On Wednesday, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is slated to testify before the Senate in his confirmation hearing to become President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Japan. For Chicagoans like me, it will be a somber occasion.
Not only will we have to watch a man get celebrated (and elevated) who callously disregarded Black lives when he was our mayor, we will be doing so exactly seven years to the day that Laquan McDonald was murdered in our city. Emanuel's own administration delayed the release of information surrounding the case, to the extent that many labeled their actions a cover-up.
A primer for those who don't know – or those who, like too many Democrats, seem to have forgotten: Laquan was a 17-year-old Black boy from the West Side of Chicago who was murdered by a police officer who shot him 16 times. That officer, Jason Van Dyke, claimed to have been acting in self-defense.
Emanuel's government ultimately aided Van Dyke's lie with its decision to keep the video footage from public view. It's hard to imagine that his reelection bid didn't factor into that decision.
It wasn’t until more than a year after the shooting, when a judge ordered Emanuel’s administration to release the footage, that the truth finally came out: Laquan was moving away from Van Dyke when the officer shot him. By delaying the release of the dashcam footage, Emanuel helped the officer evade justice. And he prevented Laquan’s family from obtaining not just justice, but also the closure and healing they deserved.
When the footage was released, I returned home from college and did what I do best: I organized. I took to the streets with neighbors, family members and friends; with first-time marchers and hard-fought activists; with so many Black Chicagoans and our allies. We were in mourning. But we were in a righteous rage. The footage of Laquan’s murder only confirmed what so many of us already knew and experienced. In Emanuel’s Chicago, Black people were treated as if their deaths didn’t matter. And the horrifying truth is, Black life was treated the same way.
Emanuel's actions surrounding Laquan’s murder alone should be enough to disqualify him from being considered for an ambassadorship. But unfortunately, Emanuel’s destructive record on Chicago’s Black communities extends far beyond one innocent 17-year-old child.
Time and again, he made clear that Black lives and Black livelihoods were not worth his trouble or the city’s money.
In 2013, Emanuel oversaw the most sweeping public school shutdown in the nation when he closed 49 elementary schools – affecting mostly Black students. He gutted mental health services. The largest mental health facility in Chicago, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice, has been the Cook County Jail.
Repeatedly, Emanuel hurt the Black communities he was supposed to fight for, care about and represent. And repeatedly, Democrats at the city, state and federal levels failed to hold him accountable. That includes Illinois’ two U.S. senators, who are allies of Emanuel and have endorsed his nomination.
The fact that Emanuel’s nomination has gotten this far – and that his Senate hearing is happening Wednesday, of all days – is proof that the laundering of Emanuel’s reputation is happening yet again. Emanuel is being promoted and praised instead of called out and condemned.
A vote to confirm Emanuel to this post is a vote against Black Chicagoans, and against Black communities across the country. It’s a vote against all the Black kids who grew up in cities led by politicians who didn’t care about them – and it’s a vote against all the Black kids, including Laquan, who never got to grow up at all. It really is that simple.
We need Democrats to do better. Ideally, Biden would have withdrawn Emanuel’s nomination. After crediting his presidential win to Black Americans, he should know better than to alienate the voters who gave Democrats the White House and the Senate – the same voters we need to turn out in 2022.
The Senate must take its role to advise and consent seriously rather than rubber-stamping the president’s nomination. This means taking a critical look at Emanuel’s record in Chicago, his record toward Black communities and his actions that have prevented equal justice under the law.
And it means voting no on this nomination.
If they refuse, and Emanuel gets confirmed, Senate Democrats will be sending a clear message to voters across this country: Unlike what some of them tweeted last summer, Black lives don’t matter to them at all.
Kina Collins is an activist and gun violence prevention advocate who led and organized protests in the aftermath of Laquan McDonald’s murder and sat on the Biden-Harris transition team’s task force on gun violence. She is a candidate for Congress in Illinois' Seventh District.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why did Joe Biden nominate Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan?