Friday, November 20, 2015

Plenty of blame to go around



     Outrage is easy.
     You find something outrageous and react to it.
     And the video of Laquan McDonald, 17, being shot 16 times last year by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is sure to cause outrage, or the city would not have struggled so mightily to keep it under wraps.
     Effort that, like so much the Rahm Emanuel administration has attempted lately, came to naught, when Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered Thursday that the video be made public by Nov. 25.
     Just in time for Thanksgiving.
     The shooting of McDonald happened Oct. 20, 2014, when the black teen, walking erratically along Pulaski Road, was confronted by police. They ordered him to stop, followed him briefly and then Van Dyke shot him. Sixteen times.
     Since then, the city has argued every angle: that it would impede the investigation. That the time was not "appropriate," to use Emanuel's weaselly word. That release of the video would endanger the policeman's life.
     Perhaps the few days before the video is released can be put to a good use, to give the public the chance to think a bit about what we're going to see.
     McDonald was not merely strolling along, minding his business. He had PCP in his system, and yes, he was holding a knife — neither capital crimes, last time I checked. He had, supposedly, slashed at a police cruiser's tires. Police said that he "lunged" at him, but it is a certainty, were that actually true, you would have seen the video long ago. Videos that exonerate the police don't impede investigations, apparently.
     Two thoughts, one that will make the video seem even worse, one that might mitigate it, a little.
     First, when you see the video, remember that McDonald is not just one teenager being executed for the crime of being black and failing to snap to police orders, but he represents a long chain of youths slain in similar fashion over the years and decades, Chicagoans whose death images were not taken by dashboard cameras, whose names never appeared in the paper. As bad as it is now, remember, nothing has changed except for cellphone technology being here to capture it. This is what the police do when they know they're being recorded. Imagine what it was like before.
     Second, while the video will no doubt spark outrage at the police, and rightly so, I would point out, quietly, there is blame to go around. Blame to the media, which historically downplayed the value of black lives and, it can be argued, still does, short of occasional bursts of hand wringing. Blame the mayor for trying to cover this up. Blame for Supt. Garry McCarthy for trotting out the same tired statistics, as if that were a defense. Blame for McDonald, a little, for taking the PCP — animal tranquilizer — that caused his erratic behavior that drew the cops and blunted his ability to respond to a situation where his life was at stake. The margin of error is far less for black teens than for teens in, oh, Wilmette, and while that shouldn't be, it nevertheless is, and McDonald, impaired, made it easier for the cop to shoot him. A kid who hadn't taken PCP might have made a different choice at that moment.
     Blame culture that helped put the drug into the 17-year-old's hands, and that reacts energetically to police officers killing young people, a relative rarity, but more mutedly to young people killing each other, a much larger problem, because it is easier to be aggrieved than responsible.
     That might sound harsh. But we have video of Laquan McDonald's shooting because police are required to have dashboard cameras. Nobody took a video of the execution of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee. That would shock, too. And the bulk of young black people shot in Chicago are shot, off camera, by other young black people. No one takes videos of that, but I bet those would be hard to see, too. By focusing outrage on the cops, people reacting to a fluke of technology, channeling outrage that is certainly deserved, somewhat, but also belongs to the entire gang culture and the society of silence and acceptance that surrounds and supports it. There's plenty of blame to go around.


32 comments:

  1. The Ghost of Christmas PastNovember 20, 2015 at 2:15 AM

    Police are racist murderers who serve the rich. Disarm and disband the police and arm the people. All power to the people!

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  2. Agree with everything else, but wonder about this:

    "Blame culture that helped put the drug into the 17-year-old's hands, "

    I'm not sure what that means. My impression is that human beings in all times and places are drawn to various intoxicants when they are available and, except in certain authoritarian states, at least some intoxicants are almost inevitably available. Even in Saudi Arabia, where the penalties can be extreme, amphetamine/cocaine abuse is a significant problem.

    And considering the list of possible intoxicants ranked by relative cultural encouragement and approval, I would say that PCP ranks very low compared with alcohol or cannabis. If you were speaking about either of these drugs, I'd more readily agree that the culture is blameworthy, though I think cannabis is fairly benign for most users.

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    1. What I mean is that I would bet that kid, at 17, had more opportunities to take drugs than my kids did at the same age. Some are raised in environments silly with drugs. And some aren't. It doesn't seem right to lord yourself as superior for not doing what never get the chance to do. That's what I was trying to say.

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    2. I think that you are wrong there Neil. My children went to High School in a leafy suburban paradise and were nerdy serious students. But they certainly knew the students who had access to and were willing to sell all sorts of drugs. Any student there who wanted drugs had the opportunity. For a very small but real number of kids heroin is a problem even in places like Winnetka and Highland Park ( check out news stories on the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation). It's just that they also had many other opportunities which for the vast vast majority were more enticing than drugs. In other words it's not that most here don't have the chance to do drugs. It's that they have the chance to do so many other things.

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    3. Fine column and I actually agree with parts of all 3 of these comments. But I understood what NS was saying, and agree with him about "opportunities". While I agree that "the chance to do so many other things" is an excellent point, going to HPHS, or wherever, and knowing who "had access to and were willing to sell" drugs does not represent the type of temptation or opportunity that is probably dealt with by many students in Englewood. I knew who the drug set were in my school, but was never in a situation where a bunch of my buddies were hanging around getting high, for example. I just don't think it was, or is in HP, nearly as common as it seems to be in some schools. I could be wrong.

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  3. Well said on all points, Mr. S. They must be fearing rioting in Chicago, if this were seen. Mary Mitchell had a good article on this in the paper yesterday. If he indeed had lunged at police, one bullet or stun gun would do. Your mention about self responsibility and the bad environment is also too true.

    AG

    That indep. review board was suppose to look at it and have it released and turns out that board wasn't so independent after all, as that other article pointed out. I'm surprised the judge didn't cave and cover it up as well.

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  4. P.S. and lets add the dad not being around or being responsible, bad family life or could be in a gang-adding to the problem. Of course that doesn't mean the boy should be shot that many times.

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    1. Yes, the black on black killings should be more of an outrage than their are in certain communities. Or maybe not much can be done for fear of retaliation, even against ones own kids.

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    2. It's a lucky thing that Fr. Phleger hasn't been shot by some gangbanger.

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    3. If we barely have resources to afford to clean this up or put in more cops, how would we have resources to house and cloth, feed refugees? It's no surprise that some Dems have broken with the Pres. on this one.

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  5. There is a related piece in the Sneed column today on Fr. Phleger's upset with the related Tyshawn situation. He sounds very burnt out and understandably so. He should get away a few days before he breaks down. He has to know he can't do it all.

    Like columnist J. Fountain alluded to in a past column- that white guy cares more than the others.

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  6. I guess that I'm a glass is one quarter full kind of guy, but I think that releasing the video is a good idea. I think that dash cams have reduced the incidents like the one we're going to see because some cops think twice because it's being recorded. Just imagine how many more people were shot before cameras were everywhere.

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  7. If a black teenager had killed a cop, and Neil had written a similar "lots of blame to go around" column, would the reaction be the same? Or would people simply demand the kid be locked up forever?

    This cases is categorically different because the executioner is a cop. Theoretically, we hold these people to different standards, but to lump this in with neighborhood gang crime seems to lower the bar. Cops should be examples of good conduct, and if they arent, their own ranks should get them out.

    Blame all cops? Sure, until they start turning in their fellow bad cops, and that will strengthen the ranks overall.

    Incidentally, this is the same standard many pro-cop people demand of Muslims in America and worldwide. I guess the most universal human trait is hypocrisy.

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  8. The thing is the police seemed to have done everything right up to the point where one of them pulled the trigger. The 16 shots make this look to most of us more like a murder than an act of self defense, but if the weapon was capable of automatic fire, it could be interpreted as an act of panic and one that endangered the lives of his fellow officers as much as the person he was aiming at. Add one more to the blame list: the gun itself, not to speak of the maker thereof.

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    1. And you could probably add adrenaline.

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  9. Sorry, Neil, but the last part of your column is just another version of that irritating "what about black-on-black crime?" response that right-wingers pop up with in these cases, as reliably as the sun rises.

    As Larry Wilmore pointed out, "black-on-black crime" is, quite simply, "crime." And citing crime as a response to police brutality is nothing but deflection. If a white cop killed a white person with dubious justification, saying "but criminals kill people all the time" would be seen for what it is: an irrelevant attempt to change the subject. Police are supposed to protect us, not kill us (without good reason), which is what makes it so shocking and unacceptable when they do the latter.

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    1. Gonna have to disagree with that one, Scribe. If that white person were a mob member, saying "but mobsters kill each other all the time" would be seen for what it is, a legitimate factor in the overall equation with regard to his world. It wouldn't justify an unnecessary police shooting, but it wouldn't be seen as irrelevant, IMHO. Larry Wilmore's statement is true, of course, but could be said about any crime. Terrorism is quite simply "crime", as well, but not noticing its origins doesn't help much in dealing with the issue.

      This shooting is infuriating and outrageous, of course, and I don't know what the possible justification for 16 shots could ever be, but I think NS did a pretty good job of trying to be fair in looking at the many facets of the situation.

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    2. Jakash, I hope you're not equating black people with mob members.

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    3. Bitter: I think a metaphor is in order here. People choke to death on food, occasionally. And let's say every time someone did, it got huge press, and people took to the streets to protest. I would be within my rights to say, "You know, choking is bad, but the real problem is when the food goes down and causes all these obesity deaths, which dwarves the choking deaths." Just because the right wring brings something up does not mean it is by necessity untrue. I believe cop killings are seized on so vehemently because they frame the problem in a way that exculpates the community; they're just victims then, with no duty other than to be outraged. Which is, as I say, easy, and far from the big problems they are facing.

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    4. Well, I realized that such an interpretation was the danger of posting that comment, but I'd hoped that you'd know that that I wasn't indicating such an equation. I was responding to the more general implications of your comment than to this case specifically, and did not mean to disparage the victim at all. But, with regard to the larger "black on black crime" issue that you mentioned, is it too much of a stretch to compare certain gang members with mob members? Or would you not agree that some of the gang violence in the city IS a certain category of "crime" that needs to be addressed as such, and is not as simple as some other "crime"?

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    5. Superb reply, NS.

      Good point, Jakash

      AG

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    6. Neil: To make your metaphor fair: People get killed by food poisoning, not nearly as often as they are by obesity, but often enough to make it a significant problem. Would you accept "death by obesity is more common" as any kind of mitigating factor when it comes to making sure food companies produce safe food, and holding them accountable when they don't?

      Jakash: Now I hope you're not saying that all blacks are gang members. In any case, gang members are not paid with tax funds to protect and serve the public.

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    7. It is never wise to be so set dogmatically in a certain politically philosophy either right or left, that one can't see that the other side is right once in a great while.

      Self responsibility of criminals and drug users or the community comes into play here-that does not mean the police are off the hook.

      No one said that all blacks are gang members.

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    8. Aw, Scribe, now you're just being disingenuous. There's no way a fair reading would twist my comment that way, and I've said nothing to defend the cop.

      Evidently, you think this topic could have been covered adequately with no reference to what's going on in the communities where these terrible police shootings often occur. Fair enough. It certainly could have. Neil seems to have been going for a broader analysis than just "Wow, another bad-apple cop." I think he did pretty well in fairly assessing blame to many parties with regard to aspects of the larger picture, whether a broader analysis was called for, or not. And I still disagree with your opinion that what he wrote came off as "an irrelevant attempt to change the subject."

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  10. Why is it not surprising that the police are still protecting one of their own. Until they stop protecting the outrageous conduct of fellow officers, no one can feel safe when dealing with these "protect & serve" government employees! 16 shots! Really?

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  11. And you're to blame too, Neil, for pointing these things out to people who only want to hear their own side of the story.

    john

    Shouldn't it be "dwarfs"?

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    1. I figured I was included under the "media" umbrella of blame. I wouldn't even have written about this unless I was asked to. I hate bashing my head against intractable problems.

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    2. You are brave, NS.

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  12. Black-on-black crime and police-on-black abuse/crime are related as they both involve codes-of-silence to protect abusers and criminals. Both of these codes have developed over a lack of trust and the need to protect by the cultures behind police abuse and blacks' execution of their own. They dance around each other in this obscene waltz of murder and abuse, and neither side wants to make the effort to change the self-destructive cultures behind their behaviors.

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  13. Wendy, good point.

    AG

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  14. This says it all and he knows it better than some person suffering from "white guilt ,ultra liberal " syndrome and no, it's not our host that I'm referring to. In the old South where people were hung just for being "uppity" the blacks were not part of the problem. Today is a different story. That doesn't exonerate the police of course but we can't whitewash what we don't want to hear.








    John W. Fountain via John W. Fountain

    Yesterday at 12:22pm ·

    .

    No one can save us from us but us. I know there's no payola for poverty pimps in that message and no solace for those who want to blame the "system."
    How many of our black matriarchs and patriarchs sat around blaming the system rather than taking it upon themselves to create a better place, a brighter future? Harriet Tubman didn't make excuses. She made a way...














    John W. Fountain: No one can save us but us




    author.johnwfountain.com

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  15. A good quote from someone who wrote on Fr Phleger's fb.

    "the actions of the mother and father give us into why this horrible crime happened. After her child was assasinated, the mother's first thought was to buy a car and the father doesn't seem to be cooperating with the police."

    No this isn't some conservative prattle but fact... why are black, middle class people in the suburbs not getting shot at constantly? anyone living in a mixed race, middle class suburb would know that-those in fancy parts of the city or fancy suburbs, not so much-there are some who escape the city and aren't so mad at the police then their former community members

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