WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday joined the growing chorus of politicians calling for a Department of Justice review of the Chicago Police Department and took it a step further, saying any elected official with knowledge of any coverup in the release of the Laquan McDonald video should resign.
Though Sanders did not mention any names, the only elected officials under fire to step down are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The Chicago police scandal and possible coverup are now factors in the Democratic presidential primary between Sanders and frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Sanders is no stranger to Chicago mayoral politics. Earlier in the year, he campaigned in Chicago for Emanuel’s rival in the mayoral election, Cook County Board member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Garcia is backing Sanders over Clinton in the 2016 primary contest and campaigned for Sanders in Iowa, the state with the first presidential vote. Emanuel supports Clinton.
“I join with those calling for a federal investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department. Furthermore, any official who helped suppress the videotape of Laquan McDonald’s murder should be held accountable,” Sanders said in a statement released to the Sun-Times.
“And any elected official with knowledge that the tape was being suppressed or improperly withheld should resign. No one should be shielded by power or position,” he said in the statement.
Clinton on Wednesday called for a Justice Department probe of the police shooting of the 17-year-old youth, as her campaign made it very clear she was not calling on Emanuel to resign.
A string of local officials are now asking the Justice Department Civil Rights Division for what is called a pattern-or-practice probe in the wake of the release of a video last week showing the fatal shooting of McDonald by a Chicago police officer.
Justice Department spokesman Dena Iverson told the Sun-Times on Friday, “the department is carefully reviewing the requests for a pattern-or-practice investigation that have been made regarding the Chicago Police Department.”
Emanuel, after initially balking, said Thursday that he welcomes the federal review, joining Sanders, Clinton, Sen. Dick Durbin, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner in asking for the Justice Department intervention.
A pattern-or-practice inquiry is an extensive review with a mission to discover and “reform serious patterns and practices of excessive force, biased policing and other unconstitutional practices by law enforcement,” according to the Justice Department.
The officer under the spotlight is Jason Van Dyke, charged with first-degree murder. The length of time it took to bring the charges as well the efforts by the City of Chicago to prevent the public release of a video of the shooting — filmed by a camera mounted on the dashboard of a police cruiser — sparked street protests and calls for the resignations of top Chicago officials.
In stating that resignations are not off the table, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, is drawing a distinction between himself and frontrunner Clinton.
While Clinton pushed for the Justice Department to jump in, her campaign also said Clinton was not asking for Emanuel to step down.
“She knows Mayor Emanuel loves Chicago, and is sure he wants to do all he can to restore trust in the Chicago Police Department,” her campaign said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Garcia is among those calling for the resignation of Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez, facing a three-way Democratic primary in March.
This civil inquiry would be separate from a pending joint federal and state investigation into the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting of McDonald.