Rev. Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, is now a professor and administrator here at CTS. Follow his timely, provocative writings on the issues of our day.
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No Peace, No Piece?
Chicago has been confronted this week by two outrageous attempts to address the epidemic of violence in our city. The first, and most egregious, was the police execution of seventeen year old Laquan McDonald fourteen months ago. Apparently it took sixteen bullets, most fired while he was dying on the ground, to protect the vulnerable men in blue and, by extension, the citizens they are pledged to protect. It’s lucky for Laquan that he wasn’t my age! The attempted cover up by the mayor, police chief, and district attorney, which included $5 million in hush money to Laquan’s family, finally fell apart when a judge forced the release of the dash cam video clearly showing a defenseless Laquan backing away from police as his body begins to jerk under the impact of bullets. The mayor achieved his goal, pushing the viewing until after his re-election. Convenient. He also managed to defer the announcement of the indictment of his hand-picked schools chief for similar reasons, but that’s another story. Sort of.
Meanwhile, “Chi-Raq,” Spike Lee’s latest movie, premiered the day before the police video was released. Lee and his new best friend, Father Michael Pfleger, have been all over the airwaves pumping up enthusiasm for the movie which is going to make Lee a lot of money and for Pfleger, publicity in his much to be admired and frequently courageous campaign against gun violence in the city. Whether the movie succeeds in the celebrity director’s and celebrity priest’s stated goal to expose us to the reality of violence gripping so many of our neighbors in fear remains to be seen. Early reviews are not encouraging.
“Chi-Raq” is a satire based on the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes, in which a group of women attempt to end war by withholding sex from their warrior husbands until they put down their weapons. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly profound or thoughtful exploration of Chicago’s gun violence, but I haven’t seen the movie so I’ll withhold judgment.
What I have seen, and what no Chicagoan can miss, are the movie posters popping up all over town in public bus shelters. The poster shows a young, attractive African American woman with an Afro and dressed in camouflage. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/exclusive-official-poster-for-spike-lees-chi-raq-no-peace-no-piece-20151112 She looks fierce, powerful. So far, so good. But the words on the poster are, “No peace, no piece.” Given what we know about the movie, can there be any interpretation of this other than, “no piece of ass unless you put down your piece?” (If Lee and Pfleger can offer an alternative interpretation, I’m all ears.) How is it appropriate to portray women as nothing more than sex objects whose only power is their capacity to give or withhold their bodies from men? And doing so in the crudest language of the streets?
So here we are in the midst of Thanksgiving, and young Black Chicagoans are presented with two messages about violence: First, the police may execute you in the street without cause. Second, it’s ok to imagine confronting the violence of street gangs through the perpetuation of misogynist language and imagery long associated with violence against women. How sad.
Let’s be clear, the execution of Laquan McDonald is far more obscene than any movie poster could ever be. But that doesn’t let Lee and Pfleger off the hook. I harbor no expectation that Lee will denounce the poster. His new found passion for the citizens of Chicago’s south and west sides will fade as he moves on to other cinematic projects. I do hope that Father Pfleger will speak out. He’s too important a moral voice in our community to allow himself to be tainted by association with such a crude message. I’m not naïve. The language of the streets (and many board rooms for that matter) is crude and misogynist. But that doesn’t mean we have to employ it in the moral struggle for our community’s life and welfare.
John H. Thomas
November 25, 2015