By Mark Guarino December 9, 2015
CHICAGO — More than a thousand protesters marched through downtown Chicago for nearly six hours on Wednesday calling for the removal of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D).
The march followed Emanuel’s special address to the City Council in the morning, during which he apologized for systemic police misconduct brought to national attention more than two weeks ago when charges were brought against a Chicago police officer who fatally shot a teenager in October 2014.
“If we’re going to fix it, I want you to understand it’s my responsibility with you. But if we’re going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step, and I’m sorry,” Emanuel said during his 40-minute address.
Over the last two weeks, the public outcry for police reform has resulted in an investigation of the department by the U.S. Department of Justice, the resignation of officials including the superintendent of police, and intensive pressure on Emanuel to show he takes reform measures seriously in light of continuing cases.
The march was the largest to date in Chicago since first-degree charges were brought against Officer Jason Van Dyke in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Marchers gathered in the city’s Loop district and headed north down Michigan Avenue, shutting down traffic in both directions. People held signs that read, “Rahm Emanuel is morally corrupt” and “guilty.” Once they made it to the Gold Coast, police barricaded their entrance to Lake Shore Drive with their bicycles, steering them west down streets lined with boutique shops and luxury condo towers.
Police said only one arrest was made over the entirety of the march.
Iggy Flow, 26, said that what made Wednesday’s march more significant than earlier ones was that it moved through higher-priced neighborhoods, opposed to a South Side march Monday night that originated on the site where Ronald Johnson, a black man, was killed by police in October 2014. A dash-cam video of that shooting was released that day. Police say Johnson was fleeing police while carrying a gun, which his family denies. Flow said he was encouraged to see bystanders along the march route share their concern over police misconduct.
“People in the wealthy neighborhoods looked out their windows at us, and we saw they were on the same side we were on,” he said.
Melynda Bloom, 43, said she voted for Emanuel twice but now wants him driven from office. “We believe he knew what was going on being the mayor,” she said. “I’m mad. I’m disappointed,” she said about voting for him in past elections.
The march also included people from outside activist groups who said the events of the past few weeks motivated them to become involved. Alisa Baum, who works at a nonprofit music school on the city’s North Side, took off work along with eight co-workers to join the march, her first.
“There’s something dreadfully wrong in this city, and it’s crazy that there aren’t more people out in the streets. There is an illness happening here,” she said. “I listened to some of what Rahm Emanuel said today, and he said some of the right things, but why wasn’t he saying it a year ago?”
Besides the ouster of Emanuel, the protesters are calling for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign because of the nearly 14-month delay in bringing charges against Van Dyke, among other allegations. Alvarez said the timing was not political.
Also on Wednesday, two state representatives, Mary Flowers and La Shawn Ford, both Chicago Democrats, co-sponsored a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would amend legislation dating back to 1941 and establish a clear path to remove Emanuel with a recall election. Currently, state law has no procedure to recall a mayor. Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Obama, has repeatedly said he will not step down.
In the evening, protesters reassembled at the Chicago police headquarters for a Chicago Police Board meeting. Before the meeting started, police board chairwoman Lori Lightfoot told the crowd that the events of recent weeks created “a historic opportunity to move the department and city into a very different direction.”
“We have heard you . . . and we will continue to listen,” she said.
The hour-long meeting included nearly 30 minutes of public comment in which a procession of about 300 people took turns denouncing the department, demanded transparency, and called for the removal of Emanuel and Alvarez. They also criticized the board as ineffective because members are not elected, but are appointed by the mayor. The crowd also included some former Chicago police officers who said they agreed with the protesters’ complaints of systemic misconduct.
“From what I’m seeing, our young men and women have a reason to not feel safe on the streets,” said Raysurnet Morris, a 20-year police veteran. “It’s not right.”