(Originally posted at Restoring Pangea)
This year, I’m thankful for a circle of angry friends.
Now, let me clarify – I’m also thankful that they aren’t angry at me.
The dashboard footage of LaQuan McDonald being cut down by a police officer is being released this week, which might make Thanksgiving Day a little less celebratory if we’re all jailed for protesting, but I’m glad I won’t be in there alone. I received a text back from an attorney friend, “won’t be able to represent you, but will be locked up with you.”
North Lawndale, on Chicago’s west side, is a predominantly black neighborhood with a storied past. Inhabited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, during his protests against discriminatory housing in 1967, the neighborhood was the case study for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent article in the Atlantic, “The Case For Reparations.” Saddled with years of predatory housing policies, a dilapidated physical environment, and rising drug and violent gang-related crime, Lawndale is now a case study for why heavy police presence doesn’t work in lowering crime, in much the same way that an occupying army doesn’t squelch dissent. So I’m angry, and a lot of my friends are angry too. Lawndale didn’t become this way by accident, but by architecture. And this week it might boil over.
McDonald was walking down the street, only a few blocks from my house, with a 4-inch folding knife; an act far from a capital crime that deserved death. The officer claims he “felt threatened for his life” by a 17 year old walking away from him more than 20 feet away. I haven’t seen the video yet, and I’m not sure I’ll need to. This much we know from an independent autopsy: two shots in the back dropped him on the sidewalk, as fourteen more entered his prostrate body and sealed his fate – the sparks from slugs hitting the sidewalk probably making it look like he’s lying on fireworks; an execution by any definition.
I’m thankful that some of the people I love and care about are as angry with this as I am. As a white guy living in a black neighborhood, I often feel like an outsider. I don’t always know how to interact with the #BLM movement, and I’m not always sure that I’m welcomed into the sacred space of protest with them. I would feel awkward wearing a “Let my people vote!” t-shirt, since I represent the portion of society never forbidden that “inalienable” right. I don’t know if “ally” is the proper way to describe myself, and I don’t want to try and appropriate my neighbors’ history of pain as my own. But this week, I’m mad.
One of my mentors has said that I, as a white male, have the privilege of being mad. I’m new to this fight, not beaten down by centuries and generations of oppression and repression. I’ve been the beneficiary of many of these privileges, often on the backs of the people I now call neighbor. I also expect someone to care about me being mad. When I speak, someone should listen, right? But I’m mad anyway, and I’m standing up so that my neighbors can be mad too.
But I sense some resignation in the voice of my neighbors. When the Guardian released a report last year about a secret police “black site” run by the CPD in Lawndale, I heard a lot of voices say, “Oh, a white person got detained and now it is international news? They’ve been disappearing black people in there for years.” When I road- tripped to Ferguson last year, I invited some of my neighbors. “Man, you go on down there and do your thing, but I don’t really feel like getting shot. You all [white people] can go march all night, but those cops would love nothing more than to smoke me with a riot shield.” When Rekia Boyd’s murderer, CPD Officer Dante Servin, walked free a few months ago, it troubled me that I didn’t see very many protestors. Most of the neighborhood didn’t even know what was going on, even though her shocking murder came just down the road in Douglass Park. To see a response that calloused to a crime that heinous disturbed me. It made me mad.
It seems an oppressive fear has gripped our city. If this video doesn’t spark our own Ferguson uprising, I don’t know if anything will. If the DoJ were to investigate the CPD, the report would be scathing. Even after Jon Burge has completed his prison sentence for the tortured confessions out of black suspects, there is still virtually no accountability for our law enforcement. Kids in my neighborhood are harassed and brutalized, police reports are falsified, arbitrary traffic stops turn into hefty fines, confiscation of property, and humiliating and destructive for little or no reason.
There is no assumption of innocence, and no burden of proof required. A cop’s word against a 15-year-old boy? Who do you think the judge believes? Some of my friends who defend these juveniles in court have a running joke: “I can speculate.” The line they have heard many times before when questioning a police officer about the events in question: Did you see any illegal activity by this youth? Did you see him distribute narcotics? Did you see him have a weapon? Did you know that this person was guilty? I can speculate.
If the city burns this week, I hope it is seen as a burning bush, instead of just a burning car. Please, Oh Lord, let this be seen as a prophetic act against an unjust oppressor. Please, Oh Lord, let this be seen as a pot boiling over after 400 years of discrimination. It is okay for me to be mad. Jesus was mad when he flipped some tables in the temple. Please, be mad about it too, and stand with me. And let our neighbors who are a little more timid stand up and be mad too.
Will LaQuan wake up my neighborhood? I am anxiously awaiting an answer. Because if we can’t get justice for LaQuan, how long, Oh Lord, must we wait?
At least I won’t be waiting alone this year.