Rahm Emanuel

The Twisted Politics of Police Violence in Chicago

Blame shifting and a lack of political accountability perpetuate problems with police, education, and even water.

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afagen/flickr

Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke at the conference of mayors in Washington, D.C., on a panel on policing and violence. But although the panel was hosted by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), who saw protests and riots over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the panel was not about police violence.

In fact, Emanuel, who recorded an 18 percent approval rating in December largely because of protests over the 2014 police shooting of 19-year-old Laquan McDonald, video of which was released late last year, did not mention the controversy at all, nor did he mention the Department of Justice (DOJ) civil rights investigation into the city's police department. Instead, as the Chicago Tribune reports, Emanuel stuck to City Hall talking points about combatting street violence. At one point, while noting "record" graduation records in Chicago, he said getting students through high school had "the biggest impact" on street violence.

Emanuel was re-elected less than a year ago with an 11 point margin over his challenger, Chuy Garcia, who was backed by the teachers unions. His victory was due in part to Emanuel's efforts at education reform as well as other modest reform efforts. Police reform was not part of that effort and, importantly, neither Garcia nor any other significant candidate for any other city office made police reform a campaign issue.

After activists pushed the issue of police violence into the political discussion in Chicago, teachers unions saw an opening to find new supporters for its own opposition to Emanuel, which never had anything to do with police reform. On Monday, the teachers unions, held an "alternative, people centered celebration" of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that ran counter to the city's own annual, often apolitical, MLK breakfast. The city event was met by activists protesting police violence.

But while the teachers union may have its own agenda against Emanuel, police reform doesn't fit into it. As activists from Black Lives Matter have noted, police unions are a part of the problem of police violence. Activists associated with Black Lives Matter were so concerned about police unions that one of their first online policy efforts after unveiling "Campaign Zero" was a database to track police contract provisions that contribute to the problem of police violence.

The theory is the same for teachers unions—that, like with police unions, they by design produce rules that protect bad actors.  Charter schools and other education reform efforts around the country have emerged largely to bypass those kind of contract provisions that keep bad teachers on the job and thus offer poorer children the quality education most state constitutions guarantee. Such a guarantee in California has led to a lawsuit that argues provisions negotiated by teachers unions have had the effect of denying children a quality education. It is a similar argument to the ones on police unions—that provisions negotiated by police unions have the effect of denying citizens their civil rights. Just as a union contract prevents a Board of Education from firing a bad teacher, so do union contracts prevent police departments from firing bad cops across the country.

So the Chicago teachers union's attempt to glom on to the police reform movement is disingenuous at best. But so is placing all the blame on Rahm Emanuel, who has only been mayor since 2011, when the police department and the policies they operate under have been formulated and maintained by democratic institutions at the local and state level. Emanuel's resignation would work better if it were joined by resignations by the rest of Chicago's political class, who bear as much, if not more, responsibility for the policies they have supported that have led to the lack of accountability for police violence Chicago has long suffered for. Something similar is happening in Flint, where some critics are choosing to lay the blame solely on the dirty water crisis on Governor Rick Snyder (R-Mich.), because he appointed an emergency manager who approved the decision to switch water supplies, when the democratically-elected city council voted 7-1 in favor of that decision first*.

Such blame shifting, whether it's about police violence, quality of education, or dirty water, erodes democratic institutions by inoculating them from accountability. Residents of Chicago who choose to blame Emanuel alone, just as residents of Flint who choose to blame Snyder alone, will keep voting for the politicians who predated Emanuel and Snyder and supported the policies that have contributed to today's problems.

*Clarification: there's also plenty of blame for the state foul-ups, and cover-ups, after the decision.

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  1. Treating the symptoms while ignoring the causes is the American way.

  2. Someone needs to follow Emmanuel around when he is in public with an old school boom box blasting this.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al8UHnjusq0

  3. Residents of Chicago who choose to blame Emanuel alone, just as residents of Flint who choose to blame Snyder alone, will keep voting for the politicians who predated Emanuel and Snyder and supported the policies that have contributed to today’s problems.

    Which is 99.99% of the reason why I will not vote for a nominal socialist.

    “Socialism: Not even once.”

    1. Most of them depend on the socialist state for a living. The people who didn’t get in on the action, have left and thus don’t vote. I used to work with a woman who grew up in Chicago. Her dad and all of her uncles are retired Chicago cops and firefighters. Her family was shocked when she chose to go to college. They didn’t understand why she didn’t just use her family connections to get a city job out of high school and then retire at near full pay after 20 years like the rest of the family did.

      She says there are whole neighborhoods in Chicago where everyone either works for or is retired from the Chicago city government. So voting against socialism is for most of them voting for their own poverty.

      1. I can say, first hand, I’d even add that esp. with the teacher’s union, it’s by no means limited to the ‘uneducated’. Guidance counselors with B.A.s getting paid to get M.A.s so they can draw a bigger salary. You can point out that the system is broken and they’re literally screwing themselves over and they literally respond with, “Well, how are you supposed to do it?” Like fucking yourself in your own ass is the only way things can be done.

        My point was more about the ‘libertarian rationalists’ I routinely interact with who are ‘Feeling the Bern’ and act like he *could* be good or *could* just be stymied by an obstinate congress. Ignoring the fact that we routinely get plenty of (the shittiest aspects of) socialism out of our ears without people actually pinning ‘My name is ______, and I support socialism.’ buttons on their shirts.

  4. I hope the Cook County Libertarians are letting these folks know that this is what happens when the powers that be can count on your vote no matter how crappily they treat you.

    1. Cook County Libertarians are the worst.

      1. True!

    2. There are no Libertarians in Cook County – only democrats and dead people that can vote (also democrats).

      1. A couple of years ago I saw an old K-Blazer with a spray painted camo job with the license plate that read, “John Galt,” so I know that there are at least two of us here.

  5. After activists pushed the issue of police violence into the political discussion in Chicago, teachers unions saw an opening to find new supporters for its own opposition to Emanuel, which never had anything to do with police reform.

    This is a pretty apt description of modern politics. The unions don’t care about issues affecting society, they care about the Unions. They see an opportunity to punish a political enemy, then hey, here’s this Police Violence thing just sitting here on the table, let’s use that. Do we really care about Police Violence? No, and in fact, in the end, we’ll support our Police Union Brothers by circling the wagons when the time comes.

    1. This is, itself, the beginning of that very wagon-circling. The police were one of Rahm’s only power bases after he started shutting down schools, and he didn’t really alienate them until firing McCarthy over the murder of Laquan McDonald. So now the teachers have a new way to defeat Rahm, and their brother-union can now join with them instead of working against them.

      1. brother-union

        Just reading that phrase makes me nauseous.

        1. I try.

        2. Is it grammatically incorrect…oh, you mean the incest. I barely even notice it anymore.

      2. So now the teachers have a new way to defeat Rahm, and their brother-union can now join with them instead of working against them.

        Well then Rahm may as well side with Rauner by letting CPS go bankrupt and be controlled by the state. If he can’t beat them, he can at least force them do fight a bigger enemy.

        But Rahm’s too corrupt to figure that out. He’ll kiss union ass until the day the unions destroy him.

    2. The irony of the whole thing is Diane that progressives because of their love for unions and dependence upon public employee union money and votes destroying the very thing they support most; government. You can’t have any kind of a Progressive government without government employee accountability and reasonable wages.

  6. It would be a very interesting development if the police violence/BLM problem finally woke African Americans up to the fact that Unions are their enemies and not their friends and forced the Democratic party to choose between them.

    1. “…finally woke African Americans up …”

      I just caught a blip on the TV news. There was a debate about…something…just as it ended the African American member, speaking for the democrats, said that they were a party of ideas.

      A party of ideas.

      1. Nobody said the ideas were new or good. A mashup of Tammany Hall and IngSoc is a set of ideas for enriching the credentialled over the productive. Most of us here don’t think that’s a good long-term idea for a successful society, but it’s possible.

      2. A party of ideas.

        I’m sure they have lots of ideas, just none of them are any good.

  7. Twisted? Chicago is democratic politics at it’s finest. Anything less is an aberration.

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  10. Problem with Chicago has been described as follows. The thing is that the general population of the city and it’s PD aren’t on the same side.

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