Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
That’s what I hear in my head, in the voice of Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness in the movie The Untouchables, whenever somebody uses the city of my birth as a political cudgel. Since at least the days of the Reagan Administration, to political actors on the right, the city of Chicago has been synonymous not just with corruption or the mob (the Outfit, as we call it here), but with . . . black folks. Often their criticism is couched in terms of liberals allegedly not caring about black Chicagoans, as it was when Reagan’s Education Secretary, William Bennett, called the city’s public schools “the worst in the nation” even as his boss gutted the federal education budget, but the real purpose has always been to remind their base who lives here: Chicago’s population is about thirty-three percent Black, and people of color generally now outnumber white Chicagoans by a few percentage points. And with Chicagoan-in-Chief Barack Obama in the White House, things have only gotten worse.
The latest iteration of this trope comes in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Florida, which set of a wave of protest marches across the country in support of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s seventeen-year-old victim, including several peaceful protests here in Chicago. Although the purpose of those marches was to highlight the dangers all people of color face when a guy like Zimmerman walks free, conservatives have, perhaps willfully, misconstrued the intent of those marches to fit their preferred narrative.
Case in point: The always odious Dana Loesch, who recently said:
“Youth are the biggest target in Chicago. In 2012, Chicago had 100 more murders than New York City, 215 more than Los Angeles, and according to the Chicago Reporter and other statistics, from 2008 to 2012, half of Chicago’s nearly 2,500 homicide victims were killed before they reached their 25th birthdays.
So where are the riots? Where are the protests? I mean yes, apparently they are just killing black teenagers out there – but who is ‘they’? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 black Americans are killed every year. Ninety-three percent of these murders are committed by other black Americans.”
First of all, much, I’m sure, to Dana Loesch’s sincere disappointment, there were no riots following Zimmerman’s acquittal. I know it’s hard to admit, but it’s true: A handful of people acting out in a sea of peaceful demonstrators does not a riot make, even if the LAPD felt the need to shoot rubber bullets at them.
But let’s talk about the main “point” – if I can call it that – that Loesch and other conservatives are trying to make: That liberals (or, more accurately, Black people and their allies) only protested Martin’s death because it was a political cause célèbre, yet they ignore (ahem) “black-on-black” crime that costs so many lives in places like (ahem) Chicago. You know. Where all those black people live.
I can’t speak for what’s going on in other cities, but I can tell you that here in Chicago, many of the same people who marched in honor of Trayvon Martin regularly march to protest gang violence, murder, the proliferation of guns, and crime in general. It happens all the time. Look, for example, at two of the main speakers at Sunday’s march in front of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop – Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Fr. Michael Pfleger. Rev. Jackson may be a controversial figure, but to suggest that he hasn’t protested against violence in Chicago’s streets is beyond absurd. A thirty-second Google search disproves that.
June 16, 2012
After marching with community members to protest rising gun violence at Chuck’s Gun Store, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition is calling on Congress to: increase the criminal penalties for illegal straw purchases; enact a dedicated firearms trafficking statute; expand the implementation of multiple long gun sale reporting requirements; and revive the ban on assault weapons.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is calling on President Obama to return to Chicago and approve federal intervention to address the soaring number of deadly shootings.
At a press conference Saturday [Feb. 2, 2013], Jackson said Chicago is in the midst of a crisis unlike any other city and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police department can’t handle it on their own.
“Out with guns, in with jobs,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said to me in his trademark gravelly voice. “We’re going to march in 20 cities” hard hit by the gun violence that has made the streets of America a bigger killing field for young black men in the United States than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been for U.S. troops.
And those are just three of the results that come up on the first search page.
As for Fr. Pfleger, well, if you’re from Chicago, you know who he is. A white firebrand of a Catholic priest, Pfleger is the pastor of St. Sabina, a predominantly African-American Church on Chicago’s South Side. He is something to behold. Here he is speaking at the Justice for Trayvon march last weekend:
Note, by the way, that Fr. Pfleger – like virtually everyone at these rallies – isn’t just talking about Trayvon Martin, or racial profiling, or stand your ground laws, but also about the deaths of young people in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Which is not at all surprising if you know him, because he’s a fixture on Chicago’s streets, marching against crime and violence and injustice and exploitation.
More importantly, that’s not unique to Fr. Pleger or Rev. Jackson or anyone else who happens to get his or her name in the paper on occasion. The rank-and-file protesters who showed up this past weekend are out on the streets on a weekly basis, protesting every child’s murder here. So to say that the Trayvon Martin protesters don’t care about day-to-day violence in Chicago is a damn lie.
But it’s a convenient lie, too, isn’t it? Because it distracts from the real issues involved in the Zimmerman case while it reminds the faithful that people of color go around shooting people. Which is, after all, what they’re really getting at.