Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Widening the racial divide

Opportunists distort boy's tragic shooting

Dennis Byrne, a Chicago-area writer and consultant

August 14, 2006

Residents of the Near North Side Cabrini-Green low-income housing project may have a lot to complain about, but not the shooting of a 14-year-old boy who menaced police officers with a gun.

It doesn't matter that the boy was wielding "only" a BB gun that happened to look like the real thing. When you show police officers any kind of weapon, fake or otherwise, you shouldn't be outraged when cops defend themselves. Even if the weapon can "only" fire a projectile at 400 feet a second.

As Mayor Richard Daley said, it was a tragedy that the boy was shot, and we hope for his recovery.

But, it is no reason to storm City Hall and the police station, peacefully or otherwise, with complaints about everything from inadequate housing to police brutality.

But that's what the usual band of opportunists are doing, taking to the streets and media, attempting to drive another wedge between the races. In their protests and warnings, they too easily equate an apparently justified defensive response by police to years of outrageous police torture. A complaint about a single event becomes elevated into blanket statements of condemnation and disgust.

Talk about "disproportionate" responses.

Talk about demagoguery.

For some, the temptation to elevate an individual event into universal statements about white or black people and law enforcement is irresistible.

It's more than intellectually dishonest or ignorant; it jeopardizes the workings of our civil society. It drives the community and police further apart, and makes law enforcement, especially in the neighborhoods that need it most, all the more difficult.

As are the attempts to turn this into another "blame-the-victim" episode.

The boy, we are tutored, is a victim of poverty and racism, of an environment of police brutality, and of a gentry plot to force residents out of Cabrini.

Therefore, we're further tutored, you can ignore his displaying a BB gun that looks identical to a 9mm handgun to police who were investigating an attempted arm robbery just minutes before.

The cycle of poverty and ignorance will never end as long as this dodge is deployed for every upsetting or tragic event.

Funny, while I was researching this latest cause celebre among the racial dividers, I came across something else, something positive, that has received virtually no attention. Responding to community concerns, police in early August announced that they had shut down two open-air drug markets and charged 21 people in separate undercover investigations on the West Side. For the racial dividers, this good news has no substance.

But maybe we can learn something from the racial dividers, when it comes to Salomeja Januska.

They had nothing to say about the 94-year-old woman who was mugged in her old Marquette Park neighborhood she had dared to revisit to purchase some Lithuanian groceries. Outside an old favorite deli, a 30- to 35-year-old man "came out of nowhere," grabbed her purse and then pushed her to the ground, shattering her right arm. She's expected to recover after undergoing surgery at Holy Cross Hospital.

Ironically, the mugger escaped by running down the gangway of her former home, which she had moved from three years ago to escape the growing number of muggings and sexual assaults.

Januska is white. The police said the attacker is black, a fact that didn't make it into many, if any, stories.

Now, if the racial dividers were white, they'd be turning this attack into a universal statement. About how it proves that crime goes up with the appearance of blacks in the neighborhood. About how young black men are preying on old white women. About how blacks are ruining the city. And so forth.

You might hear this in bars and rec rooms. But you didn't hear much, if any, of this in the media, because saying such things is inexcusably racist. Even though these are empirical questions, which may or may not be true.

The point here is an old one: You can openly march on City Hall making the most outrageous claims about how an individual event involving a black "victim" proves the most racist hypotheses. And the press will dutifully report those claims, often sympathetically.

But stretching an individual event, such as a black man's attack on an old white woman, into sweeping generalizations about race is intolerable, never to be publicly uttered.



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