Nine black leaders warned the Justice Department yesterday that Chicago could explode with racial violence the way Miami, Chattanooga and Orlando have this summer.
"We told Justice that unless something is done to defuse it there's a classic case building up in Chicago," the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of Operation PUSH, said at a news conference. "The entire scenario of a major urban explosion exists today in Chicago.
Jackson and eight other black leaders met yesterday for an hour and a half with Deputy Attorney General Charles Renfrew and Drew S. Days III, chief of the department's civil rights division, to discuss "eight or nine" subjects they said the black community is angry about. One was the recent fatal beating of a black man by three white policemen in Chicago.
"The dead man turned out to be mentally retarded and the three white policemen have been hired by the Teamsters union," Jackson said. "In one sense, I will measure the success of this meeting by what happens in Chicago."
Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, said that the Justice Department is sending a representative to Chicago to take stock of the situation. Hooks said it is his hope that the department will seek charges against the three white policemen on federal civil rights offenses even while the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois decide how to deal with the incident.
"Dual prosecution is in order here," Hooks said. "The Justice Department needs to be make its presence felt in these cases, before the fact, during the fact and after it."
Besides Chicago, the black leaders discussed with Renfrew and Days the still-unsolved shooting of National Urban League president Vernon Jordan in June, the growing strength of the Ku Klux Klan, what they see as an increase in police brutality and the mounting uneasiness of black communities.
"We told them the anger out in the street is very great," said Carl Holman, president of the National Urban Coalition. "There's real anger, real growing resentment."
Hooks said he could not repeat what Renfrew told them about the Jordan shooting because it is an ongoing investigation but said he came away hopeful that the crime would be solved.
"They made it clear that the Jordan case is the highest priority case in the FBI right now," Hooks said, "and I have faith that when the police are trying to find out what happened in the small town of Fort Wayne, Ind., on a given night that they will find out."
Hooks said that Renfrew and Days agreed that the strength of the Ku Klux Klan has grown but wondered what they could do about it. Hooks said Renfrew said the Klan is one of the risks a free society takes.
"The trouble is, Klansmen don't water pillowcases over their heads anymore," Hooks said. "They go to Duke and Harvard and to be frank with you I'm more afraid of Klansmen in three-piece Brooks Brothers suits than I am of the guys in the sheets."
Hooks said he felt the meeting at the department was frank and productive, with little of the visible anger he said the black leaders felt about things.
"It's not necessary to holler 'Black Power' and throw bricks to make our point," he said. "We've learned to disagree without being disagreeable."