Today marks seven years since the murder of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). On this same day, the former mayor of Chicago — who helped cover up McDonald’s murder in order to win reelection — is attending a nomination hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for him to serve as ambassador to Japan.
As BIPOC youth who experienced the consequences of living under eight years of a mayor who demonstrated complete disregard for our lives, this is a federal slap in the face.
Every time Rahm Emanuel is invited to be a part of another televised interview where he brags about how he reduced crime in Chicago and transformed the city during his time in office, it feels like he is making a mockery out of the lives of every youth organizer throughout the city whose demands he ignored.
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Black youth keep dying every day in Chicago. Meanwhile, Emanuel — who closed schools and clinics and cut the after-school programming that those same youth should have had access to while in office — gets promoted, moving up the ranks and on to other political ventures. He is able to disassociate himself from the communities he helped gut, but we aren’t able to remove ourselves from the harmful effects of his politics.
We still have to experience crises daily, and Rahm Emanuel still has blood on his hands.
During the first year of his first term as mayor, Emanuel moved to close down half of the public mental health clinics within the city. For BIPOC youth who live in over-surveilled communities with a surplus of police, for youth who live in neighborhoods plagued by violence, and for youth who don’t have access to education, stable housing, healthy food, and other basic life necessities, lack of access to mental health resources means not having support to cope with the trauma of growing up in a city that doesn’t care for us.
In 2013, during his second year of his first term as mayor, around 50 public schools within the city of Chicago were closed, most of which were concentrated on the predominantly Black and Latinx West and South sides of the city. These school closings represented the largest public school closing in modern U.S. history. Emanuel justified these school closings by stating that due to “budget constraints” and “underutilization” these schools could not afford to stay open. At this same time in which the city was experiencing these “budget constraints,” however, 40 new charter schools were opened, many of which were within a mile and a half of the public schools that were previously closed. Emanuel valued profit over people, and payoffs over students, with his continued disinvestment in public schools and expansion in charter schools. In addition to this, enrollment in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) saw declines and the Chicago Teachers Union went on its first strike in a quarter of a century due to failed negotiations with the city over an expansion of resources like arts and music programs at a large number of underfunded schools.
Youth on the South and West sides of the city still have to wake up every day and travel through their communities and see the vacant buildings that were once their schools, once their communities and once held their memories of childhood.
While Rahm Emanuel’s first term was full of education crisis, his second term was defined by major failures in his approach toward policing. Emanuel failed Black Chicagoans by not holding police accountable and instead poured hundreds of millions more into police spending. We saw that when he covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald and then put $95 million into a police and fire training academy despite widespread and powerful opposition.
Chicagoans are currently leading a campaign to #DefundCPD and instead demand investment in much-needed resources on the city’s South and West sides. Chicago’s Black and Brown youth are demanding that police officers be removed from schools through the #CopsOutCPS campaign. Many of these officers have long records of misconduct but are placed within schools on desk duty. They are allowed in schools with the same weaponry they use to terrorize us within our neighborhoods.
When making sense of this ambassador position, it is important to understand Emanuel’s prioritization of police over community needs given the inextricable connection between policing and militarism. Police are a militant force in our communities.
When we consider that in 2020 the United States accounted for 38 percent of the world’s military spending, and just approved a $768 billion budget for the military but can’t pass a rescue plan for our communities or our environment, it makes sense that President Biden would appoint Rahm Emanuel as an ambassador of Japan. In his time in Congress, Emanuel supported the war in Iraq. During his time in the White House, he was terribly anti-immigrant. It is clear throughout his career that Emanuel’s priorities are in upholding war and violence over the demands of communities of color who want investment and social justice. His time in the Clinton White House was a reflection of that, his time in the Obama White House was a reflection of that and his time as mayor was a reflection of that. We’re scared that he will show us more of the same as an ambassador.