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We Can’t Restore The Soul Of The Nation With Rahm Emanuel In Public Office

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Transportation Secretary or Assistant to the Transportation Secretary, Rahm doesn’t belong in any of D.C.’s halls of power.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

If Laquan McDonald could have three wishes, he wanted to turn back the clock on his life, have enough money to live with dignity, and see his grandmother again. This is what he said to a clinical worker during their meeting, weeks before he was shot sixteen times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. 

Laquan may have faced more hurt and hardship in his seventeen years than many of us experience in our lifetimes, but he was still a kid. A kid who missed his grandmother and dreamed of making a better life for himself.

While Laquan’s family were privately grieving their loss, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was figuring out how to keep the video footage of Laquan’s shooting from seeing the light of day.

So when I got word that President-elect Biden was considering Emanuel for a Cabinet position, I was hurt. It wasn’t because Rahm and I have differing views on policy (although we do), but because Rahm saw the murder of Laquan McDonald as a political obstacle, a threat to his reelection bid. Instead of seeking justice for Laquan and the people of Chicago, he took the coward’s way out by trying to bury the story. To me, that speaks volumes about his character.

As a father, as an educator, as a Black man in America, I can’t sit quietly by or let this pass. Millions of Americans have marched in the streets, rallied together, registered to vote, in the name of racial justice and an end to police brutality. To respond to this historic moment by appointing Emanuel to any position of influence is an affront to the memories of all those who have been murdered by police.

Even after the footage went public and demonstrations started, Emanuel opposed a federal civil rights investigation into the Chicago police and failed to deliver on civilian oversight of the department. In fact, Emanuel said that police were getting “fetal” in the age of bystander video. Apparently “tough-on-crime” isn’t tough enough for Rahm. 

We can’t restore the soul of the nation with Rahm Emanuel in public office. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Transportation Secretary or Assistant to the Transportation Secretary, Rahm doesn’t belong in any of D.C.’s halls of power.

Losing sight of the people closest to the pain is how we got here. High-priced political consultants can tell you how to bag a billionaire donor, but they don’t know what it’s like to grow up on the West Side of Chicago or in public housing in East Harlem, where I grew up with my grandmother. I’ve known plenty of kids like Laquan, who were failed by a system that couldn’t see past their haircut. We’ve decided that their lives don’t factor into our political calculus. But that needs to change.

If we want our talk about racial equity to be more than just that–talk–then we can’t return to the same well of political operatives and insiders, folks who have benefited from the status quo. Voters turned out in record numbers because they want change. The competing crises of COVID-19, unemployment, and police violence have left us feeling more vulnerable than ever before. But building back better demands better builders: new people with bold new ideas.

I wholeheartedly believe that a Biden administration can deliver for our families and move us closer toward a vision of racial equity. And that means Rahm Emanuel should stay home.

Jamaal Bowman is a former middle school principal and the Democratic Representative-elect for New York’s 16th congressional district.