“Milwaukee has such an extremely high unemployment rate for black men,” explains NPR’s Cheryl Corley, having just returned from covering the unrest there over the past few days. “They have the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men, and so you have all of these problems that exacerbate the kind of situation that happens there and it really frustrates people, so you have this kind of powder keg kind of waiting to explode. So when these things do happen in communities you see what happened with the riots that broke out there, the arson that occurred. There’s no excuse for that sort of thing happening, but you have the conditions there that make it happen.”
We’re talking about the similarities between Chicago and its northern neighbor, and trying to see what we might have in common.
“These are things that are created by forces bigger and stronger than the police,” asserts Black Star Project‘s Phillip Jackson. “And then after these problems are created they send in the police to tamp down the communities of violence. The police have no chance of succeeding in that situation, none.”
“On this past 4th of July weekend last year 65 people were shot in Chicago,” he continues. “And so Superintendent Johnson ramps up and he brings in 5,000 additional officers, the State Police, Cook County Sheriffs, Chicago Policemen who would have been off. He brings in 5,000 additional officers, and they call it success, because instead of having 65 shootings they had 63, and that’s my example. There are not enough policemen in China to stop what’s happening in black communities across this country.”
The police can’t be blamed for the underlying dysfunction of unemployment, disinvestment and sub-standard education services. But Corley says there’s plenty of blame for them to share. She cites as an example Philando Castile, the man shot near Minneapolis in his car by a police officer as his girl-friend live-steamed the entire event. Corley was there for NPR, too.
“Philando Castile seemed to be a target,” she claims. “He was stopped during his lifetime in 46 traffic stops. The first time he was stopped was before his 19th birthday when he still had his learner’s permit, and the last stop of course on July 6th. I believe that was the day when he died. But yeah, he was stopped. It was a life of traffic fines and being stopped by the police.”
Jackson adds that a major aspect of the sour police/community relations is recruitment. “There was a quote that came up once that I would like to repeat, ‘you cannot serve us if you don’t know us’ and that’s where we are with the Chicago Police Department. They are trying to serve and protect people that they don’t really know, and it’s never going to be as successful as it could be.”
Despite decades of trying, Jackson says the racial composition of the police force in troubled African-America neighborhoods is far out of sync with the communities.
“It is absolutely important. And my point is that a part of the fix for policing in Chicago has got to be adding more high quality African American candidates to the pool. It’s got to be. Now, I’m not blaming the Police Department here. Chicago Public Schools have a part in this as well in terms of producing people who can become candidates, but the Police Department if they are going to be successful they are going to have to be reflective of the communities that they are working to serve and protect.”
We talk at some length about the changes being brought about by the availability of video from dash-cams, body cams and civilian smart-phones. Corley says this could compare to another historic moment.
“When we look at all these cases and we look at all this video that comes through,” she says, “I often think about what made change happen. If you think about the Civil Rights Movement it was a photograph that kind of galvanized that with Emmett Till, right, when his mom decided I want the world to see this. And so what you have happening with these videos now is that people are seeing things that are happening and you have to believe, because a lot of times people don’t believe.”
Phillip Jackson tells us about a major effort to bring masses of people into the streets in ten of the most violence-plagued areas of the city during the Labor Day weekend. It’s being called Community Peace Surge, and it’s in response to the FOP’s call for police officers not to work overtime during the challenging weekend.
We ask him whether it will be difficult to convince people in the most violent neighborhoods to come out of their house and demonstrate their support. He acknowledges that it could be tough. But, he says, “You can live your life being afraid and probably the bad things that you think might happen they’re going to happen anyway, or you can live your life being unafraid and working towards the kind of community and the kind of City that you deserve.”