Chuck Turner is absolutely right. I'm not being sarcastic. The expelled councilor is right that the FBI's case against him was overblown and petty, that “people don't think critically in this society,” and, most of all, that today's Boston City Council meeting (and vote regarding his stature) was “a difficult situation for all of [the councilors].”
Despite prevailing public sentiment, the Roxbury representative's work on important but unpopular progressive issues is respected by his colleagues. So I hope Turner meant it when he said: “I appreciate the fact that we've been able to work together as a group of men and women focused on the welfare of the people of this city...I'm honored to have served with you all.” The councilors are far from perfect, but they're certainly not “devils,” as one protester suggested, or “arch-segregationists,” as Turner another once labeled Councilor John Connolly.
Through the prosecutorial circus that's consumed the public, press, and all those in between for the past two years, there have essentially been two opposing sides in the Turner saga. On the defensive end are his diehard supporters, hundreds of whom rallied outside of City Hall today chanting: “Regardless of what they do or say, we stand with Chuck Turner anyway.” On the other side is “they,” who, at this point, is just about everybody else – the rhetorically aggressive Turner has made sure of that.
But as Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, a former aide and longtime friend of Turner's, noted in his brief but emotional comments, these are not black and white issues – not literally, nor metaphorically. I've been sitting at my desk for hours with a rare case of writer's block trying to negotiate that notion; it's what kept me from covering his trial, and continues to haunt me.
I have little reason to defend Turner. The man hates me with a passion that he otherwise reserves for Fox 25 and George W. Bush; this past September, two years after the fact, he scolded me for my coverage of his arrest. We initially ran his entire letter to the editor, and I'd since interviewed him several times about other issues, but in the lead-up to trial Turner rekindled his grudge.
I wish I never engaged Turner. But as he pursued the most selfish fight of his career – perhaps the only selfish fight of his career – the councilor's crusade for self-preservation inspired the worst in me as well. And even when I realized that this wasn't about me – regardless of how badly Turner ripped the media at press conferences – I still had trouble entertaining the plausible idea that his prosecution was about something greater than just him.
There's been tons of chatter in the past few days about Turner comparing himself to civil rights pioneers. And while I don't fancy myself an arbiter of black activist status like Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald, all the noise over Turner's Rosa Parks comments did remind me of a scene from the early 1970s that is detailed in the timeless Boston narrative, Common Ground. In it, Turner, then a community organizer, helps rescue a group of white passengers from a bus surrounded by an angry mob in Roxbury.
Looking back on his career, some people will remember Turner as an effective leader, and as a compassionate councilor who fought for disenfranchised people in his district and beyond. Others will recall the self-righteous fool who stood before the council earlier today, forcing a painful and unnecessary vote, and grandstanding through his last conspiratorial note. In reality, I now realize, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.