Rahm Emanuel could not have won the African-American vote needed to secure his spot as a three-term Chicago mayor. Laquan McDonald’s death had seen to that.
The image of the 17-year-old lying on the pavement after Officer Jason Van Dyke pumped 16 bullets into his body is too ingrained in African-American voters’ minds.
Whenever black people talk about McDonald, thoughts inevitably turn to Emanuel who — despite his denials — many are convinced conspired for a year to keep the police dash camera video of the shooting hidden from the public.
So on the eve of jury selection in the trial that will place Chicago center stage in the national debate over police brutality, the mayor who had been accused of covering up a police killing for political gain announced that he would not seek re-election.
Many African-Americans applauded.
Three years ago, blacks in Chicago turned out in force to rescue Emanuel from an embarrassing run-off defeat by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. The mayor won nearly 60 percent of the vote in the city’s 18 majority African-American wards on the South and West sides.
In a field of 13 contenders, Emanuel most likely would have been forced into a run-off this time as well. But African-Americans would not have his back. Since the last election, they have become too disillusioned and too angry with the mayor.
They don’t like that he closed so many public schools in minority neighborhoods. They think he could have done more to stop the shootings that claim hundreds of black lives every year. They blame him for the poor relationship between the police and African-American communities. They insist that he has paid too much attention to downtown business interests, while ignoring the South and West sides.
But they despise him for the way he handled the McDonald case. Perhaps he deserves that.
Had it been a top priority, the mayor could have done much more to address the issues that plague Chicago’s black communities. But it is unfair to blame Emanuel for all of the problems that have existed in African-American communities for decades. It also would be unfair to ignore the good things that happened in minority communities because of him.
His commitment to securing the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Woodlawn was unshakable. There is now a Whole Foods Market in Englewood and a Walmart in Pullman.
These accomplishments might not sound like a big deal to residents who get to take access to fresh fruits and vegetables for granted. But they mean a lot to the people who lived in a food desert.
However, these baby steps also are a testament to just how neglected some of the city’s neighborhoods are. Residents on the South and West sides have continued to suffer from disinvestment while their counterparts in more affluent neighborhoods have seen so much development that they’ve grown weary of the cranes.
It is much easier to convince a developer to build a multistory office complex in the West Loop than to get the developer to consider a similar project in Woodlawn. Most developers are about making money, not reviving struggling neighborhoods.
With the addition of the Obama center in Jackson Park, the opportunities for growth on the South Side will be much improved. African-Americans can thank Emanuel for that.
Chicagoans should be wary of any mayoral candidate who promises a quick solution to the violence. The killings aren’t happening simply because there is easy access to guns. They are happening because frustrated people are clustered together in communities that are lacking in resources and devoid of opportunities.
There is no overnight cure for that. At least Emanuel seemed to understand that while adding more police officers to violent neighborhoods might result in more arrests, it would not fix the embedded problems caused by poverty and destitution.
Recently, Emanuel announced that his Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which collects fees from downtown developers and redistributes the money to struggling neighborhoods, had grown to more than $23 million.
As a result, $8.8 million in grants will be handed out to seven businesses that will use the money for things such as an arts center and a grocery store on the West Side, a pizzeria on the Southwest Side and business incubators on the South Side.
Perhaps if there had not been a Laquan McDonald shooting, African-Americans would have looked more favorably on these investments.
Though Emanuel did not mention McDonald in his decision not to run, he acknowledged later that people would include the killing when evaluating his overall tenure as mayor.
Many African-Americans already have reached their decision.
No one expected the mayor to step out of the ring with so much unfinished business still on his agenda. Perhaps that is because no one understood the depth of African-American grief over Laquan McDonald’s death.