Can you and a Black man feel safe at the same time?

Can you and a Black man feel safe at the same time?

Part One:  Questions we are not asking about Chicago’s violence: Are gang members mindless?

Part Two:  Questions we are not asking about Chicago’s violence: Is it more profitable to be in a gang in Chicago?


Whenever I have trouble writing about something I have come to realize that it’s always for a reason.  While more savvy writers can easily pen an intelligent piece about a topic before lunch, I oftentimes have to stew over topics, ideas and points again and again in my head before they make sense.

Rather than relying on my first thought, I tend to rely on my most persistent thoughts – thoughts that begin as a seed of an idea that grows over time.   This, as you might have already observed, makes me suck as a blogger but many would say it simply makes me the typical writer.

(And unfortunately, there is no expiration date to write about violence.)

A month ago when I started this series, the natural progression of my posts led me to question why I, like so many others, am leery of entering into a serious conversation regarding the National Guard helping to protect some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.   Like a Tyler Perry movie, I’ve wanted to talk about it for some time but feared that I would be judged by even bringing it up as food for fodder.

In a city that is as economically divided as it is racially segregated, it often seems like the loudest voices are everyone but those who live in the most afflicted neighborhoods.   Knee-jerk reactions and suppositions based on political ideologies are usually as far as most get on socioeconomic topics before changing the subject to whether Derrick Rose is ready to get back on the court.

The voices of those living in Englewood, Roseland and Austin are often drowned out by those who live in Hyde Park, Wicker Park, Chatham and Old Town.    Many of us, well-meaning as we might be, are invested in different iterations of solutions which seek to protect “us” from “them.”

So enamored in our own perspectives, some of us unwittingly support the continued disenfranchisement of one group of people so we might sleep a bit sounder at night.

Rather than acknowledging the pervasiveness of violence in our communities, others want nothing more than to separate themselves from the perception of the neighborhoods around them.   The narrative that says, “Chicago’s crime is sensationalized, it’s not that bad,” is easier for these people to consume with their morning tea.

For them, the key is to believe there is no problem.  And to them I say, God bless and sleep tight.

The rest of us who are willing to acknowledge that there is a problem are left to grabble with solutions which are incapable of being brought to scale at their best, or are antiquated strategies that will require a large investment in picket signs and tennis shoes, at their worst.

So this brings us back to the conversation that no one wants to have.

Is increased policing the answer?

A month ago when I began this series, I would have unapologetically advocated for an increased police presence in Chicago.  I love my neighborhood, with its abundance of green space and lake views, but I’ve never quite rebounded from Hadiya Pendelton’s death which occurred less than four blocks away.

Bring the National Guard, the ATF, the FBI, CIA and Interpol - I would have said if you asked me.

I would have embraced almost any policy measure to make me feel safer.

Anything to keep another child from getting hurt.

In the month that has passed, approximately one hundred thirty people have been shot during the weekends alone.  One of the youngest victims, eleven year-old Shamiya Adams, was shot in the head while at a sleepover.

Yet, despite these tragic events, my perspective has changed.

The past month has also seen the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of the NYPD as well as the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri.   A quick search on Twitter using the filters #myNYPD #myCPD #myLAPD reveal countless tales of police brutality and have been a sobering reminder of the cost that comes with providing an illusion of public safety by any means necessary.

It wasn’t until I saw Eric Garner go from a living soul to the hollowness of death before my eyes that I can honestly admit that I considered the gravity of this cost, and who was truly paying it.

It’s time to acknowledge the repercussions of the widely-accepted fear of the Black male.

This fear, ever-present and embedded, is never addressed openly because of the historical reasons that have led to this perception and our deep desire to wish that it didn’t exist.

Inherent to any calls for increased policing, in Chicago or in any other major US city, is the unspoken understanding that it will target Black men.   Naively, we try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t matter or are oblivious to all the ways that it does.  We tell ourselves that the crème (or good Black guys) will rise to the top and go unaffected and that only the bad Black guys will get caught.

If we dare to acknowledge the millions of Black men who are not perpetrators of crime, it is only for a fleeting moment.  We enlist them to greater scrutiny for the greater good of us all like a quid pro quo they owe to society for not being in jail.

Who cares if they are pulled over, arrested and released, stop and frisked if they have done nothing wrong?   It’s a small inconvenience to make the rest of us feel safe.

But at what cost?

The tales of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Kendrec McDade, Ervin Jefferson, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant and any of the 136 unarmed Black man killed by law enforcement in 2012 reveal that the costs are extraordinarily high.  To ignore that most of us have accepted the practice of Black men living in fear so that the rest of us feel safe only continues to perpetuate the problem.

A peripheral scan of my social media contacts revealed that I know over three hundred Black men who are doctors, nearly one hundred who are lawyers, nearly the same amount who are teachers and businessmen.    I am married to a Black man.  I am the daughter and sister of great Black men.  I am the mother of two Black boys.

But if you saw any of them getting pulled over at night, who would you see?

If you saw any of them walking in your neighborhood at night, what would you think?

We can’t continue to ignore these questions.

To do so means that we have no hope of redressing the delusions of prejudice and have no chance to remedying misconceptions that continue to persist.

For young men with limited hope to see those who have achieved some levels of success treated like felons waiting to happen, the message is as loud as it is clear:  You will ALWAYS be guilty until proven innocent.

We tell ourselves that this is okay in the name of public safety, but it’s not.

Black boys and Black men have a right to be pissed.

Until we decide to stop holding their safety as hostage in exchange for our own, many of them will never feel safe and neither will anyone else.


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    Kay S

    Kay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger who focuses on race, politics and urban culture. Having worked on public policy at the state, regional, city and community level, her opinions have been featured in the Chicago SunTimes and a host of news websites (under very mysterious sounding pseudonyms). Follow her on Twitter @kaywillsmith or contact her at

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