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Monday, December 10, 2007

Credentials, not color

City enters new era as top cop's resume dominates talk of town

Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Oh, and did you happen to notice that Chicago's new police superintendent is white?

Of all the things noticed about Jody Weis, his race may have been the least. Not that you couldn't see that he was white, but his nomination as the city's new top cop drew far less attention than the other notables:

He's an outsider and an FBI guy, making him the ultimate no one who nobody sent. He's to be paid more than $300,000, making him the city's highest-paid employee. But hardly anyone is making a big deal out of Mayor Richard M. Daley's failure to pick someone with darker skin pigment.

Well, almost no one.

"I don't think this is a good message sent to our community," said Rev. Steve Greer Jr. of Christian Valley Baptist Church in North Lawndale. "We needed a representative sensitive to the issues that African-Americans face and understand why we do what we do."

Weis could make up for being white, I suppose, by following Greer's suggestion that the new superintendent choose an African-American for his second in command.

But that's about it. No marches on City Hall. No huffing and puffing about the city's minorities being disrespected and snubbed. No pundits spewing the usual racist crud about how you can't understand the black man's problems with the Police Department unless you're a black man or woman. Not a dissenting voice among the aldermen, although that's not new.

Maybe the anger was there, but perhaps the city's reporters, editors and producers just didn't bother going out to look for it, which would be a welcome relief from the usual knee-jerk story line that's so popular in the city's newsrooms.

Or maybe the usual carpers are just keeping their powder dry for later when they're planning a really big protest.

Not to make too much out of something that didn't happen, but could this sudden colorblindness in a city of stark contrasts be a sea change? Could a person's color no longer matter? Could it be a welcome sign of maturity in our civil matters?

If so, that's good news.

Perhaps it means that the town's black leadership and black communities are so fed up with the gangs and crime, police misconduct and brutality that they don't give a fig what color the new chief is as long as he is able do something about it.

Just four years ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson was railing about the failure of the Chicago Police Board to pick a black finalist to replace Terry Hillard, an African-American selected by Daley five years earlier. Jackson appointed himself to appoint a committee to submit a black finalist.

A black chief is needed, he said back then, because the black community is the one most victimized. "We're the most profiled, the most arrested, the most jailed, the most brutalized and, therefore, we expect to have in the highest places people whose credentials and track record earn trust in our community," he said. By "credentials" I take it he meant African-American.

With Weis' appointment, the same sentiment showed up on Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Web site. In a statement, Jackson said he was "astonished" that interim Police Supt. Dana Starks, an African-American, was passed over.

"But this is not just about the placement of a new police superintendent," he said. "The state's attorney [an elected office], the fire chief -- all of these key positions are held by whites and not minorities. This is a matter not just of ethnicity but of sensitivity."

You could have pulled the rhetoric right out of the 1960s playbook, a far different world in the history of race relations. The "color barrier" long ago was broken here, and the idea of a black superintendent for the sake of his color is regressive, not progressive. Sure, Jackson has tried to redefine the argument in terms of sensitivity, but the racial undertones remain: a white person is incapable of being sensitive because of -- what? -- inbred racism?

Still, Jackson's response seems muted, hopefully demonstrating a certain degree of acquiescence to today's reality, the reality being that most folks have come to recognize the racism in suggesting that you need black skin to build trust. Now we can allow Weis to do the job that really matters -- get rid of the bad apples, both in the department and in the neighborhoods.


Jim Bowman said...

On the other hand, Mary Mitchell did not disappoint:,CST-NWS-mitch30.article

lake county democrat said...

Dennis: quick question -- what's your position on requiring taping interrogations and/or confessions?