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Three African American elected officials were recently listed in a federal indictment, complete with the transcript of conversations of how they would help businessman John Doe circumvent the system in exchange for monetary and material goodies to enrich themselves. The political careers of Alder Board President Lewis Reed, Alder Jeffrey Boyd and Alder John Collins-Muhammad are dead. There are some important lessons in this situation that can benefit us in the pursuit of Black political empowerment.

The three political clowns face a number of charges from bribery to fraud and are looking at stiff sentences and fines. In exchange for helping a local business circumvent the system to receive city property, tax abatements and other city resources, the disgraced men received items like a 2016 VW (not even a 2022 BMW), a new cell phone, about $700 for a car repair and cash (described by one local report as “pocket change”).

It is suspected that John Doe is an Arab business person. This is a significant contradiction because a few years ago, another sweeping federal investigation led to indictments and convictions of Arab convenience store and gas station owners across multiple states. Because Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country, cigarettes were being bought here and resold in other states, money laundered and an assortment of other crimes committed. 

Specifically, most of the owners were of Palestinian descent and of Muslim faith. While some of us are fighting to advance the rights of Palestinian people in the Middle East, these businesses are engaging in behavior and selling all kinds of poison that go against the teachings of Islam.

The wards of the two alders were woefully neglected and now we see why. They were too busy looking out for themselves and not the community. Boyd and Collins-Muhammad were arrogant and had become estranged from Black folks. Except for their immediate families, no Black organization or civic leader came out publicly in their defense. A usually forgiving Black community stood down, offering only condemnation and ridicule.

The investigation and indictments shut down all current abatement requests – not just for these two but for all the alderpersons. Some of these abatement requests were probably legit but were caught up in the dragnet. The city and federal search for illegal dealings will go back at least five years. More indictments are sure to come.

This is where too many elected officials get it all wrong: extortion, embezzlement, bribery, political favoritism, sexual favors and lining one’s pockets are not supposed to be part of the job. They have it twisted: these are not automatic perks for public service.

For Black politicians to engage in this behavior and then use the excuse that the white boys have been doing it for years is totally unacceptable. They know their constituents are often too consumed with their own survival to notice their greedy exploits or if they do know, feeling powerless to do anything about it. We get victimized in so many ways by so many different predators, we have layers of scar tissue. The betrayal hurts double when the predator looks like you.

As we fight for true and equitable representation, our communities must also fight for transformative leaders. We should be way past the notion that a person’s skin color is the main determining factor for getting our support. We need to be looking at character, past track record and vision.

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We should know that the fight for Black political power under capitalism has its limitations so the role of conscious organizers is advocating for an alternative vision as we engage in the fight for reforms. This is also a time to re-imagine our communities where people think twice before they double-cross us - either out of respect or fear.