In June 2011, the recently hired Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy, the leader of the second largest police department in America, told a large black church congregation at St. Sabina’s on the Southside of Chicago some amazing things. He told them that he was not afraid to talk about the infamous “r-word”…race. McCarthy suggested that slavery, segregation, the black codes, and Jim Crow had one very important common denominator: “government-sponsored racism.” After some thunderous applause, McCarthy then said there was another component to this government-sponsored racism, “Federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country that are killing are black and brown children.” After an even louder series of thunderous applause, McCarthy finally added that after recognizing these facts, he was “changing the face” of how policing would take place in Chicago because he had a “plan to address it.”
Roll forward to October 2014. Almost three and a half years and 1500 homicides later, please allow me to share his plan for new “police reform” in Chicago: the initiation of Operation Impact. As it turned out, his plan was just another “zero tolerance approach,” where police officers are saturated into “high crime areas,” which has always been code for communities of color, to make as many arrests as financially possible. Spending over $21 million in overtime to pay his police officers the first three months alone for this initiative, it was described as a success by CPD because the city’s homicide numbers, whose victims are primarily young black men, dropped from a body count of 100 to 90 per month. Based on these bargain prices, the cost to save one black male’s life in Chicago from a violent death sits at about $2 million each. Just imagine if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were to increase McCarthy’s $1.5 billion annual police department budget, which already accounts for 32% of the city’s total and where public safety is already the largest expenditure, by another, let’s say, $300 million, based on this rationale, we could reduce our murder rate to maybe one or two young black men a month.
The saddest part of this analogy is that, I guarantee you, there is a budget proposal sitting on McCarthy’s desk for exactly such a monetary request, using the exact same skewed logic as far as the estimated drops in murder. You see, we cannot be too upset with Superintendent McCarthy. In fact, I give him a great deal of credit. He began his helm by sharing the ugly truths regarding the historic connections between race, crime, and systematic injustice within the black American experience. He just didn’t know how deep the “faces at the bottom of the well” were in the Windy City. Although McCarthy has seen similar black male counter-cultures of crime with career stops in New York City and Newark, he had never seen one on “cultural steroids” before:
An Illinois Department of Corrections, whose population is primarily from the Chicago area and still growing, that’s cycling back home approximately 35,000 black males each year;
A city population where an estimated 40-45% of the young black males are convicted felons;
An environment that is home to over 68,000 active gang members, and over 70 different gangs;
A Chicago-based criminal justice system that, in 2010 alone, ran off the racial fuel of 103,228 arrests of black males, over 72% of the total number of the 144,175 males arrested that year, despite making up less than 15% of the total adult male population;
A climate where more black children in Chicago died from gunfire in 2010 than Chicago soldiers died in Iraq;
An overall unemployment rate of over 22%, which is doubled for black males at around 45%, and tripled at a staggering 65-70% for black males who are convicted felons;
A city that has the third highest rate of extreme poverty of the nation's 10 largest cities, at 21.6%; for children, it rises to over 50%;
A dilapidated public school system that is running on a billion dollar deficit in which almost 90% of its students are from communities of color, although whites make up over one third of the city’s population;
A city in which only 3 out of every 100 black young men earn a college degree by age 25; and
A city that due to the social climate of crime has lost the tax base revenue of over 200,000 people the last decade, many of whom were educated and employed black residents. “Black flight” has dropped the city’s population down to levels dating back a century to 1910.
In all fairness, McCarthy doesn’t have a chance. Even if his strategy meets some short term objective in reducing homicides, it will not have any impact on the plight of black males in Chicago. You see, there have always been two cities in Chicago, one black and one white, where the politics of shaming, self-segregation, and transgenerational learned helplessness are alive and well. Similar to his 60 predecessors as Chicago Police Department Superintendents, many of whom took part in the creation of this black counter-culture of crime, he has about a four-year life expectancy as the top cop. In my beloved city today, this black counter-culture of crime shoots other black males for sport. Since its incorporation in 1837, the City of Chicago has infused a type of man-made racial nihilism in black neighborhoods across the city that I’m afraid might have caused permanent damage to the psyche of its young black urban men. There is a reason to fear the young black men that have accepted this counter-culture as their own. This counter-culture has now become embedded into the holistic black American experience in Chicago. In fact, it’s so dire in the black community that it’s sometimes difficult to tell which black men are not impaled in this counter-culture of crime.
In the end, McCarthy simply did what he and every other police chief around the country who has ever attended an executive-level leadership school, such as the National FBI Academy, would have done to fight the black counter-culture of crime: when in doubt, arrest. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, what started out as possibly a genuine plan to reform policing in Chicago will eventually crash under the incredible weight of the economic and political fears created by the 506 murders in 2012, 415 murders in 2013, and the 334 murders as of today in 2014. In the end, McCarthy will simply give his constituency, 2.7 million people, which includes a black community of over 880,000, what they want: a body count of black men.