The newest mob violence in the areas of Chicago associated with tourism has followed a predictable news arch. Of course it has happened before. The closing of the Rock and Roll McDonalds, and then North Avenue Beach (ostensibly for health and crowding concerns), were clearly linked to this pattern of menacing and marauding. The city's first response: obfuscation and denial. That ship has sailed. Emboldened by the city's desire to maintain a Chamber of Commerce myth, gangs accelerated in boldness. Now the Tribune is wrestling with their duty to inform. This duty has been vivisected through the prism of political correctness today. Three separate columns examine the violence. All wrestle with race - not in terms of causality, but in terms of reportage and perception. What is the relationship of race to the story? It is a porcupine to handle, but I admire the Trib for trying. These kids are Black males. The Trib chose not to indicate that in initial reporting. Once arrests were made, the photos illustrated this fact. The saddest thing is that lacking a context, most Chicagoans would have surmised that a violent gang of youths was African American. We DO need to work on this.
The elephant in the room
All local media outlets are saddled with a conundrum. Their duty is to serve their readers with comprehensive information. This is in friction with their dedication to the cohesion of the community. They hesitate to inflame the delicate racial tensions that are part of Chicago's landscape. They are aware that many Chicagoans will use this syndrome to paint young Black kids - or all Black persons- with a broad brush. Yet ignorance is not bliss where randomized crime is concerned. Informing the public is the only way to assist the police in squelching flash robbing. We are in the era of portable media. This violent revolution will be photographed, Tweeted, Facebooked, Linked in and blogged. Spontaneous, aggressive mob action will be captured. Denial is not an option.
Note to the Mayor and police spokesmen: Your credibility is diminished when you deny what has been confirmed via camera phones, Facebook accounts, and on numerous police blogs. We do not feel safer. We are insulted by your misrepresentation.
But back to the conventional media, which has a more difficult dilemma. To identify race, or not? Hamlet had an easier question.
John Kass' column has a patronizing tone: I rode the Red Line (wow, hanging with the Urban Soldiers), and most South Siders are not mobsters, and are wise to such violence. They suffer loss of life every day, much worse than loss of electronics. Gotcha, John. The fact that he daringly rode with regular folks reeks of overcompensation. The subject of his interview is a kid, "wearing a baseball cap with a rim straight and flat, the urban brim. " The condensing of this kid into a Sox-cap-wearing Avatar for the misunderstood, hard working typical South Sider" is as much a cardboard stereotype as the Black gang member. It produces no illumination. Oh, yeah- good use of Daleyland. John loves to shorthand us with his clever nicknames. Once again, the caricature for the readers, Do we seem that stupid, really?
Mary Schmich and Dawn Turner Trice are thoughtful in their observations. I'll let you check them out.
The real issue, of course, isn't race. The situation is complicated. We need more cops. That takes more money. We need more jobs to end the generations of hopelessness. That does not appear to be happening. We need all our media outlets to highlight the positive acts and contributions of the broad spectrum of Chicagoans. They obviously try to do this. I cannot examine-or solve- the rippling effects of a sour economy and years of inequality in a blog. I will never make excuses for violent or unethical behavior. The social ills incubating criminal behavior are myriad and deep. In the long term, we must address them, or suffer the consequences. In the short term, these plundering thugs should be met with resolve and determination.
Those who love Chicago, whether they work or play there, should be mindful and not fearful.
When I went to Rome for the first time, I was warned of pickpockets. Within two hours of my arrival, a baby buggy overflowing with puppies caught my eye. As I bent over to pet one, a police man honked at me from his nearby car. He rolled his eyes at my naivete- hell, the puppies were not close to a matched set! The deterred thieves scattered with their canine cohorts. I resolved to be smarter about my surroundings, and how I conducted myself. I realized that I could not control the streets of Rome, but I could do a better job with my self.
That is a starting place. Be smarter than I. Keep your cool stuff where it is not tantalizing. Don't flash a wad of money or a wallet fat with credit cards. Do not leave a pile of electronics on your beach towel as you swim. Try using only one earbud so you can notice what is going on around you. If you see clumps of people organizing in a menacing way, leave and call the police. Yell for help if someone is harassing you. Call the police if you see anyone being victimized. Carry pepper spray if your travel route makes you nervous.
The summer is young, and the attention directed to this mess should help arrest its growth. These crimes are dramatic, and the media coverage could serve to turn the tide. Those who will use these events to foment hate, stereotypes and further unrest are willing to unwind spools of social progress made here. We cannot go back to the racial divide. We are all part of Chicago. There are millions of us, and a clump of thieves and mobbers. Together, we will keep each other secure.
We wait for months to celebrate Chicago in its summery glory. Let's get on with it. Be safe, be smart and be proactive. You've earned the glory of these months. Get out there.