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Emanuel accused of ‘victim shaming’ for talking values and character after crime

Shari Runner

Runner, formerly the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, is shown in July 2016, when she spoke to the City Council committees on Budget/Government Operations and Public Safety on how to fix the city's system of police accountability. | Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused Wednesday of “victim shaming” for citing an absence of “values” and “character” in the African-American community after the weekend bloodbath in which 71 people were shot, 12 of them fatally.

Shari Runner, until recently the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said the mayor’s blame game is offensive and insensitive.

“I cannot see the victims of racist policies and bigoted practices shamed by anyone who says they need to do better or be better in their circumstance. I won’t accept it,” Runner said.

“Scolding the African-American community for the ills of what’s happening in those communities is not only not helpful. It’s not correct. There’s no more religious, conservative, amazing community than the African-American community. The African-American community is resilient. The African-American community survived this strife. … It is not fair to blame the victims of policies that have created their circumstance.”

Apparently referring to the mayor’s emotional response to the weekend violence, Runner said: “The African-American community deserves a lot more than tears and certainly deserves a lot more than victim-shaming. This is the result of racist policy and bigoted practice for decades.”

Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference at 78th and Halsted following a violent weekend in Chicago. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot said the timing of the mayor’s moral lecture was breathtaking in its insensitivity.

“After a weekend with so many innocent people killed and wounded, Rahm Emanuel tried to off-load responsibility to those same victims by saying there is a shortage of values about what is right and what is wrong and what is acceptable and what is condoned,” she said.

Lightfoot argued that the circumstances that breed gang violence are “deep and complicated” and require a “thoughtful” response — not a response that “blames those very same communities that have been starved for resources” and where there is “very little opportunity for people to connect to the legitimate economy.”

“To just boil it down to a harsh judgment about the absence of values shows that he really doesn’t understand what’s going on in this city. And frankly, it’s offensive,” she said.

“What I hear him saying is that … the fault is in these communities because they’re valueless. And that’s wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to even know where to start with somebody who thinks like that, let alone says it from the platform of the mayor of the third-largest city.”

Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot called recent comments from Mayor Rahm Emanuel “breathtaking” in their insensitivity. | Sun-Times file photo

It’s not the first time Emanuel has touched on the sensitive subjects of “character” and “values” and their connection to Chicago’s never-ending cycle of gang violence.

Nearly two years ago, Emanuel tested those same themes — including absentee fathers in African-American families — during private previews of a major policy address on violence that included his two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers.

Emanuel talked then about encountering only one black father in all of the homes, hospital rooms, churches and funerals he had visited after innocent children were gunned down or wounded on the streets of Chicago.

But when it came time to deliver the speech, the mayor steered clear of the sociological problem he has long viewed as a driving force behind gang violence.

He was advised then that he was not the right person to deliver that uncomfortable message when he faces deep distrust among African-American voters furious about his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and convinced that their unsafe neighborhoods are being left behind.

The same dynamic is at work today with the mayoral election just over six months away.

But, that didn’t stop Emanuel from doubling down on the values and character theme late Tuesday after announcing plans to flood the streets of the city’s five most violent police districts with 600 additional officers this weekend.

Police and Fire Department investigate a burned out vehicle t

Police and Fire Department investigate a burned out vehicle that’s related in a fatal shooting Sunday morning in the 4300 block of South Paulina. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“This may not be politically correct, but I know the power of what faith and family can do. … Our kids need that structure. … I am asking … that we also don’t shy away from a full discussion about the importance of family and faith helping to develop and nurture character, self respect, a value system and a moral compass that allows kids to know good from bad and right from wrong,” the mayor said.

“If we’re going to solve this … we’ve got to have a real discussion. … Parts of the conversation cannot be off-limits because it’s not politically comfortable. … We are going to discuss issues that have been taboo in years past because they are part of the solution. … We also have a responsibility to help nurture character. It plays a role. Our kids need that moral structure in their lives. And we cannot be scared to have this conversation.”

Runner argued that neither the “values” diversion nor the influx of police officers are the answers to what plagues the African-American community.

The answer lies in a massive reconstruction program for long-neglected inner-city communities.

She advised a mayor notoriously consumed by winning the next news cycle to focus on the broader issues of education, jobs, mental health and the family crises created by “mass-incarceration.”

“That’s hard work. That’s not rhetoric. That’s not talking about it. I don’t need to be scolded by anybody to do this,” Runner said.

“This is not a one-note fix. And it’s not gonna be fixed overnight. When we allow ourselves to be wagged by the tail of the news cycle, we start to look for easy fixes.”