The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday called for the Chicago mayor and city council to take immediate action amid the growing crisis over excessive police force, saying the city needs to pass a law that prohibits police from shooting any suspect in the back.
“Police can stop shooting people in the back now,” Jackson told CNN in an impassioned interview.
The civil rights icon touched on an array of issues, from police use of deadly force to the need for reconstruction in impoverished urban areas. He called on President Barack Obama to visit Chicago’s South Side and use it as a platform to launch a new war on poverty.
With protesters taking to the streets and calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign, Jackson stopped short of joining their calls, saying only that it’s unlikely the mayor will step down and that there is no provision allowing for a recall.
“He’s not handled it well,” Jackson said of the mayor. “By his own admission, he’s got to climb out of it. Whether he can, I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Jackson said the recent release of videos showing the fatal police shootings of Laquan McDonald, 17, and Ronald Johnson, 25, were only the tip of the iceberg.
“There are some other tapes just like that,” he said. “Release all other tapes.”
The mayor has denied seeing the McDonald video before it was released. The city had fought against its release for 13 months. The police dashcam video shows the teen walking down the road with a knife in his hand and veering away from police before being riddled with 16 bullets, with most shots coming as he lay limp on the pavement. The video contradicts what police said occurred: that McDonald had lunged at officers.
“The coverup and the delay is as bad as the act,” Jackson said.
He said the mayor is in a “deep crisis of distrust in part because most people do not believe that he did not see the video.”
“If he didn’t see it, then he should have,” Jackson said. “People are demanding that you open up. Demanding transparency. Demanding police stop shooting people in the back.”
On Wednesday, the mayor gave an emotional speech at a packed City Council chamber, apologizing for the McDonald shooting and pledging to clean up police brutality.
“If we’re going to fix it, I want you to understand it’s my responsibility with you,” Emanuel said. “But if we’re going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step, and I’m sorry.”
Jackson said the speech was an important one in addressing the city’s crisis, but fell short.
“We heard the whereas,” Jackson said. “What’s missing is the therefore. That’s cutting to the culture: Therefore, no more shooting in the back.”
He noted one irony: that while Emanuel was apologizing, city attorneys were in federal court arguing against the release of video showing another police killing — this time, unarmed 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman.
Chatman was killed on January 7, 2013, as he ran from officers with a black iPhone box in his hand. Police said he turned toward them and that an officer shot him fearing for his partner’s life and his life. The city argued against releasing the video because of the potential for “misuse in the media” and saying it could taint the jury in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Jackson said it was time for Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney for Cook County, to resign.
Jackson also noted the city has paid more than $500 million in settlements and legal fees from allegations of police misconduct since 2007. That’s money that could’ve gone toward more teachers or for programs to restore opportunity in the inner city.
“We’re paying for police misconduct instead of teacher salaries and benefits,” he said. “You have police trying to police poverty, which is a pressure-cooker environment.”
For far too long, Jackson noted, the policy in hard-hit urban areas has been: “Guns in. Drugs in. Jobs out.”
He rattled off statistics for Chicago: A quarter of black adults and half of black youth are unemployed, about 50 public schools have closed in recent years, along with more than 70 grocery stores and dozens of businesses.
“While a lot of focus is on policing, development is the answer,” Jackson said. “There are more jobs to be had in the ghetto than there are people.”
Jackson urged Obama to create a major policy initiative to address blighted inner cities and renew hope for black America. He said for too many communities, from Baltimore to St. Louis to Oakland to Memphis to Chicago, it’s the same story of abandoned homes, boarded up businesses, closed hospitals and shuttered schools.
“It’s a job desert, a health care desert, a food desert, a capital desert and a housing desert. The middle class have been driven into poverty,” Jackson said. “Black lives matter.”
Jackson said it was time for the President to return home: “He would be such a great source of inspiration.”
“We need a war on poverty revived. Use it as a platform,” Jackson said. “People here voted for him with such fervent inspiration.”
He noted Obama has visited Newtown, Connecticut, and other cities where mass shootings have struck, while not visiting his home amid the city’s biggest crisis in decades. Emanuel was Obama’s chief of staff during the president’s first term.
“It would be a great moment to give a major speech,” Jackson said.
On a more personal note, Jackson talked about the police killing of Philip Coleman, 38, who worked for Jackson at the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Jackson delivered his eulogy in December 2012.
Recently released video showed police repeatedly Taser Coleman after they asked him to get up from a holding cell. He was put in a chokehold and then rendered unconscious. Police said he died from a reaction to a sedative given while in custody.
His family had contacted police when Coleman had a mental breakdown. The family asked that he be transported to a hospital but says an officer told them: “We don’t do hospitals. We do jail.”Jackson called the video horrendous and said it was appalling none of the officers involved have been charged with a crime.
“We were absolutely surprised at the video,” Jackson said. “There were 50 bruise marks all over his body. They beat him.”