Editor’s Note: Bakari Sellers, a CNN contributor, served in South Carolina’s House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014. He is an attorney at the Strom Law Firm in South Carolina. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Bakari Sellers, supporter of Obama (and the team who helped him get elected), says he nonetheless must break with Rahm Emanuel
He says as Chicago mayor, Emanuel put political gain ahead of justice for Lacquan McDonald. He must resign
Whether we admit it or not, loyalty is the coin of the realm in American politics and was even before Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican,” became the standard for Republicans and Democrats alike.
I mention this because I am a loyal Obama Democrat committed not just to those principles that have defined the man and his presidency, but to those who, like myself, have committed themselves to realizing this vision and making it a reality: men and women who helped usher in his presidency, like Obama’s Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, the chief strategist for both his presidential campaigns (and now CNN Senior Political Commentator) David Axelrod, Obama’s 2008 deputy national campaign director Steve Hildebrand.
And Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, now the mayor of Chicago.
But this kind of loyalty can only go so far; it can only excuse so much. Democrats Hillary Clinton, who has called for an independent federal inquiry into the Chicago Police Department over the death of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald, and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, who withdrew his support for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the upcoming primary, have offered profiles in courage by challenging the status quo.
But nothing short of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation will restore faith and trust in an already-fractured system that he further perverted, apparently for his own gain.
Loyalty can’t make me overlook 17-year-old Laquan McDonald — shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke —the bullets coming first as McDonald tried to walk away and then as he lay dying on the ground. I can’t overlook the facts: that it took Emanuel and the city of Chicago 13 months and a judge’s order to release the dashcam footage, that the city only announced a settlement with the McDonald family conveniently after Emanuel’s election, and that it took a city’s outrage to force the mayor to even consider dismissing police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, which he ultimately did this week.
I can’t overlook Emanuel’s failure to meet even the most basic benchmarks of transparency. He has damaged beyond repair the public’s trust in Chicago’s law enforcement and in his leadership.
I can’t overlook the fact — the most disturbing fact – that so much of this situation could have been avoided had Emanuel looked at any point at Laquan McDonald and seen him as a tragic consequence of a broken system, as another young black man who didn’t need to die, instead of just a political liability.
Elected officials and law enforcement officers swear an oath to serve and protect the people. This duty is more pronounced in the context of leadership. As the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel had a distinct duty to serve Laquan McDonald and protect him from harm. When he failed at this, he had a duty, at the very least, to seek justice in his name.
He has also failed the Chicago Police Department and the people of Chicago.
Political considerations trumped transparency and accountability. The time for Emanuel to take responsibility and begin the city’s healing process is now. He should resign and support systemic reforms. He should promote legislation requiring special prosecutors in police-related felonies and ensure compliance by strengthening the state’s FOIA law.
That’s what the city needs, an example for the country – accountability, transparency and the courage to forge systemic reforms – so this never happens again.
It is too stark, it is too destructive, and, though it breaks my heart, I can see no just path forward that does not include Emanuel’s immediate resignation. Our loyalty to justice demands nothing less.
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