Chicago: The Streets Where Black Kids Ain't Allowed

The Racist Beating of Lenard Clark

Revolutionary Worker #901, April 6, 1997

It was early evening on March 21, and 13-year-old Lenard Clark, Jr. had just finished playing basketball with two other kids at Armour Square Park bordering Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. As the teens left the park, they decided to check out the nearby Chicago White Sox stadium, being prepared for opening day. It was just a few blocks away. They never made it.

According to witnesses, Lenard and the other two youths were attacked by a gang of white racists, who were angry that two Black and one Latino youth were in "their neighborhood." The three teenagers split up in order to get away. Two escaped. Lenard didn't.

Shouting racist insults, the group of whites knocked Lenard off of his bike. They smashed his head into a wall. They beat and kicked him into unconsciousness. They left him for dead. It was reported that they later boasted about how they had, "taken care of the n*ggers in the neighborhood."

Lenard remained in a coma for a week following the beating. His eyes were closed, his body hooked up to monitors. Various tubes ran to and from his head. His father, Lenard Sr., described his shock upon seeing Lenard with swollen head and hands--as if he had been in a fight for his life. Lenard's mother, Wanda McMurray, who continued a round-the-clock vigil at Lenard's side, expressed the fear that her son may never be the same. There are many unanswered questions about the future of Lenard's health, but on March 28 Lenard started coming out of his coma.

A Double Standard

Two days after the attack, three white teenagers from the Bridgeport area were arrested--each charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery and two counts of committing a "hate crime."

In court the next day, the assistant state's attorney asked for a $1 million bond on each youth. Instead, the judge set bail at $100,000 to $150,000 and the three suspects were quickly bailed out and back home.

The quick release and relatively low bond on the men accused of the beating brought an angry response from Lenard's family. "They should be held in there until their first court date," one of Lenard's cousins said, "not walking the street and enjoying life and maybe laughing about it." Lenard's mom was disgusted as well. "It's not fair. They left my baby for dead. Once they bond out, they can do it again."

Adding to that outrage was the sympathetic way much of the media treated the suspects. One newscaster commented that the beating of Lenard seemed "out of character" for the white teenagers, in part because two are currently students and the third a recent graduate of De La Salle Institute, a Catholic high school that's the alma mater of four previous Chicago mayors as well as the current Mayor Daley. A good deal of time in the news was also given over to the suspects, their lawyers and families to present their side of the story. Their denials all had a similar ring. "My son isn't like that." "We're not racist." "We're hurt that people think we're racist." "I didn't do it, I just saw it." "We pray for the family." And so on.

To anyone with open eyes, the double standards at work here were hard to miss. A number of people pointed out that had the situation been reversed--had three Black teens been arrested for a brutal assault on a young white victim--none would be strolling out of jail on bond for a very long time, if ever. Nor would there have been a sympathetic media spin expressing surprise at the charges, or allowing extensive on-camera regrets by their family and friends.

The first court date for the white youth who brutalized Lenard is April 14, and many eyes will be watching and demanding justice.

People Take to the Streets

Some political figures tried to discourage people from marching in the streets to protest racism and the beating of Lenard Clark. The media interviewed some people saying this would not be "helpful" in the "healing process." One Bridgeport resident told a reporter they were against people marching through their community because "we're not all racist" here. But the reporter didn't ask this person--"If you're not racist, then why wouldn't you not only welcome, but join such a march!"

But these efforts didn't stop people from demonstrating. People throughout the city expressed outrage at the beating and much concern for Lenard and his family. For two days, hundreds of people joined together in marches into Bridgeport. One man said, "I'd like to voice support for my little brother Lenard Clark and make a statement against white supremacy and racism, and say that Black people are not gonna take it anymore. This is the 21st century and a Black youth can't even walk into Bridgeport without being assaulted." It was a sentiment felt throughout the crowd. Most, though not all, of the demonstrators were from the Black community. On the evening of March 27, 400 people marched into Bridgeport leaving behind, on a tree in Armour Square Park, a cross with the words "Bury racism."

The next day, chanting "No Justice! No Peace!," hundreds more marched through Bridgeport. "We'll go into Bridgeport any time," one of the protest organizers, Eddie Read of Chicago United Black Communities, said, "I want to see people march into Bridgeport seven days a week. Our children are going to ride their bicycles and play wherever they want to." Summonses were left with the district police commander, the local alderman and the De La Salle Institute president demanding their appearance at an April meeting in the Black community to explain their failure "to provide the leadership needed to foster a climate devoid of racism."

The police came out in force to these protests and the purpose of their presence became clear in the course of the marches. The first day's protest was confronted by a crowd of racist whites chanting, "Three innocent boys!"--a reference to the white youths accused of beating Lenard. When one of the counter-protesters was asked what he felt about the attack on Lenard, he simply responded "white power" and laughed. While this mob remained untouched by the police, two Black demonstrators were arrested for responding to racist taunts. The evening news showed a dreadlocked women shouting, "He called me a n*gger! He called me a n*gger!"--while being cuffed and thrown up against a police van. She and the other protester were charged with disorderly conduct.

Racist Unwelcome Sign
in Bridgeport

The attack on Lenard Clark was a brutal "keep out" sign--a message familiar to Black people in Chicago for generations. It was the same sign posted in the 1919 Chicago race riots, begun when a Black youth was stoned and drowned for swimming in a "white area." It was the sign raised by white mobs when Black people attempted to move from the southside ghetto into Cicero in the 1960s. It was the sign in 1989 when two white cops left a couple of Black teenagers to the mercy of a white gang in the Canaryville neighborhood located just to the south of Bridgeport, or when a Black tow-truck driver was attacked by a racist after his truck broke down in Bridgeport. It was the sign when students from Brother Rice Catholic high school recently directed chants of "Buckwheat" and other racist terms at Black basketball players from a rival team.

Bridgeport has long been known among Black people in Chicago as a place where they are not welcome. For years it was virtually an all-white, working and middle class community. More recently some Latino and Asian people have moved into the neighborhood, but there are still hardly any Black people who live in Bridgeport. The Chicago Tribune reported, "Many Blacks continue to adhere to an unwritten code of conduct on how to avert problems around Bridgeport: Stay on the main streets and out of residential areas, get out of the neighborhood before dark, and mind your own business."

Abdul Rahim, a 45-year-old Black man who works in Bridgeport, told the Tribune, "I went into a store at 33rd and Wells and it was like everybody just stopped what they were doing. The product I was asking for--a hot dog--they immediately said they were out of it."

Carolyn Reese also talked to the press about what it is like for Black people to go into Bridgeport. She said, "I can shop here, but they don't want me living here. People are always looking at you like, `What you doing here?' You just stay on the main streets and you'll be OK."

And many people point out that the attack on Lenard Clark is typical of the whole history of segregated neighborhoods in Chicago. As soon as Black people started migrating to Chicago from the South there were systematic efforts to confine them to certain poor neighborhoods. Racist attacks on Black people who venture into white neighborhoods are meant to enforce this segregation.

Seventy years ago, white "social clubs" from Bridgeport were known for their political strength and brutality. They were known to beat Black men who wandered into their neighborhood. One such group, the Hamburg Social Club, became a powerful political force in the city. One of its members, Mayor Richard J. Daley (father of the current mayor), created a political machine that furthered the segregation of Black and white neighborhoods in Chicago.

Hypocritical Calls for
"Racial Healing"

"In the face of all the `racially motivated violence' being brought down, what is needed is not hypocritical--or even well-intentioned--calls for `peace and reconciliation.' Talk about `changing racial attitudes,' without focusing on white supremacy and fighting against it, is useless--or worse than useless. What is needed is to draw a hard line against white supremacy and to wage a bold, massive, non-stop and uncompromising struggle against this white supremacy and the system that upholds it."

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP

The most recent ugly incident in Bridgeport got a lot of people discussing, once again, the big question, how can we fight against racism?

But in the wake of the beating of Lenard Clark, the mainstream press, politicians and "civic leaders" have not done any serious soul searching about how to uproot the systematic oppression of Black people. Instead the airwaves have been dominated by hypocritical talk of "racial healing." For many people, the desire to see "racial harmony" reflects heartfelt disgust with racism in the city and across the country. But for representatives of Chicago's ruling circles such as Mayor Richard Daley--the calls for "healing" amount to a cynical exercise in damage control.

Daley visited Lenard's bedside, where he reportedly shed tears with the family. Daley denounced Lenard's suspected attackers as "thugs" and praised the police work leading to the arrests. In a letter printed on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, Daley spoke against "racial slurs and racial attacks" and called on adults to take "full responsibility" to stop intolerance. But coming from a man who lived for many years in Bridgeport and never spoke out against or did anything to combat racism in this white enclave--these words rang hollow. And Mayor Daley's calls for "healing" never came anywhere near exposing the way racism is built into the whole political and economic system he works for.

It will take more than a few exhortations on tolerance and good parenting to uproot the racism found in Chicago's white enclave communities. There's a soil that allows it to grow and flourish--a soil connected to the whole history of segregation and oppression of Black people in Chicago--and throughout the United States. It's a soil of real estate profiteering, of bank redlining, of job discrimination, of businesses searching for cheap labor, of police brutality, of land grabs and the conscious planning of the power structure. No local or national politician can or will dismantle all this, which is an integral part of the capitalist system.

And we might ask Da Mayor: What message of "racial healing" was sent when he defended the Chicago police when they recently opened up with gunfire on a Cabrini Green highrise building, endangering the lives of dozens of Black children? What kind of message against racism is sent when Daley pushes ahead with a plan to demolish that same public housing development for the benefit of wealthy developers, and at the expense of thousands of poor Black families? Daley may not be uttering crude racist remarks, but his actions clearly say that the lives of Black people--particularly poor Black people--really don't mean much.


"This man called me today and said he was putting on a march for Lenard. I told him that was fine, just as long as it wasn't just Blacks marching. I told him to get whites and Blacks and Chinese and Mexicans together and then march. We're supposed to get along with one another. What happened to my son should be the whole city's business."

Wanda McMurray,
Lenard Clark's mother

As we go to press, protests against the beating of Lenard Clark are still going on in Chicago. People are determined to fight against racism and get justice for Lenard Clark.

The incident in Bridgeport reveals how deep the oppression of Black people is in this society. And it should serve as a call for many more people to join in the struggle against racism.

All those who are disgusted by what happened in Bridgeport and outraged by racism in this country need to make their voices heard. And it is especially necessary for white people in Chicago to take a public stand against white supremacy and show that they are serious about ending the oppression of Black people. People of all nationalities need to find the ways to manifest their outrage at the beating of Lenard Clark and wage a determined struggle to fight against and root out racism, no matter what it takes.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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