Only a few blocks away from the White House where he once served as chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke on a panel about community policing, but did not so much as mention Laquan McDonald.
Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting, Emanuel weighed in on reducing violence and improving relationships between police and communities, but without referencing McDonald, the black 17-year-old shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014. The footage of the fatal shooting, which appeared to show McDonald holding a small knife and walking away from police, was not released until late last year; it has led to calls by some for the mayor to resign.
Speaking on the panel moderated by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the president of the conference, Emanuel for the most part seemed to focus on reducing gang violence and promoting gun control.
"The biggest threats, in the sense of security and safety in parts of the city: guns and gangs," Emanuel said.
The fact Rawlings-Blake pulled her punches and did not ask the usually pugnacious Emanuel about the topic might be due to the fact she is facing turmoil in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. Six officers were indicted for the death but the first trial for an officer led to the judge declaring a mistrial.
Also on the panel were New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, St. Louis Chief of Police Col. D. Samuel Dotson III and National Urban League President Marc Morial.
During the panel, Morial, who previously served as mayor of New Orleans, gave mayors advice on how to handle shootings involving police officers.
"Know the status of your police department," he said, telling mayors to ask how many civil rights complaints have been leveled and how many pending lawsuits the departments have. "Only by knowing can you avoid being bit, surprised, ambushed sometime down the line because of what you didn't know."
While not directed at Emanuel specifically, Landrieu talked about how to interact with community members in a way that seemed pertinent to Chicago's troubles.
"If there is a police-officer-involved shooting and there is the appropriate oversight, and it's transparent inquiry and you move into that, the community more often than not will get to the right place," Landrieu said.
Outside the presidential ballroom at the Capital Hilton, before the panel, protesters criticized Emanuel. Shai Crawley, a 20-year-old from Baltimore, had harsh words for both Rawlings-Blake and Emanuel.
"I don't think Mayor Emanuel should be speaking on anybody's panel considering the lack of trust he's instilled within Chicago, the fact that he's covered up so much," Crawley said, adding that speaking on panels gives the impression they are doing a good job. "They need to be behind the office, behind the desk, doing a job."
Questions have been raised about when and how much Emanuel knew about the circumstances of McDonald's death. In April 2015, Emanuel was locked in a tight runoff election with Democratic challenger Jesús “Chuy” García. The city settled with McDonald's family, and Emanuel won that election with a majority of the African-American vote. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney and the state's attorney are looking into the case.
Despite the criticisms of Emanuel, Rawlings-Blake had high praise for the Chicago mayor, who has been a major force in the Democratic Party since the Clinton administration.
"Mayor Emanuel has always been one to take on the most pressing and difficult issues on behalf of both his city and the nation," she said in her introduction of the mayor.
It was only toward the panel's conclusion that Emanuel began to talk about community policing and body cameras.
"Every encounter between law enforcement and a resident is a teachable moment," Emanuel said. "The trust factor is not just a goal. It's a key ingredient."
Yet, Emanuel refused to say the name of the victim of the police shooting that has Chicago residents calling for the mayor's resignation.
Contact Garcia at EricGarcia@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @EricMGarcia.
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