Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the 2014 shooting of a black teenager Wednesday during a special City Council meeting that he called to discuss a police abuse scandal at the center of the biggest crisis of his administration, and promised “complete and total” reform to restore trust in the police.
But his emotional speech didn't stop hundreds of people from taking part in a midday protest downtown, chanting "16 shots and a cover-up" in reference to the release of a video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who appeared in the video to be walking away when struck. Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder.
In an emotional speech with his voice occasionally breaking, Emanuel addressed three main themes — justice, culture and community — and criticized the police department for being quick to shoot. He also said that the department's “supervision and leadership,” as well as the oversight agencies “failed.”
“I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. And if we're going to fix it I want you to understand it's my responsibility with you,” Emanuel said.
"But if we're also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step … and I'm sorry," he said, promising “complete and total reform.”'
The midday protest on Wednesday was one of at least four different groups that had planned to converge downtown. At noon, protesters overflowed an intersection in front of City Hall, then marched through the financial district and blocked a major intersection for a short time. Officers guarded the doors to the Chicago Board of Trade as demonstrators approached.
Before protesters weaved through downtown, retired schoolteacher Audrey Davis held a sign that read, "Mayor Emanuel is morally corrupt!"
Calling his speech "politically expedient," the 74-year-old said, "I don't want to hear anything from him except, 'I tender my resignation.'"
Davis, who is black, said she fears for her 25-year-old grandson when he comes home from college. "Each time he comes home, my heart is in my throat in case he meets up with a racist cop," Davis said. "We shouldn't have to live like this."
The McDonald video footage — ordered to be released by a judge last month and made public hours after Van Dyke was charged — set off a chain of events that captured the attention of the country. Days of protests and marches followed, including one on the busiest shopping day of the year that partially shut down the city's most famous shopping district, Michigan Avenue.
A few days later, Emanuel announced that he had demanded and received the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, created a new task force for police accountability and expanded the use of body cameras.
But the anger did not subside, and every day there seemed to be another issue, including the release of hundreds of pages of documents that show police had described in their reports a far more threatening McDonald than the teen shown to the city and the world on video.
The situation became so volatile that Emanuel was forced to do something he rarely does: backtrack. After initially saying that a federal probe of the department would be "misguided" because the U.S. Attorney's office was already examining the McDonald shooting, Emanuel later said he welcomed such an investigation.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a Justice Department civil rights investigation to determine if there are patterns of racial disparity in the police department's use of force.
Emanuel then said the city would stop fighting the release of a second video that showed a police officer shooting a man in the back. That video was released Monday during a presentation in which Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said she would not charge the officer.
Later that night, the city released yet another video showing an inmate being dragged out of his cell by his handcuffed wrists. While a police review board previously found the officers' actions justified, Emanuel said he did not see how the treatment of the man — who later died following a reaction to an antipsychotics drug — could “possibly be acceptable” and said he did not consider the investigation closed.