Senator defends Biden nominee in row over police murder of Black teen by saying all mayors pick up ‘scar tissue along the way’

Former Chicago mayor has faced steep opposition from racial justice activists

John Bowden
Thursday 21 October 2021 00:58
Tim Kaine defends Rahm Emanuel over Laquan McDonald killing

Former ChicagoMayorRahm Emanuel faced tough questions from a Democratic senator on Wednesday during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over his role in an investigation into a 2014 police shooting.

Mr Emanuel was confronted on the issue by Sen Jeff Merkley, a progressive Democrat, who asked him questions regarding the level of secrecy Chicago kept under his watch around the Laquan McDonald case; the eventual release of a shocking video showing the 16-year-old being riddled with bullets more than a year later led to massive protests in the city.

He was defended, however, by Senator Tim Kaine, a centrist Democrat and former running mate to Hillary Clinton in her failed 2016 run for president.

Mr McDonald was shown to be walking away from a white officer at the time of the shooting while holding a knife. He was shot multiple times despite there apparently being no imminent threat to officers. The officer involved in the shooting, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with second-degree murder the day the city released the video; he was later convicted.

At issue is the length of time Mr Emanuel’s city officials waited until footage of the shooting was released; Mr Emanuel – a former chief of staff to Barack Obama – has denied a cover-up, as activists have accused, and claimed that the city was prevented from doing so due to a federal investigation.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Merkley pressed Mr Emanuel on the timeline by which he learned the specifics of the McDonald case, including the nature of the shooting itself. The senator questioned why the mayor had gone for so long, by his own admission, without learning details of the case even as Mr McDonald’s family pressed the city for evidence and information on the investigation.

"It seems hard to believe all those things happened and yet you were never briefed on the details of the situation when you were leading the city,” Mr Merkley said.

Mr Kaine defended him in his own comments, remarking while specifically referring to the McDonald case that “tragic things happen” in cities that are not the fault of the mayor, adding: “You can’t be a mayor, especially of a city like Chicago, without picking up some scar tissue along the way.”

That observation was widely criticised by antiracism and police reform activists online including Dr Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

“[T}he leading lights of the Democratic Party think Rahm Emanuel covering up the murder of a Black teenager is ‘picking up some scar tissue along the way,’ The Democrats put its most loyal constituents dead last every single time. Vomit,” she tweeted.

Mr Emanuel’s confirmation as ambassador to Japan is not thought currently to be in doubt, despite calls from racial justice advocates and House members for his nomination to be withdrawn by the White House.

No Democratic senator has expressed an intention to block his confirmation, including Mr Merkley, who in the same exchange with Mr Emanuel made a remark referring to his public service background that the senator said would help him “when” the former mayor was confirmed, suggesting that he will be.

Still, House progressives such as Reps Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York maintain that the ambassadorship offer should be revoked.

“We need justice for Ahmaud Arbery and Laquan McDonald. Confirming Rahm Emanuel, a complacent man in the face of Black people dying, should be improper representation of this country,” tweeted Mr Bowman on Wednesday. “We need justice on every level for every Black person that has died in the hands of the system.”

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