Thursday, September 12, 2013

Emanuel offers a rare apology

Call it one of the rules of thumb of government – when they get sued, they inevitably will offer to settle the legal action rather than have to fight in court.

EMANUEL: Chicago's sorry
It’s not that government doesn’t think much of its actions. It’s more that they want to save money, and they often figure that throwing some cash at someone as a settlement is cheaper than a court fight.

IN FACT, I have heard it specified by some governments that once the cost of legal fees potentially becomes larger than the cost of a settlement, then the law suit must be settled.

Part of what lets government get away with this attitude is the fact that the settlement agreement often includes provisions that prohibit the person receiving a settlement from discussing the issue in the future.

In many cases, they have to wind up signing a statement that specifically says that the government entity did not commit any inappropriate act. It probably did, but the people who file the lawsuits and who suffered the harm in the first place often are so emotionally whipped and eager enough for the final compensation that they let government “off the hook” (so to speak) by allowing them to go blameless in the official record of events.

This very attitude is why I am still shocked (some several hours after the City Council met Wednesday) at the actions of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

THE ALDERMEN GAVE their approval to a $12.3 million payment to settle two lawsuits against the city because of the actions of one-time Pullman Area Violent Crimes Commander Jon Burge.

He’s the guy who back in the 1980s had his detectives running roughshod on the rights of people he wanted to believe were criminal suspects. Tactics often amounted to torture to get confessions that wound up sending people to prison for many years – until serious studies of the evidence caused the cases to crack.

It’s not a shock that the city is settling the case. It seems every government entity these days is eager to pay what they have to in order to make the Burge era go away.

Will Burge ever be sorry?
What is astounding about all of this was that Emanuel on Wednesday felt compelled to offer an apology! An actual admission from the “Man on Five” that the city screwed up.

OF COURSE, EMANUEL himself has nothing to lose – since this all happened before he was at all relevant to the political scene in Chicago. This is a case that smears the legacy of Richard M. Daley; since he was the state’s attorney whose staff actually used the tainted evidence to gain convictions – AND also disregarded the speculation years ago that the cops were abusing people.

As Emanuel put it, “This is a dark chapter on the history of the city of Chicago. I want to build a future for the city of Chicago. I don’t want to just deal with the past.

“But we have to close the books on this. We have to reconcile our past and start to write a future and a new chapter for the children of the city of Chicago and for the city,” Emanuel told reporter-types present for the council session.

That goes way farther than most government officials would even dream of going in terms of dealing with ugly incidents in their past behavior.

IT IS SO out of character, particularly since there are those people in our past who like to deny that organized crime elements ever played a part in our city’s history – while others like to dress them up in comic book-like colors to make the bloodshed of the past seem like an essential part of Chicago’s character.

But an apology is an apology. Wednesday is a rare day for the city.

Because I doubt that Emanuel will be willing to offer up mea culpas for many other issues, no matter how wrong the city might be.

There’s only so much muck a man will be willing to eat!


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