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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Rahm Emanuel Failed Chicago and Himself

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on April 2, 2019

Twice during Rahm Emanuel’s two terms as mayor, Chicago was named the “Murder Capital of the World” because of its violent crime and homicide rates. In 2018, the number of murders in Chicago, the third largest city in America, was higher than the number of homicides in Los Angeles and New York combined.

According to preliminary police numbers, there were 561 homicides in Chicago between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Last month, Mayor Emanuel was back in the news again. Rather than unveiling an effective plan to curb violent crime in his city, Emanuel held a news conference to denounce Cook County prosecutors for dismissing 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly making a false police report.

In February, Smollett was charged with these crimes after Chicago police officers said he orchestrated a “hate crime” in January that portrayed him as the “victim” because he was unhappy with his salary on the TV show. In essence, police claimed Smollett hired two men to beat him up for publicity purposes. Mayor Emanuel and police officials also claimed the City spent $130,000 investigating this crime. If these allegations are true, Jussie Smollett was both the “victim” and “perpetrator” of the crime he reported.

Smollett had no prior criminal record. The actor performed community service work for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago prior to the dismissal of his criminal charges.

On March 26, 2019, Cook County prosecutors used their discretion under Illinois law to let Smollett enter a pretrial diversion program for low-level, non-violent offenders. It is common practice to dismiss the pending criminal charges and seal court records in deferred prosecution cases.

In my experience, prosecutors around the country routinely offer pretrial diversion deals to young, mostly white, criminal offenders who come from privileged backgrounds and well-connected families. This practice is rampant in the State of Alabama for the children of high-powered political figures and other non-violent criminal offenders who reside in the right zip codes.

Emanuel Leaves Office in May

On September 4, 2018, Rahm Emanuel announced that he was not seeking re-election as Chicago’s mayor, a job he has held since 2011. He will leave office in May after two disastrous terms in office that saw the largest round of school closings in the city’s history, a teachers strike, the corruption conviction of his onetime schools chief, an explosion of gun violence that surged under his watch, a sex abuse scandal at Chicago Public Schools, record tax increases to shore up the city’s pensions and the Laquan McDonald police shooting that led to a federal investigation of the Police Department, and a decline in his support among the city’s African-American voters.

Rahm Emanuel has been one of the least effective mayors in the nation. He is short in physical size and leadership stature. Emanuel’s only claim to fame is that he once served as Barack Obama’s first chief of staff. Even there, he was a dismal failure.

Chicago Must Focus on Solving Its Murder Problem

Jussie Smollett is not the most pressing problem facing Chicago; the city’s murder rate is. Instead of blasting prosecutors for permitting Jussie Smollett to enter a pretrial diversion program sanctioned under Illinois law, Mayor Emanuel and his flunkies in the police department need to use the city’s law enforcement personnel and resources to combat Chicago’s epidemic of murder cases.

When I served as special counsel to Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., I was the Mayor’s Office liaison to the city’s police and law departments. On October 16, 1994, Andrew Anthony Apicella and Stephen Pilley murdered Changing Times Lounge bartender Pamela Dodd, 37; her husband, Lester "Eddie" Dodd, 38; her friend Florence Elliott, 45; and patrons William Nelson, 52, and James Watkins, 52. At the time, the execution-style killing of these five victims represented the worst mass murder in Birmingham’s history. The pressure was on Mayor Arrington and city police to solve this gruesome crime.

Shortly after the murders, I attended a meeting between the law and police departments that was called to organize a sting operation against strippers who moonlighted as prostitutes after they left their strip club jobs. The police department was planning to allocate a sizable number of officers to pose undercover as “Johns” who were soliciting prostitutes. I strongly objected to implementing this sting operation until we solved the Changing Times Lounge murderers. I wanted all available man-power focused on solving this murder case, and solving it quickly. To me, catching the Changing Times Lounge murderers was far more important than arresting strippers who were charging “Johns” for sexual favors.

Eventually, Apicella and Pilley were apprehended, charged, tried, and convicted of capital murder. Each man was sentenced to death and eventually died on death row from cancer.

Chicago needs to follow this lead and focus on solving its epidemic of murder cases before allocating precious police manpower and resources to prosecute victimless crimes. My outcry today is over Chicago’s murder rate, not Jussie Smollett’s high-profile victimless crime.

With the election of Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s new mayor tonight, I am hopeful that Chicago will emerge from the failed leadership of Rahm Emanuel and enter the bright sunlight of progressive, responsive, and responsible government.

Goodbye, Rahm Emanuel. I thank God you are gone next month!

PHOTO: Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) and "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett (right).

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Apr 03, 2019

When a city is the designated "Murder Capital of the World," it should focus its police resources on preventing, solving and prosecuting murders. Pretrial diversion programs are available under the law as an alternative method for resolving low-level, non-violent, non-drug-related crimes.

The pretrial diversion program Jussie Smollett entered is handed out routinely to the children of high-powered political figure in Alabama. Even former Montgomery, Alabama federal judge Mark E. Fuller took advantage of a pretrial diversion program after he was arrested in 2014 for severely beating his second wife.

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