Jordan One Year Later: What's Different, What's the Same

A City Pages Roundtable

Well, I am telling you that you are an idiot. Until the day that you recognize that you need to work on your racial attitudes, from the leadership down, so that you can function even halfway decent in this racist society, with a gun on your hip and all kinds of equipment, then we are always going to have problems. This is a dangerous situation that we are putting these untrained, racially unsophisticated young men in, and as long as we continue to do it, we are setting them up and we are setting the community up for problems.

CP: Has there been any progress on training and education along these lines for the police department?

Samuels: I haven't seen any. I feel strongly about this, as you can tell. And I now have racist thoughts. I see three black guys coming down the street and I can tell they never met their dads, that they are on the streets and have dropped out of high school and everything else. Then the guy comes up to me and he starts speaking perfect English and I find out he is on a break from college. Okay? And I have those thoughts. So when I'm calling [Police Federation President John] Delmonico to talk to him, I am calling because I am scared of what Delmonico is thinking, and I'm scared about what his police are thinking. So I have been trying to call him since a month after I got in office. Since March. And John Delmonico has not returned my calls. Maybe I'm naïve. Maybe if a new council member comes in and tries to get hold of the head of the police union, maybe the structure and role of the unions is such that he has no obligation and no interest or benefit to call me back. Or maybe it is simple impoliteness. I don't know. But from my perspective, it seems that he should call me the next day.

CP: If you were mayor or in a commanding position to do something, what would be your three-point plan for turning this community around and ensuring that this doesn't happen again?

Samuels: Well, first of all, I think we need to do triage and stop the flow of blood. And that is what we are doing here. Then we have to pound the message home to the community--get involved. And then facilitate that process. Because now, if you have a block club and you are planning National Night Out or something, you mail in your stuff to City Hall and work with your SAFE officers, and you have your block club.

But you are not talking to the mayor through your block club, you are talking to the police precinct, which has a different geographic delineation than your ward. So now you are in the same precinct for the north side but you are not with your ward members over in the northeast. It is a dysfunctional thing. If I worked for a company that was set up like this, everybody would be fired. This is the stupidest arrangement I have ever seen.

CP: So coordinating the bureaucratic hierarchy would be a point in the plan.

Sameuls: Yes. And then we need some economic development. And economic development, especially in impacted areas, is a heavily psychological thing that we don't deal with. Who are City Council members? They are charming, charismatic, they can put two words together, and know how to get some money and know how to get some votes. They are not necessarily people who have thought deeply about much socially. Or maybe they have read some books and subscribe to some theories. But the books and the theories don't address big issues like race, because we are all shy about that. So we have to begin to face the psychological aspects of economic development.

For instance, we want to develop West Broadway. We can't just say we need some empowerment zone money and leave it at that. We have had white flight. We have had black middle-class flight. And we have to reverse those flights. Otherwise what we are going to do is open up stores for just anybody who comes on West Broadway and the first-comers are going to be Somalis, Hmong, and young whites.

And what is going to happen is they are going to be surrounded by all these black folks who are getting angrier and angrier about how we have been here for 400 years and these people come here for five years and they are selling us these high-priced goods on our own street and we don't own anything. And one of them is going to call somebody a nigger five years from now and they are going to burn the whole place down. Okay? So we have to think about the psychological aspect of development and especially our responsibility to court the development of the African American community, and court the return of the black middle class to the urban centers and to seed the development of the African American community.

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