Is Joe the Cop an intolerable racist?

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Whew. Yesterday was a day on ChicagoNow. I don’t know if you were a part of it, but there was a huge fight brewing. If you missed the shouting match over Joe the Cop’s post, “CTA Red line Shooting: The Ghetto Shooting Template,” we’ll recap it for you.

A few days ago, Joe the Cop, police officer and ChicagoNow blogger wrote a few pieces on the recent shooting of 19 year-old George Lash by police on an El train. You can’t read the post that made everyone so angry – the big wigs at ChicagoNow decided to take it down. But you can read the cached version, courtesy of Google. 

Joe made the point that Lash’s shooting has played out like many other police use of force incidents. News reports say the cops were called to a red line train because a man had a gun. The police say that when they approached Lash, he began to fight with them and pointed a gun at them. They then shot him. Lash died later at the hospital.

Part of Joe’s post criticizes the media coverage surrounding the shooting. Take a look at his other post on the subject – Why Cops Love the Media: CTA Red Line Shooting Coverage.  He fairly criticizes us reporters for using anonymous sources or people who say they didn’t actually see what happened. He lays out what usually happens – a young black man with an arrest record is shot by police. Witnesses, often who won’t cooperate with police, say it was unwarranted. Family comes forward, saying the young man was a good person. Then, the family sues the police and the city pays them a settlement.

It’s not a pretty story. It’s not a nice story. It’s not a story anyone likes to hear. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a true story, or at least, a true perspective from someone who’s been the one who gets the call that there’s a guy with a gun on a train.

Joe said some pretty inflammatory things. Near the end of his post, he writes, “The harsh reality is, George Lash will be a better provider for his family as the subject of a civil lawsuit than he was ever going to be in his adult life.”

That set off a lot of commenters (57, to be exact), but it really embroiled Frank Sennett, editor-in-chief of Time Out Chicago. Sennnett read the post yesterday and launched a firestorm of criticism on Joe, the post, and ChicagoNow on twitter. Take a gander:

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By the end of the day, Frank Sennett tweeted 100 times that Joe the Cop is a bigoted racist. Those tweets eventually led to ChicagoNow removing the post, saying it violated their blogger guidelines.

I do agree that what Joe said was incredibly blunt and perhaps insensitive. Maybe I’m biased because I actually know Joe as a real person and have found him, unlike the stereotype of a cop, to be a very open-minded, smart guy.

What Joe offers is a very raw take of a police officer’s experience. And if we’re being truthful, George Lash’s shooting matches an all-too-common story heard in Chicago’s newspapers and reveals some ugly things about our city.

If Frank Sennett or you or I disagree with Joe’s perspective, then we have the obligation to say so. But to push for his post to be taken down, or for Joe to be suspended from ChicagoNow? To me, that’s not progress – it’s just censorship.

It’s an odd coincidence that this happened on the day that I decided to write a post called “Let’s get real on race.” The post is about how we talk very differently about race in the public than we do in private. That’s not a good thing. We may know how to be politically correct, but that just masks a bigger problem. But when we use political correctness as a reason to never say what we’re feeling or the hard truth, we never get at the root of the problem.

Every time you shove an idea down and censor it, we move backward in the fight against racism. If we can’t be honest about how we feel and what our experiences are, we’ll never move forward. If being honest about our own perspective means someone will viciously attack us until we’re no longer allowed a forum, no one will ever be honest, for fear of what they might be called.

If you want to do something about racism, spark a discussion.


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  • Sigh. This whole situation totally bums me out.

  • the yanking of Joe's post was just wrong, and flat-out censorship. Sennett was way off base.

    It's no secret that the Trib is conservative, but also scared.
    Glad I'm no longer a CN blogger.

  • To me this seems mostly about Sennett trying to stir up controversy and generate readers. Sennett is obviously a bright and educated guy; I find it hard to believe that he truly saw Joe's post as racist, because it clearly was not. It was insensitive, sure, and in poor taste, but in order to read it as racist, Sennett would need to be willfully misreading Joe's words. Sennett is reading into it things that aren't there, and phrasing his own tweets and column about Joe in such a way as to twist Joe's words. It's sad both that Sennett can use elementary fallacies and manage to manipulate his readers to this extent, and that he is willing to use such manipulative techniques to garner attention.

    I was honestly baffled at the shitstorm that developed over these posts. I can understand his former teacher being upset, because as a teacher I understand that we want to see the best in our students, even when they are obviously troubled, but the public at large? Seriously? Joe didn't say anything that wasn't verifiable. You may not like what he has to say, but how do you disagree with facts? Sadly, it is much easier to shoot the messenger than to deal with the very real problem he is presenting.

  • I just wrote a lengthy post that disappeared in cyberspace, so I'll say this: I have known Joe for a long time and have never seen any evidence that he's a racist, let alone an intolerable one. He may have somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction to defend police, just as others have a knee-jerk reaction to blame them. From my perspective, both sides have experiences that have contributed to these feelings.

    We need just these kinds of dialogues for either side to even begin to understand where the other is coming from, and to remove that post was flat-out censorship and a travesty of journalism. I fully support Joe's right to state his opinions, no matter how unpopular they may be. Folks got so inflamed about the comments they perceived as racist that they completely missed Joe's main point, which is that blaming the police for this incident does nothing to help communities in crisis or young people at risk.

  • Well said. We all need to be truthful with ourselves and about our perceptions of things. Sometimes it's the bluntness that scares people, but that can be what brings out the opinions in people. And, isn't this a forum for discussion anyway?

    Sounds to me like ChicagoNow has been bullied, to be quite honest.

    I agree that Joe is a smart cop and, I'd like to add, a great writer, two things that don't always go hand in hand. He calls things as he sees them. Is that so bad?

    What if Joe were black, would that have made things OK? What if a black writer breaks down his take on white suburbia and it contains some pretty blunt statements? Aren't we free to disagree, and would we have seen censorship?

    Glad you attacked this.

  • I was sorry to see the Trib folks cave to the pressure and censor "Joe the Cop's" blog entry. Even if I disagree with a person's opinion or perspective on a given situation, I would not call for censorship of free speech. The Trib's actions are unfortunate.

  • The main reason why Sennett wanted the post removed was Joe the Cop's reasoning that George Lash was worth more dead than alive. Can anyone here justify such a comment?

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Easily. George Lash was a convicted felon with no education that had been arrested numerous times. He had brandished his gun on the Red Line and pointed this weapon at the police. Did this kid strike you as someone who was going to become a solid contributing member of society? On the contrary, it wouldn't be wrong to assume that he'd be in and out of institutions for the rest of his God forsaken life. Now at least his family can turn his death into a lawsuit.

  • In reply to BigBabyJesus:

    Very true BBJ. He was a convicted felon on parole in illegal possession of a handgun.

  • In reply to BigBabyJesus:

    I have been corrected by none other than Joe on the "worth more dead than alive" line, so I guess he said it. I made my comment based on many years of knowing him and my inability to access his post to reference it, for what that's worth.

  • In reply to BigBabyJesus:

    "Now at least his family can turn his death into a lawsuit."

  • In reply to BigBabyJesus:

    I find it kind of interesting that Sennett, who has a degree in journalism from Medill and should know better, is not being called to task for his significantly more inflammatory and unfounded remarks.

    Joe is a cop, presumably when the Tribune hired him they knew that they were going to get the cop-on-the-street perspective from a veteran officer; I would also assume that they had read the blog he had written for several years previously. I think it's sad that they hired him for his unique perspective and authentic voice, and then censored him as soon as someone objected to it.

    Joe has responded to every attack on his character with grace and dignity, Sennett on the other hand comes across as an opportunist with an axe to grind, and has lost any credibility he may have had as a journalist.

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Aside from a forthright, spirited and fact-founded defense of "Joe the Cop" [see below] the host of the Chicago Now radio show exposes my breath-taking naivete cum steady-state stupidity as follows: In a moment of enthusiasm I privately e-mailed Joe to ask if he had any post-retirement political ambitions. "Are you kidding?" began Joe's reply. He could have but didn't insert phuquing into that first sentence.

    Chicago isn't exactly America's Touchy-Feely capitol nor, contrary-to-myth, is my particular area of Los Angeles, USA. So here's my question: If Joe's remark drew that kinda shit-storm in Chi-Town, how the phuque have I made it alive 72-years ANYWHERE in the USA? Try dumb luck.

    Bawb the Revelator
    "The dead have arisen and they're voting GOP."

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    You asked this question in the StaffBlog and got some really good responses. You may not like the statement, but there's some truth to it. There are people who are worth more dead than alive.

    Want some more examples besides the one given to you by others in the other thread? JFK. His death did more for the Civil Right struggle and the Democratic Party than if he'd lived and had to worry about being re-elected. John Lennon, Selena, Mathew Sheppard to name couple more. All of them made a bigger impact on our society as a result of their murders than if they had lived.

    It may be callous to say, or even think it, especially very soon after a death, but some people are worth more dead than alive. If I was rich or had a fat life insurance policy, I'd be worth more, financially, dead to my family than I am alive.

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Agree completely. Frank Sennett here is more wrong for pushing for censorship and foolishly crying race. HE made this into a race issue. Guess i'm not surprised, coming from a Medill grad.

    As for one of his tweet about "why was he a waste of a human being, because he's a black ghetto kid." that was HIS wording, not Joe's or anyone else's. And to clarify, he was a waste of a human being because HE WAS WAVING A GUN ON A CTA TRAIN BEFORE POINTING IT AT POLICE. Have we lost our minds here, defending thugs???

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    I know someone mentioned this on the staff blog, but here is what Joe actually wrote:

    The harsh reality is, George Lash will be a better provider for his family as the subject of a civil lawsuit than he was ever going to be in his adult life.

    It's not quite the same as "George Lash was worth more dead than alive."

    I understood Joe was talking about money ("a better provider") not on George Lash's "worth". To family and friends, a person - even a criminal - is worth more than the money he might earn.

    A poor choice of words by Joe? Probably. But it's unfair to change his comment to "worth more dead than alive."

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Thanks, Megan, for the link to the cached version of Joe's post.

    I hadn't previously had a chance to read it. The comments I posted about this on the staff blog earlier today were based on Frank Sennett's blog post at TOC and the comments of others in the Staff Blog.

    Now that I've read the original I'm more convinced than ever that CN made a big mistake by removing the post from the website.

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Censorship is part of the problem with society. No one wants to hear the harsh reality of parts of our city and/or its citizens. No accountability for actions.

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    Joe the Cop wrote: "The harsh reality is, George Lash will be a better provider for his family as the subject of a civil lawsuit than he was ever going to be in his adult life."

    Simply very true. But most of us probably forget the different reactions we might get if what we say to each other or to our neighbors were to be printed for a wider public. Even more so since shouting accusations and nasty stuff has become a road to stardom for many, and

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    I have served my country honorably both at home and abroad. Me and many like me truly understand what Voltaire meant when he said: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it".

    Because of the choice to censor Joe the Cop, I will never again have anything to do with Chicago Now, it's affiliates or sponsors. I don't expect anyone will care or even notice but I needed to express my disappointment.

    I have fought too hard and sacrificed too much to waste any more precious moments of my short life contributing to this awful and sorry excuse for a journalistic outlet. I wish there was more I could do to support Joe but I just don't have the ability to express myself well enough. I don't have the words.

    I'm disgusted by this censorship. I may be taking this a bit too seriously but this is an affront to a lifetime spent serving my community and country. I'd tell Chicago Now to go to hell but it appears you are already well on your way.

  • In reply to bexlizard:

    The whole thing is so ridiculous. I have to say that I am VERY disappointed in ChicagoNow! Instead of standing up for the integrity of it's writer's, ChicagoNow turned on one of their own to save their ass. I thought this site was about freedom of speech AND opinion.

    I am sad to say this whole situation and the way ChicagoNow has NOT handled it has left a very bitter taste in my mouth; I find it difficult to be part of a group that is out to censor it's own!!!

  • I disagree that Joe said Lash was worth more dead than alive. That was Sennett's wording, not his. What he said was that if the city pays out on the parents' lawsuit just to make it go away, this will likely be the greatest financial contribution his family will ever have seen from him. It was harshly put, based on a police officer's many years of observing repeat offenders.

    As a parent, I have no doubt Lash's family is absolutely devastated. As a parent, I also have a hard time understanding why they filed their lawsuit before the facts of the case have been fully explored and (I am presuming here) without seeing the video.

    Would I have said what Joe said? No! Do I defend his right to say it? Absolutely!

  • I will take you on that bet. There are countless families out there that would sell out their own child to make a buck. While I can't speak on how the Lash family is coping, most broken homes go back to being broken once the aftermath of a tragedy as passed. Is it belittling? Perhaps, but sadly it is also the truth.

    Now to the bigger topic - was this racist? Per the definition set forth by the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

    Definition of RACISM

    1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

    2: racial prejudice or discrimination

    My answer is no, this was not racist. Should he have better described said ghetto and explicitly state that it was a black ghetto? Perhaps, but this omission doesn't make him a racist nor does it make his post racist in nature.

  • Bold move, Mr. Sennett! The Pulitzer Prize Committee has noted your Studs Terkel-like grace under excruciating pressure.

  • who are you, or any of you to determine what his earning potential is or what his value is. You have no more information about him than two paragraphs seen in newspapers or on tv, yet here you judge him.
    If it was your family member, how would you feel if someone said they were worth more dead than alive.

    "The truth" could have been that he would have turned his life around for the better, and made a positive impact on his family and the community.

    I tried not to respond to this post, but the coldness and callousness in the responses is overwhelming.

    I for one, no longer come with an expectation for people outside of my culture to understand what life is like inside of my culture. We (all cultures) form our opinions based on what we see on tv, which is usually negative, and as you have proven, we adapt it as "the truth". That's a sad commentary, because we will never see the entire "truth" of any situation in a 3 min news clip. There are always at least two sides to every story, but most people forget that and just go with the side they identify with the most.

    This "kid" was a human being, just like the police officers who shot him. None of you claimed to be there or knew him personally, so what qualifies you to judge his worth or future potential.

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