Commentary: It’s Not What You Said, But to Whom You Said It

Commentary: It’s Not What You Said, But to Whom You Said It

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who is white, tells a Black church audience that he thinks that gun laws kill Black children.

Published June 27, 2011

What do you say to a neighborhood plagued with gun violence over the years? Stop bringing guns into the community—seems simple enough, right? Well, Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s newly appointed police superintendent brought in by new mayor Rahm Emanuel, may have taken his anti–gun violence rhetoric a little too far, according to critics.


McCarthy, who is white, appeared at St. Sabina, a predominately Black church in Chicago’s South side of the city last week. During his remarks McCarthy warned the crowd that he wasn’t afraid to talk about race. To prove just how serious he was, he made a correlation between slavery, segregation, the Black codes and Jim Crow with “government-sponsored racism.”


Although the church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, has been a strong supporter of anti-gun and anti-drug campaigns over the years, McCarthy may have felt a little too comfortable expressing his feelings toward federal gun laws.    


"Now I want you to connect one more dot on that chain of the African-American history in this country, and tell me if I’m crazy, federal gun laws,” he started, “... facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our Black and brown children."


He may have been cheered on by the worshipers, but not surprisingly McCarthy’s remarks have received very harsh criticism from gun-rights advocates.


“After several minutes of gratuitous self-promotion, McCarthy launched into a racially charged tirade in which he accused the NRA and law-abiding gun owners of participating in a government-sponsored program to kill black people," Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said in a statement.


On one hand, I understand from where the rifle association representative is coming, but on the other hand, McCarthy could have a point that stricter laws against firearms could increase public safety.


What got lost in translation, however, was the context in which McCarthy was giving his talk. One, he was talking to an audience whose community has experienced the saddening effects of gun violence. Two, he was speaking to a Black church crowd, and for anyone who understands the African-American church history, there are strong ties between past government discrimination and everyday Black experiences, still until this day.


You can’t get that promotion at work possibly because your boss has made racial comments and you know that he discriminates against your abilities? “Keep working hard and God will make other opportunities available,” the Black church would encourage, for example.


This controversy almost reminds me of when everyone started to hate Jeremiah Wright. To the outside world, sure, he was seen as an angry, racist Black man. But for anyone familiar with Black church rhetoric and services, he was preaching what people were living or had lived in the past.


Now, considering that McCarthy is a Caucasian man, I’m not sure from where he is drawing information about what Blacks have experienced or are experiencing, except through factual information or hear-say. Nor do I agree that the gun laws are acts of “government-sponsored racism.” But sure, maybe he does have a point, as seen through his clarified statement released Friday.


Maybe "strong gun laws against illegal firearms are critical in order to maintain public safety and private rights.”


Next time, however, it might just be a little bit safer to say that from the start instead of creating a race-card debate.

(Photo: AP Photo/Tim Hales)

Written by Danielle Wright


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