Chicago police Officer Ray Tracy opened the September community meeting for police beats 815 and 821 the way he does every month, by going over the good news and bad news in the area’s recent crime statistics.
Tracy noted that crime in the two beats, which make up much of the Archer Heights and Brighton Park neighborhoods on the city’s Southwest Side, remains relatively low.
But the totals had ticked up in a number of areas, Tracy told the 20 residents gathered in a Catholic school classroom, many sitting in kid-size chairs. Several garages had been burglarized. And in the second half of August, there had been three shootings — none fatal, though still troubling.
“We’re on it,” he said.
It happened to be the day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel rocked the city’s political establishment by announcing he wasn’t running for re-election, and hours after jury selection began in the first murder trial of a city police officer in decades. Although neither of those topics came up at the meeting, it was held just blocks from where Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald four years earlier — a case that continues to roil Chicago and surely contributed to Emanuel’s decision.
The issues Tracy and residents discussed at the meeting — involving crime, disinvestment and inequality — offered glimpses of the challenges the next mayor is going to have to address in neighborhoods around the city, and that many Chicagoans never felt Emanuel fully took on.
Former downtown alderman Burton Natarus used to say, proudly, that he was the janitor of his ward, the one who took care of all the little things, starting with making sure the garbage was picked up.
Chicago mayors, by contrast, have widely been viewed as monarchs ruling over their city-state with nearly unchecked power. Even if that’s not strictly true, mayors reign over the massive bureaucracies that run the local schools, social services, streets and public safety apparatus.
Still, Chicago residents expect their mayors to sweat the small stuff, too, before it becomes bigger stuff. They want them to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods, and to use their clout to get those things fixed.
Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, crushed or co-opted his opponents and often ruled as a despot. But people also believed he was all about Chicago. I saw this up close many times. I once visited a social service agency based in a storefront office in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side. A picture of Daley with the agency’s leader hung on the wall, right next to a shot of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor.
Emanuel was born in Chicago and worked for Daley, but he spent most of his political career in Washington, D.C. After surviving a court challenge over whether he was even an official resident of Chicago, he was elected mayor twice, and with millions of dollars to spend attacking his rivals, he might well have won a third term.
His backers note that Emanuel’s Washington connections yielded federal money for the transit system, and his tireless promotion resulted in tourism and jobs. They argue that he elevated Chicago’s status as an international city, and that he’s not popular because he made tough decisions to cut budgets, hike taxes and hire more police while improving accountability.
But to most long-time residents, Emanuel has never fully become Chicago’s mayor.
His penchant for D.C.-style spin — “governing by press release,” as I’ve heard it described — left many in Chicago feeling he was performing for a national audience.
Some of his announcements were tone deaf. Others were simply misleading.
He was on a ski vacation in 2013 when aides announced a list of 50 schools that would be closed, which he alternately said was to save money and improve student performance. After the 17-year-old McDonald was shot 16 times by Van Dyke in 2014, Emanuel’s administration fought releasing the video and other details until ordered to do so by a judge. The mayor then went on an apology tour of black churches and soul food restaurants, even as police and mayoral aides secretly monitored Black Lives Matter and others protesting police shootings.
Part of this story unfolded in police beat 815, which is where Van Dyke killed McDonald as the troubled teen walked down South Pulaski Road holding a knife.
In a sign of how the Southwest Side has been changing, about half the residents at the community meeting were white, mostly middle-aged or older, while the others were younger and Hispanic. A few minutes into the meeting, Silvana Tabares introduced herself to the group as the new alderman of the 23rd Ward, which includes some of the area covered by the police beats. In June, Emanuel picked Tabares, then a state representative, to replace the retiring Michael Zalewski. Tabares is the ward’s first Hispanic alderman after a long line of predecessors with Polish or Eastern European backgrounds.
Tabares took notes as residents talked about illegal apartment conversions and overcrowding. One woman said her street light kept going out, plunging her block into darkness, and she couldn’t get the city to deal with an infestation of rats. And then it was back to crime.
Among the good news, Tracy said, was that a burglar was arrested. “His car ran out of gas,” Tracy said, drawing laughs.
After the meeting, Hector Ayala, a 20-year resident of Archer Heights, said he and his neighbors team up to keep their streets and alleys clean. But his garage has been broken into repeatedly and he worries that crime is rising.
Ayala said that as a Mexican-American, he appreciates the need for better relationships between the police and the community. But he also thinks Emanuel failed to lead the way.
“I think the mayor turned his back on most of the police,” Ayala said.
Michael Kovac, a retired firefighter who now serves as a community liaison for beats 815 and 821, said Emanuel has been held back by the city’s deep indebtedness.
“I think his strongest focus has been on redevelopment in the Loop area,” Kovac said. “I have to say, I don’t think he considers himself a real Chicagoan.”
For all of his political maneuvering, Emanuel could never convince many Chicagoans — of widely varying political views — that he was invested in them or their neighborhoods.
Anyone who wants to replace him should have another plan.
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Religion’s role in politics and public policy is in the spotlight heading toward the midterm elections, yet relatively few Americans consider it crucial that a candidate be devoutly religious or share their religious beliefs, according to a poll released Tuesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Just 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, according to the poll. Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that’s not very important or not important at all.
Still, most Americans see a role for religion in shaping public policy. A solid majority of Americans, 57 percent, want the influence of religion on government policy to extend beyond traditional culture war issues and into policies addressing poverty. Americans are more likely to say religion should have at least some influence on poverty than on abortion (45 percent) or LGBT issues (34 percent).
There is little public support for the campaign by some conservative religious leaders, backed by President Donald Trump, to allow clergy and religious organizations to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax exempt status. Such a change is opposed by 53 percent of Americans and supported by 13 percent. The rest expressed no opinion.
Trump’s stance on political endorsements by clergy is one of many reasons he has retained strong support among white evangelical Christians, despite aspects of his behavior and personal life that don’t neatly align with Christian values. The AP-NORC poll found that 7 in 10 white evangelical Protestants say they approve of Trump, a Republican.
The importance of a candidate’s religious faith varied across religious and political groups.
Among white evangelical Protestants, 51 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs. An additional 25 percent think it’s moderately important. Far fewer Catholics and white mainline Protestants considered this important.
Roughly two-thirds of Republicans said it’s at least moderately important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, compared with 37 percent of Democrats.
Jack Kane, an accountant from Key West, Florida, was among the Republican-leaning poll participants who said it wasn’t important to him whether a candidate was deeply religious.
“I’d much rather have a guy run the government and not spend all our money, instead of sounding off on what’s going on in the church or on things like abortion,” said Kane, 65, who describes himself as nonreligious. “Who is Catholic, Jewish, Southern Baptist — I could care less, as long as they’re going to carry the torch of freedom.”
Kent Jaquette, a Republican-turned-independent and a former United Methodist pastor who lives near San Antonio, said he does not base his choice of candidates on their religious faith.
“In politics, you need to look at a person where their morals are, where their values are,” he said. “It may or may not have anything to do with their religion.”
Jaquette also questioned the motives of evangelicals who support Trump.
“To me, it’s supporting someone who gives no indication he intends to live a Christian life,” said Jaquette, 63. “I believe that Christians should do things that Christ taught — feed the hungry, visit people in jail, help immigrants.”
Veronica Irving, a 55-year-old Roman Catholic Republican who lives near Chicago, says it’s extremely important to her that a politician has strong religious beliefs. She’s disappointed that Trump doesn’t demonstrate this more clearly through his behaviors and actions.
“It’s not about what faith you come from — it’s just important that you have faith,” she said.
At the highest levels of political office, it’s still rare for a politician to profess that he or she is an atheist; surveys indicate that roughly 10 percent of Americans do not believe in a higher power. In recent years, only a small handful of members of Congress have identified themselves as nonbelievers.
However, there is some evidence of increasing acceptance of religious diversity — for example, the recent victories by Muslim-American women in Democratic congressional primaries in Michigan and Minnesota.
The AP-NORC poll found broad interest in religion having at least some influence on a range of policy issues.
In addition to the concern about poverty, 49 percent of Americans want to see religion have some influence on education, 44 percent on health care policy, 43 percent on immigration, 38 percent on gun policy, 36 percent on income inequality, 34 percent on foreign policy and 32 percent on climate change.
From each of the largest religious groups, there was strong support for greater religious influence on poverty policy — 71 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 54 percent of white mainline Protestants, 75 percent of nonwhite Protestants and 67 percent of Catholics.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners, said the poll findings signaled a potentially broader and more vibrant role for organized religion in U.S. politics.
“Religious issues are much broader and deeper and different from the issues chosen by the religious right,” he said. “The issues like poverty, immigration, what happens to the homeless — those are becoming the moral and political and voting issues for more and more Christians.”
The findings were welcomed by Maureen Malloy Ferguson, a senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association, which depicts its mission as “being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square.”
“It’s encouraging to see that so many Americans recognize that religion can be a force for good in society,” she said.
However, attorney Emilie Kao, a religious-freedom expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether faith-based organizations might face roadblocks in trying to expand their role in social services. Some jurisdictions, she noted, have sought to exclude religious organizations from various activities, such as adoption and foster care, because of opposition to same-sex marriage and other beliefs.
Associated Press Polling Editor Emily Swanson and AP writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.___
The AP-NORC poll of 1,055 adults was conducted Aug. 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Florida’s midterm Senate election is a race to watch this November – and not just because it will be a tight match pitting a sitting governor, Republican Rick Scott, against a sitting senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.
Florida is home to the country’s largest foreign-born black population. One in three black Miami metropolitan region residents today is an immigrant, according to the Pew Research Center. Many are from the Caribbean.
I have studied voting patterns of African-Americans, Cape Verdeans and West Indians in four cities: Boston, Chicago, Miami and New York City.
I discovered that while these populations are mostly Democratic, foreign-born black communities in all four cities are more willing than African-Americans to put aside partisan differences and vote Republican.
Haitians, in particular, lean in a more conservative direction than African-Americans and other Caribbean communities. My research found that Haitian voters in Boston, Chicago, Miami and New York City are more likely to identify as moderate or conservative than African-Americans.
Haitians are also more likely to be members of the Republican Party and to run for office as Republicans. The first and only Haitian-American in Congress, Mia Love of Utah’s 4th district, is a Republican.
In Florida, almost 4 percent of the Haitian-born population is Republican, according to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith. Just under 20 percent of Florida’s Haitian Americans are Democrats. Many others are not registered voters in the U.S., though they may remain active in Haitian politics.
As I outline in my book, Celestin’s campaign appealed directly to Haitian voters in this municipality of 60,000, by arguing that they needed their own political representation in a largely African-American city historically governed by white elected officials.
The 2001 election brought not just Celestin to power but also put a Haitian-American majority onto the five-member city council, ushering in a new era in North Miami politics. Haitian voters had successfully replaced the city’s old white political leadership with new black leadership.
All of this means that neither Florida Senate candidate should take black voters for granted in November.
Nelson, the Democratic sitting senator, has tradition on his side. Black Floridians – like African-Americans nationwide – have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in every election since 1948. In 2012, higher-than-usual black turnout for Barack Obama helped Nelson handily secure his second Senate term.
Florida’s Trinidad-born Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was the first black female Republican elected to the Florida legislature and the first black Republican woman on a statewide ticket when she ran as Scott’s running mate in 2010.
Scott alienates black voters
Carroll resigned in 2013 amid accusations of financial impropriety. She later wrote a book accusing Scott of treating her like an “unwanted stepchild” and using her to win black and female votes.
Clergy and faith leaders march to counter protest the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017. RNS photo by Jordy Yager
An old question has recently found new energy among Christians.
“What does the gospel have to do with justice, particularly social justice?”
Justice has been a frequent topic these days — in the face of a stream of cellphone videos capturing instances of police brutality, conflict over the presence and future of Confederate monuments and racially charged responses to the nation’s changing demographics.
Christians, both as people of faith and citizens of this country, have pondered what to do in this current social climate. They have called for Christians to join or start movements for change as an explicit expression of discipleship and obedience to the prayer that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
And they have called for the church to make amends for the racial divisions of the past and present.
Others take a different view.
Where some see calls for biblical justice, they see heresy.
This week a group of Christians published “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” a response to what they call “questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church.”
The statement comes just after a short blog series posted by well-known Christian preacher and teacher John MacArthur, warning of the dangers of social justice.
MacArthur calls social justice a distraction from the gospel.
“Evangelicalism’s newfound obsession with the notion of ‘social justice’ is a significant shift — and I’m convinced it’s a shift that is moving many people (including some key evangelical leaders) off message, and onto a trajectory that many other movements and denominations have taken before, always with spiritually disastrous results,” he wrote.
MacArthur is one of the initial signatories of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, which echoes his blog posts.
While Christians from many traditions, races and ethnicities have displayed a concern for social justice, it is a topic that particularly concerns black and brown folks. We have endured a long history of race-based discrimination that did not simply disappear after the March on Washington, the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the election of the nation’s first black president.
The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, center, leads advocates from the Black Lives Matter movement as they disrupt proceedings of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The demonstrators marched into the plenary session chanting slogans and gathered around the central Communion table. Photo by Maile Bradfield, courtesy of UMNS
Statements that dismiss social justice send a message that the ongoing marginalization many minorities still experience and struggle against is of no concern to their fellow Christians.
Or to God.
Or to the Bible — despite ample scriptural evidence that demonstrates God’s concern for the poor and the powerless and anger toward those who create oppressive conditions (Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Psalm 103:6, Isaiah 10:1, Luke 1:52-53, Luke 4:18).
Although much about this statement needs discussion, I will highlight one section in particular.
It reads: “We affirm that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions.”
The best word to describe the assertion above is “ethnocentric.”
Who gets to decide which cultures and which assumptions are closer to biblical truth? For most of American history, white Christians have claimed that privilege. That privilege is now being challenged.
I’m tempted to refute the recent statement on the gospel and social justice point-by-point — showing how it falls short of the Bible’s call for justice. But I think our time would be better spent on other pursuits. There’s too much work to be done — work that will be delayed by endless debates.
Here’s my advice.
Many of the people who authored and signed this statement have large ministries and platforms.
Find other authors, preachers and teachers from whom you can learn. People like Austin Channing Brown or the podcasters and bloggers at Truth’s Table or The Witness, where I am a contributor. Or read Howard Thurman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bryan Stevenson, James Baldwin or the other writers who have explored issues of justice.
If the supporters of statements that dismiss social justice as a distraction from the gospel headline a major conference, state your concerns to the organizers. If nothing changes, then don’t go.
If they do an interview on a podcast, find another episode to listen to. If they write more blogs to state their case, share other ones instead.
Statements like these are a distraction. They siphon off energy and attention that could be used to create new organizations and initiatives that help bring about justice and equality.
Instead of writing a rebuttal to the statement on social justice, why not write a proposal for a new scholarship to help underrepresented groups go to college and stay out of debt? Why not donate money to support ministries run by and geared toward racial and ethnic minorities? Why not research a cause and find out how you can get involved?
Refusing to give more attention to the people who oppose social justice is not a statement on their standing with God. This does not mean they are not sincerely attempting to follow Christ. It does not mean that they have not said helpful things on other topics in the past.
It simply means that in this case, they have made statements so troublesome that we must register our objections in visible ways.
Christians should never give up hope that people can change. Yet going back and forth, especially online, about social justice with those who see it as a dangerous intrusion into the church often does not alter anyone’s opinions and may lead to more frustration.
In the end, I think more people will be persuaded to change their minds about social justice by looking at the fruit of the people who engage in it rather than by arguing on social media about the validity of doing so.
Half a century after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s easy for people to claim that they would have been among the protesters and marchers and those who risked it all for the cause of justice. Well, the struggle for civil rights never ended. Now is your chance to get involved for love of God and love of neighbor.
NEW JERSEY STAR: Newark Mayor Cory Booker is often compared to President Barack Obama because of his youthful charisma, Ivy League pedigree, and post-racial persona. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Newscom)
Fueling speculation about his White House ambitions, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will headline a Democratic fundraiser in South Carolina, which hosts the South’s first presidential primary.
The Orangeburg County Democratic Party told The Associated Press that Booker is scheduled to attend its annual fundraising gala Oct. 18. That will put him in front of more than 1,000 South Carolina Democrats, including many of the state’s most prominent black leaders and activists.
The event will mark Booker’s first trip to South Carolina since President Donald Trump took office. South Carolina is the first early voting state with a significant black population.
Booker, one of three African-American senators, sought to frame his South Carolina trip in the context of the November midterm election, and a Booker aide said the South Carolina trip would involve additional appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates running this year.
“As I’ve traveled across the country campaigning, I’ve seen unprecedented enthusiasm for a new generation of Democratic candidates,” Booker said in a statement. “Now, we must turn that energy into action.”
Indeed, Booker and other speculative presidential hopefuls like fellow Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have confined their travel itineraries mostly to midterm battlegrounds, and Warren has her own re-election campaign this year.
But South Carolina Democrats face an uphill battle this November, with gubernatorial nominee James Smith being a decided underdog against incumbent Republican and Trump ally Henry McMaster.
The Orangeburg event coincides with fall homecoming festivities of South Carolina State University, the local historically black campus.
Orangeburg Democratic Chairman Kenny Glover, who issues the invitation, said he simply wanted “a national figure” for the event, but he stopped short of declaring Booker a 2020 favorite. “Oh, we do not endorse,” he said.
Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 swept South Carolina and other Southern primaries, with their support in the black community fueling early delegate leads that propelled them to the Democratic nomination. In fact, both Obama and Clinton lost the national cumulative white vote, according to primary exit polls, but captured the nomination anyway because of margins among non-whites.
Certainly, the expected crowded field in 2020 isn’t likely to play out exactly as those previous nomination fights that settled quickly into two-candidate races, and leading black Democrats say African-Americans may not coalesce clearly behind a single candidate at all.
Besides Booker, the potential African-American candidates include Harris, former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Vice President Joe Biden also has deep ties in the black community and the appeal of having served as top lieutenant to Obama, the nation’s first black president.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond said in a recent interview that the allure of history and kinship won’t be the same as it was for black voters during Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Richmond praised Booker’s life story, “growing up in a working-class family and going on to the Ivy League. He also extolled Harris and Warren for their work on Capitol Hill, while noting Biden’s “long track record.”