Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Goodbye McCarthy

Politicians occasionally slip up and say something that they regret, like Obama saying the other day that the private sector was doing OK, or Romney saying he likes firing people. In a few days, we usually forget about the slip-up, because we recognize it for what it is: a slip-up. But every so often, a public figure says something that is so revealing and so stupid that it can't be recovered from, like when Gerald Ford said during a campaign debate that the Polish people were free, when they were still under Soviet domination. That slip-up was a big part of the reason why Jimmy Carter won the election and Ford lost.

Today, Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy said something so ridiculous that, though it probably won't result in his immediate removal, may eventually lead to his being replaced. Responding to the news that 53 people were shot in Chicago over the weekend, resulting in at least nine deaths, McCarthy said the problem wasn't violence, it was people's perception that there was violence.

McCarthy argued that crime was down, because there was a 17 percent decrease in homicides during a 28 day period he selected. He bragged that "There's not one police leader in this country who wouldn't be ecstatic” with that record. McCarthy chose not to talk about the fact that homicides are up 36 percent (223 dead this year) and shootings are up 11 percent (967 shot this year) compared to the same period last year.

There is a time and place to manipulate statistics. But to tell the people of Chicago that their problem isn't that people are being gunned down all around them, it is that they are noticing the mayhem, or maybe even imagining it, shows that McCarthy is removed from everyday reality to a degree that we aren't accustomed to.

McCarthy seemed to enjoy the attention he got standing by as thousands of police officers watched over peaceful demonstrations when the NATO summit was recently in Chicago. He posed like a real hero in his starched white shirt, and the news media dutifully reported that he was right there on the “front lines.” But McCarthy's attempt to deny the problem of bloody corpses landing at people's feet in their neighborhoods on a regular basis will erase his image of being a NATO hero.

Some might expect Mayor Emanuel to take some blame for McCarthy's blunder. Those people must be thinking of some other mayor in some other city. McCarthy is all alone on this one, and unless he makes some mighty efforts very quickly to show that he understands that the problem of shootings is real, and not just a perception, he won't be around much longer, and he won't deserve to be.

Chicagoans don't expect much of their cops. A lot of people in Chicago would be happy if the cops would simply leave them alone and stop harassing them. But people will not long put up with a police superintendent who belittles their concerns about life and death matters. Maybe if McCarthy attended some of the funerals of the children who are being gunned down in Chicago, he would understand that a grave is not just a perception, it's very, very real.

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