Chicago is bracing for riots after the release of a video of a black teenager, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer.
And you know what? I have a lot of sympathy for the protesters’ grievances. If any city government deserves to be torn down brick-by-brick over its contempt for the rights and well-being of the majority of its subjects, it’s Chicago’s Democratic Machine.
It’s always a good idea not to jump to conclusions about supposedly “racist” shootings by cops, to treat both sides with skepticism until all the evidence comes in. I’ve set out a few rules to help the media avoid writing the story first and gathering the facts later. But the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting is pretty unambiguous. Judge for yourself.
From what we know, McDonald was hopped up on hallucinogenic drugs and in his addled state had attacked a police car and slashed its tires with a knife, so he was definitely a danger to himself and others and needed to be apprehended. But when he was shot, he was trying to walk away from police and did not pose an immediate danger to them, so the hail of bullets that took him down—and kept pumping into him after he was on the ground—was grotesquely excessive.
But that’s not the real grievance. The real grievance is the total contempt the city government of Chicago has always shown for its citizens.
Take the way the city government refused to release the video for 13 months. McDonald was shot in October of 2014. What happened between then and now that might have motivated the city to suppress the video? Oh, yes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, faced an unexpectedly close re-election. You can see why he wasn’t eager to have anything rile up the voters at such a delicate time.
This is just the latest chapter in the Democratic Party’s long-term mismanagement of the city. I have already described the mechanism by which the political machine has transformed the city into a two-tier class society, chasing out the middle class and abandoning the poor. See this animation from Daniel Kay Hertz showing the hollowing out of the city.
The people most likely to engage in fiery Bernie Sander rhetoric about “inequality” are most likely to create that inequality in the places where they rule. Like many big cities, Chicago manages to provide security, public transportation, and good schools to a few small enclaves of the upper middle class. Everyone else gets failing schools, cuts in the number of bus lines, and above all else poor policing. Chicago suffers from the classic big-city dysfunction that results when the police view themselves as alien from a hostile population: the callous and excessive use of force, yet without any actual benefit in the reduction of crime.
So if there are any people who have a right to be lividly angry at their city government, it’s the people of Chicago—even more so because they have voted lockstep for the Democrats for 50 years, and this is the thanks they get.
Ah, but there’s the rub. If the city is about to get the riots it deserves, the protesters have to admit they have gotten the city government they asked for.
It’s not just that they have voted for politicians from the Democratic Party. It’s that they have uncritically embraced that party’s ideology. As they have suffered under the yoke of a big, intrusive, corrupt, callous, and indifferent government, they have clamored for more of it.
Emanuel’s difficult re-election, for example, stemmed from his brief, abortive challenge to the city’s teachers’ union. So voters were rebelling to save the people who run the city’s failing public schools. And the protest candidate they rallied around was challenging Emanuel from the far left, with ties to outright Communists.
As I observed at the time:
If the city’s devolution into a two-tier class society is driven in part by the failure of its public schools, then the last thing they need is a candidate who is in the pocket of the teachers’ unions, whose solution is impose higher taxes on employers so they can throw more money at the existing system without reforming it in any way. [Challenger Jesus] Garcia threatens the city with a Detroit-like death spiral: the failure of the moderate Democrats drives the poor into the arms of the far left—which chases even more employers and middle-class residents out of the city, making all of its problems worse.
Chicago’s protesters have a legitimate grievance against their city government. What they don’t yet have is a legitimate solution. That’s going to require breaking the Democratic Party’s monopoly on the city’s politics—and something much more difficult, breaking the big-government left’s monopoly on their own minds.
Chicago has a long history of embracing lefty do-gooders and rabble-rousers who make a lot of noise about how much they care about the poor, but manage to drain billions in taxpayer dollars without making anything better. Yet the people remain in thrall to those political charlatans—they even sent one of them to the White House.
What they need is not just a blind rebellion against the police or against City Hall. What they need is a real rebellion against the paternalistic ideology that treats them as wards or subjects of government, even as it fails them continuously for 50 years.
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