new police contract offer veteran police officers an additional nudge out the door.
Emanuel never answered the question directly. But behind the plea for Chicagoans to thank the men and women in blue was a genuine concern about officers throwing in the towel. That’s something the Chicago Police Department can ill afford. It’s already spending $116 million a year on police overtime to mask a severe manpower shortage.
“Part of our safety as a city or a neighborhood is that partnership. And if officers at this particular moment hear from the residents of Chicago, ‘Thank you. I appreciate what you’re doing. Thank you for dedicating your service to the rest of us.’ Just that. Something like that. Your own words. It will go a tremendous way to not only lifting their morale, but also knowing they have friends in the neighborhoods and communities that make up the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.
“They’re invisible. But we go about our days with the assumption of things that they do without even thinking about it,” he said. “This moment, they need to be thanked. Your appreciation they need to hear. It will go a tremendous distance in lifting their morale.”
Last week, Emanuel urged Chicagoans not to retreat into their ideological corners after a tumultuous week that started with police shootings of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota and ended with a lone black gunman’s ambush of five white police officers in Dallas.
“It’s false to make it a false choice [or say] either you’re for those activists in the community who are advocating for respect or you’re for police. That’s not how you build trust. That’s not how you build community relations. The example of what happened in Dallas tells you this is not a binary choice,” Emanuel said then.
“People have a right — almost a responsibility — to express their First Amendment right. Police are there to ensure that you have the capacity to do that. I don’t ascribe to what’s kind of a dominant argument which is that this is a binary choice. I don’t think that,” he said. “I would like and hope that people would see what happened in Dallas in that sense. People were protesting the police. When there was gunfire, the police came to their rescue and did their job of protection.”