Of Pork Chops and Politics


In the 90’s, on a rare trip back home, I found myself the guest of honor at an old school Negro feast, the kind my arteries hadn’t encountered since I’d left home – Prissy and Mammy might have slaved over that spread. Mustard greens. Ham hocks and butter beans. Cornbread. Fried chicken. Peach cobbler. Mac and cheese. Pound cake that actually weighed more. Red and blue Kool-Aid. But, for some reason, it was the fried pork chops that got me. The involuntary grunt of pleasure I made swooning over that table both embarrasses me as I type this years later and reminds me that I need to schedule a trip back home soonest. But, it would have been self-destrctive to have more than seconds and I somehow managed to drag myself away. That moment came back to me this morning because I had just such a pavlovian, gut deep response when I ran across this. It made me so happy deep down in my soul, I was bouncing in my seat and cackling like a cave woman.

Chicago’s mayor is hiding behind his city attorney to keep the names of officers accused of excessive force out of the public’s hands. “That would be up to her ..,” the mayor said. “She is a lawyer. I’m not the lawyer for the city.” Under court order, they’ve turned over a list but -get this!- with all the names blacked out, Soviet style. But at least now we know that, “the top four were members of the controversial Special Operations Section. All had 50 or more misconduct complaints over the last five years. The top 10 special operations officers on the list had a total of 408 complaints lodged against them.

Also Wednesday, a group of religious leaders and family members of two men fatally shot by Chicago police joined one alderman in calling for a hearing on police-involved shootings,…The report found that of the 85 police-involved fatal shootings since 2000, nine officers had been sued for at least one other allegation of misconduct, and five for more than one.”

Boo ya! Does it get any better than this?

So gleeful I could barely find the keys, I was halfway through a blistering post in the same amount of time I’d been halfway through a Simpsonian snoutful of fried pork chops that day. But just as I realized, sadly, I had to step away from the pork chops, I knew, sadly, I had to step away from that post. Post-Imus and -the Jena 6, like much of the black community, I’m focused on helping figure out a pragmatic way forward for the community and scorching frontal attacks don’t seem like the path; they end dialogues, not begin them. If we’re truly invested in any kind of 21st Century Civil Rights Movement, we’ll have to exercise an unflinching self-control no matter how juicy the inducement to be rash. No matter how tantalizing the racial porn. That means our leaders and that means us as individuals.

Overarchingly, there were two things that the Movement was: non-violent and thoroughly strategized. My problem with the Jena 6 was the lack of restraint on the part of some of its leaders and, most of all, that the poster victims had engaged in violence and had had previous run-ins with the law. The movement wouldn’t have touched them with a ten foot pole. If you think Rosa Parks was the first sister to refuse to give up her on seat on a segregated bus, let alone one in Montgomery, you’ve got a lot of reading to do. The Brown girls? Folks noticed the segregation in Topeka long before them. Those public faces and test cases were very, very carefully chosen and orchestrated, the off stage maneuvering as intricate as a ballet. Are we capable of less when things are so much easier? The black legions that boarded those buses for the Million Man March a dozen years ago, and Jena, Louisiana a few weeks ago are looking for wise leadership (at every level. No Messiahs, please) and substantive ways to be involved beyond protest. My fear is that we’ll find neither. We didn’t after the March. We haven’t since the Movement.

You don’t get to be a Chicago pol by being either naive or inexperienced, so I’m betting that they’re thinking strategically about how to manage this situation for maximum public benefit, for instance, seriously entertaining explanations justifying police secrecy. Trading the names, for now, for a much-wanted hearings on police-involved shooting, for innovation and experimentation in community policing, sentencing and the like. And let’s not forget money for local programs. From my reading, the leaders in Chicago are mostly avoiding incendiary rhetoric and tactics, though I have no doubt they’re capable of either if the time comes. So I’m hopeful. What else can I be? I link to articles about job training for ex-cons and ‘take back the night’ events in inner cities and argue against group think. I try not to make things worse. Like most blacks, what I do mostly is remain watchful for good leaders to emulate. The ones who know when to step away from the pork chops.