ROSELAND — Over the weekend, an election sign planted in the 95th Street median across from Chicago State University caught my eye.
At first glance, the sign’s message — “We <3 Laquan” printed in red letters along with “Vote March 15” — didn’t seem to promote any specific candidate and wasn’t tagged by any political organization.
A closer look at the flip side, though, revealed the white corrugated plastic sign was a political sucker punch.
Since the people who printed it didn't have guts to own up to the cheap shot, I'm only going to focus on what otherwise struck me as a pretty powerful “get-out-the-vote” rallying cry.
That's particularly true because this will be the first time Chicago voters head to ballot box after the court-ordered release of the video showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald with all 16 bullets in his gun.
Voters didn’t get the chance to consider the violent way McDonald died at the hands of a Chicago cop when casting ballots for mayor and alderman in both city elections last year. That was primarily due to the legal maneuverings orchestrated by City Corporation Counsel Steve Patton that successfully kept that video secret until a Cook County judge ordered the video’s release just before Thanksgiving.
The massive protests — activists marched through the Viagra Triangle in the Gold Coast, shut down Michigan Avenue on the biggest shopping day of the year and repeatedly expressed their discontent with a City Hall sit-in — did lead to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the police department.
Those efforts also forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to offer a mea culpa at a City Council meeting, and make a series of quick decisions including the firing of then-police Supt. Garry McCarthy and the appointment of a Police Accountability Task Force.
Each of those moves appeared to show a commitment to pushing for total reform of the inequitable system that has harbored a code of silence in the police department and protected dirty cops for generations.
And the passing of time seems to have calmed the collective outrage — or at least it appears to have slowed the frequency of public displays of civil unrest triggered by the shooting death of a teenager who on so many levels had been failed by our society.
But as of yet, nothing has really changed.
There’s no telling how long Chicagoans will have to wait for the U.S. Department of Justice to let loose with the findings of its deep dive into the police department’s policies and practices.
The “independent” task force handpicked by Emanuel isn’t required to put its recommendations on the mayor’s desk until after the March 15 election — coincidentally, of course.
All those things make this first election in post-Laquan Chicago the best opportunity for people living on the South and West sides — poverty-stricken parts of town plagued by gang violence who have lost faith in the local criminal justice system — to protest in the most powerful way possible: by casting a vote.
In every election cycle, the result of Chicago and Cook County contests hinges on minority voter turnout, and specifically the African-American vote.
This election is a chance to show local politicians that after all that shouting, the protests aren't over.
Vernon Dahmer, the late Mississippi Civil Rights activist you don’t hear about much, had this mantra, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”
He said those words so often, even on his deathbed, that the saying is etched on his tombstone.
And they couldn't ring more true in Chicago today.
The people politicians are most willing to step on when making policy decisions are the people they don’t have to worry about voting them out of office.
The “We <3 Laquan … Vote March 15” sign does more than echo Dahmer’s mantra.
It’s a warning posted in the middle of the road.
To me it almost says, ‘If you want to know what can happen to forgotten people living violent, poverty stricken parts of Chicago when those same people don’t use their most powerful weapon — their right to vote — in the fight to change a system so clearly rigged against them … watch the Laquan video.’
Or as hip-hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs once said, “Vote or Die.”
If you live in Chicago, click here for details on how to register to vote and where cast your ballot.
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