The [Wednesday] Papers
The most prevailing theme of media criticism I've seen of Rahm Emanuel's press conference on Tuesday was his inability to specifically point to what he believed Garry McCarthy had done wrong to warrant his firing.
That's because Rahm Emanuel doesn't believe Garry McCarthy did anything wrong - just as I'm sure he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, seeing as how they both were in lockstep regarding the Laquan McDonald case.
"[At this point and this juncture for the city, given what we're working on, [McCarthy] has become an issue rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction," Rahm said.
In other words, it's nothing that McCarthy did wrong, it's the way everybody reacted to the wrongs McCarthy didn't do.
Sort of like the Tribune's defiant, tone-deaf and frankly ignorant argument that Kristen McQueary did nothing wrong writing a story wishing a hurricane visit its awesome power upon Chicago; the wrong was committed by readers who, um, read her column wrong. Read righter, readers!
"Distraction" is a political term, not a criminal justice term. McCarthy had become a political problem for Rahm to solve, so he solved it by firing him. This makes sense most to those who know Rahm best, and know how he sees everything through a political prism.
This was a political decision, pure and simple, as was the creation of a task force on police accountability including the very people responsible for the need for a task force on police accountability. Rahm didn't draw upon the very people working on police accountability for years whom he's ignored, he drew upon the most politically palatable people he could find who would give the task force the slightest patina of credibility while not daring to do anything to embarrass the mayor.
It's not really that McCarthy didn't do anything wrong; it's that he did everything wrong. All those years of arrogant, patronizing and misleading relations with other public officials, certain community leaders and the formerly worshipful press came back to bite him in the ass - though I actually sympathized with him when faced with the dim bulbs on both the city council and in the press corps who ginned up so much panic in the city over a crime rate that was actually falling, not rising. That's a concept many still can't grasp. Still, he had no good will in the bank when he most needed it - particularly in the black community.
He was also widely perceived - correctly so - as Rahm's boy, without a wisp of independence about him. Never so loyal a lieutenant has Rahm had! As recently as 24 hours before his firing, McCarthy told WGN Radio on Tuesday morning when he still had a job, Rahm had told him that he "had his back." Fran Spielman's assertion of Rahm's steadfast loyalty notwithstanding, when has Rahm ever had anyone's back who wasn't related to him?
I'm reminded also of my favorite scene in The Wild Bunch, and the point to me of the movie:
PIKE (softly): What would you do in his place? He gave his word.
DUTCH (turning on him, almost yelling): Gave his word to a railroad.
PIKE: It's his word.
DUTCH (yelling): That ain't what counts - it's who you give it to!
Being loyal to your hedge-fund advisers but not your own campaign promises is not my idea of an honorable trait.
This is not a defense of McCarthy. But as Tracy Siska argued in Crain's last July, McCarthy deserved firing for the right reasons, not the reasons behind previous calls for him to go - namely that he was somehow responsible for all the violence in Chicago.
That doesn't mean McCarthy was strategically sound, but that's on Rahm. Unfortunately, the only candidate able to bring that debate to the recent election would have been Toni Preckwinkle, who wasn't willing to join in and do so. Progressive leader Chuy Garcia's grand idea was to heed the tired, old call to hire 1,000 more police officers, which is neither progressive nor a position supported by any evidence anywhere that suggests it would be the slightest bit effective.
What McCarthy was, and what he got away with up to his last day, and what the media still doesn't seem to understand, is that McCarthy was quite simply a lying spin machine - par for the course in this administration.
He particularly was allowed to misrepresent the experience of New York City when it came to mandatory minimum gun laws. What happened in New York City was the exact opposite of what McCarthy continually argued.
On his WGN Radio interview Tuesday morning, McCarthy continued a cavalcade of mistruths. Among them:
1. The prosecution of Jason Van Dyke lagged because of an ongoing federal investigation.
FALSE. Anita Alvarez has been free to charge Van Dyke at any time regardless of a federal investigation; it happens all the time. In fact, the federal investigation is still ongoing, and yet, magically, charges have appeared.
2. The CPD withheld the McDonald video because it was merely following a policy of not releasing evidence in any case before its conclusion - and that the Freedom of Information Act allows for this exception.
FALSE. The CPD releases evidence all the time before cases reach conclusion - reports, photos, bank robber video, details of crimes. And the judge who ordered the release of the video ruled that doing so would in no way hinder any ongoing investigation - that's the very case that was litigated!
McCarthy also hammered constantly on another theme the media loves: the so-called no-snitch code. Only now, it seems, are media members wondering about the no-snitch code inside the department, which is not only far more pernicious than the no-snitch code of any gang-infested neighborhood (or the no-snitch code that exists in and across every newsroom I've worked in), but a primary driver of the no-snitch code of the streets. A well-placed distrust of the police is one big reason why some folks don't want to cooperate with them. Another is that their lives are at stake; how many brave journalists would act as witnesses to their neighbors' wrongdoing and risk the consequences? They won't even act as witnesses against their editors.
McCarthy's habit of calling out publicly those not cooperating with police was also disconcerting. Was he trying to get them killed? You do not reveal the identities of cooperating witnesses and put them in danger. In fact, a rule of police reporting used to be, when I was coming up, to not name witnesses in situations in which doing so could could plausibly put them in danger. Now the media tries to shame them.
Naming non-cooperating witnesses is just as fraught; instead of turning them, you've now put them on blast for all involved to keep an eye on.
McCarthy's judgement was also a problem, and this was demonstrated best when he declared that Dante Servin should never have been charged with a crime in the first place - just after a judge granted him a rare directed verdict dismissing the case before the defense even got started because he should have been charged with first-degree murder, not just manslaughter.
And here's the kicker: McCarthy also said the judge did the right thing by dismissing the case. I'm not sure the question was ever put to McCarthy: How can you simultaneously believe that Servin should not have been charged and that he should have been charged with first-degree murder? Schrodinger's police chief!
Later, McCarthy was asked why he was moving to fire Servin - a decision announced at 10 p.m. the same night the judge ordered release of the McDonald video - after denouncing the criminal charges against him. McCarthy correctly noted that there was a big difference between violating the law and violating department rules, but did so only while dismissing the question as "silly." It was not.
"Dante Servin made some incredibly poor decision making, which ultimately resulted in a loss of life unnecessarily," McCarthy said. "He made a decision to get involved in something he shouldn't have."
McCarthy's insensitivity in the case was also worthy of him losing his job - if only Rahm wasn't missing sensitivity chips in his brain himself.
In April after Servin's acquittal, McCarthy told reporters the charges were a "safety hazard" for other officers who might hesitate to fire their guns at offenders if their lives are in danger. At the time, McCarthy said the shooting should not have happened, "but what I will point out to you . . . is that Detective Servin hit the individual who he was aiming at. He also happened to hit her," he said of Boyd.
That is not just the wrong thing to say, it's the wrong way to look at it. An innocent girl is dead. A police officer killed her. The fact that she was not the target is exactly why Servin ought to have been charged - his behavior was reckless. He shouldn't have been firing at the guy he hit, either. McCarthy should have moved to fire him much sooner. Instead, it took him three years - and he would have us believe the timing of his decision was just another Chicago Coincidence.
Of course, all this meant nothing to Rahm. He did the right thing (firing McCarthy) at the wrong time (much too late) for the wrong reason (politics).
More on the media, McCarthy, McDonald, Rahm, Alvarez and a new wave of activists to come. I'm just getting started. More on Twitter.
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Posted on December 2, 2015
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