We don’t just need Black leadership. We need pro-Black leadership.
Lori Lightfoot made history in Chicago.
She was the first Black, openly gay woman to be elected mayor, which people celebrated. Yet, this past summer, she also made history in another, more daunting way. During protests following the death of George Floyd, Lightfoot made a controversial move to raise the bridges in the downtown area.
This would be the first of several times she raised the bridges over the summer. Given Chicago’s status as one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., according to a 2019 analysis, the implications of her raising the bridges was that she wanted to protect one side of the city from the other.
To some, this was a new moment in Chicago’s history. According to ProPublica Illinois, “Longtime Chicagoans say they can’t remember any other time the bridges were raised in the name of crime prevention or public safety.” Although Lightfoot branded herself as a progressive candidate when running for mayor, her actions have not reflected that.
From raising the bridges to refusing to decrease the police budget, Lightfoot has taken a more conservative stance on one of the most divisive issues this year: police brutality. Really, her actions (and inaction) teach us that Black faces in high places are not the solution to our problems.
If we look at Kentucky as an example, they can be the source of the problem. Last March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who were implementing a no-knock warrant. Over the summer, one of the officers, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment for shooting into the adjacent apartments.
However, no charges were brought for Taylor’s death. After the trial, some jury members said that “prosecutors were dismissive of their questions and that there was an ‘uproar’ when jurors realized Louisville police officers wouldn't be charged with Taylor's death,” CNN reported.
Kentucky’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, is a Black man. Yet, under his direction, prosecutors failed to prosecute the officers who murdered an innocent Black woman. Taylor’s death went on to symbolize the lack of care for Black women, and Cameron’s actions demonstrated that other Black people can be responsible for the dismissal of our human rights.
So, when we say we want to elect more Black people into office, we must act with scrutiny about the type of Black person we are electing. As the saying goes, all skin folk are not kin folk. Another example of how this quote plays out in politics is with Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta.
When Bottoms was selected as the commencement speaker for Spelman College in 2019, students protested their president’s selection, citing concerns with housing and policing, which disproportionately affect Black people in America.
Regrading housing, Bottoms boasted a $200 Million initiative that was going to allow low-income families the opportunity to stay in the city of Atlanta. Yet, according to Atlanta Journal Constitution, the money that Bottoms office was supposed to raise was already coming out of the city’s budget.
This is what Ko Braggs of Scalawag Magazine called, “surface level strides.” Moreover, when it came to developments, Bottoms cleared out two historically Black churches to make way for the Mercedes-Benz stadium, the outlet further reported. These historically Black churches were once sites for Morehouse and Spelman students.
Yet, housing was not the only concern Spelman students had about Bottoms. They were also concerned that, despite the Atlanta Police Department killing 26 unarmed Black people in 2019, Bottoms gave police a $10 Million budget increase.
Like Lightfoot and Cameron, Bottoms is yet another example of a Black face in a prominent political office who has had a history of anti-Black policies. Still, she is praised for joining protesters last summer and challenging Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp for reopening the state prematurely during the pandemic.
While these are strides, her actions should not go unnoticed. Really, they reinforce the idea that we must hold politicians to account even after they are elected. This is a lesson we learned with former President Obama and one we should keep in mind with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Both made history by being elected into the highest offices in the world, and both have a record of anti-Black practices. For Obama, this was recently culminated in his insensitive comments toward defunding the police.
He deemed it a “snappy slogan,” and many pushed back on this categorization of it. Notably, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar corrected President Obama and said that it was not a snappy slogan but a policy demand. She tweeted, “We lose people in the hands of police. It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”
At a time when Black people are dealing with multiple pandemics at once, including the pandemic of police misconduct, these offhand comments do nothing but stunt progress and mischaracterize the work of organizers.
On the same vein, Kamala Harris is celebrated as America’s first Black and South Asian woman Vice President, but her record as a prosecutor raises concerns for many. For one, she once boasted herself as California’s “Top Cop,” according to the New York Times.
“Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo,” Danny Hakim, Stephanie Saul and Richard A. Oppel Jr. wrote for the outlet.
Sometimes, this yielding to the status quo meant that she would secure America’s reputation as the “top jailer,” wrote Lara Bazelon for The Appeal. Her record includes holding wrongfully convicted inmates in prison, denying gender affirming healthcare for a trans woman, and calling a proposition to decriminalize sex work “completely ridiculous.” Yet, when running for President, she positioned herself as a progressive candidate, Bazelon noted. She added, “It is understandable that Harris would want to claim the progressive prosecutor label—it is trending nationally now.”
When it’s not trending, will she still hold these same policies? That’s a question we should be asking of her, Lightfoot, and Bottoms while recognizing that politicians like Cameron remind us that all skin folk are not kin folk. ~ℝ
JAVANNA PLUMMER, RWEBEL IN CHIEF
Javanna is the editor of "Rwebel Magazine," the architect behind "Rwebel Radio," and the pioneering force of "Xscape." Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.
Thanks for reading! To continue engaging with this topic, be sure to check out these great companion pieces. And don't forget to leave a comment!
Rwebel Mag publishes stories across the journalistic spectrum that give a thoughtful glance at culture and difference.