Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Chicago police chief fired amid public outcry over black teen’s death

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also creates police task force but fails to hush criticism over handling of fatal shooting

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fired the city's police chief and announced the creation of a police accountability task force as he reacted to a public outcry over the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white officer.

Emanuel said he formally asked Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy for his resignation Tuesday morning, adding that McCarthy had a strong record during his career and had helped lower the city’s crime rate.

But McCarthy knows, Emanuel said, that “police officers are only as effective as when they are trusted” and public trust has been eroded by the city’s and police department’s response to the killing.

“Now is the time for fresh eyes and new leadership,” Emanuel said in a press conference Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, he announced the creation of a task force for police accountability. The panel will review the Chicago Police Department’s current systems for accountability, oversight and training, the mayor’s office said. Its members will include victims’ rights representatives, elected officials, law enforcement organizations and youths.

Despite the announcements, Emanuel faced a barrage of hostile questions from reporters during a fiery press conference. The mayor was grilled on whether he would be able to regain public trust, with one reporter questioning when the full truth about the killing would be released — including audio from the police cruisers and surveillance video from a nearby Burger King that its manager has accused police of erasing.

Emanuel said the answers to those questions would be revealed only after the civil, criminal and federal civil rights investigations are concluded.

Another reporter suggested that McCarthy had become a distraction and then questioned whether the mayor himself has now become a distraction from the push to answers. “I think I'm doing my job, and I'm trying to do it every day in a professional way,” Emanuel responded.

Later on Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to open an investigation into the Chicago Police Department.

"Chicago cannot move ahead and rebuild trust between the tpolice and the community without an outside, independent investigation into the police department to improve policing practices," said Madigan in a statement.

Tuesday’s announcement comes a week after city officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for the death of Laquan McDonald, 17. McDonald was shot 16 times as he walked away from police, in October 2014.

“The shooting of Laquan McDonald requires more than just words,” Emanuel said in a statement. “It requires that we act, that we take more concrete steps to prevent such abuses in the future, secure the safety and the rights of all Chicagoans and build stronger bonds of trust between our police and the communities they’re sworn to serve.”

The task force — consisting of a multiracial five-member expert panel — is expected to send recommendations to Emanuel and the Chicago City Council by March 31.

“Whatever progress we’ve made, the killing of Laquan McDonald is a vivid reminder that we have much more work to do as a city,” Emanuel said.

Although some welcomed the plan, The Chicago Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart accused Emanuel of playing for time amid a “growing chorus of criticism.”

“Appointing a committee to look into an issue is a tried-and-true tactic elected officials long have employed to buy time and breathing room when faced with a scandal or crisis,” he wrote.

While the move is unlikely to slow the #ResignRahm hashtag trending on social media in recent days, it will give Emanuel something to talk to the media about besides the shocking video, wrote Ruthhart.

Meanwhile, the family of Ronald Johnson, another man fatally shot by Chicago police in 2014, is pressing city officials to release squad car video of the shooting. At the time, authorities said Johnson, 25, was armed and pointed a gun at police.

His mother, Dorothy Holmes, said Tuesday that wasn’t the case and he was running away from police. She and attorney Michael Oppenheimer have seen a copy of the video because of lawsuits they filed, and they want it released publicly.

Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Tuesday that the city is “looking into” releasing the video.

The mayor and other city officials have been criticized for waiting over a year to release the video showing McDonald’s death and to charge the officer.

Observers questioned the motive behind the delayed release, and John Kass, in a column published last week in The Chicago Tribune, speculated that Emanuel would not have been re-elected in April if voters had seen the video. “So Emanuel buried the video. And black politicians and clergy got busy getting out the vote for Rahm,” Kass wrote.

The same day the video was released, Van Dyke — who in the video appears to gun down McDonald — was charged with first-degree murder.

The officer, who has been suspended without pay, was released Monday after he posted bond on his bail, set at $1.5 million.

Protests erupted in Chicago after the video’s release, and several demonstrators were arrested Monday, including the president of the NAACP.

On the day after Thanksgiving, protesters blocked store entrances and shut down four lanes of traffic in Chicago’s ritziest shopping district to bring attention to McDonald’s killing, chanting, “16 shots! 16 shots!”

Police killings of black men by mostly white officers since the Aug. 9, 2014, death of black teenager Michael Brown have sparked nationwide protests and helped launch the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.

Protesters have called for law enforcement and justice system reforms, including limiting militarization of police forces, mandating the use of body cameras, ending discriminatory policing and having the federal government collect data on the number of Americans killed by police each year.

With wire services

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