By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
During the summer of 2002, I was a frequent attendee of a month-long boycott of a Chinese food takeout by black residents in Washington, D.C. No kidding, the protest began after a local activist accused a cook at Kenny’s Carryout of attempting to cook a piece of chicken he had dropped on the floor and kicked around like a soccer ball. By my unofficial count, there were about 100 protesters marching and chanting some days, but one key person was missing: Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
The protest leaders contacted Jackson, but joy turned to rage when he told them he was heading to Los Angeles instead, to protest the beating of a black man by police. One of the protestors told me: “See! Jesse ain’t out for nobody but Jesse. They already got cameras there.”
I asked protestors why they were targeting a small Chinese takeout rather than lousy public schools nearby. At that time, about 37 percent of D.C. adults read at about the third grade elementary school level.
A conservative friend of mine who declined my invitation to observe the protest told me it was another example of black spokesmen and their constituents ignoring serious problems. Not exactly, I told him.
They have led demonstrations, delivered speeches, and rhymed many a time in denouncing black-on-black crime and encouraging black youth to study harder. As far back as 1984, the Associated Press (“Jackson calls for end to black-on-black crime”) quoted Jackson as saying: “I want blacks who kill and maim other blacks to go to jail. The blood keeps flowing.” He was alluding to another spate of gang-related killings, one of which ended in the death of Chicago high school basketball star Ben Wilson (Jackson delivered the eulogy at Wilson’s funeral).
Much of it may be street theater. While people have many hobbies, number one in history has probably been blaming others for problems. The problem in inner-cities runs deeper than black spokesmen ignoring problems.
In short: They don’t know what to do. Fifty years after rioters torched many inner-cities, a new generation of politicians, activists, intellectuals, journalists, black spokesmen, and the current U.S. President don’t know what to do about black-on-black crime, illegitimacy, joblessness, Baltimore, Ferguson, or Chicago’s South Side.
Sure, the leaders and talkers talk, even after their policies clearly are harmful, unless or ineffective. They talk about afterschool programs, fully funding No Child Left Behind, black role models, diversity, multiculturalism, black history taught year around, community policing, affirmative action, ending police brutality and racial profiling, increasing the minimum wage, etc.
In his 1980 book Knowledge and Decisions, economist Thomas Sowell wrote (paraphrased with my added spin): If you are a farmer who can milk a cow, that means you can go to a barn with a bucket and come back with some milk from a cow. On the other hand, if you are an expert on crime, you can go to Philadelphia, but we can’t expect you to come back with less crime.
Several years ago, fast-talking black intellectual Michael Eric Dyson led a march against violence in Philadelphia. Before the weekend was over, four more people had been killed, including a five-year-old black girl sitting in her mother’s car. Dyson can talk and march against black-on-black crime, but he can’t come back with less crime in Philadelphia.
There’s a difference between expertise in doing something and expertise in talking eloquently. I’m not surprised politicians go for Daily Show type chuckles. The person who would get booed at an important speech would be the person interrupting to say, “Enough with the jokes, Mr. President. What can you do about it, and when?” I would boo you, too. How dare you interrupt the President’s punchline?
In the late 1980s, Obama was a community organizer in Chicago’s troubled South Side and he later represented the area as state senator. Jackson has been based in Chicago for more than four decades. They have national plans, but I’ve heard that Chicago’s South Side is still a dangerous place to be. Now it is Baltimore’s turn in the headlines. The President did suggest that if his policies were implemented that things would be better. If he could clean up (pick one) Baltimore, Ferguson or Chicago’s South Side, he’d deserve his Nobel Peace Prize.
I recently read that the Obama Presidential Library will be housed at the University of Chicago. If there is ever a dispute with a Chinese takeout or riots on the South Side, assuming he isn’t globe-trotting, at cocktail parties in D.C., or hanging out at his library in Chicago, Obama may be able to join after he becomes a civilian again. He and Jackson may not be able to return with less crime, but I hope at least they can come back with more chicken.
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu