One week ago, Chicago Mayor Rahn Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a press conference after a judge ordered the release of a dashcam video. The footage showed officer Jason Van Dyke shooting teenage Laquan McDonald as he walked away from police. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, and 13 of those bullets struck McDonald while he was already prone on the ground. After the video was made public, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, and a light was shone on his troubled history (amounting to more than 20 complaints) in the department. Van Dyke was accused of using excessive force on multiple occasions and using a racial slur on another. He was cleared in all of these previous incidents.
Tuesday saw a new development in this story. Emanuel dismissed McCarthy, or rather, he requested his resignation. In a 30-minute press conference (which was supposed to be exclusively about establishing a task force on police accountability), Emanuel detailed the reasons for his decision:
“While I don’t believe the actions of Officer Van Dyke reflect the actions of men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our lives, I also know the excessive force and misuse of authority is not new in Chicago or isolated only to Chicago. There is a history of it. We have worked hard to address these concerns over the past four-and-a-half years through intensive training, new policies governing the use of force. But for whatever progress we have made, the killing of Laquan McDonald is a vivid reminder that we have much more work to do as a city.”
Emanuel also revealed how he and McCarthy confronted the “the undeniable fact that the public trust in the leadership of the department has been shaken and eroded.” Emanuel hopes for “fresh eyes and new leadership” to take Chicago forward. In McCarthy’s place, John Escalante will stand as acting superintendent, which Emanuel hopes will begin the process of change:
“This is not the end of the problem, but it is the beginning to the solution of the problem. There are systematic challenges that will require sustained reforms. It is a work in progress as we continue to build the confidence and the trust by the public in our police force.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that McCarthy appeared “shell-shocked” by his dismissal, as he recently (and publicly) called Chicago “my adopted home that I’m never leaving.” Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune published an article that criticizes how McDonald’s death led to a “one bad apple” approach by both McCarthy and Emanuel:
With that video airing on newscasts across the country and online around the world, McCarthy and Emanuel’s one-bad-apple narrative of Van Dyke’s actions didn’t square with Chicago’s sordid police history that once again was back in the national spotlight. Serving as the backdrop: decades’ worth of police torture and wrongful conviction cases, corruption and ineffectual oversight in shootings and other excessive force actions. Time and again, the department had quickly cleared officers of allegations, only to have civil litigation later reveal video and other evidence that painted a much darker picture of police misconduct.
The piece also hints at how McCarthy “struggled” after receiving criticism of “an arrogant New York-knows-best attitude.” The paper’s message appears to be one of Emanuel cleaning house and seeking to avoid further criticism of a “too cozy” relationship with McCarthy. Will the tactic work? RedEye Chicago is calling for Emanuel’s resignation, as well, and the sentiment is not an uncommon one on Twitter.
On a related note, Van Dyke left Cook County Jail on Monday evening after posting a $150,000 bond.