Outraged mayor vows changes after cops’ treatment of Rhymefest

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Che “Rhymefest” Smith, shown campaigning for alderman in 2011, did not appreciate his treatment by Chicago police when he tried to report being mugged on Saturday. | Sun-Times file photo

An angry Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday vowed disciplinary action and changes in police leadership and training in response to the cavalier treatment that Che “Rhymefest” Smith received from Chicago Police after the rapper tried to report being robbed at gunpoint.

Emanuel said every encounter between citizens and police is a “teachable moment” and the lesson learned from the Rhymefest fiasco is that every crime victim must be heard and treated with respect.

That apparently didn’t happen when it came to Rhymefest. He was treated more like a criminal than a victim and that infuriated the man at the top.

It comes as Emanuel is trying desperately to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and attempting to get ahead of a sweeping federal civil rights investigation triggered by the video played around the world of a white police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of the black teenager.

“I don’t care what happened beforehand. If an individual walks in to report they were held up, you have a responsibility to hear them and treat them fairly. . . . The issue should be that he was held up at gunpoint while he was in his car with his mobile phone. It shouldn’t be how a guy came in to do a citizen report of what happened to him become the event,” the mayor said.

“I’ll guarantee they won’t treat another resident like this. And I guarantee that other officers will look at this and say that shouldn’t happen. It’s not even in training,” Emanuel said. “It’s common decency. He is the victim of the crime. Therefore, he deserves a different type of treatment — both as a citizen of the city of Chicago and [as] somebody who has turned to police for help. That’s the fundamental. If they’re turning to you for help, your attitude should be more receptive than he was treated.”

Rhymefest said a second officer was apparently apologetic about the treatment he received from the first officer. That second officer explained that some officers have become “de-sensitized” to crime victims because of the jobs they do.

To the mayor, that’s no excuse.

“It requires also leadership. . . . Whoever is on command there. Whether it’s a lieutenant. Whether it’s a sergeant. You set the tone. You’re the leadership,” he said.

“Every encounter between an officer and a citizen is a teachable event. Had that officer acted appropriately, we’d be dealing right now with who did the mugging, which is where we should be,” Emanuel said. “And his relationship with the police — his feeling about the police would be different.”

RELATED: Brown: Rhymefest eager to discuss ‘whole other problem’ with Rahm

Emanuel was asked about the fact that Rhymefest has already written a song about his encounter with Chicago Police. It threatens to become yet another in a series of black eyes for Chicago in a year full of them.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about the police treatment of Che “Rhymefest” Smith at an event to announce a new universal online enrollment system for early childhood programs. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about the police treatment of Che “Rhymefest” Smith at an event to announce a new universal online enrollment system for early childhood programs. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Bad enough that Chicago is making headlines for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings and a troubling spike in other violent crimes.

“That’s why we’re gonna make some changes, both to the training as well as to the leadership and the requirement” for being a supervisor, Emanuel said.

“I’m not happy about it. On the third question, you can pick that up just by the tone of my voice. You don’t need me to say it that explicitly. Of course I’m not happy about it. I don’t think anybody in the Police Department leadership is happy about it. But it does show that our work is not done. Which is why we’re gonna make changes to training and what has to be done,” Emanuel said. “. . . And I know that, as I talked to [Chief of Patrol] Fred Waller over the weekend, they are going to take steps appropriately with that officer.”

Rhymefest was gratified by the mayor’s reaction — but only to a point.

“I believe that is a first step, but that is not the only step. This is not just about me Che Smith. This is about John Smith and Joe Smith and Jane Smith. The average citizen,” Rhymefest said Monday.

“What I’m looking for is cultural, systemic change and the mayor not just to say it’s gonna happen but to explain to us how it’s gonna happen,” he said. “Let us know how you change the culture. The culture in our community has to change. People in the community don’t feel comfortable reporting crime. How can we mend the community? I would like the mayor to not just talk to me through the news media, but speak with me. I would like to work with him.”

A two-time Grammy winner who ran for 20th Ward alderman in 2011, Rhymefest was robbed at gunpoint in Bronzeville early Saturday by a man who initially told him that it was “the day I’m going to die.”

But Smith said the indignity of that robbery paled by comparison to the treatment he received when he attempted to report the crime at the Grand Crossing district police station.

Rhymefest said he was “treated like a criminal when I tried to make a report.”

Smith said officers working the desk were in no hurry to take his report when he arrived. When he sat down with an officer, she insisted he keep his hands where she could see them, and questioned his story: Why hadn’t he gone to a station closer to Bronzeville? Why hadn’t the gunman taken his phone? She didn’t seem to be taking down his answers.

“I asked her, ma’am, are you going to write this down? Is there a form you want me to fill out?” Smith said. “She said, “You don’t ask the questions. I ask the questions.’ ”

When Smith asked to see her supervisor, the sergeant told him to leave. So Smith pulled out his phone and began filming.

“I don’t feel comfortable,” Smith said on the video, as officers shout at him to shut off the camera. “When the camera goes off, you start telling me to get out, I can’t make a report.”

Officers continued trying to get Smith to turn off the camera, but they do concede that before he started filming the sergeant had told him to leave without taking his report. Smith kept the camera running until an officer agreed to take a report.

Smith said his encounter with police grew more congenial before he left, and that he was touched — and concerned — that the officer who finally took down his report admitted police have been “desensitized” to crime victims.

Amid the tension in the city between police and minority residents, Smith said he has staunchly defended police officers. Shortly before getting in his car Saturday morning, he had engaged in an hours-long text-message debate with a friend about police tactics and community relations.

“I have police officers that I ride motorcycles with, that are my good friends,” he said over the weekend. “I’m not a rabble-rousing activist screaming epithets at the cops. I work with the police.

“I wanted to make a report. . . . when I walked through the door, it was like [the officers] didn’t see me.”

Smith said he didn’t give officers any hint of who he was until he was about to leave.

“I said, “Oh, by the way, I have two Grammys and an Oscar. And that’s not it. I teach young people, I teach creative writing,’ ” Smith said, referring to Donda’s House, a youth charity started in honor of Donda West, the late mother of his frequent collaborator, Kanye West.

“And it was like, ‘Now I got your attention. But not when I told you I had a gun to head.’ ”

“I’m sure they’re thinking, “We messed up, because that was “somebody,’ ” Smith said. “But that’s not how it should be. How would they feel if somebody that doesn’t have my resources was treated the same way?”

Contributing: Andy Grimm

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