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CLARENCE PAGE: Chicago can ‘partner’ with police, with their help

Even before Chicago’s carnage-infested Father’s Day weekend was finished, the predictable emails from readers began to flow in. “Where’s Black Lives Matter now?” they asked in so many words.

The surge was predictable. At least 106 people were shot in Chicago, 14 of them fatally, over that weekend.

And again we are shocked. Chicago has had lots of gun-related crime shocks in recent years. And as in other cities, some of these have been protested by the Black Lives Matter movement, formed to push back against police shootings of unarmed African-Americans.

I’m not a big fan of the movement, although as a Black man I’m happy when anybody thinks that we matter. The movement’s name, for starters, is too vulnerable to distortion and demonization by its critics and opponents. Its leaderless resistance-style of organizing also leaves it vulnerable to hijacking of its mission and public image by people who don’t have the movement’s interests in mind.

“All Lives Matter,” go the anti-BLM factions, supposedly claiming the moral high ground. To which I, as an African-American who pays attention to such things, respond, true, but too often Black lives don’t matter enough. The leading example these days is George Floyd, whom the world has watched on video choking to death with the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on his neck. Suddenly the grotesqueness of the image and the officer’s casual expression struck a nerve that transcended borders.

With this particularly horrendous video, skeptics around the world seemed to understand with new clarity what Black Lives Matter protesters had been chanting about. Public approval of the movement roughly doubled, according to the Pew Research Center and other pollsters. Two-thirds of American adults surveyed said they support the movement, with 38 percent saying they strongly support it.

But supporting Black Lives Matter only begins another very necessary debate about other crimes against Black people, most of which are committed by Black criminals.

Contrary to the impression given by some conservative pundits and Twitter trolls, Black people do get out and march against Black-on-Black violence in their communities. But, sad to say, Black-on-Black protests don’t get as much media attention.

So why have we Americans argued for more than a half-century about urban crime when we agree on so much? Unfortunately, it has been easier for some people to cling to spurious and often partisan excuses for inaction.

It’s easy to criticize or ridicule Black Lives Matter. It’s tougher but more rewarding to actually produce programs and policies that can reduce the problems that Black Lives Matter is protesting about. Like “Black power,” Black Lives Matter is a slogan in search of an agenda. For instance, I think we need to improve the police, not “abolish the police,” as another misleading slogan goes.

At a news conference, Chicago’s new police Superintendent David Brown said he would push for changes that include more street outreach to improve community relations and cooperation with the civilians whom the police are sworn to serve. He also asked for “just a little help” from other “partners” in the criminal justice system to deal with such problems as violent felons released from jail to reduce the coronavirus spread. No need to be modest.

Police need a lot of help from all of us in fighting crime, and we, the public, need their help to make that cooperation happen.

Clarence Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Email to cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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