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McCarthy breaks city’s long-standing racial barriers: Mitchell

Ald. JasErv(28th)   |  Sun-Times files

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 9, 2013 10:35AM

At a recent hearing on the city’s budget, sparks flew when Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) accused Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy of not promoting enough African-Americans.

But the testy exchange between the city’s top cop and the West Side alderman seemed to run a lot deeper than the perennial complaint about black advancement in the police department.

Since taking over, McCarthy has made 81 promotions, and African-Americans made up 42 percent of those promotions.

What’s really bothering Ervin is McCarthy’s decision to put a white commander in the predominantly black district on the West Side.

“I took our most experienced narcotics commander and put him into the 11th District,” McCarthy told me during an interview at police headquarters.

“What I got was: ‘You put a white guy in the 11th District.’”

Ervin sees this issue as a matter of respect.

“The placement of a non-African American commander in the 11th District on the West Side of Chicago with no conversation or consultation — not even with the ministers — we called him out,” he told me.

“We feel that there should be someone representative of the community. I cannot recall when there was a non-African American leading the district. These decisions that [McCarthy] made were insensitive to the community.”

The former 11th District commander, Eric Washington, was moved to commander of the narcotics division.

McCarthy is unapologetic about ignoring the city’s long-standing racial barriers, and points out that prior to the 11th District switch-up, he put Leo Schmitz, a white commander, in Englewood, and put James P. Jones, a black commander, in the Edgewater neighborhood.

“We promoted Schmitz to deputy chief just to show people how important Englewood is and put a black commander north of Diversey for the first time ever,” McCarthy said. “The fact is, we assign people based upon their ability and the needs of that neighborhood. We try to make it as palpable as we can, but sometimes we have to take a step,” he explained.

The racial switcheroo has worked, according to McCarthy.

“If we tried to get Leo Schmitz out of there right now, I think that they would tar and feather me,” he said. “And Jimmy Jones is leading the city in crime reduction. Every time I see [one of the aldermen], he says: ‘Please don’t take him,’” McCarthy told me.

But a letter that was signed by eight aldermen and sent to McCarthy on October 23, 2013 said, “the successor to the Commander in the 11th District has raised major concerns with us and members of the community.”

Ervin argues that McCarthy should have reached out before taking the “unconventional” step.

Frankly, McCarthy isn’t likely to be moved by his argument.

“I spent most of my time in districts of poor, disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods. I was able to work in those neighborhoods. I just don’t accept the fact that a white commander can’t work in a black neighborhood and vice versa,” McCarthy said.

The police chief acknowledges, however, that the Chicago Police Department must do more to foster better community relations.

“One of the things that struck me last year was that I was down in Ogden Park and I couldn’t believe that there is not a little league in Englewood,” he said.

“I looked at this enormous park with all these baseball fields and I said to myself, ‘we’ve got to get a little league here.’ I want to create a little league and I’m willing to be a coach of a team.”

That is a good place to start.

As this controversy shows, the Chicago Police Department isn’t just fighting crime.

It’s fighting a negative perception that has given criminals an edge in the neighborhoods that need policing the most.

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