News To You?

     I grew up in Chicago and taught high school on the South Side, so I know something about the place. I know, for example, that the Chicago has the most vicious, racist and violent Police Department in the country.
     A cursory search of the Courthouse News database shows 93 lawsuits against Chicago’s Finest in the past year. Eight are for wrongful death, 22 for assault and battery, 24 for other civil rights violations, and five for other assorted torts.
     These are all new complaints – none involve Chicago cops’ years-long, systematic torture of black people – though some of the new complaints involve new police tortures. They also involve cops Tasering an 81-year-old woman, falsely arresting a 70-year-old man, and driving assault victims to other places to continue beating them up.
     These complaints repeatedly involve the vilest sort of overt, violent racism from Chicago cops.
     Now, you may say, Chicago is a big city – and that’s true. So are Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Omaha, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Phoenix and other cities whose police do not have a record that remotely approaches the revolting conduct of Chicago’s. (I except Los Angeles from this list – a city I also know something about – because its police are nearly as repulsive as Chicago’s.)
     For generations, Chicago cops have beaten, killed, gassed, pistol whipped, robbed, run over, sneered at and broken the bones of black people on the South Side, and the city, state and federal governments did virtually nothing to protect them – the citizens, I mean. The government has always protected the cops.
     The pitifully few community development programs on the South Side did not come from the city, state or federal governments; they came, when they came at all, from groups such as the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, and from South Side churches, such as the church run by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
     Major U.S. media organizations and politicians who are running for office claim they were shocked – shocked! – to hear Rev. Wright denouncing the U.S. government in a now-famous sermon that has been seen more than 1 million times on YouTube.
     The uproar was so great that Sen. Barack Obama felt compelled to give a speech to explain his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ.
     Now, let me ask you something: Given the track record of the City of Chicago and its Police Department, a record that goes back not years but generations, what do white people think goes on at black churches on the South Side of Chicago? Do they think folks sit around singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and eating baloney sandwiches?
     When it comes to violent racism, most white Americans live in a Green Zone – a sanctum protected by the forces of government.
     The argument has been made that U.S. society is improving because now some black people – such as Barack Obama – can live in the Green Zone too. And that’s true – some can.
     Barack Obama is a curious fellow, though. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he returned to Chicago to work as a community organizer. He was good at it. It helped him get elected to office.
     His life, therefore, makes Obama an ideal person to bring news to the Green Zone about what it’s like outside the Green Zone.
     What makes Obama remarkable, though, is not just his charisma, his moderation and his oratorical skills. It’s that he is the first public figure who has based his political program on the proposal that we will solve our problems with racism, so we had better start, right now, planning what to do after we have moved beyond them. And speaking of moving on, Rev. Wright had already retired from Trinity when this media circus blew up.
     I thought Obama did a fine job explaining what makes Wright tick. I think it’s strange that Obama felt compelled to explain why he belongs to a church whose congregation has more than 8,000 members. Obama is a politician: that might help explain it.
     The major media did a wretched job reporting on Obama’s speech. Rather than address the difficult subject that Obama addressed so well, the press and TV asked how many votes he might win, or not lose, from talking about it.
     Other politicians have jumped on Obama for that speech, and for his friendship with Jeremiah Wright, and they will continue to do so. One right-wing blowhard has devoted seven consecutive TV shows to it.
     Let me ask you one more thing.
     Sen. John McCain has publicly sought the endorsement of white evangelical church leaders with far greater influence and much bigger congregations than Rev. Wright. McCain has welcomed the endorsement of preachers who have stated, publicly and repeatedly, that interracial dating is abhorrent; that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans to punish the United States for tolerating homosexuals; that the science of evolutionary biology is an instrument of Satan; that they can make hurricanes change their course by praying; and that to continue doing this Work of God, they need us all to send them money.
     John McCain, in other words, has truckled for the endorsement of church leaders who are not only racist, but who are insane.
     Why has McCain not had to explain his alliance with these people?
     It’s a curious country we live in, where we punish people, and a supposedly free press punishes people, for trying to bring us news about reality.
     It reminds me of what the Frenchmen said about King Louis XV: “He preferred knowing nothing to knowing anything unpleasant.”

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