My brother, a Chicago police officer, was murdered 10 years ago — and this is what I know now
In his honor of all the people murdered in the last decade, here are a few thoughts from a black Chicagoan and member of a police family on this most devastating of milestones.
My brother, Thomas Eugene Wortham IV, was murdered 10 years ago. He was a 30-year-old son, brother, friend, war veteran and Chicago police officer. He was shot and run over by a car in front of our family home. My brother did not deserve to die.
In his honor and for all the people murdered in the last decade, a few thoughts from a black Chicagoan and member of a police family on this most devastating of milestones.
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Parents need to parent. It is time to have a conversation about the parents’ role in eradicating violence. Nothing in the entire world can replace parents teaching the basics of humanity and responsibility to their children.
The police and the black community cannot afford to be divided. Watching the public narrative in this country, a person could be led to believe that black people don’t need the police and that the police don’t serve a vital function in black communities. My brother was a black man. He was also a police officer. He was also murdered by four black men. The black community and the police cannot be cast in opposing roles. Lives depend on it.
Even acknowledging this country’s difficult history between law enforcement and the black community, it is dangerous, even lethal, to suggest that the work to resolve racial disparities in policing must occur in a vacuum separate from serious discussions about the need to eliminate the violence occurring daily in our communities. We must tackle both priorities simultaneously to save lives and serve justice.
We should be tough on violent crime. Chicago was in the midst of a deadly crisis long before the arrival of COVID-19. I am a black woman, a lawyer and a South Sider. I am also the sister of a murder victim. I understand the solutions are complex. It may be politically challenging to advocate being tough on violent crime, but the killers are literally tearing our communities apart. We need a criminal justice approach that makes people understand that.
Equitable policing does not require a reduction in enforcement. I cringe when I hear people say black communities are over-policed. My neighborhood is not over-policed. To police equitably requires fairness across communities. I have never, ever had a neighbor ask me how we can reduce the police presence in our neighborhood. I am, however, consistently asked how we can increase our allocation of police resources.
As a neighborhood resident, I support the principles of “broken windows policing.” Whatever the name, my lived experience has shown me that policing that tackles the small things prevents the big things.
Left unchecked, drinking and smoking on a residential street at all hours of the night can escalate into drug sales and other lawless behavior during the day, because they think no one cares. When that behavior is left unaddressed, and combined with the possession of illegal guns, people die.
Broken windows policing halts that progression. Rename it if you want to, but let’s not work backwards by ignoring its utility.
It is difficult to say everything that needs to be said, but this is my start.
Sandra J. Wortham, Chatham