U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed President Joe Biden’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan Wednesday, citing the former Chicago mayor’s handling of the 2014 police murder of Laquan McDonald.
“This nomination is deeply shameful. As mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald — a mere teenager when he was shot 16 times in the back by a Chicago police officer,” Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. “This alone should be flatly disqualifying for any position of public trust, let alone representing the United States as an ambassador.”
The prominent progressive’s opposition to Emanuel’s nomination comes nearly two weeks after Biden announced the former mayor was his pick for Japan following months of speculation.
Emanuel has declined to comment beyond a statement he released after getting the nod.
He repeatedly has insisted that neither he nor his administration covered up the McDonald shooting, saying the city followed protocol at the time not to release police video of a shooting under investigation.
McDonald’s murder was captured on a police dash camera and the images of then-Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping round after round into the body of the 17-year-old McDonald, many of them as he lay in the street, quickly became international news. The Cook County medical examiner’s report showed McDonald was shot in the front and back of his torso, and in his arms and legs.
Van Dyke was convicted of second degree murder in 2018 and is serving a six-year and nine-month prison sentence.
Emanuel fought against releasing the dashcam video of the October 2014 shooting for the better part of a year, arguing that the matter was under investigation. In November 2015, a Cook County judge ordered the mayor to release the graphic footage, which showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald in the middle of a Southwest Side street as the Black teen walked away while holding a small folding knife.
On the same day Emanuel made the video public, then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with murder, and it soon was revealed that several officers’ accounts of the shooting in police reports varied dramatically from the video.
Those reports and the delay in the murder charge, combined with the fact that Emanuel’s administration and aldermen paid a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family before a lawsuit was even filed, led to accusations of a City Hall cover-up, calls for Emanuel’s resignation and weeks of street protests during which the chant of “16 shots and a cover-up” was born.
Emanuel must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he can take up the post in Tokyo.
“That the Biden administration seeks to reward Emanuel with an ambassadorship is an embarrassment and betrayal of the values we seek to uphold both within our nation and around the world,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I urge the Senate to vote NO on his confirmation.”
The Biden administration has been criticized for the slow pace of its ambassador appointments, with its first nominees gaining confirmation from the Senate just last month.
The earliest Emanuel could expect confirmation would be this fall. Given the number of outstanding confirmations, it’s possible Emanuel’s nomination might be considered along with several other ambassador choices, which could lessen the likelihood he would face individual scrutiny from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments echo fellow progressives in Congress, including like-minded members collectively known as ‘The squad.’
On the day Biden announced Emanuel’s nomination, progressive U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York said that “when elected officials use their power against Black lives, they should not receive this honor. We still remember Laquan McDonald.”
U.S. Reps. Mondaire Jones of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri also urged progressives to rally against Emanuel’s nomination.
“Rahm Emanuel covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Bush said. “He must be disqualified from ever holding an appointed position in any administration.”
Fellow squad member Rashida Tlaib, who represents Detroit, also accused Emanuel of being complicit in a cover-up, saying it should disqualify him from “any public position.”
“If you believe Black lives indeed matter, then the Senate must reject his appointment immediately,” Tlaib said.
Illustrating a divide in the party between progressives and establishment Democrats, many big names in the party have backed Emanuel’s nomination, among them former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Illinois U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and House Majority Whip James Clyburn.
“I worked closely with him in Congress and when he served as chief of staff to President Obama,” Clyburn, a veteran Black lawmaker, said of Emanuel. “He has the experience necessary to advance our country’s strategic objectives.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city’s first Black female mayor who has criticized her predecessor’s handling of the shooting, congratulated Emanuel on his appointment, as did Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“I wish him every success in his further service to our country,” Lightfoot tweeted of Emanuel.
Some Black Chicago aldermen also have supported Emanuel’s nomination, including Howard Brookins and Jason Ervin.
“Rahm was someone you could trust to do what he said he would do,” said Ervin, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, who noted the former mayors work to expand the city’s school day and year and creation of a program that leverages downtown development to build project’s on the city’s predominantly Black South and West sides.
“I saw firsthand his passion for people all throughout Chicago, his dedication to public service, and his never-ending commitment to getting the job done,” Ervin said.
In his final interview with the Tribune before leaving office, Emanuel reflected on his handling of the McDonald shooting, which became the most defining moment of his eight-year tenure. He said his administration’s response was symptomatic of how Chicago wrongfully had become numb to police shootings.
“I’m the mayor, so I bear responsibility, but we collectively as a city, this became a norm,” Emanuel said. “It became an accepted norm of just another weekend, when it never should have been that.”
In the wake of the McDonald controversy, Emanuel initiated several reforms that included requiring officers to wear body cameras and carry Tasers while bolstering training and providing better mental health treatment for cops. Then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the city, forcing Emanuel’s hand into a federal consent decree that places oversight of reforms to the Police Department with a federal judge.
“The real question when you stumble is do you learn from it and make changes,” Emanuel said of the McDonald shooting in his final interview. “I’m not the first mayor to have a police shooting on their watch, but I do think the changes we have made are going to stand the test of time.”
Many Black Chicagoans, progressives and families who have lost relatives to police shootings, however, reflect on his tenure differently.
A self-described group of 28 “relatives of Chicago police violence victims” voiced opposition to an Emanuel appointment to ambassador. Arewa Karen Winters, who said her nephew was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2014, noted Biden’s support for George Floyd’s family and police reform.
“Rahm Emanuel does not deserve to be the ambassador of anything,” Winters said in a video voicing opposition. “As families who have been traumatized by police violence and terror, we are very hurt and we feel betrayed at even the thought of President Biden wanting to appoint Rahm to such a prestigious position.”
©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.