Rahm Emanuel lectured a group of mayors from the stage of the Presidential Ballroom in the Capital Hilton on Wednesday, on how to build trust between communities and police.
Yes, this actually happened.
But the glitzy surroundings and friendly company of the United States Conference of Mayors couldn’t protect him from pointed criticism.
That kind of protection takes security guards, who kept Black Lives Matters protesters from entering the hotel ballroom where he spoke.
Emanuel may have come to D.C. to address the group of fellow mayors, but in the process, he got a press conference wrecked, derailed the event’s messaging focus, and reminded everyone that Chicago news is national news—and that politicians who associate themselves with him (read: Hillary Clinton) should be very, very cautious about it.
Emanuel has long drawn excoriating criticism from the city he helms. And last April, long-shot challenger Chuy Garcia forced him into a runoff before he could get re-elected as mayor. Many charge that Emanuel’s deputies deliberately hindered the release of video that showed police killing teen Laquan McDonald—shot 16 times—to protect the mayor’s reelection effort.
When a journalist’s FOIA lawsuit got the city to finally release the video of McDonald’s killing, protests rocked the city. Subsequent reports have painted a jarringly ugly picture of Chicago’s mayor’s office and police department.
Emanuel has had good luck finding defenders, though. And the most powerful might be Hillary Clinton. On Meet the Press on Jan. 17, she staunchly refused to criticize the mayor.
“We’ve got to do a lot more to deal with the systemic racism and the problems that policing has demonstrated,” she said. “Mayor Emanuel has said that he is committed to complete and total reform, and I think he should be held to that standard.”
And last month, she praised Emanuel at an Iowa campaign event.
“He loves Chicago and I’m confident that he’s going to do everything he can to get to the bottom of these issues and take whatever measures are necessary to remedy them,” she said.
Clinton isn’t alone in that confidence, and confidence in Rahm brings consequences. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake learned that today when she and a group of mayors held a press conference Wednesday morning to open the Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting
Their messaging efforts on various benign issues went completely off the rails when a handful of Black Lives Matter protesters unfurled signs shortly after the mayor’s press conference began. “Divest from police, invest in black communities,” read one sign. Another listed names of men killed by Baltimore police and said, “Mayor SRB Who’s Next?”
It’s worth noting that regardless of her association with Emanuel, Rawlings has faced criticism from these protesters. But the Chicago mayor was the focus of criticism from the protester at the event who was literally front and center. That was April Goggans, who stood in front of the mayors with a sign referring to McDonald’s killing and calling for Emanuel’s resignation. Security didn’t remove her, and a visibly uncomfortable Rawlings Blake continued with the press conference in the background of her protest.
The protesters’ involvement forced the mayors to curtail their press conference.
“Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel—it’s the Democratic Party,” said Duane “Shorty” Davis, who held a sign during the press conference and spoke with reporters afterwards. “And every major black city where Democrats run it, it’s like plantation-type politics.”
“Not a Hillary Clinton fan at all,” he added.
He added that he isn’t a Bernie Sanders fan either.
Protesters were blocked from entering the ballroom where Emanuel spoke. Flanked by Rawlings Blake and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Emmanuel made the kind of comments about personal responsibility that critics direct at his own administration.
He said the city needs to reinforce positive choices its inhabitants make, punish negative ones, and communicate to Chicagoans that “You don’t get a pass when it comes to the decisions you make.”
“There’s a place where we, collectively, in the public’s eye, can reinforce personal responsibility,” he told the audience, boasting about the city’s practice of hiring people who have served time for crimes to work in its public transportation system.
He also had tips for police department management.
“We can either patrol or be part of a community,” he said. “And if we’re patrolling it, you’re gonna have a limited impact. If you’re part of a community, you’re gonna build the trust and cooperation that’s essential for safety and legitimacy of the police department.”
These are both extraordinarily curious things to say. Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want the people of Chicago to “get a pass” for their bad choices, and he wants mayors of other cities to get their acts together and build trust to keep their cities safe.
By the way, Emanuel’s decision—in concord with the U.S. Conference of Mayors—to position himself as an expert on safety and trust is especially interesting in light of the fact that violence, shootings, and homicides all went up in the Windy City in 2015.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Emanuel said shortly after Obama won the 2008 election, when he was serving as his chief of staff. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
And now, the protesters targeting Rahm have found an opportunity to push for changes in the midst of Chicago’s crisis.