My associate Isabel Miller recently interviewed Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago) about the national controversy he found himself in after posting a statement on Twitter. I thought I’d share it with you this week. Here’s Isabel ... .
A few weeks ago, Senator Robert Peters posted a tweet that he knew would generate backlash. What he didn’t know was that it would go national.
The tweet was in response to teens converging on downtown Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported three teenagers were wounded in two shootings and 16 were arrested during the violence: “I would look at the behavior of young people as a political act and statement. It’s a mass protest against poverty and segregation.”
Now-former Fox News host Tucker Carlson jumped in, telling his millions of viewers: “So what happens if you encourage this kind of behavior, if you cheer the mob rather than restraining the mob? Well, ugly and totally inevitable things will happen. Productive people will flee, innocents will die, and, ultimately, you will get from this mob racial attacks. All of that is happening in Chicago right now. All of it.”
Senator Peters said he was paraphrasing a 1966 quote from Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
“If I actually said what Dr King said, I think ... [people] could’ve responded even more harshly,” Senator Peters said. “I don't want anybody to ever get hurt. I have a district where there's a lot of violence, particularly in a lot of working-class areas. And I think everybody deserves to have their fair share of safety and comfort, and I think we seem to be caught up responding to the same questions in relatively the same way. And I think a lot of people are sick and tired of it.
“And we have to look at it from both the historical context and the present context about what are we going to do to change things. If a kid has had their school closed, or health-care institution closed, or they've had their housing foreclosed, or they've been evicted, or they're living cooped up in housing too small, mismanaged, then we have to do whatever we can to change that. And it's clear that we need to push back on what has been a terrible, terrible status quo for people.”
Despite receiving hate and threats for his comments, Peters said he remains committed to his stance. "I do not believe in violence, that needs to be clear. I just want a good-faith discussion about what it means to have safety in every zip code. Instead, I was met with a person [Carlson] who defended terrible people and far-right extremism and thought it would be good to come after me.”
Peters said he struggles with whether speaking out is worth the threats. “I don't want to have to worry about not only my well-being, but the well-being of the people I care and love.”
“Everyone's ‘tough on crime’ until they want to send dangerously-violent, anonymous e-mails," Peters said. "There was a massive contradiction and hypocrisy by some people, and it just goes to show some people authentically want to bring safety to every community and make sure that every kid and every parent and every person, whether they're struggling with housing and health-care, there are people who really want to do that. I think I belong to those people.”
Peters is known for carrying a heavy workload in Springfield, and he also served on Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s transition team. Asked how he balances all of his tasks, Peters said, “Well, I mean, I have the unfortunate thing of having been born with ADHD. And, you know, it has its ups and downs. But it's almost - sometimes this work is kinetic; you know what I mean? It's moving quickly. And you have to make quick assessments and you need to power-map what you can and cannot do, and you need to know ... what is an immediate thing you can make happen and what is something that might be longer term.”
“When I was younger, I was told I would amount to very little. After my dad passed away, I struggled with what the meaning of the world was and sort of figured that out and you combine all the sort of kinetic sort of ADHD energy with a drive that the meaning of my existence is to show that nobody has to go through the things that myself or my family, or the people I love around me had to go through.”
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.