Rahm Emanuel Defends Handling of Fatal Shooting of Laquan McDonald, Says Death ‘Sits With Me’

Video: Rahm Emanuel had his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become President Biden’s ambassador to Japan.  Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing pushback from Chicago's police union and the outgoing city watchdog. “Chicago Tonight’s” Spotlight Politics team on all that and more. (Produced by Alex Silets)

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago Police officer weighed on his conscience and acknowledged he underestimated the depth of mistrust in the Chicago Police Department.

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Emanuel defended his handling of the police shooting that upended Chicago politics during a nearly 90-minute hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that took place on the seventh anniversary of McDonald’s murder.

Progressive lawmakers in Chicago, Springfield and Washington, D.C. said Emanuel’s handling of the shooting and its aftermath made him unfit to represent the United States on the international stage.

“There's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this and the what-ifs and the changes and what could have been,” Emanuel said. “A grave tragedy occurred seven years ago. And that tragedy sits with me, as it has, every day and every week for the last seven years.”

Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term as Chicago mayor in 2019 just weeks before a jury convicted former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder for shooting McDonald 16 times in rapid succession, even as the teen moved away from officers.

Emanuel, who served as Chicago’s mayor for eight years, said he did not fully understand the depth of mistrust and anger felt by Black and Latino Chicagoans toward the Chicago Police, and acknowledged he struggled to respond to those concerns while protecting the integrity of the probe into the shooting.

Emanuel said despite his best efforts that he was able to only make “marginal” changes to restore trust in the Chicago Police Department and reform its operations to ensure that the civil rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans are protected.

“I thought I was addressing the issue, and I clearly missed the level of distrust and skepticism that existed,” Emanuel said. “And that’s on me.”

Former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) told Emanuel that it would be impossible for anyone to be mayor of a major American city without “picking up some scar tissue along the way.”

But Emanuel faced much tougher questions from U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), one of the most progressive members of the Senate, who suggested that it defied belief that Emanuel did not know that the dash cam video showed Van Dyke shoot McDonald 16 times, even as the teen moved away from the officers.

“It seems hard to believe that all those things happened and yet you were never briefed on the details of the situation when you were leading the city,” Merkley said, urging his colleagues to “weigh” Emanuel’s handling of the teen’s shooting death.

The committee took no vote on Emanuel’s nomination Wednesday.

No Democratic senators have announced they will oppose Emanuel’s nomination, and several members of the GOP, including Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a former ambassador to Japan, who introduced Emanuel on Wednesday, have said they will support Emanuel.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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