The Color of Character

Delicate Dance: Race and Police

Chicago's Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson

Desperate Times – Restrained Measures

On March 1st, Bill Daley, the former White House Chief of Staff for President Obama, and brother/son to Chicago’s Mayors Daley, wrote an editorial that appeared in the Chicago Tribune. He titled it: Enough! Chicago cannot keep tolerating gun violence. Mr. Daley came up with several suggestions, most of which I find reasonable, to address the issue. With each point, he attempts to answer the objection he foresees from civil libertarians and black politicians. Here are some of the concerns.

Weak Sentencing Laws for Gun Offenders

While many like to say that Chicago has among the strictest gun laws, they fail to mention that we have among the weakest sentencing guidelines for crimes committed with guns – other than murder. Here is where race relations enter the discussion. The vast majority of the shooters are black males. Their victims are also black, and often they are children. Yet there is resistance by black politicians to toughen up the sentencing laws. Their argument is that it will only add to the black prison population, which is already too large.

Is the intent to keep black violent offenders on the street? The appearance is that they are willing to sacrifice the lives of black children on our streets to keep murderers from going to jail for longer periods of time, because they are black. In the meantime, many of the children who have been killed in the past few years would be alive today if their killers, most of whom are repeat gun offenders, had served longer prison sentences. Chicago’s black aldermen, the Cook County Board President, and the Illinois black caucus continue to resist. Their suggestions are to bring jobs to these dangerous neighborhoods, and improve the schools. Good suggestions, but implausible. Those have been the suggested solutions for years, and things continue to worsen. Its a Catch 22. The violence keeps both the businesses and the chance for safe, effective schools at bay. While they should be considered, these approaches take years to implement effectively. For the residents of these neighborhoods under siege, time is a luxury they can’t afford. Childhood is even more fleeting in these dangerous streets.

When Is It Not Racial Profiling?

Mr. Daley also suggests more aggressive policing. Chicago has had a serious problem with some abusive police officers, which is cause for concern. They are now under a microscope, and the ACLU came to an agreement with the City that requires every officer to complete a form that takes (the officers claim) at least an hour of paperwork for every stop they make with probable cause – which takes them off the street. This is to assure that the police officers are not racially profiling. Since the the gun violence is in black majority neighborhoods, and the shooters are almost all black young men, it would quickly appear that most, if not all stops will be blacks. How to avoid the appearance of racial profiling in these districts? This is a disincentive for active policing.

Try Everything

On a positive note, Chicago’s Police Superintendent, Eddie Johnson (pictured above) is implementing some lessons learned from a recent visit to New York City.  He is getting officers out of their cars to walk their beats, talk to residents, and even give them their cell phone numbers when they need to talk. This should build up trust between the community and the officers sworn to protect them. Without the cooperation of the community, the job is much tougher. It’s too soon to tell, but early results are favorable.

Perhaps when the anguished cries of the families of the victims become louder than the cries of protest against active policing, when done properly, and tougher enforcement, lives can be save, and the quality of those lives improved.





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