CHICAGO — Leaders of the Chicago City Council’s black caucus called Wednesday for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to remove his police chief, Garry McCarthy, one day after authorities released a graphic video showing a white police officer fatally shooting an African American teenager last year.
Prosecutors charged the veteran officer, Jason Van Dyke, with first-degree murder on Tuesday. But the move did not defuse the anger rippling across parts of this city. Groups of protesters returned to the streets Wednesday, and parents of individuals slain by police demanded action from Emanuel’s administration.
Although demonstrations by several hundred Chicago residents remained largely peaceful as the city prepared for Thanksgiving, Emanuel and McCarthy were facing mounting questions in what has been a trying week in a very difficult year for the mayor.
Emanuel barely escaped with a reelection victory in April, winning a second term after being forced into an unexpected runoff. Now, he is under pressure to hold Chicago police to account for excessive force and to restore his administration’s credibility amid growing public anxiety about a rise in violent crime. Chicago has recorded more than 2,700 shootings this year, more than all of 2014 — and 433 of them have been fatal.
The mayor said he was appalled by the video, which shows Van Dyke firing at Laquan McDonald, 17, hitting him with 16 rounds, some while the teen was motionless on the ground.
Emanuel said he fully supported McCarthy and called for calm as demonstrators demanded changes in police tactics.
Prominent activists urged civil disobedience in Chicago’s busiest shopping district on Friday.
A dozen members of the council’s black caucus gathered to renew their recent calls for Emanuel to fire McCarthy, a leading voice for stricter gun regulations and a lightning rod for critics angered by the department’s history of rough policing.
“We want McCarthy gone. We want new leadership,” Alderman Roderick Sawyer said.
The mayor has faced criticism after resisting the release of the police video for 13 months, asserting that he did not want to prejudice the criminal investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez. A Cook County judge ordered the release last week.
A federal investigation of the incident is underway, “irrespective of the state charge,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick said, describing the probe as “very extensive.”
Emanuel and McCarthy are in a tough spot, said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, who credited them with taking serious approaches to policing in a city with a long history of economic distress and racial tension.
“McCarthy is doing a lot of things that the progressive, evidence-based policing manual would say to do,” Ludwig said. “Mayor Emanuel is doing as much as any mayor I know to pay attention to things we have reason to believe are promising.”
But many, especially in the African American community, remain unconvinced.
Several parents whose children were killed by Chicago police officers gathered outside Emanuel’s office at noon Wednesday to demand a meeting. Gloria Pinex, 48, whose 27-year-old son, Darius Pinex, was killed by police after a 2011 traffic stop in Englewood, said she is not convinced that Emanuel is serious about addressing police violence in black communities.
“If he is really about his city, he would do something about his police officers. He is not doing his job at all,” said Pinex, who lost a civil suit against the city. “I want to see that any officer that is out here stepping over the line be indicted like anyone else. Once that starts, all this genocidal stuff happening out here will end.”
Chicago has paid tens of millions of dollars to settle negligence and brutality cases against police officers. In 2014, seven years after police opened fire on local rapper Freddie Latrice Wilson, hitting him 18 times during a traffic stop, the city paid $4.5 million to his family.
Wilson’s father, Freddie McGee, 68, said Wednesday that Emanuel should meet with him and other parents of slain children to show he is taking police misconduct seriously.
“He should get on board with us or he should leave his office. We have asked him. We have begged him. Now we have made a demand for him to talk to us. He has to make a change,” McGee said. “Had they done something in 2007, Laquan McDonald would be here today.”
Former Chicago alderman Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Wednesday that Emanuel finds it difficult to show that he takes police misconduct seriously. This makes him vulnerable to allegations that he fails to recognize or resolve long-
standing problems within the department.
“He hasn’t convinced much of Chicago to believe he is really empathetic,” Simpson said. “You can’t expect him to change his personality entirely, but somehow providing some sense the mayor is on the side of the citizens and the black community would be helpful in this case to lessen the violence.”
At the same time, Chicago law enforcement is failing to keep up with the recent surge in violent crime. Many in the public are looking for Emanuel’s administration to do more.
Last year, more than 2,500 people were hit by gunfire in this city of 2.7 million. So far this year, the figure has topped 2,700. On each of four consecutive weekends in August, 40 people were shot. The last weekend in September, the total was 57, four fatally, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis.
“We’ve lost our conscience, Chicago,” the Rev. Michael L. Pfleger said this month at a funeral for 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee. Police suspect that the boy’s attackers had lured him into an alley and executed him to punish his father in a gang dispute. His father denies having gang connections.
The same day that Tyshawn was found dead, bullets intended for someone else killed Kaylyn Pryor, 20, a talented Evanston, Ill., model who was waiting for a bus after a visit with her grandmother.
President Obama took note of this deadly violence when he visited Chicago last month. Not far from the home he still owns on the South Side, he reminded a convention of police chiefs of a “spike in violent crime in a number of predominantly urban, minority communities.” He pledged support for police, but also said the United States “can’t have a situation in which a big chunk of the population feels like maybe the system isn’t working well for them.”
Praising community policing as one tool, Obama credited Emanuel, a fellow Democrat and his first White House chief of staff, with creating partnerships with ministers and assigning more officers to bicycle and foot patrols. He also spoke of the need for greater gun regulation, a principal plea of Emanuel and McCarthy, the police chief the mayor brought in from New York in 2011.
McCarthy inherited a police department that critics say has long engaged in excessive force.
Data from the Citizens Police Data Project, an online portal launched this month by the Invisible Institute, suggests that the department has been slow to conclude that officers acted wrongfully and deserve punishment.
Van Dyke faced 20 citizen complaints in 14 years on the force, including several allegations of excessive force, according to the data from the project. In most cases, the complaints against Van Dyke were deemed unfounded or otherwise not sustained, according to the database, which included no evidence of disciplinary action against him.
This makes sense to Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, who said Van Dyke patrolled “some of the highest-crime areas of the city.”
“To me, that comes with the territory,” Angelo said. “You’re putting people in jail, no one wants to go to jail, and a lot of times people complain. . . . But it’s 14 years. And he’s dealing with some extremely violent circumstances, every day, nine hours a day, for 14 years. One complaint, two complaints, three complaints a year, where’s the significance there? I don’t see it.”
Loyola University criminologist Arthur Lurigio said Emanuel and McCarthy hardly bear the entire blame for the city’s troubled history or all episodes of violent, unprofessional or counterproductive police behavior. And yet, he said, the anger is real and answers have been slow in coming.
“I would like the mayor to talk about systematic plans in districts where most police shootings take place,” Lurigio said. “Outrage comes, not only from that video, but from a history of tense relationships with police in those neighborhoods. Everybody knows somebody whom the police stopped.”