Revisiting ChiRaq (update)

So, a couple weeks ago I had cause to comment on the released trailer for Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. I thought the trailer hinted at a film with a highly problematic view of the causes of urban violence and of politics, to put it mildly. Now that the film’s out, I want to point out a couple of things.

First off, it’s come to light that Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with the police superintendent and the Cook County State’s Attorney conspired to conceal video footage of the October 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, for more than 13 months, allowing a false police account of events to dominate public discussion of the killing, which occurred in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, MO and posed grave risk to Emanuel’s reelection campaign. This concealment muted public outcry to prosecute a police officer until after Rahm’s reelection. The NYT covers the bases in Bernard Harcourt’s Op-Ed:

Ms. Alvarez, and other city leaders, surely knew they would have to indict Mr. Van Dyke for murder as soon as the public saw that footage. “I have absolutely no doubt,” Ms. Alvarez finally said last week, “that this video will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.”

But the timing, in late 2014, was not good.

The video of a police shooting like this in Chicago could have buried Mr. Emanuel’s chances for re-election. And it would likely have ended the career of the police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy.

And so the wheels of justice virtually ground to a halt.

Well, at least they all had good reasons for obstructing justice in a police murder….

The NYT further editorializes:

All along, Mr. Emanuel’s response, either by design or because of negligence, was to do as little as possible — until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand. The residents of Chicago will have to decide whether that counts as taking responsibility.

While Curtis Black at the Chicago Reporter fills in the rest of the horrifying details (also run down by Brandon Ellington Patterson at Mother Jones). In particular, those include: an officer with a history of abusing civilians (UPDATE: and allegedly conspiring to conceal abuse by other officers) kept on the job where he emptied his weapon into a teenager walking away from him; police officers interviewing witnesses but not taking their statements for the record; officers deleting video from a nearby Burger King’s surveillance system; and the fabrication by officers, their supervisors, their union, and their superintendent, of a story blaming McDonald for his death; and a decision involving the Mayor’s administration, the State’s Attorney, and the Superintendent of Police to delay release of the video (which the latter two had certainly seen) until after a contested mayoral election. In general, the specifics add up, per Curtis Black, to a set of leaders unworthy of the public trust:

“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” Kalven said.  “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”

I’m wondering if Rahm’s gonna get the Lysistrata treatment until he resigns?

Second, Ijeoma Oluo saw Chi-Raq, and, and her review (h/t @milo_phd on twitter) in The Stranger (Seattle) makes it pretty clear that the trailer told the story of the film, and Spike Lee has no interest in any deep questioning of the political economy of urban violence. Read the whole review. But here’s where Oluo’s surgical chainsaw prose cuts across my concerns as an urbanist:

7. Women’s vaginas bring about world peace, end joblessness in the black community, and increase economic investment in inner cities. In the real world, black women are shit upon daily. They suffer from discrimination, systemic oppression, gendered violence, and economic instability. Black women work to survive in a world that rapes them and their daughters, kills their sons and fathers. They struggle to give birth to healthy babies despite medical bias and rising infant mortality rates. They struggle to feed their kids in food deserts. They care for nieces and nephews and grandchildren when black men are locked away in our prison industrial complex. They are demeaned, brutalized, and neglected. But it turns out all they had to do was refuse to fuck dudes for a few months, and all their problems would be solved. Fuck you, Spike Lee.

I’m probably gonna be saving my money on this one.


Through Gawker comes this report by Mike Fourcher in the local Aldertrack. At a meeting with Black community leaders, the Mayor appeared to offer a completely incoherent (a less polite blogger might use the term “bullshit”) account of his knowledge of the content of the police dashboard video:

After explaining the content of the video, Emanuel condemned the actions of the shooter, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, but then told the assembled pastors that he had not yet seen the dash-cam video. His admission startled many in the group.

“We were all a little surprised that he had not watched the video, but then he called it ‘hideous’,” said Rev. Brooks.

“You signed off on a $5 million check to an orphan. You don’t tell me you don’t see the tape. That doesn’t compute for me,” said radio personality Carl West, who attended the meeting and referred to 17 year-old Laquan McDonald’s status as a ward of the state when he died.

The Mayor, according to participants, also seemed to present access to city jobs program funds and other resources as blackmail to convince leaders to suppress protests over the release of the video of McDonald’s murder.

The Mayor then asked the group to stress peaceful protest through the Thanksgiving weekend and to avoid violence.

“He encouraged us to encourage the community to exercise their first amendment rights, but to do so peacefully,” said Rev. Barrett. “The point of the meeting was how to encourage that peaceful protest.”

According to attendees, the Mayor then told the group that if there was violence over the weekend, he would not be able to find resources to bring jobs into their community.

“He said, if things go bad then don’t come looking to me for jobs,” said Rev. Brooks.

“There was something about how if you don’t encourage peace, don’t look to me for resources,” said Young Leaders Alliance head Jedidiah Brown, who was also present.

According to multiple people, Rev. Brooks then interrupted the Mayor, “I told him that was insensitive, it was unfair to hold us accountable if anything went wrong and that we would not get jobs.”

The Mayor then backtracked, according to Brooks and others. “He said that what he meant was that resources he’d use to get jobs [would have to be] use[d] to clean up the city of Chicago,” following violent protests.

So, taking the Mayor at his word, he approved a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family, conditional on the family agreeing to suppress the dashboard video, a video which Rahm knew was “hideous” but hadn’t personally seen. At the same time, the impact of any property damage not covered by insurance or extra police or emergency services incurred during protests would necessarily be debited from the Black community’s claims on city services.

Here’s a bit of advice for the Mayor.

Here’s some more: Resign. You can’t govern unless you conceal your contempt for your constituents more effectively than this.

And seriously, back to the point of this whole post, Chi-Raq. How much sex, exactly, are Black women supposed to withhold to make that contempt go away?

One comment on “Revisiting ChiRaq (update)

  1. […] finally, one must ask how much sex Black women must withhold, and from whom, to compel the CHA to spend 430 million dollars of the public’s money on […]

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