Talk Back

Talk back: In Response to Tyshawn and Laquan

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For some strange reason, a lot of people–Black, white and otherwise–have asked me “Why do Black people only care when the police kill a Black person? Why didn’t Black people get this upset when a Black person killed 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee?” I mean, I don’t really know, but to me, such a question is almost a subtle way of saying, ”If young Black people would just fall out like this every time a Black person kills a Black person, there wouldn’t be any gang banging in your neighborhoods.” Now, I’m a “women’s empowerment” blogger, so I don’t know why they’d ask me, but since they did, I’ll be a “people’s empowerment” blogger for the day and attempt to answer.

laquan mcdonald

Firstly, Chicagoans were devastated by what happened to Tyshawn Lee. The narrative that we didn’t respond to his murder is an outright lie.  In fact, just a few days after his death, South Side residents & local community organizations raised more than $55,000.00 for anyone who could offer information leading to the arrest of Tyshawn’s killers. And there was a march–held during a snow storm– to protest the ongoing gang war that claimed Tyshawn’s life.  Additionally, when the Chicago Police Department did finally arrest someone for Tyshawn’s murder, former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy made sure to tell the media, “We got an awful lot of intelligence from the community; this was very clearly not a case of ‘no-snitching.’” So please, go run and tell that.

However, I know our response to Tyshawn’s murder isn’t really the point here.  The other (not so subtle) point being made by asking about the varying responses to both murders is, “There are thousands of police encounters that go right every single day, so why do Black kids get so bent out of shape over the one or two encounters that go wrong?” The short answer is that we don’t trust the police, and the police don’t trust us.  And those trust issues have always presented Black folks with a major quandary about how to coexist with law enforcement.

Of course, we want the police to do their jobs and keep order in our community. But in our community, “order” comes at a very high price. Some Chicago police officers have never been above violating people’s civil rights, gunning down unarmed kids and arresting people for crimes they didn’t commit, in the name of keeping us in “order.” Yes, the police review board and our elected officials are there, but they’re too spooked by the Fraternal Order of Police to really shield communities of color from that type of frightening, undue abuse.

After all, Garry McCarthy was just a kid in 1969 when the Chicago Police Department shot 99 bullets into Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton’s apartment as he slept. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was still in law school in the 1980s when Chicago police detective Jon Burge was torturing Black men into admitting to crimes they didn’t commit. And Rahm Emmanuel certainly wasn’t our Mayor in 1999 when the city council paid $35 million to LaTanya Haggerty’s family, after police killed her during a traffic encounter. The characters change, but the story is the same; the police have carte blanche to keep us in line.  The death of people like Laquan McDonald is just the price of doing business in our community.

The relationship with the police creates a dynamic where Black people live in communities where they’re afraid of the criminals, but they’re afraid of the police, too.  The rogue police officers are “afraid for their lives” every time they encounter a Black person.  The politicians are too afraid of the Fraternal Order of Police to confront the organization about its rouge officers. And all the while, the criminals in our communities aren’t afraid of anybody! They’re out here gunning down 9 year olds.

That said, we don’t see the death of Tyshawn Lee as all that different from the death of Laquan McDonald; they’re results of the problems that stem from police brutality in our community and we’ve had enough.

The police, and the community can certainly work together to help curb the violence in our neighborhoods, but our relationship is so strained that it’s been virtually impossible to solve the real problems.  Protesting the murder of Laquan McDonald isn’t just about police brutality; it’s about exposing the breakdown in the relationship between the government and the Black community.  It’s about demanding that breach be repaired.  So when you see us marching for Laquan, please know we’re marching for Tyshawn, too.

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