Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In the City of Chicago, Some Lives Don't Matter

It is time to act to repair justice, restore lives, and rebuild community.
Laquan McDonald’s life was expendable in the eyes of so many. Beyond those who initially learned of the horrific circumstances of his death, no one was supposed to learn his name. He was a kid who was abused, so much that he was a ward of the state when he was killed. And yet, his name has become known by millions and invoked by the President of the United States. Why? Because the truth has come out: 

In the City of Chicago, some lives don’t matter.

Police reform is long overdue. In October 2014, Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke who, despite completely unambiguous and chilling evidence of his involvement in the crime, was not charged and indicted for that crime until December 17, 2015.  Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, and the chief of police allowed Officer Van Dyke to remain on the payroll and not face consequences. Only when a court finally ordered the release of the graphic dash-cam video, did Alvarez quickly file murder charges--just hours before the video’s previously unanticipated release.  

I hadn’t realized just how many levels I would be disturbed by the video of his needless death and the gross and wide-ranging cover-up. The reality of “16 shots and a cover-up” unveils the breadth and depth of corruption. It’s not just Officer Van Dyke and his four colleagues who clearly lied about what happened and at last face appropriate discipline. The Police Chief and the head of the Review Board have appropriately lost their jobs. And I can't help but wonder how often cover-ups have happened in the past.
I would like to think that none of these people on his or her own would ever have acted with such cynicism or negligence. But there’s tremendous pressure--which ultimately is no excuse—from a wider system of corruption and racism that must be addressed. The need for reform has been obvious to so many for so long. Yet the entrenched attitudes and resulting behaviors hold fast to the justification that nothing is really wrong.  
Three days before the video was released, Channel 7 interviewed Rev. Cy Fields and myself at his church, Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, located in North Garfield Park. As members of the Leaders Network, a clergy-led community group serving Chicago's westside, we had shared press releases about the need for police reform and transparency. What spoke more loudly than our brief comments was the image of an interracial clergy response. 

Since then, I've been inspired by how people of every hue have come out to protest the truth that has for so long kept hidden--and yet known by so many: Some lives are expendable. 

It has been true for decades, centuries. Wide swaths of people have long been failed by the City of Chicago, treated far differently than people of privilege. The history of this deeply disturbing reality goes way back, rooted in the institution of slavery and the displacement of native peoples. Poor people of color haven’t ever mattered in the eyes of the privileged.  

It’s time to act to repair justice, restore lives, and rebuild community. Police reform is long overdue. One of four demonstrations I attended in December was with Community Renewal Society (CRS) demanding Fair Policing reforms--reforms that we at CRS, led by Rev. Cy Fields, requested of the mayor twice over the past year. Reforms that the mayor flatly rejected, saying they were unnecessary.  
Fortunately there are avenues for bringing about change: organizing people of faith and people of compassion
One is Community Renewal Society (CRS). CRS's mission is to build relational power among people of faith to address poverty and racism, and has specifically addressed police brutality by calling for Fair Policing reforms.  In addition, CRS is currently focused on restorative justice efforts, bringing forth a fair tax, and creating job opportunities for people with police records. 
On Martin Luther King Day, CRS will hold a Faith in Action Assembly. Many elected officials will be in attendance from the state legislature and the Cook County board. Neither the mayor nor the Cook County State’s Attorney has ever attended despite many requests from constituents.  
Come join us to demonstrate that it's time to repair justice, restore lives, and rebuild community!
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., come join me and hundreds of other people of faith as witness to Dr. King’s legacy by and calling upon elected and other city officials to support specific demands on behalf of our community. Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Day, 9:30am-12:30pm. At First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 W. Washington in Chicago. 
If you are in or near Oak Park, join me and members of Unity Temple and Third Unitarian Church at 805 South Blvd in Oak Park at 8:30am. We will gather for fellowship, prayer and breakfast and take a bus to Faith in Action Assembly together. 

Love with Courage,

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