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Political Chicago Also on Trial in Van Dyke Case

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

You could say there are several Chicagos spread out like sections in some fat Sunday newspaper of old.

There is the Chicago of the arts and the architectural Chicago of great skyscrapers. The Chicago of fine restaurants. Literary Chicago. And the Chicago of sports and worship at athletic cathedrals.

The city of tourism. The city of neighborhoods. The city by the lake.

But there is another Chicago. And this one was born angry, with a rock in its hand:

Political Chicago.

And political Chicago is on trial this week in the case of a white cop charged with murder in the killing of a black teenager.

Formally, legally, technically, of course, the trial is of police Officer Jason Van Dyke, charged in the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald.

The police video shows McDonald walking away, a knife in hand, and Van Dyke getting out of his police car and filling the teenager with 16 bullets in October 2014.

But on a parallel track is the race for mayor. The field is crowded, and in a city where old-line political organizations have crumbled along with Chicago's finances, appeals to tribalism are, sadly, all but inevitable.

All of the candidates -- and more are jumping in every day -- hope to make it to a mayoral runoff between the top two vote-getters.

In such a crowded field, a politician could make the runoff with 20 percent of the vote. And so campaigns are likely to reach for the trusty arrow in the Democratic Party's quiver:

Identity politics and all the real and fake outrage that comes with it.

The black candidates, the white candidates, the Latino candidates.

As the campaigns take form, every day there will be trial testimony, and street theater, and candidates will try to break through the noise and get their names into the news.

Some of them, like former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will be drawn in. He was police boss when McDonald was killed and was fired as a political sacrifice by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was then desperately trying to keep his job.

And perhaps former Police Board member Lori Lightfoot will be touched by it too, and she may feel the need to recast the epiphany she has experienced on her journey from mayoral appointee to police critic to mayoral candidate.

And now Bill Daley -- the brother of one mayor, and the son of a boss -- has made his campaign announcement. In Chicago, the name Daley offers the promise, if not the reality, of power and control. His operatives will position him accordingly as the trial proceeds.

Am I wrong to see these events, the mayoral race and the Van Dyke trial, as two horns on the head of political Chicago?

Some may think so.

And I too would like to view these as separate and distinct. But I can't. I've been covering politics all my life in this city of tribes.

And in the universe that is political Chicago, the Van Dyke trial and the mayoral campaign are like planets, each with extreme density, exerting gravitational force one upon the other.

In part that's due to Emanuel's handling of that horrific police video that most of Chicago (and the jury) has already seen.

At the time, officers on the scene said McDonald "lunged" at Van Dyke. The video, and witnesses, will tell the jury otherwise.

"I was there, I saw it," a witness who was at the scene told me almost three years ago, just as the video was about to be released and rip political Chicago apart.

"He (McDonald) wasn't attacking anybody. He was looking for a way out. He was just trying to turn away. The kid turned away, was dropped at the first shot or two, and the police kept shooting and shooting. You could see his body moving.

"It freaked me out. It freaked my son out."

It freaked out Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration too. He sat on the video, keeping it from public view, only releasing it upon court order, and then only after he had been safely re-elected earlier in 2015.

Hiding the video had a price. It made African-American voters angry. And this transformed the mayor.

He was once considered to be a political talent with an unlimited future. But in Chicago he became mayor dead man walking. And the other day, bowing to the inevitable, he pulled the plug on his re-election campaign.

But Emanuel's disastrous handling of the video is just one part of this. The other comes long before Emanuel. It is the painful history of African-Americans and other minorities with Chicago police, a history of police brutality that went on for decades unchecked under the rule of ham-fisted white Democratic bosses.

There is only one African-American on the Van Dyke jury, with seven whites, three Hispanics and one Asian-American.

Stuffing people into tribal boxes based on skin pigment is unseemly, yes, and vulgar. But the city is talking about the racial composition of the jury, questioning it, wondering where it will lead.

And mayoral candidates are feeling increased pressure to play the game political Chicago knows only too well.

And all of Chicago will bear witness.

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