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The Mood In Chicago, A City Seized By Protests Over Police Shootings


Now we go to Chicago, which is also dealing with the aftermath of violence. Hundreds of demonstrators spent Friday in the streets there protesting the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. Now, that happened in 2014. But it was just this week that a police video of the shooting was released, and the officer are involved was arrested for murder. Also on Friday, Chicago police announced an arrest in the shooting death of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee earlier this month. The child was allegedly targeted because of his father's gang involvement. We wanted to hear about how Chicagoans are coping with all of this, so yesterday we called for Laura Washington, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. She was at member station WBEZ. And we also called Rev. Corey Brooks. He's the pastor the New Beginnings Church on Chicago's South side, and we reached him just as he was leaving one of those Friday protests we just mentioned. And I began by asking Rev. Brooks about the mood of the city these days.

COREY BROOKS: It's a bittersweet day in Chicago. We're getting to put somebody in jail for executing a child, and that's very, very good. But on the other hand, we're demonstrating about a police officer killing a child. So, you know, Chicago is a very tough place. And we're facing so much economic deprivation, a failing educational system, the breakdown of family structure and then living in a community where it's just totally impoverished. It breeds a lot of hopelessness. It breeds a lot of frustration and it gives birth to a lot of the violence. And that's exactly what we're continuing to experience year after year in the city of Chicago.

MARTIN: Laura Washington, what about you? You've also been writing about your frustration with black-on-black violence. You know, you've been critical of the city leadership, but you've also been critical of activists for not having enough to say about these kinds of killings. First of all, do you have some theory about what's going on right now?

LAURA WASHINGTON: Well, I think that I would echo what Rev. Brooks said, but I would add a couple of layers to that. And that is the city of Chicago's probably one of the most segregated cities in the United States, if not the most. And there is so much isolation in communities on the South and West sides of Chicago, the same communities where you've seen these very difficult and controversial shootings. And I think it's because folks don't feel like they have options. That's a big part of it. And I also think that the police violence that you've been hearing about, especially around this Laquan McDonald case - that kind of violence has been prevalent in the city of Chicago for 50, 60 years. We've become too accustomed to it. It's become part of our culture. But the black-on-black violence, which seems to be increasing, seems to have become more heinous. And when you're talking about black men - allegedly - executing a young 9-year-old boy - that means things have really gotten out of control. And we need to acknowledge that, and we need to take responsibility for what's happened to our committee.

MARTIN: Rev. Brooks, what about you? I mean, are you having trouble talking about both of these things in the same - in the same weekend?

BROOKS: Well, you know, it's always tough. Anytime you're talking about death of young individuals, it's always difficult. But what we have is, unfortunately, the devaluating of human life from both perspectives. You have police officers who do not value life, and you have young African-American males who are not valuing life. And until we all start to see the value in one another, things are not going to change. But we've got to do better, and something we should not tolerate here in America. We're supposed to be a lot better than what we're showing, and we've got to teach our young people to be better than what they're showing.

MARTIN: What do you say to people who say that, you know, why is there a march because this police officer killed this teenager, but there's no march that somebody killed this boy?

BROOKS: I would say that's not true. We had a march on Michigan Avenue focused around black-on-black crime and people showed up and I appreciated it. And so I was torn on whether I should do this march. But I said to myself if I can march down Michigan Avenue when it's black-on-black crime, then surely I should be able to march down Michigan Avenue when it's blue-on-black crime.

MARTIN: Laura Washington, I'm going to give you the final word here. Is there something you want us to be thinking about or doing or saying right now?

WASHINGTON: Well, I think one of the things that I'm struck by in terms of the response in both of these cases is that you don't hear enough voices from outside the community. Do white leadership, white congressmen, white business leaders in this city care about 9-year-old boys being gunned? Do they care about the city of Chicago having to pay out a $5 million tax-supported settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald? Those voices are silent or muted. This is as though African-Americans have to own the problem and no one else feels responsibility, even though we all have to take responsibility, and we all pay one way or the other.

MARTIN: Laura Washington is a columnist the Chicago Sun-Times. She joined us from member station WBEZ. Corey Brooks is the pastor of New Beginnings Church on the city's South side. We reached him as he left a demonstration for Laquan McDonald. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

WASHINGTON: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.