Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay Called ‘Racist’ for Anti-Racism #EndWhiteSilence Tweet
Why do so many white Americans reflexively accuse those who dare acknowledge the existence of white racism of being racists? It’s a question I find myself asking more and more these days, and today’s headlines provided yet another fresh example.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Police Chief Cameron McLay is being lauded by the city’s mayor, as well as by social justice advocates of all colors, for his December 31 retweet of a photo of him holding a sign reading, “I RESOLVE TO CHALLENGE RACISM @ WORK #END WHITE SILENCE.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, activists from the anti-racism group What’s Up?! Pittsburgh approached the chief in a coffee shop during the city’s First Night celebration and asked him to pose with the sign they’d made. The activists then posted the photo on Twitter.
McLay’s actions were an innocuous and very welcome acknowledgement of one of the most serious and enduring problems facing black and brown Americans today, a statement of solidarity at a time when sympathetic voices in law enforcement seem all but impossible to come by. In this heated “us vs. them” atmosphere, in which heavily militarized police engage in “wartime policing” in response to legitimate outrage over the impunity with which white cops kill unarmed black men and children, Chief McLay’s gesture of conciliation ought to be roundly applauded.
And it was, by many. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he saw the photo on social media and liked it so much he shared it on his own Facebook page.
“I thought, ‘What a great way to begin the new year,'” the first-year mayor, who hired McLay in September, told the Associated Press.
Plenty of people in Pittsburgh — and beyond — agreed.
What’s Up?! Pittsburgh applauded the McLay’s post, tweeting “@ChiefCSMcLay just committed to challenge racism at work. #endwhitesilence. We gonna hold you to it Chief!”
To which McLay replied, “It’s time for courageous conversations about implicit bias, race and gender @ work & in our communities.”
Even Anonymous, the hacktivist collective that has so often been at odds with police, gave props, with Pissed_Off_Anonymous tweeting “many of us will be honored to work with you in any way we can.”
“Thank you, Chief! I just showed ur tweet to my partner, who broke down in tears. Honored to have u serve,” tweeted @aniktwit.
“Thank you Chief McLay! You give me hope that together we can fix the inJustice system,” commented Facebook user Lori Keith
“I love the effort; just worried about some of the possible backlash,” Pittsburgh native Craig Stack commented on Mayor Peduto’s Facebook post.
“They are going to turn their backs on him,” tweeted @truemira, a reference to the cold shoulder given to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio by many of his own police officers, who claim their boss “sided with protesters” demonstrating against NYPD brutality and racism.
There was no shortage of the backlash that Stack and others feared. Much of it came from within McLay’s own department.
“By Mayor Peduto labeling us ‘corrupt and mediocre’ and now our current Chief insinuating that we are now racist, merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession, I say enough is enough,” railed Fraternal Order of Police president Howard McQuillan in an email to Peduto’s office published in part in the Post-Gazette.
McLay responded with an email to the police union apologizing if he offended officers but standing by his tweet, noting it’s a “statistical fact” that policing has “a disparate impact on communities of color.”
“The predominant pattern of our city’s increased violence involves black victims as well as actors,” wrote McLay, acknowledging the black-on-black crime that many whites claim is a far bigger problem than white racism. “If we are to address this violence, we must work together with our communities of color.”
“I was hired to restore the legitimacy of the police department,” added McLay. “I did not seek these young activists out. I was stopping for coffee at First Night. Their message is not anti-anybody. It is simply a call for awareness. The photo was a great, spontaneous moment in time. Please join dialogue for community healing.”
There were the inevitable accusations of racism leveled against McLay by those who are apparently unaware that the chief is white.
“[McLay] should be reprimanded for that white silence crap. To me that is reverse racism,” commented Gary Galilei on Facebook.
“This is so insulting to white people. Do you get that? So racist,” tweeted @citrussage.
“.@ChiefCSMcLay you are on crack! I will not set foot in Pittsburgh, knowing the chief of police is a spineless twat,” spat Matthew S. Harrison.
“Oh white people,” an exasperated Janet S. commented on the Post-Gazette website. “You are so defensive, know everything, and are so put down in this world by black people. Its a wonder you make it in this world with black people oppressing you so much.”
Since so many of my white brothers and sisters seem to have so much trouble grasping basic concepts of racism, I’ll say it again for the gazillionth time: Acknowledging and opposing racism is not racist. Refusal to acknowledge the existence and severity of racism, however, is a sign that the naysayer is racist, or at least harbors racist views. Those who delude themselves into believing that racism is something that ended in the 1960s, or at the very latest, when Barack Obama was elected, are blind to the realities of black and brown life in “post-racial” America.
The truth is, deeply entrenched racism remains an institutionalized scourge upon American society. From our biased criminal (in)justice system to housing, health, wealth, education, employment and more, inequality and (often increasing) racial disparities are the rule in 2015 America, not the exception. Until white America adequately assesses and addresses these glaring problems, it cannot honestly claim to be “post-racial.”