By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Dec. 1, 2015
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday announced the creation of a police accountability task force, reacting to public outcry over the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer but failing to quiet criticism over his handling of the case.
The panel will review the Chicago Police Department’s current systems for accountability, oversight and training, the mayor’s office said. Its members will include victims’ rights representatives, elected officials, law enforcement organizations, and youth.
Tuesday’s announcement comes a week after city officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for the death of Laquan McDonald. McDonald was shot 16 times as he walked away from police during the 2014 incident.
“The shooting of Laquan McDonald requires more than just words,” Emanuel said in a statement. “It requires that we act; that we take more concrete steps to prevent such abuses in the future, secure the safety and the rights of all Chicagoans, and build stronger bonds of trust between our police and the communities they’re sworn to serve.”
The task force is expected to send recommendations to Emanuel and the Chicago City Council by March 31.
Although some welcomed the plan, one critic accused Emanuel of trying to “buy time” amid a “growing chorus of criticism.”
“Appointing a committee to look into an issue is a tried-and-true tactic elected officials long have employed to buy time and breathing room when faced with a scandal or crisis,” a Chicago Tribune reporter wrote.
While the move is unlikely to slow the #ResignRahm hashtag trending on social media in recent days, it will give Emanuel something to talk to the media about besides the shocking video, the article said.
Emanuel’s announcement comes after mass protests in Chicago after the release of a video last week showing the white police officer shooting black 17-year-old McDonald.
The mayor, along with other city officials, has been criticized for waiting over a year to release the video showing McDonald’s death in October 2014 and to charge the officer.
Observers questioned the motive behind the delayed release, and a column published last week in the Chicago Tribune speculated that Emanuel would not have been re-elected in April if voters had seen the video.
“So Emanuel buried the video. And black politicians and clergy got busy getting out the vote for Rahm,” the column said.
The same day the video was released, Van Dyke — who appeared in the video to gun down McDonald— was charged with first-degree murder.
The officer, who has been suspended without pay, was released Monday after he posted bond on a $1.5 million bail.
Protests erupted in Chicago after the video’s release, and several demonstrators were arrested Monday — including the president of the national civil rights group, the NAACP.
On Black Friday, protesters blocked store entrances and shut down four lanes of traffic in Chicago’s ritziest shopping district to bring attention to McDonald’s killing — chanting, “16 shots! 16 shots!”
Police killings of black men by mostly white officers since the Aug. 9, 2014, death of black teenager Michael Brown have sparked nationwide protests and helped to launch the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.
Protesters have called for law enforcement and justice system reforms — including limiting militarization of police forces, mandating the use of body cameras, ending discriminatory policing, and having the federal government collect data on the number of Americans killed by police each year.
With wire services