Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has some brass.
Emanuel seemed to have no higher purpose than to troll New York officials when he took to the opinion pages of the New York Times on Monday to gloat over the fact that New York City’s trains are a mess and Chicago’s, well, aren’t.
Emanuel reveled in the satisfaction of his city’s “L” riders and attributed the transportation system’s efficiency to the train’s management structure (in the municipality and not the state capital) and the city’s priorities (reliability over expansion). He’s got a point. New York City’s subway system is in crisis; overcrowding, chronic delays, and a series of high-profile accidents have pushed the city’s straphangers to the brink. Moreover, the shameful refusal of city and state elected officials to address this issue head-on has allowed an infrastructure crisis mature into a political catastrophe.
It is hard to blame Emanuel or any big city mayor for being tempted to twist the knife. It is, however, indefensible to give into that temptation, particularly if you’re situated in a glass house. Maybe Chicago’s trains function without a hitch, but its police force most certainly does not.
Less than one week before Emanuel wrote and published the op-ed equivalent of a spiked football, three Chicago police officers were indicted on charges they conspired to cover-up the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. The indictments were secured only following the appointment of two special prosecutors, who determined there is evidence to suggest the officers involved lied about the black teenager’s death. The city settled with the grieving family of that teenager in 2015 to the tune of $5 million, but only after Emanuel had safely won reelection.
This indictment follows the city’s effort to impose a new code of conduct on its officers following an Obama-era Justice Department investigation that exposed serial misconduct by police, including the routine application of excessive force and the violation of the rights of minority Chicagoans. The incidents the DOJ cited include the shooting of 45 rounds at an “fidgeting” but unarmed man, the bludgeoning and Tasing of a 16-year-old girl armed with only a cellphone, and the forcible handcuffing of a 12-year-old boy without explanation. “Federal officials were also told about officers taking young people to the neighborhood of a rival gang to either leave them there ‘or display the youth,’ putting their lives in danger by suggesting they had given information to police,” the Washington Post reported.
If this behavior by police is designed to prevent urban violence, it’s not having the desired effect. Between last Friday and Wednesday morning, over 100 people were shot in Chicago. Fifteen of the victims died. The Chicago Tribune’s grim description of one of the scenes of mass violence this weekend depicts officers counting shell casings beneath the elevated train tracks as a literal garbage fire burned in the background. “The weekend violence brings the total number of people shot in Chicago this year to more than 1,800,” the Tribune reported. Believe it or not, that’s the good news. As of this time last year, Chicago was struggling with over 2,000 gunshot victims.
President Donald Trump has made it a habit of highlighting the violence of in Chicago’s streets, and the city’s mayor seems to resent it. “Rather than tweeting about violence in Chicago, President Trump should be looking to Chicago as a model for the infrastructure and economic growth he wants to replicate across the country,” Emanuel wrote for the Times. It takes special kind of chutzpah to preside over a decadent city characterized by corrupt law enforcement straining to contain an epidemic of violence and complain in writing about those who happen to notice these conditions.
The unearned self-regard evident in Emanuel’s op-ed is matched only by his blindness to obvious metaphors. Even as he administers a city increasingly typified by state-enforced injustice, cruelty, and criminality, Chicago’s mayor is keen to brag about how he made the trains run on time. New York City couldn’t ask for a better class of critic.