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Racially-charged N. Chicago police presentation echoes Dave Chappelle’s own dilemma

Comedian Dave Chappelle Oprah Winfrey Show. | Special Sun-Times Media

Comedian Dave Chappelle on the Oprah Winfrey Show. | Special to Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 27, 2013 11:41AM

When comedian Dave Chappelle’s image showed up in a racially-charged PowerPoint presentation by North Chicago police, it uncovered a host of issues — including some that led Chappelle to leave his famous Comedy Central show.

“I was doing sketches that were funny, but socially irresponsible,” Dave Chappelle told Oprah Winfrey in 2006.

In the police handout obtained by The News-Sun, Chappelle appears as a crackhead alongside other negative African- American stereotypes. As the third season of his hit show began taping, Time magazine wrote that Chappelle “wondered if the new season of his show had gone from sending up stereotypes to merely reinforcing them.”

Police Chief James Jackson, who characterized the handout as an ill-considered attempt at humor, faced the same dilemma — and now the same criticism.

“It’s insidious. Too many people just accept racial stereotypes,” said NAACP Lake County Branch President Jennifer Witherspoon.

Witherspoon said the North Chicago Police Department’s use of images showing African Americans as laughable drug addicts and smirking convicts is proof that racism is alive and well.

“This stuff isn’t just starting to rear its ugly head, it’s always been there,” Witherspoon said. “We as African Americans, we’ve seen it, we’ve dealt with it all our lives. The only way we’re going to make change is if we all come together, regardless of the color of our skin, and say ‘No, this is not acceptable.’”

Chappelle, who was disturbed by a laugh he received after doing a character in blackface, worried that TV viewers might come away with the wrong impression.

“That concerned me,” Chappelle told Winfrey. “I don’t want black people to be disappointed in me for putting that (message) out there. ... It’s a complete moral dilemma.”

What can be said when, or by whom is a quandary that continues to raise tempers.

The NAACP intervened in another race issue earlier this year, after a seventh-grade basketball player, a girl from Lake Forest, yelled “You got Aunt Jemima!” to a fellow player at a free-throw line during a game against a largely black team from Neal Academy in North Chicago.

But officials at Deerpath School, who have promised to schedule sensitivity trainings for both adults and all seventh-grade students, have yet to call, according to Witherspoon, who advised North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham to bring in the NAACP to conduct racial sensitivity classes for his police force, which has received numerous citizen complaints alleging excessive force and unprofessional conduct.

“We need to correct people or they get the idea it’s all right,” Witherspoon said. “Somewhere along the line, the officer who made the PowerPoint believed it was OK to put that up there and that there would be no repercussions for it.”

— Additional reporting by Robert K. Elder

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