Chicago top cop links gun policy to racism

CHICAGO – The city’s new police chief, Garry McCarthy, sermonized recently that federal gun laws are equivalent to “government-sponsored racism,” and they “facilitate” illegal gun trafficking into the urban centers of this country.

McCarthy, Newark, N.J.’s former top cop, said to the predominantly black congregation at St. Sabina Church, “[L]et’s see if we can make a connection here. Slavery. Segregation. Black codes. Jim Crow. What did they all have in common? Anybody getting scared? Government sponsored racism.

“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 that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children,” he said.

St. Sabina’s priest is Father Pfleger, a well-known anti-violence, anti-racist activist here. Pfleger and McCarthy are both white. McCarthy said he isn’t afraid to address the issue of “race.”

McCarthy said he grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., at a time when everyone was dealing with “gangs, guns and drugs.” He said urban communities are still dealing with the same toxic brew of violence.

He called for getting the gun debate back to the “center,” with recognition that black and brown youth are paying the price “for gun manufacturers being rich and living in gated communities.”

“The NRA does not like me. And I’m ok with that,” he said, and also challenged Sarah Palin’s over-the-top gun rhetoric.

Most law enforcement officials support what are commonly referred to as “common sense” gun laws, which some studies show help stem the flow of illegal firearms that wind up being bought and sold by organized crime gangs. 

McCarthy is also critical of the U.S. drug policy. At a recent rally of community organizations denouncing the failure of the 40-year “war on drugs,” McCarthy criticized the law enforcement-only approach, saying it does more harm than good.

“It’s about the money. Mafia guys whack each other over concrete businesses. It’s not about the concrete; it’s about the money.

“If we just lock up a drug dealer, we may be actually causing violence. Because there’s an established market were somebody is going to go, seeking drugs. That’s demand. As long as that demand exists at a location, that supply will show back up.”

He says police need to follow up to reduce the demand, and social services needs to provide treatment for addicts and rebuild communities – not just throw people in jail. Many advocate for addiction to be considered a health care issue, not a criminal one.

Illegal trafficking of drugs and guns are clearly linked to each other and to economic conditions in impoverished communities, where unemployment rates soar past 50 percent.

Worldwide, drugs and arms are at the top of the list of most profitable industries, along with oil. The total value of the illegal arms market is difficult to estimate. However, available estimates place the value of the arms trafficking market in the billions of dollars.

But the “legal” gun trade is also profitable, and tied to the political winds on gun control.

For example, shares of Smith & Wesson rose 13 percent after the gun maker forecast strong annual sales by increased demand for small arms designed for personal protection.

“The company is benefiting from the redesign and launch of small handguns that are easier to conceal and carry,” reports Reuters.

The irony of McCarthy’s statements about guns and racism was not lost on some. When the first Mayor Richard Daley urged a ban on guns, it was because he blamed civil rights organizers for being “outside agitators” and purveyors of violence. Daley became a “law and order” mayor, conservative code at the time for being against civil rights.

He once told President Lyndon Johnson that guns were widely available and “especially the non-white, are buying guns right and left.”

Many experts in the field say “common sense” gun laws are a necessary reform to stem the violence, but it has to be coupled with other public policy initiatives.

In a previous interview with People’s World, the director of anti-violence group Ceasefire, Tio Hardiman, took a holistic approach to ending the culture of violence and guns.

“We need to change the thinking about the epidemic of violence,” he said. “Youth on the streets are going to think it’s legal now to carry a gun,” Hardiman said after the Supreme Court struck down District of Columbia’s gun law.

“The gun control problem is important but what is also important is electing leaders that will stand up for young people’s rights to jobs, educational opportunities and a clean and safe environment, said Hardiman.

Photo: Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy



Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano had been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor, and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by the International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women, and Illinois Woman Press Association.