Jesse Jackson's message is too advanced for most

December 03, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

I have run across what appear to be several classic examples of political incorrectness and insensitivity by a major political figure.

So shocking are they that I hesitate even repeating them here for fear that they might cause widespread shrieking and fainting on the part of the politically proper.

Consider this statement:

"There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then (I) look around and see someone white and feel relieved."

Or this observation about street danger in the cities: "This killing is not based upon poverty; it is based upon greed and violence and guns."

Let us examine what might be considered wrong with these remarks.

First quote: It could be viewed as racist for someone to say he hears footsteps, fears robbery, looks over his shoulder, sees that it is only a white person, and feels relief.

Second quote: Greed? Plain nastiness? That flies in the face of the belief that only social conditions cause our widespread street violence. And that society at large is at fault.

You would be run off many college campuses for such simplistic offenses. Most public radio producers would hyperventilate if a guest uttered such heresies.

But these statements came from one of this country's best-known public figures. A man, in fact, who sits in the United States Senate.

Guess who?

No, it isn't Sen. Jesse Helms or any other red-nosed right-winger.

Would you believe the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the non-voting shadow senator from the District of Columbia?

Yes, it was Jackson, talking about crime in the black community last Saturday in Chicago at a meeting of Operation PUSH.

He said a lot more, too. Such as it being a waste of time to expect government to reduce or put an end to urban mayhem.

". . . We've got the power right now to stop killing each other. . . . There is a code of silence, based upon fear. Our silence is a sanctuary for killers and drug dealers. There must be a market revolt. The victim has to rise up."

And about making heroes of gang killers who are in prison and trying to get them out so they can become "leaders."

"When we are on the offensive arguing about getting killers out of jail, there is no moral authority in that."

But are these words really politically incorrect and insensitive?

They might be described that way if I or any other white commentator said them.

That shouldn't be. In Chicago, the majority of murders involve blacks killing other blacks. Many are kids. And black-on-white crime is more common than the opposite.

And while I believe that poverty and other socioeconomic conditions are a big factor in crime (come on, how many street gangs are shooting it out in wealthy suburbs?), a Nobel Prize-winning economist makes a good argument that profit is also a basic crime motive. Drug pushers don't win Nobel prizes but they'd surely agree.

But since these words were delivered by Jackson to a black audience, it's not politically incorrect. He was talking reality. Specifically: The biggest physical threat to a black is another black. As it is commonly called, black-on-black crime.

Jackson has been talking about crime for a long time but he gets surprisingly little news coverage.

Jackson is saying things that sound so . . . well, so middle-class, that I suspect white media liberals are a bit appalled.

That might be why Jackson seems to have done a media fade. For a long time -- longer than most people realize -- he's been talking about individual responsibility and black community action. He's attacked drug use, teen-age pregnancy, gang membership and dependence on government.

During the 1950s through the 1970s, the civil rights movement had clear, heroic goals. It was inspiring, and Jackson was a major part of it.

But something happened. I don't know what, exactly. Grand hopes that were unfulfilled. The loss of unskilled but decent-paying jobs. The rise of a sort of to-hell-with-it attitude. Whatever it was, the movement was derailed.

On one hand, there was victory. The black middle class grew. Considering the time span, an incredible number of racial barriers fell.

On the other hand, the black lower class became more isolated, dejected and violent. A threat to themselves and anyone else in range.

And that's what Jesse has focused on -- black-on-black suicide and genocide. He's saying what others are afraid to say. Or have said and have been burned for it.

Right now, he's only making the inside pages and is being ignored by the networks.

That's because Jesse, as he's been in the past, is so far ahead of the parade that he's almost walking alone. But if he keeps it up, they'll catch up.

And when they do, it might be his finest moment.

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