Former White House chief of staff and then Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is angling for a Cabinet position that he doesn’t deserve and President-elect Joe Biden, who promised Black voters that he’d have our backs, needs to make it crystal clear, right now, that this will never happen.
The mere fact that this even has to be said right now as the nation still wrestles with the racial unrest around the extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black people hurts enough. Biden can’t heal the soul of America at the expense of further compromising the political safety and security of progressives. By preaching the need for all of us to find “common ground,” even with those who are affiliated with white supremacists, Biden has already proven himself willing to agitate progressives for bipartisan appeal, but putting Emanuel in his cabinet would be a true betrayal.
In October 2014, a 17-year old Black teen named Laquan McDonald was fatally shot 16 times by a white Chicago cop named Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke, who would later be found guilty of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, was caught on police dashcam footage committing the crime. But the city of Chicago on Emanuel’s watch actively conspired to hide that footage from the public until after his heated re-election campaign had concluded. Emanuel won a second term thanks to that loathsome deception, only to choose to leave his dream job rather than face voters again now that they knew he was willing to deceive them and cover up a police murder to salvage his own political career.
Incredibly, The Atlantic gave him a gig as a contributing editor after he left office, only to quietly withdraw that post after Black staffers objected, and ABC News made him a contributor. It almost felt as if most of society didn’t seem bothered that he’d betrayed his own city and basic decency. The idea that he could be a member of Joe Biden’s cabinet is a slap in the face.
But Emanuel is reportedly a top candidate to run the Department of Transportation, a role that would be natural given his infrastructure experience. But he’s hardly the only person with such experience—and lots of them didn’t cover up the murder of a Black man by a member of a police force that they controlled. Surely, Biden’s team can’t tell me that there are no more suitable and dignified candidates for the job. As a Black man, I’ve heard the lie of “there weren't enough qualified candidates” for far too long to think this is the best Biden can do—because it isn’t.
It was Black progressives who helped secure Biden’s presidency in spite of his own previous woes with criminal justice policies. It was hard at times for Black progressives to back Biden, one of the authors of the infamous 1994 crime bill and a politician with a track record of racist gaffes, as our next president. We swallowed our pride and prioritized the community’s immediate concern, defeating Donald J. Trump, above our personal litmus tests. He owes us a debt, and the time to start cashing that check is now. Biden doesn’t get to ignore our requests for more ethical and conscious politicians in his administration now that he’s won the presidency.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was spot on when she called Emanuel “a pretty divisive pick.” Several progressives, including Chicago alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, have already created a Change.org petition calling on Chicago residents to “make sure Joe Biden knows Rahm is on our DO NOT HIRE list.”
Once again, Black communities and our supporters are having to demand better from an elected official who claims to be for them. If Biden is serious about uniting the country, the proof will be in his appointments. And this one would be unforgivable.