The elephant in the room

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.

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. 


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  • Sorry Janet, but I'm not buying what you, Mary, or DTT are selling. Race may be a 'porcupine to handle', but only when it involves showing blacks in a negative light. Come up with a story to make whites look bad, and it's 'full steam ahead' for the media. Whites are absolutely sick of this double standard, as it's been going on for years. At the rate things are going, we aren't going to care anymore if we 'unwind spools of social progress'.

    The only thing I'll agree with you on is because of social media and camera-phones, there's simply no way the powers-that-be can hide this anymore.

  • In reply to Chenjesu:

    I am not really selling anything, just mulling and stewing. The social ills that lead people to nefarious behavior cross racial boundaries, but they are often united by the commonality of poverty. That poverty is somewhat more consolidated within certain demographics.


    In fact, these kids are preying upon fear, paralysis and distracted Chicagoans. The worst thing that can happen is that they successfully discourage our use of Chicago's lakefront, museums and parks. Suppose they gave a Taste of Chicago and families did not come? Really- it could happen if fear becomes the response to these incidents.

    It is the job of government and the CPD to put the lid on this pot. It is not useful for the media to roil the waters of racism, and I believe the Tribune and the Sun Times struggle with this. On the other hand, they cannot omit visual confirmation of the perpetrator's race. It is a fine line, and our summer depends upon their judicious balance. As a reader, I admire the work they take to self-examine their motivation and potential results. It serves the readers, and Chicago well.

  • In reply to Chenjesu:

    Thank you for your reasonable, ruminating piece.

    I, too, am conflicted. It scares me to think that I was in Streeterville Sunday where my only care was finding a new case for my iPhone and some cute summer clothes.

    Few situation are clear-cut are few are more complicated than race. The ability to search for answers, examine differing opinions and look at ourselves is a hallmark of an open mind and an evolved being. This questioning is good, even if I am scared and don't have any answers.

    Mary Schmich is so reasonable and measured. She has a gift for gently provoking readers to do that examining. She is the only reason I read the Tribune.

    Stop reading Kass and please tell your husband to stop talking about him. Kass deserves none of it. He is an overcompensating horse's ass who has no business writing about my city.

    I will take your Rome advice to be more careful. I am an Indiana country mouse by birth who often forgets she no longer is in Kansas anymore.

  • In reply to Chenjesu:

    ...and one more thing.

    I loved Oprah and felt she changed America by her willingness to discuss taboo subjects.

    However, I was always disappointed that she wasn't willing to really tackle the race issue. She had the perfect bully pulpit and was uniquely qualified.

    Though maybe she tried and the subject was too tough even for her.

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