Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is Justice Possible in the Global City?

Rahm Emanuel should resign, but we should be under no illusion that his departure would necessarily improve governance of the city of Chicago. The rot extends throughout city leadership. Last November, just a couple weeks after Laquan McDonald was murdered, the city council unanimously approved a police union contract that protects bad cops. In April, the city council unanimously approved a $5 million settlement to try to keep the murder video under wraps. Now the city council is shocked, shocked, that they aided and abetted a murderer.

Now there is much grandstanding, from no one more than Rahm himself, about how sorry he is and how much he cares about all Chicago's people. But all the tears and emotion you see is not for the lives of Chicago's oppressed citizens; it's for his own political life. Rahm's performance this week is Oscar-worthy, but it defies belief that he has suddenly realized there are some problems with his police department. He has been mayor since 2011. What practical action has he taken in that entire time to challenge the racism of his police department? This is the department that literally had an organized torture ring that preyed on Black residents. Its leader is somehow no longer in jail. If Rahm didn't know he was leading a racist police department, it was because he didn't care to know.

If city leaders want to make real their apologies, they could start by demanding that the officers who lied to protect the murderer be charged and arrested. Of course, city leaders' union contract vote made it very difficult to fire those officers, but the district attorney could at least attempt to put them in jail. That she has not done so speaks volumes about how serious the city elite are about pursuing justice.

This week the U.S. Justice Department announced it was opening a "pattern and practice" civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department. This, too, shows how far the rot goes. It is not as though the federal government has learned anything new in these past few weeks. It has simply become expedient, from a public relations perspective, to launch an investigation.

The real story is that Rahm and other power brokers in Chicago are preoccupied with making Chicago a "global city." The South and West sides are utterly irrelevant to that vision, except insofar as their crime rates damage the city's reputation. The job of the police force in this global city project is to keep a lid on impoverished Chicago until such a time as gentrification can remove the city's unwanted population. That is the paradigm in which it makes sense to pay out, year after year, tens of millions of dollars in police brutality settlements, over half a billion dollars in a decade.

I applaud the ongoing protests calling for Rahm's resignation. It is absolutely necessary. But it will be a symbolic victory, a win for accountability that will put the next mayor on notice. It will not, in itself, fix what ails Chicago. Black Lives Matter has begun the distinctly unsexy work of examining police union contracts and trying to raise the public's consciousness of them. That's a good place to start.

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