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Follow the facts on Rahm Emanuel’s role in Laquan McDonald case

Former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Menendez that Emanuel did not orchestrate a cover-up of the shooting.

Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff of the Obama White House, testifies during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 20. Emanuel will become the next U.S. ambassador to Japan if confirmed.
Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff of the Obama White House, testifies during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 20. Emanuel will become the next U.S. ambassador to Japan if confirmed.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel could surely have handled the police shooting of Laquan McDonald better. If there was ever a time to rise to a historical moment, put aside past policy at City Hall and be far more transparent, the McDonald murder was that time.

But as former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Emanuel did not orchestrate a cover-up of the shooting of McDonald by since-convicted police officer Jason Van Dyke.

That conjecture has been repeated so many times, it has become accepted as truth in many quarters. But there are no facts to support it.

Two months ago, as Emanuel’s appointment to be ambassador to Japan was working its way through Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “As mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald.”

That’s a false narrative. The Chicago Police Department’s handling of the McDonald case has been criticized, and with good reason, but no evidence indicates their actions were directed as part of a scheme originating in City Hall. Emanuel’s law department did not release police dash-cam video of the shooting as soon as it could have, but it was following past policy designed not to affect ongoing criminal investigations. It was not engaging in a newly formed conspiracy. As a city, we need to accept that reality.

Pinning the blame strictly on Emanuel also makes it easier to overlook systemic problems within CPD. As Jamie Kalven, who co-produced “16 Shots,” a documentary about the McDonald shooting, says, getting the facts right is important for the “historical record and diagnostic clarity.”

“I think the danger is if we just focus on Rahm, like Nixon and Watergate, we will misdiagnose what we are contending with,” he said.

The McDonald tragedy jump-started police reform in Chicago. Emanuel is no longer the mayor, but reform is just as essential now as it was under his administration.

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