In a special address Wednesday to Chicago's City Council, Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly apologized for the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and criticized not only what he called decades of city police corruption but also the "shoot first and ask questions later" gun epidemic in the United States.
"I am the mayor," Emanuel said. "As I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. ... If we are going to fix it I want you to understand it’s my responsibility."
Emanuel also apologized "directly to every resident of Chicago," pledging to fix what is broken in Chicago. He said he won't rest until he takes the steps to win back the public's trust.
"The first step in the journey is my step," he said, "and I’m sorry."
"I work for you," he said. "My first responsibility and our government’s responsibility is to keep you and your family safe and to make sure you feel safe in your neighborhood. And we have clearly fallen short, and that we need that to change."
At one point, Emanuel began to speak loudly, pounding on the podium and tearfully saying this culture of corruption could not continue. The mayor's speech received a standing ovation from city aldermen, but protesters at City Hall shouted that one speech can't solve a broken police department.
One of the most pressing issues in the intensifying criticism of Emanuel's administration is police accountability, spurred by the release of dashcam footage showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times until his death in October 2014. No charges were brought against the officer until 13 months later, when the video was made public. Van Dyke was charged with murder last month.
Emanuel in his speech said Chicago faces "a defining moment on the issues of crime and policing and even the larger issues of truth, justice and race."
He said it doesn't stop there, though. He called on the city to talk "openly and honestly" about the issues facing Chicago and tasked residents and city aldermen to "come to a common understanding of how we got here and why."
"We need a painful but honest reckoning of what went wrong, not just in this instance but over decades," he said.
Emanuel said the country has normalized gun violence and a higher standard of behavior must be set so the children of Chicago can understand they can work out their problems "responsibly and fairty with mutual respect."
Emanuel cited the tenets of "justice, culture and community" as his three-tired plan to fix the broken system. He said the newly appointed Police Accountability Task Force will conduct a review of the city’s police training, oversight discipline, accountability and transparency. He said he also will hire a new police superintendent to address "the deep-rooted problems at the very heart of the policing profession."
"There will be many who doubt our efforts – I get that," he said. "I begin this effort with the request of every person in this city, to bring out the best in themselves, to look for the best in others as we focus on the hard work ahead."
Since the release of dashcam video showing McDonald's death, two more videos have been released. Footage was given to the public Monday showing Chicago police Officer George Hernandez fatally shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson five times as Johnson ran from police on the city's South Side in October 2014. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said Johnson was holding a gun and ignored police commands to drop the weapon and stop running. No charges will be filed against the officer.
Another video, from December 2012, was released the same day, showing a group of officers shooting 38-year-old Phillip Coleman with a Taser in a Chicago jail cell before dragging his body down a hallway while handcuffed. Coleman died a day later at the hospital while in police custody.
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Regarding the Coleman case, the mayor said Tuesday evening, "He is a human being not a piece of meat and that has to be changed."
A video showing the 2013 police shooting of Cedrick Chatman could be ordered released Wednesday. If released, it would become the third Chicago police shooting video made public since last month.
Police accountability within the city needs major reform, following a series of resignations and changes in the police department’s administration, according to Emanuel. He said there will now be consequences for officers who break the rules.
"If you obviously lie and falsify a report, you’re fired,” Emanuel said.