The Rev. Al Sharpton portrayed Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a hypocrite Saturday for criticizing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case when the mayor long was silent on the police murder of Laquan McDonald.
For days, Emanuel has been sharply criticizing the decision by Foxx’s office to allow Smollett to walk in the case, after Chicago police collected evidence that showed the “Empire” actor allegedly staged a racist and homophobic attack on himself. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Sharpton described Emanuel’s behavior as “Hypocrisy 101.”
“The reason this is of national significance to me, there is a marked difference between how they reacted to this and how they reacted to the Laquan McDonald case. They were not outraged when the video was withheld until after the mayor’s election,” Sharpton said of Emanuel, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and other top police officials. “There was a fox in the henhouse then, but the fox wasn’t Kim then. The name of that fox was whoever was in the mayor’s race.”
Emanuel spokesman Matt McGrath said, “This isn’t worthy of a response.”
Sharpton made the remarks during a Saturday visit to Chicago to give a keynote speech at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The purpose of Sharpton’s visit was to preach black unity in the mayor’s race between former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, one of whom on Tuesday will be elected Chicago’s first African-American female mayor.
But during a rousing 20-minute sermon before an energetic crowd at PUSH’s South Side headquarters, Sharpton also offered a full-throated defense of Foxx, a former top aide to Preckwinkle who has served as the county’s top prosecutor since 2016. In doing so, he recalled Emanuel’s handling of the 2014 shooting of McDonald.
For much of 2015, Emanuel fought the release of dashcam footage of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times in a Southwest Side street as the black teen walked away from the officer as he held a small folding knife. When a county judge ordered Emanuel to release the video, then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with murder as the graphic footage was made public. That, coupled with the Emanuel administration paying McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement before a lawsuit had even been filed, led to accusations of a City Hall cover-up, weeks of street protests and calls for the mayor’s resignation.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with McDonald’s death and in January was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. Garry McCarthy was police superintendent at the time of the McDonald shooting, while Johnson held a leadership role in the department’s brass and became the city’s top cop after McCarthy’s firing.
“I found it strange that the mayor who didn’t hold a national press conference when the Laquan McDonald’s tape wasn’t released, I find it strange that the police chief that didn’t say a word, when they let an election go by and couldn’t find the tape, but all of the sudden, you have selective outrage and you start attacking Ms. Foxx,” Sharpton preached as a crowd of a couple of hundred people rose to its feet and cheered. “This is of national concern. We are not going to sit by and allow her to be questioned when you didn’t question Van Dyke, you didn’t question the tape, you didn’t question anything else.”
Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all charges against Smollett in exchange for community service and his forfeiture of the $10,000 he’d posted as bond. The decision sparked vehement criticism from Johnson and Emanuel, who called it a “whitewash of justice” and appeared frequently on national television to discuss the case.
President Donald Trump also weighed in, tweeting Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice would be looking into the case.
“Maybe the only time I’ve ever agreed with the mayor of Chicago,” Trump said at a political rally in Michigan later that night. “That’s a terrible situation. That’s an embarrassment not only to Chicago, that is an embarrassment to our country what took place there.”
Foxx had previously said she recused herself in the case after revealing she had contact with Smollett’s representatives early on in the investigation. This week, her office said Foxx did not formally recuse herself “in a legal sense.”
Smollett had been facing felony charges for allegedly staging the attack on himself in downtown Chicago in order to further his career. Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, said he was walking from a Subway sandwich shop to his apartment in the 300 block of East North Water Street about 2 a.m. Jan. 29 when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Smollett said they also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” in a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”
Police initially treated the incident as a hate crime, but their focus turned to Smollett after two brothers who were alleged to have been his assailants told police that Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, with a promise of an additional $500 later.
After the charges were dropped, Smollett and his legal team maintained he had been wrongfully accused all along and said the city of Chicago owed him an apology. Nevertheless, the city has sent Smollett a letter seeking to recover $130,000 or face further legal action.
On Friday, Foxx submitted an op-ed to the Chicago Tribune in which she said that some of the evidence and testimony against the “Empire” star “would have made securing a conviction against Smollett uncertain.” Foxx noted that Smollett, however, had not been exonerated or found innocent
“For a variety of reasons, including public statements made about the evidence in this case, my office believed the likelihood of securing a conviction was not certain,” Foxx wrote without elaborating.
Foxx also said she welcomed an independent investigation into her office’s handling of the case.
As for Sharpton, he told the crowd Saturday that he wasn’t going to weigh in on whether Smollett was guilty.
“I don’t know where that falls in judicial lines,” Sharpton said, when asked whether Smollett at a minimum should have been forced to apologize and express guilt before Foxx’s office dropped the charges. “What she did or didn’t do, coulda, woulda, shoulda done does not, in any way to me, justify the hypocrisy shown by city officials that, in my opinion, helped to influence the last election.”
Sharpton also said he was “against anybody misusing hate crimes,” but vowed a nationwide push to defend Foxx from criticism.
“I think they need to understand there will be a national reaction to them trying to profile Kim Foxx,” Sharpton said. “This hasn’t nothing to do with Jussie Smollett, this has something to do with a black woman having the power that every prosecutor has.”
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