Why Chuck Turner was ousted

December 14, 2010

Casey Rocheteau asks the more important question about the case of Boston Councilman Chuck Turner: Why he was entrapped by the FBI?

IT'S NOT hard to understand why people are eager to see corrupt politicians get their comeuppance. From the treachery exposed in WikiLeaks' recent U.S. embassy cables to allegations of small bribes, corruption seems to be mixed in with the mortar holding U.S. politics together.

This idea is not new to most people and was highlighted during the election of Barack Obama. Promising to usher in an era of "change you can believe in," Obama's campaign slogans recognized cynicism towards "politics as usual" while presenting Obama as the antidote.

In the same month that Obama won the presidential election, another Black politician, Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, was being charged for taking a $1,000 bribe from local business owner, Ron Wilburn for a liquor license.

This month, two years after the initial allegations, Chuck Turner was ousted from the Boston City Council in an 11-1 vote, with only Charles Yancey defending Turner. Turner's trial has been a spectacle in Boston journalism from November 2008, when local news reported that he left his house one morning without zipping up his pants, through this past October, when a screaming match erupted in the courtroom between the government's star witness, Wilburn, and the prosecution.

That particular shouting match provides some insight into the racism behind the trial and Turner's subsequent removal from the City Council. On October 22, the Boston Globe reported that Wilburn had been paid $30,000 by the FBI to entrap Turner and former state senator Dianne Wilkerson. Wilburn has since claimed that he believed that he was part of a large-scale investigation of government corruption, when the net result has been the loss of two African American officials whose names have been dragged through the mud.

Wilburn's argument in court with the prosecutor was over his own reputation, which he claimed was ruined when he was forced to testify. Wilburn, as a business owner in Turner's district, knows that his being an informant in these cases may indeed ruin his career.

Turner, a Green-Rainbow Party member, is more often spoken of as a community activist than as a typical politician. Following City Council's unfortunate vote, City Life/Vida Urbana (an organization which defends Boston residents from foreclosure and eviction) honored Turner during an annual celebration.

The issue for many of the people Turner worked with is not whether or not he took the money, but why he is being targeted. The initial allegations in 2008 came as a surprise to many. When speaking at his expulsion hearing, Turner said, "What right do they have to use federal money to go after me? There's never been an accusation that I'm an inside player. They call me a crazy radical."

He went on to say that, "in a city where the divide between the rich and the poor and working class is getting wider and wider, I'm a dangerous presence, because in my history in Boston, I've worked to bring working class people of all races together to stand up and fight for our rights."

Those words were not campaign promises, or a last-ditch effort to save face through claims of conspiracy, but a realistic assessment of what Chuck Turner has stood for, and why he was targeted by the FBI. The media has distorted the story so there is no discussion of why Turner was entrapped and indicted; instead, those outside of the community read about another cut-and-dry case of a greedy politician taking bribes.

While the information released in the recent WikiLeaks diplomatic cables shows shady and corrupt dealings by the U.S. government ranging from the attempts to obtain Ban Ki-moon's DNA to lying about whose bombs are killing Yemeni civilians, the U.S. federal government continues to persecute WikiLeaks for releasing the information and intimidate anyone who aids the site instead of admitting its own ethics violations.

Chuck Turner, in an interview with the Boston Globe from Nov. 2008, explained this phenomenon well:

From an ethical standpoint, I don't think the vast majority of Congress should be allowed to sit. Ethics should include a commitment to the needs of the people of this country which the Congress has not displayed...It's time for Americans to admit that ethics never have had a significant influence on American politics. If Americans cared about ethical behavior, why did slavery last for 200 years and neo-slavery last for another 200? Why does America have the weakest laws in the Western world to protect a working person right to have a fair return on their labor?

While the FBI may have succeeded in its attempt to remove a Boston community leader, covering up the egregious hypocrisies of the state will not be so easy.

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