Every so often we get a local election that has a huge impact on the outlook and direction of Black America. There are cities that we focus on that count as a microcosm of the rest of our community.
There are years that Atlanta and Maynard Jackson represented Black progress in America. Then there were the years that Washington D.C. and Walter E. Washington was seen as how Blacks would be dealt with by the federal government. There were also the years that Tom Bradley‘s leadership of Los Angeles was the corner we all turned in race relations.
Now, if you’re not sleeping, the focus is turning on Chicago. The election there is probably the most interesting since the late Harold Washington versus Jane Byrne, and more is at stake. In this case, Rahm Emanuel, virtually hand-picked by President Obama as a successor to the Daley dynasty, was sent into a runoff by fed-up people from the South and West sides of town, terrified by violence and emaciated by unemployment.
And frankly pissed off by the undemocratic takeover of the school system.
The lead up to the Feb. 24 primary was colorful. The rhetoric over the past few weeks was overshadowed by millionaire Willie Wilson. Truth is, I kinda liked the guy and his audaciousness. But when it came down to voters’ choices, Emanuel finds himself facing off with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in a Spring runoff.
Emanuel must have woke up the morning after the primary asking himself “how did this happen?” With his well-funded war chest, his victory should have been a foregone conclusion. But he didn’t get the 50 percent of the vote he needed. Apparently, Chicagoans, tired of the violence plaguing their city, sent a message.
In 2014, 425 people were murdered in Chicago, mostly on the South and West sides. Most of them were black males. That’s down from 2012, when 509 people were killed. What does Emanuel say about it in an interview with POLITICO? “The narrative is: We’re the murder capital. Not close.” Essentially, he blamed the media for that perception.“When it comes to the perception, the job of the media is to kind of lift the fog.”
The cop-out of a milquetoast bureaucrat.
Crying mothers don’t care about how the media spins murders. They are more concerned about the children they have to bury. Just ask Hadiya Pendleton’s parents. It’s fine to go back to Hyde Park to hug that family, but Emanuel’s administration has done little to prevent more killings like hers.
So why is this local election important to black people everywhere else? Because we really are at a turning point with urban violence.
As society becomes more technological, education changes, and the macroeconomics of America evolve, black folk will be in the middle of it all without even knowing it. But urban violence is something that cripples us the way Jim Crow did because it either kills us, or it incarcerates us. It’s up to Chicago, right now, to figure out how to reduce murders in the street.
In Atlanta, they figured out how to create a black mecca and ultimately a reversal of the Great Migration that is still taking place today. In New Orleans they experienced unprecedented natural disaster and somehow survived it. The fallout of an industry and eventual upheaval of a bankruptcy means Detroit can now write a playbook on how to walk barefoot and blind through a minefield.
All of these places went through a municipal election in the midst of all of these changes, and it can be said that the elections moved them forward.
It’s Chicago’s turn to show the rest of us how to solve the public health crisis of mass random gun violence. It is a plague politically, economically and socially. It gets way deeper than weak rhetoric. It is something that has to be addressed first at the voting booth, then through smart policy. If Obama can come up with historical health care reform that has given relief to millions and counting, there’s no reason similar measures can’t be taken for this kind of violence.
Chicago can be the laboratory for that, but voters will have to tell Emanuel and Garcia to come up with a plan for a real solution. So far, Emanuel hasn’t scored many points and the major reason he’s still in it is because he’s got lots of money and voters from other parts of town behind him.
But can Garcia make the difference? Outside of Chicago, he’s not really known and he says the same thing as everyone else about responses to violence: “more police.” I’m no longer convinced that overpolicing is a solution. I’m waiting for Emanuel and Garcia and really others to say something about enforcing existing gun laws as policy and to advocate federal prosecution for gun dealers who are part of illegal weapons traffic chains.
If they go in that direction, then yes, Chicago can show the rest of the country about how to deal with urban gun violence and put the safety on before another boy or girl or mother or father suffers the fate of thousands of others.
But that has to be done now and it has to be the most important thing talked about in that city, because it’s the most important thing talked about in so many others.
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter:@madisonjgray