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A tipping point on ending racism, an opportunity to get things right

SNEED: After my more than 50 years in journalism, and 70-plus years as an American, change has been a long time coming. Now, let’s embrace it.

A woman protests during a rally June 16 in Victorville, California, over the death of Malcolm Harsch, a black man who was found hanging from a tree on May 31 near Victorville.
Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Our country has now been placed on notice.

If fire is to come, let it only be in our hearts.

The stunningly inhumane killing of George Floyd — still on everyone’s mind weeks after a white police officer suffocated Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis — seems to be achieving what President Abraham Lincoln once claimed was everything: public sentiment.

I can tell you this: After my more than 50 years in journalism, and 70-plus years as an American, change has been a long time coming. Let’s hope it’s finally here.

A quick trip back in time; a previous look at the nightmare of systemic racism.

People of color on the North Dakota prairie of my youth were the Mandan, Sioux, and Arikara.

They lived apart, in poverty, on reservations where European immigrant families like mine did not visit. They were always the bad guys in “Cowboys and Indians” movies that were so popular at the time. My mother told stories of the Mandan begging for money at the railroad station when she was young. “They were so poor,” she said. “It was so sad.”

When my young parents moved us to Portland, Oregon, where Dad attended college on the G.I. Bill after World War II, I opened a lemonade stand when I was in first grade.

After I sold a glass of lemonade to an African American man outside our home, an outraged white male neighbor went ballistic.

You can guess the drill. I was a flummoxed and terrified little kid. The neighbor insisted the glass be scrubbed in lye. My dad scrubbed him instead.

Flash forward to 1965, when I was graduating from Wayne State University in Detroit.

A Detroit civil rights advocate named Viola Liuzzo traveled to Selma, Alabama, to march and help the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s effort to register African American voters. While driving a black demonstrator back to Montgomery, Liuzzo was murdered by a group of Ku Klux Klansmen, becoming the only known white female killed during the Civil Rights Movement.

How many of us still remember her name?

Michael Sneed covering a protest in 1968
File photo

As a young Chicago City News Bureau reporter morphing into a Chicago Tribune journalist in 1968 and 1969, I saw firsthand how inequity breeds contempt.

Whether it was reporting on anti-Vietnam War protests; covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention in which cops bloodied protesters with billy clubs, and getting pepper-sprayed myself while covering the 1972 Republican convention in Miami, I’ve had a front-row seat to unrest akin to what was unfolding on our living room televisions during the last weekend in May and in early June.

If watching that brought all these memories back for me — a grandmother now living in suburban quiet — I can only imagine what it did to those who are subjected to institutional racism daily.

Our country’s battle against racism is not going to be easy; it’s written into a history that might now be in the process of a rewrite — and forward movement.

And we now have a battalion of recently elected (or appointed) Black leaders in position to effect change, many of them elected citywide, countywide and statewide by racially and philosophically diverse groups of voters.

So to . . .

• Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

• Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

• Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul

• Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

• Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Timothy Evans

• Senate Majority leader Kimberly Lightford

• Illinois Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton

• Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

• Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown

• Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough

• Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin

• Chicago Police Supt. David Brown

• Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Richard Ford

• Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman

• Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter

• Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson

• Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Larita Clark

• Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management Randy Conner

• and the bevy of Chicago aldermen, as well as state representatives and senators and U.S. House members

. . . here’s hoping we will all come together to do what’s right.

I’m not naive enough to think we’ll turn it around in my lifetime, but all of you give me hope for my grandson’s.

Sneedlings . . .

Sister Jeanne Kenney, the sports prognosticator nun, tells Sneed she has a prediction: “I think the Chicago Bears will win more than eight games, but not win their division.” There you have it, folks. . . . The children of Illinois lost their fiercest advocate with the passing of Maria Whelan, president and CEO of Illinois Action for Children. She was a force of nature. . . . Saturday birthdays: Nicole Kidman, 53; Lionel Richie, 71; and John Goodman, 68. . . . Sunday birthdays: Prince William, 38; Jussie Smollett, 38; Chris Pratt, 41; and happy belated birthdays to social scrivener Candace Jordan, one of the nicest people on the planet. Love her. . . . and education guru Paul Vallas, priceless.