IN A HEATED exchange, 4th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer (right) spars with an unidentified speaker as moderator and WVON radio personality Matt Magill (center) looks on during a community town hall meeting at Liberty Baptist Church in Bronzeville on Tuesday, December 7.
McDonald shooting exposes years of frustration in the Black community
Beneath the outrage and protests from the cover-up of the Laquan McDonald case, something was brewing in the Black community. To many residents, it was there long before the scandal erupted.
Years of bottled-up anger in the Black community is erupting after the McDonald case blew the lid off the city’s problems some two weeks ago. While the anger has been directed at two prominent officials in recent weeks, hostility has slowly worked its way towards Chicago’s Black aldermen.
During a protest in the Loop on Sunday, protesters booed Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th) and Pat Dowell (3rd) as they spoke.
“You knew!” they yelled, referring to a cover-up that has exploded on the national stage and created an ever-growing crisis at City Hall.
At a town hall meeting at Christ Tabernacle Church on December 1, community activist Cameilla Williams, 26, was one of several residents who voiced her distrust in the city’s aldermen.
“You knew. All of you knew. Thirteen months at City Hall during this whole thing and you didn’t know about it? You knew.”
The anger came full circle on Tuesday, December 8 at a community town hall meeting at Liberty Baptist Church in Bronzeville. In the same place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized marches, dozens of frustrated Black residents unleashed a torrent of anger for two hours straight which, at times, left Black aldermen speechless and helpless.
One man said, “We have no confidence and trust in your ability to govern us. You took $5 million and knowingly gave it away.”
Another male attendee stated, “We’re not going to be quiet. We’re going to raise hell until y’all go up against this mayor and join us in doing what’s right.”
With a diverse Chicago City Council that has many Black and Hispanic aldermen, the city’s Black neighborhoods have been in decline despite the minority representation at City Hall. Dozens of schools have closed. Poverty and unemployment still fester, and now Mayor Rahm Emanuel is accused of covering up a police shooting as Blacks propelled him to a second term in office.
As millions watched Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez fail in calming an angry city through new initiatives, Chicago’s Black aldermen face similar failures and issues of transparency in the Black community where many no longer trust their leadership.
Along with Emanuel and Alvarez, more people in the Black community are challenging Black aldermen to come clean as part of a movement to oust the mayor and fully sweep out corruption at City Hall and the police department.
It’s a concern that was once held by a young generation of activists involved in the local organizations and the national movement, Black Lives Matter. Now, older residents who have grown fed up with longstanding issues in their neighborhoods have joined calls for sweeping reforms at City Hall and the police department. Their frustrations have reached a boiling point as the city’s 18 Black aldermen remain silent in calls to oust the mayor and have the U.S. Department of Justice investigation expand its probe to City Hall.
Many believe that the city’s Black aldermen are part of the problem and can no longer lead the Black community.
For two weeks, this criticism took a backseat to passionate pleas for the resignations of Emanuel and Alvarez. The two have been dogged by accusations of mishandling Laquan’s case after finally releasing a video that had been suppressed for 13 months.
During this time, Laquan’s killer, Jason Van Dyke, remained on the city’s payroll. He has been charged with first-degree murder. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has since been terminated, and Sharon Fairley has been appointed director of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the beleaguered agency that has been criticized for reprimanding two officers out of 400 cases of police misconduct since it was formed in 2007.
The scandal has damaged the credibility and reputation of Emanuel and Alvarez. Now, those same problems have infected the city’s Black aldermen, who are accused of allowing a cover-up to happen for 13 months and approving a $5 million settlement earlier this year with a rubber stamp. It’s an amount that many believe does not fit a crime that appears worse today than when it was approved by city leaders on April 15. The city’s finance committee put together the proposal on April 13.
The transcript of that meeting was distributed to residents at the town hall meeting at Liberty Baptist Church.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart, many Black aldermen announced their endorsement of Kim Foxx for Cook County State’s Attorney.
But when a Crusader reporter asked about the McDonald case and if enough thought was given before the Black aldermen voted in favor of the $5 million settlement, in a testy response, Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th) responded, “You’re making an assumption when you haven’t spoken to anyone. There were discussions in February when the family of Laquan McDonald asked for $16 million before it was negotiated down. I didn’t need to see the tape because the advice was accurate. We agreed for $5 million for the sake of the city’s taxpayers.”
Sawyer gave that same explanation at the town hall meeting at Liberty Baptist Church and drew a heated response from residents.
“Why were there no questions about the life of this young man (Laquan)? If the city really wants to save money, how about cutting the millions of dollars in overtime to some of these police officers?!”
“I think, in hindsight, maybe we could have been more adamant,” Dowell told the Crusader after the meeting.
During the meeting, Sawyer, at times, showed some empathy, saying “I want you to be mad. Show your anger at the polls in March.”
In October, the city’s Black aldermen called for the resignation of former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, but residents say the effort was not enough to address problems that have plagued Black neighborhoods for decades.
In addition to Sawyer, the town hall meeting was attended by Aldermen Dowell, Howard B. Brookins Jr. (21st), Leslie Hairston (5th), and Alderman Michelle Harris (8th). Alderman Will Burns (4th) sat away from residents in the pews on the church’s second level. He was called to come down and join the rest of the panel.
The meeting was attended by about 120 residents. Many stood in long lines to ask the panel questions. Throughout the evening, anger and frustrations remained high and peaked when residents asked the aldermen if they would join calls to ask for an expanded DOJ investigation into the practices of City Hall.
As it turned out, the residents said the McDonald video set off years of frustration towards the city’s Black aldermen.
One pastor complained of not getting a response from the mayor or Alderman Harris after repeated calls about his concerns and a proposal about an ordinance that promotes fair treatment of citizens by officers.
A college professor from Northeastern University said she gave an assignment that required 30 of her students to contact a Black alderman and only two responded.
One resident grew angry as she shared her frustrations with Harris, who she said has been an elusive politician who has lost touch with the Black community.
Burns has had his share of problems with residents in his ward this year. Many have grown weary after failing to persuade the alderman to reverse his decision to rescind parking permits in their neighborhood.