Chicago has an unfortunate reputation as a corrupt city with a long history of law enforcement officials infamous for civilian brutality, including torture.
But a video that went viral around the world last week may mark the beginning of reforms in the city.
The video, which was released November 24th, was recorded on a police squad car dashboard camera and shows the gruesome shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer. The city of Chicago withheld the video for 13 months until a freelance journalist in Chicago went to court to force the city to release the video publicly.
Mr. Van Dyke is now being charged with murder. McDonald’s family was given $5 million from the city – before they even filed charges. While Chicago braced for potential riots that some expected after the release of the video, protests in the days following were relatively peaceful and only a few arrests were made.
And protesters did not go unheard.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel condemned the shooting, calling it a “hideous action,” even as he pleaded that protests remain peaceful. Then, under pressure following a week of protests, Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy.
“There are systematic challenges that will require sustained reforms,” Mr. Emanuel told reporters at a news conference, according to The New York Times. “At this point and this juncture for the city, given what we’re working on, [McCarthy] has become an issue rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction.”
Now, protesters want Emanuel to step down as well.
Emanuel is one of the nation’s most high-profile mayors after having served as President Obama’s chief-of-staff, but his unpopularity worsened immensely after the McDonald video. Activists claim Emanuel covered up the video and did not take leadership in charging the officer until 13 months after the shooting took place. Protesters are demanding that Emanuel to step down.
"A leader has to be held to account for the code of silence that continues to exist in the Chicago police department," Craig Futterman, a Chicago civil rights lawyer told US News & World Report. "He has to acknowledge it and address it."
Emanuel claims the video was being withheld for sensitivity purposes during the court trial.
“I’m responsible,” Emanuel said. “I don’t shirk that responsibility. I have taken certain steps prior to this date. I’m taking steps today. As I told you, this is a work in progress and finding a solution. It’s not the end of the problem.”
Emanuel has made no announcements indicating that he is considering stepping down.
"All along, Mr. Emanuel’s response, either by design or because of negligence, was to do as little as possible – until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand," wrote The New York Times Editorial Board. "The residents of Chicago will have to decide whether that counts as taking responsibility."