Sunday, July 04, 2010

Jungle

In the summer of my 7th year, Martin Luther King moved to Chicago.

In the 20 or so years since the end of WWII, Chicago had seen a huge increase in its African American population and a corresponding decrease in whites. Between 1960 and 1970, 505,000 white folk left the city, and 300,000 blacks moved in.

Most blacks moved in on the South Side, where my parents had grown up. My dad's neighborhood was around 79th and Dante, pretty far south, and somewhat rough. As blacks migrated to Chicago from the south, they initially set up residence on the far south end of the city, and in the words of many of my dad's friends, " took over everything south of 47th Street." It was my dad's neighbors who started the trend of white flight. "There goes the neighborhood" started at one of their block parties I'm sure.

It was a very racially segregated city back then. Chicago was called at the time "the most segregated city in America.

My mom was from Canaryville, an area bordered by Halsted on the west, arguably Canal on the east, 40th Street on the north, and 47th Street on the south. (Wiki says 49th Street, proving once again that Wiki is usually about half-right.) . That's right, 47th Street on the south, which meant that black people stayed south of 47th and whites stayed north of 47th, and therein was the, ahem, peace.

Canaryville. A square basically, comprised of approximately 100% Irish working class. Bordered by Daley's Bridgeport to the north. Home to a large number of Chicago's politicians, police, fire personnel, flunkies, and a patronage army.

One thing Canaryville had over Bridgeport was the Chicago Stockyards. When the wind was off the plains, I could sit in the window of my grandparents' house at 46th and Union, and almost taste Sinclair's Jungle, just 2 blocks to the west. The smell lingered for years after they closed down Hog Butcher to The World 'R Us.

Because Daley lived in Bridgeport, and because so many Irish people who controlled Chicago lived nearby, there was an odd absence of police presence in the summer of 1966, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Dick Gregory lead a group of protesters through White Man's Land. In other areas around the city, white areas, Daley's police had maintained order and protected protesters. Not in Bridgeport and Canaryville.

I've heard stories about what transpired, mainly from my terribly bigoted grandfather, may he rest in anger. Suffice to say that the protesters, who were demanding that housing be opened up to blacks, were made to understand that Bridgeport and Canaryville were very happy the way they were, and had no use for large crowds of angry black people.

Up until that point, Daley had maintained control of the South Side via a Congressman named William Dawson. Dawson controlled police hiring on the South Side, much of the day-to-day patronage hiring, and had a flunky job pipeline to City Hall. In Daley's deal with Dawson, Dawson delivered the black vote, and Daley kept Dawson rich. And therein was the peace. (Once Dawson died in '70, Daley redistricted the South Side so no single person could ever hold so much power again. Except himself.)

But in August of 1967, racial tension was so high, that a summit was held. Make no mistake, racial tensions had been extremely high prior to that summer; several instances had drawn headlines. In one case in '65, a hook and ladder firetruck pulled out of a firehouse on the near west side and killed a woman on the sidewalk. It was in a black neighborhood, and, as per Chicago-usual, the firehouse was populated with 100% white men. When the riots ended two days later, 170 people were in jail.

The racial tension summit in August 1967, was attended by majordomos from the white business establishment in Chicago, politicians, an Episcopal bishop. Mayor Richard J Daley, and Martin Luther King Jr.

King had purchased a building on the West Side, near Edna's, and had rehabbed the thing to make a point about potential for Chicago's run-down neighborhoods. Daley responded with paperwork showing how much the city had done in the same regard. A blizzard of paperwork to prove that Chicago isn't filled with racists.

Much talking and not much of anything else later, Daley announced that he was forming a commission to look into the commission on commissions, and for the time being King was given a promise that Chicago would become more racially integrated.

Once the media stopped paying attention, it was back to business as usual, and not much got done about making Chicago a more racially integrated city.

And so, on April 4th of 1968, just a Memphis shot away, Chicago's West Side exploded.

That Sunday, Richard J Daley did a war zone fly-over in a Chicago Fire Dept. helicopter, accompanied by his dear buddy, Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn. Quinn was the guy in charge of making sure only white men worked at the Chicago fire department. Patronage. Votes.

At a press conference called after his bird's eye view, Daley issued a statement: " I have conferred with the superintendent of police this morning, and I gave him the following instructions: I said to him very emphatically and definitely that an order be issued by him immediately and under his signature to shoot and kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in hand because they're potential murderers, and to issue a police order to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting stores in our city." In regards to children, Daley's quote was "You wouldn't want to shoot them but you could use mace to detain them."

Them.

Later that summer, we had the Democratic Convention roll into town, and Daley's "shoot to kill" quote has been wrongly attributed to that historic event so many times that it has become part of lore. Daley actually claimed that he held no sway over what happened in Grant Park, and said that Police Superintendent James Conlisk was responsible for any police action that may have crossed the line of generally accepted methods of law enforcement.

The Martin Luther King riots on the west and southwest sides, different story. Daley was calling the shots there.

By the time August arrived, the Dems were committed to the Amphitheater and the Hilton. LBJ and Richard J had made a deal. Once LBJ had decided the anti-war movement was something he didn't feel like campaigning against, and that a nomination would be something he wouldn't seek nor accept, the DNC tried to quietly move the convention away from Chicago. Daley wasn't buying. Figured to move the convention would make Chicago look like a place of which he'd lost control, and that was not Richard J Daley's style.

He put the 12,000 Chicago cops on 12 hour shifts, called up the Illinois National Guard, and had 5,000 federal troops waiting at O'Hare and Glenview NAS.

About a week before the Convention, peace activists began gathering in Lincoln Park, a couple of miles up the lakefront from Grant Park. The cops kept their eyes on the activists, but allowed them to camp overnight. That stasis was maintained until the Sunday before the Convention, when Daley ordered Conlisk to suddenly begin enforcing the 11PM curfew in Chicago's parks.

Tear gas and sticks, lots of sticks, all in a nice row, worked their way across Lincoln Park, while bags of shit and bricks came from the opposite direction. Skulls were cracked open. Newsmen were beaten up. Yippies were bloodied in The Battle of Lincoln Park.

That's when I saw my first powder blue helmet on TV. Dragging some dude by his hair to a paddy wagon while another powder blue helmet cracked some other head open with a riot baton. (The race riots hadn't gotten too much TV time I guess.)

Those scenes were shown around the world. Daley was suddenly seen as a thug mayor, and while completely miscast as the clean cut flower children, the Yippies were his victims.

Wednesday the 27th, Hubert Humphrey was in his suite at the Hilton looking down at Grant Park. He was to be the Dem nominee, but he saw his chances dying.

As the police marched in a line on Balbo, from Wabash to Michigan Ave, they formed the flank that would trap the Grant Park protesters in a vise. Humphrey, who had intended to pursue LBJ's Vietnam policy, looked down and saw a war between citizens and government. The government won in Grant Park, and Nixon won in November.

A long standing alliance between the Daleys and the Kennedys was broken. In the opinion of Daley aide, and ultimately our Mayor in 1980, Jane Byrne, the Kennedys abandoned Richard J Daley when he needed them most, after Daley had done more than a few favors for them over the years. (Jane Byrne was our mayor when Chicago passed its handgun ordinance in 1982.)

8 people were charged with crimes relating to the riot Grant Park, all of them US citizens. David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale. After Judge Julius Hoffman had heard more than he cared to hear from Seale, he had Seale bound and gagged, and chained to his chair.

After a 103 day trial, the jury decided that none of the defendants were guilty of conspiracy, and despite guilty verdicts for 5 for crossing state lines to make trouble, not one of them spent a day in prison for their actions in Grant Park.

And, nobody got shot.

In that regard, I'd have to say Daley's comments about Conlisk's conduct leading up to, and during the DNC are believable. Skulls may have gotten cracked, but nobody was maimed by a police bullet. But only a fool would think that Richard J Daley hadn't told James Conlisk exactly where the battle line was drawn, and what degree of police aggression would be seen as acceptable to a worldwide audience.

In the mind of Richard J Daley, nobody would complain much if some black rioters got shot on the southwest side one steamy summer afternoon, but there was no chance that Daley would let the world see some college kids gunned down on Michigan Ave.

Daley was very aware of the racial tension in Chicago, as we all saw the following year when Edward Hanrahan's police staged their version of a Bay of Pigs reenactment at Black Panther HQ. With Fred Hampton's death, Daley tried to quietly elbow Hanrahan aside, even though Daley himself had "promoted" Hanrahan from US Attorney to Cook County State's Attorney the previous fall.

The not so dirty little secret around Chicago, has been, is, and will continue to be, that people of color are seen as 2nd class citizens. Had Hampton's death not drawn massive attention nationally and around the world, Daley would have stood by Hanrahan. But as is so often the case in politics, yesterday's ally is today's victim, and Daley was unequaled when it came to knee-capping friends to save his own power.

Richard J Daley remained Chicago's mayor until his death in 1976.

His son has been Chicago's mayor since 1989, and this Christmas will pass his father's record as our longest serving crook.

And you know what?

Not much has changed since Martin moved here in 1966.

Canaryville is still Canaryville.

Latinos have joined African Americans on the list of people who are not allowed to rise above a certain level of power. We had factions on the City Council, such as "Council Wars" during the Washington years. If the mayoral election of 1983 wasn't the clearest insight into the widespread racism here (black Democrat Harold Washington beat white Republican Bernie Epton 52%-48%, who knew there were so many Republicans in Chicago?), then Council Wars brought the problem into very sharp relief.

Of the 50 Aldermen on the City Council, approximately 50 were Democrats. And yet, they fought like wolverines, with the Washington allies and the Burke/Vrdolyak faction seeming more like mortal enemies than political kin. Why? The Washington group was all black, while the Burke/Vrdolyak crew were all white. It was a fucking civic embarrassment.

Now, Chicago's City Council, and more broadly the City of Chicago itself, has a black faction, a white faction, and a Latino faction. Whites are a minority in Chicago now, and yet whites still control all the power (money.) The Boss had control over all of Cook County, while Richie the Younger only controls the city itself, but the power still rests at 121 N. LaSalle.

I can say from experience that Chicago's police and fire departments are dominated by white men. I talk to cops almost every day of my life. My office sits in the heart of the greatest concentration of Chicago police officers in the city (due to a residency requirement for all city employees.) As much as I respect this people, I cannot ignore what they say to me about our city.

Rough neighborhood? 4CH territory, or Kings, or GDs, or insane whatevers running drug stores in the streets? Juvies with Glocks terrorizing people walking home from work?

"Well, we'll do a drive-by with a blue and white as soon as we can get someone over there but our best advice would be to stay inside until the shooting stops." Cops may show up within an hour or so, or maybe they won't.

You fire off a gun along the Gold Coast, you have a cop response time of about 3 seconds. You squeeze off a round at 59th and Winchester, you're pretty much okay to have lunch and wait for the bus.

Someone asked me recently how many of the 54 shootings that took place in a 48 hour period in Chicago were gang related. Oh, I'd say just about every fucking one of them. So just send a bunch of cops into the neighborhood? The cops are outgunned and have no interest in turning the streets into an open war zone, not to mention the fact that "the neighborhood" is roughly the size of Rhode Island, and there are dozens of different gangs controlling small chunks of turf. Turf that they are willing to defend by whatever means necessary, and the same amount of attention paid by City Hall in 2010 as there was in 1966.

In the wake of Chicago getting national headlines for those 54 shootings, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently offered to send 5,000 Illinois National Guardsmen to Chicago. Richie Daley got publicly offended. We don't need no outside help! When the Supreme Court issued their ruling, Daley expressed disgust at the language used in the majority opinion...the part where Alito said that Chicago was unable to protect its own citizens.

Fact of the matter is that Chicago does not protect all of its citizens.

I'm not saying it's Death Wish III down in Chicago's rougher hoods, but it's much closer to that than it is to Mayberry.

Prisoners in their own homes.

A throw-away line to some, a way of life for people in parts of Chicago.

So, when considering the ramifications of Chicago's new handgun laws, I'd suggest that those most unhappy with or confused by the new law are either: people who don't live in a place where gunfire is a nightly thing, or fucking gangsters.

The fucking gangsters are not happy about this at all.

Power to the people.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will never forget when MLK marched by 79th and Crawford (not yet Pulaski) when I was 9, 10 maybe, seeing my neighbors - especially some of the moms - spewing hate like I never heard before. We stood on a hill in the "Prarie" not far from our home at 79th and Kostner. I thought Colored people were blue or orange or such prior to this. I knew something big was going on but wasn't clear on the details. First time I ever heard the word "Curfew" too.

- - Robert

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