Aldermen, police union: Farrakhan help welcome
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2012 4:16PM
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan at the Unity March, "Walking the Ward," on Monday evening, July 16, 2012. | Photo by Keevin Woods
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:31AM
Chicago needs all the help it can get to stop a nearly 40 percent spike in homicides, aldermen and the police union said Thursday, welcoming the army of men dispatched to the streets by Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan.
“Whatever we can do to help stop violence, I’m for it — no matter who it comes from. Just like CeaseFire. They have ex-offenders helping to stop the violence. It doesn’t matter, as long as we can stop people from getting killed,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).
“I don’t agree with some of [Farrakhan’s] statements. I don’t agree with everything everybody does. But, I do agree with people who are trying to help us save lives.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she is “in regular conversation” with the Nation of Islam about summer events and looks forward to talking to Farrakhan about his plans to bring 500 Fruit of Islam members to South Shore, duplicating Monday’s show of force in Auburn-Gresham.
“They are extremely well-organized. They are known for their discipline. That brings attention to the community,” Hairston said.
“Any group that is willing to do something to help fight the violence — they’re welcome.”
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) added, “There’s only one agenda right now: To bring down the violence. It’s becoming a national embarrassment. If they’re doing it for the right reason without hidden agendas, they can join us. They get a lot of publicity because of who they are, but they’re one of many out there.”
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell reported Thursday that black men in dress suits and bow ties fanned out across violence-plagued Auburn-Gresham on Monday night to form a human wall of protection against any sudden outbreak of gunfire.
The army of men, know as the Fruit of Islam, were led by 80-year-old Farrakhan, who ordered the show of force in response to last month’s murder of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton.
After knocking on doors and filling the streets with images of hundreds of black men determined to keep the peace, the Nation of Islam said it plans to leave a small contingent of men in the area to work with community leaders and do the same thing next Monday in South Shore.
The Fraternal Order of Police was dead-set against the city’s decision to forge a $1 million partnership with CeaseFire, a Chicago-based anti-violence group that sends felons into the streets to mediate gang conflicts and stop shootings, but refuses to share information with the police.
But, FOP spokesman Pat Camden said the police union has no such qualms about accepting help from the Nation of Islam.
“The last time I checked, Fruit of Islam isn’t convicted felons, are they? That’s a huge difference. And they’re not getting paid by the city,” Camden said.
“Anything that will cut down on the violence because of the lack of manpower, we’re glad to see. It’s people in the community getting involved to stop the violence. He’s part of the community.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel took a similar stance. Although Farrakhan has a history of making anti-Semitic statements, sources said Chicago’s first Jewish mayor has no interest in revisiting that controversy.
Instead of resurrecting old wounds and past political divisions, Emanuel’s singular focus is to reduce a surge in Chicago homicides that’s become a media obsession and threatens to undermine the mayor’s efforts to market Chicago to international tourists.
“Everyone has a role to play in reducing violence. We all must do our part to make sure our communities are safe,” the mayor’s communications director Sarah Hamilton said Thursday, reiterating the mayor’s mantra that Chicago Police can’t do it alone.
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) agreed with the mayor — with a caveat about Farrakhan.
“It’s good that he’s helping in the fight against crime but it doesn’t eradicate the comments that he’s made about the Jewish community,” said Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew.
Emanuel’s efforts to steer clear of Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic remarks is a far cry from the 1994 controversy that followed former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s private meeting with Farrakhan.
During the meeting, Daley prodded Farrakhan to work out his differences with Jewish leaders in talks arranged by the Commission on Human Relations. Daley even hinted that, if those conversations did not take place, the Nation of Islam would have trouble winning the city approval needed for its planned development along the 79th Street commercial strip.
Jewish leaders refused to engage in the dialogue. They were so concerned about the mayor’s private meeting with Farrakhan, they demanded an audience of their own to clear the air. Daley used that meeting to deny ever suggesting the give-and-take.
“There’s been a rather longstanding pattern where Minister Farrakhan has talked about wanting dialogue. There have even been a couple of instances where members of the Jewish community have met with him,” Michael Kotzin, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said at the time.
“Invariably, he’s been unchanged after that. They have felt betrayed by things he said to them. Been there. Don’t want to be there again and be put in that kind of box. All that happens is that he gains from those kinds of meetings a kind of credibility, legitimacy and stature. That’s all that would come of it.”