Monday, June 10, 2024

Cops see black men at work, turn on stereotypes

September 4, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Chicago, IL Incident at arts fest further explains African-American wage study

Brothers want to work. But for many of them, especially ex-felons, recovering addicts and high school dropouts, there are significant barriers to employment. Even educated brothers with names like Javon instead of Jonathan can have a hard time finding a job.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, when it comes to employment, African Americans are doing “worse” than others, and are “faring worse” than they did in the 1990s.

With bleak prospects, a lot of young black men take their chances in the underground drug trade. They make that choice even though they know they are likely to end up like modern-day slaves, churning out products for private industries for pennies a day.

But another group of black men who are following in the path of their enterprising ancestors – the brothers who turned bootleg barbershops into barber colleges — haven’t given up.

I ran into such men on Sunday, when a friend and I visited the African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park. The fest stretched from about 51st and Cottage Grove to about 54th Street.

As much as I love the African Festival (it’s a citywide family reunion for black people), I hate going anywhere near an event at Washington Park because there are so few parking spaces.

Unlike the crowded areas around Wrigley Field or the United Center, there aren’t any frantic attendants waving “$10 Park Here” signs at you, or old ladies trying to make a buck off their private driveways.

So after trolling the blocks around the park and not finding a parking space, I counted myself darn lucky when I saw a large gated parking lot with a few white-shirted brothers standing in front.

Can I park here?” I yelled from across the traffic.

Yes,” said an older guy on a golf cart.

I could have broken into a praise dance.

Turns out, my exuberance was premature. Two University of Chicago squad cars pulled up right behind us and began arguing with the brothers over their presence at the lot.

This is CTA property,” yelled a white female University of Chicago officer in full body gear. “Why are you letting people into this lot?” she asked the man in the golf cart.

Whatever the man said in response didn’t convince the officer that he was running a legitimate parking operation. It didn’t matter that the attendants wore starched white shirts with a “valet” emblem.

The second squad car blocked the entrance to the lot, stopping other motorists from pulling in.

Miss, I suggest you move your car,” the police officer told me.

I have experienced the horror of being towed during a festival event: he didn’t have to tell me twice.

Meanwhile, a couple of people who witnessed the scene were demanding their $10 back.

This woman shows up everywhere we go,” complained one of the parking attendants. “This isn’t University of Chicago property. It doesn’t make any sense. What business is it of hers?”

Actually, the University of Chicago police squad has jurisdiction between 39th and 64th streets, from Cottage Grove to Lake Shore Drive. The 140 officers are state-certified police officers with full police powers.

Besides turning away other motorists, the University of Chicago police closed the gate to the lot, and one officer stationed himself out front to wave off other desperate drivers.

I ended up parking about six blocks away.

It really didn’t make any sense. The African Festival of the Arts is an event that draws hundreds of thousands of people over a weekend. The festival organizers spent $600,000 on musical acts, and vendors were so dense, you really did feel as if you were at an African bazaar. Yet, no one had solved the parking problem?

I should have known better.

Turns out, the University of Chicago police were the ones out of order.

According to a CTA spokesman I spoke to on Monday, the CTA licensed its vacant lot to the African Festival of the Arts for the duration of the event.

It was our understanding that they intended to have a valet service,” the spokesman said.

Unfortunately, instead of seeing the lot attendants as doing legitimate work, the University of Chicago cops saw black men who had to be up to no good.


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