Chicago hip-hop star Che “Rhymefest” Smith understands his weekend run-in with Chicago police has an important twist on the other police misconduct cases confronting Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“This is a little bit different,” Smith told me by phone Monday during a non-stop round of media interviews.
“This is not the teenager that got stopped in the car, that got out of the car running and they shot him and he was unarmed and it’s a question of this or that,” he continued. “This is a homeowner, a taxpayer, a citizen coming to you for help. And so when the citizen can’t go to the police for help, that’s a whole other problem.”
A whole other problem, indeed, but also a very real problem and one being brought forth by an individual armed not only with the megaphone of his celebrity status but also the credibility of a positive image.
The notion that many Chicago police officers lack a good bedside manner with the public hardly constitutes news to much of the local citizenry.
But this was no garage break-in. Smith was trying to report being robbed at gunpoint early Saturday when he encountered a police officer at the Grand Crossing district station who he says didn’t want to take a report.
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With the U.S. Justice Department still crawling up the Police Department’s backside with its “pattern and practice” investigation, police officials responded swiftly with an apology to Smith.
The mayor followed up Monday with a promise of disciplinary action and changes in police leadership and training.
“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,” Emanuel told reporters.
I can’t be the only one who scoffed at the mayor’s first guarantee. That’s a pretty tall order considering the frequency of police-citizen interaction, before you even get to the question of police culture.
Smith said he doesn’t believe the mayor’s guarantee either, but would like to talk to him about it, as well as that culture.
“I have dozens of emails right now I can show you, dozens of Chicagoans who reached out to me with their experience with the police. I have somebody in my phone right now who said: “I tried to make a report, and I couldn’t. Can you help me Rhymefest?”
“This is why we need to talk to Rahm Emanuel, because this young lady that I don’t even know is asking me to help her. So if the mayor is saying he can guarantee that, I would love to refer some of these people to whoever he has set up to handle these complaints because we’ve got a lot of them.”
Smith, who ran for 20th Ward alderman in 2011 and took former police officer Willie Cochran to a runoff, exhibits a keen understanding of the politics here — even as he says he has no interest in political office at this point.
“What I’m doing now is not political in any way. … One thing you’ve never seen Rhymefest do is be at an anti-police rally. I’ve marched in peace rallies with the police. You’ve never seen Rhymefest rail against the police on Twitter or anything like that. But when citizens are wronged, citizens have to step up and be the change that we want to see.”
Smith said he often shares that message with the at-risk youth to whom he teaches creative writing, and they tell him it doesn’t work.
“And so the biggest thing I can do is be an example of how the system does work. And then, when I was to use it, my students were right. It didn’t work,” he said.
This is a meeting the mayor should take.