CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Monday he would cut his family vacation in Cuba short to address the fatal shooting of two more black residents by a city police department already under federal investigation over its use of deadly force.
The decision comes after activists stepped up calls for Emanuel’s resignation over his handling of policing in the nation’s third-largest city. A protest is planned at City Hall on Thursday.
“While Mayor Emanuel has been in constant contact with his staff and Interim Superintendent (John) Escalante, he is cutting his family trip short so that he can continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department,” said the mayor’s spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn.
Emanuel is set to arrive back in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, she said. The mayor’s office did not say when he left for Cuba or when he had been scheduled to return.
The latest police shootings killed Bettie Jones, 55, and college student Quintonio LeGrier, 19. Family members said police were called after LeGrier, who had mental health issues, threatened his father with a metal baseball bat.
Jones’ family is expected to seek video footage of the shootings, which occurred early on Saturday, if any exists, in an attempt to get a clearer picture of what happened, according to its attorney.
The release of a Chicago police video last month of the fatal shooting of a black teenager, which had been withheld for more than a year, led to the resignation of the city’s police chief and the start of a U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether the city’s police use lethal force too often, especially against minorities.
High-profile killings of black men by police officers since mid-2014 have triggered waves of protest, including in Chicago, and fueled a civil rights movement under the name Black Lives Matter. On Monday a grand jury cleared two Cleveland police officers in the November 2014 fatal shooting of black 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was brandishing a toy gun in a park.
Emanuel called Jones’ family to offer his sympathy, according to Ja’Mal Green, an activist and protest organizer in Chicago. But he said Emanuel should resign and his return will not help problems in the city’s social and justice systems.
“Here or not, you know, is still like him not here,” Green said.
The embattled mayor issued a statement on Sunday calling for a review of the police Crisis Intervention Team and better guidance for officers when dealing with mental health cases.
“There are serious questions about yesterday’s shootings that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation,” his statement said.
Regarding the latest shootings, police said LeGrier was being combative, but have admitted that Jones, who lived on the first-floor of the building, was shot by accident and offered condolences.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Monday he did not know if there was video of the shooting.
However, attorney Larry Rogers Jr., representing Jones’ family, said at a prayer vigil on Sunday that there may be a video from a house under construction across the street, and that police footage may exist.
The previous killing of 17-year-old black teen Laquan McDonald in October 2014, which was captured on video released last month, led to multiple protests and calls for Emanuel’s resignation.
Emanuel, previously U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff, became Chicago’s mayor in 2011 and was re-elected earlier this year in a run-off. He was already facing pressure over high crime and gang violence in parts of the city and had been criticized for closing 50 public schools in mostly minority areas.
Calls for his resignation started with the release of the McDonald video last month.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said Emanuel should step down in an interview on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ program on Monday, before Emanuel said he was returning.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski, Dave McKinney and Justin Madden in Chicago; Editing by Bill Rigby