Embattled Chicago Mayor Emanuel served as Obama's first White House chief of staff
"The President does have some limitations on what he can say on this manner," White House says
President Barack Obama, long in pursuit of balance between outrage and reconciliation on issues of race and violence, is facing an infinitely more complex calculus in Chicago, where the streets of his hometown are filling with angry protests.
Unlike other cities where the combustable pairing of police brutality and systemic racism sparked nights of rage, Obama’s ties to Chicago – where he maintains a residence and where he’ll build his presidential library – run deep.
With his former top aide, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing increasingly loud calls to resign, Obama’s strategy for now is to remain silent, citing ongoing Justice Department investigations into the police shooting that first prompted the protests.
“The President does have some limitations on what he can say on this manner, given that he is the President of the United States and an attorney general that he appointed is leading an agency that’s conducting an independent investigation,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.
Last week, Earnest said that “by commenting on this at great length, I think would be viewed by some as improperly interfering with an ongoing independent criminal investigation.”
But in those cases, it often seemed like he wanted to say more – either to denounce ingrown racial biases where they appeared, or to demand incompetent officials step down.
This time, however, Obama finds himself confronting a different scenario.
Instead of previously unknown local officials, the calls for resignation this time are directed at Emanuel, his friend and first White House chief of staff. Protesters filling downtown Chicago streets have called for Emanuel to step down, accusing him of delaying for political reasons the release of a damning dashboard camera video showing police killing Laquan McDonald, the black teenager who was shot 16 times after he collapsed to the ground.
Obama’s own home, in leafy Hyde Park, sits just 10 miles from the far grittier stretch of Pulaski Road where McDonald was gunned down by police more than a year ago. The planned site for Obama’s presidential library – which Emanuel spent much of his first term navigating sticky zoning rules to secure – is near where another black man, Ronald Johnson III, was killed by police in 2014.
If Obama was left stifled after Ferguson and Baltimore, unable to demand greater accountability from those cities’ leaders while investigations unfolded, he seems buffered this time around from uncomfortable questions about his former top aide’s handling of police brutality – a crisis that’s led to the shakiest moment of Emanuel’s decades-long career.