Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why the protests will do nothing



City Hall, Philadelphia

     Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez or Mayor Rahm Emanuel. They all could quit today and I wouldn't miss any of them. Especially Rahm Emanuel. He failed to deliver the goods, and failure made him even more charmless than he was when he arrived, which is really sayin' something.
      But the protesters demanding they resign, or be indicted, or whatever, are missing the point. These three don't run the show; they just pawns too, really. They step down, and three new ones step in, and what has really changed? "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
      The protestors saying that it is the whole system is corrupt are closer to the mark, but even they have too narrow a focus. 
      The thing is ...
      Let's put it like this.
      Everyone seemed to focus on the 16 shots Officer Jason Van Dyke pumped into Laquan McDonald. And why not? Awful to see—the vast majority of the shots first while the teen was already on the ground. Sixteen. A lot of bullets. Hard to imagine squeezing those off.  Bang bang bang. Bang bang bang bang bang. Bang. Bang. Bang... There's more, but you get the idea. Can't blame a hair trigger on that.
      And as awful and inexplicable as the act is, there is an even more awful part that comes later, something that is, I would argue, both even worse, and more inexplicable.       
      After McDonald is shot, another officer steps into the frame and kicks the teen's little knife away. Just in case the dying McDonald decides to hop up and use it. McDonald of course just lies there. None of the police officers try to help McDonald, or comfort him, or talk to him.
     As if he weren't a human being, dying there in front of them. 
     Which is the true problem. 
     Think about it. You're police officers. A 17-year-old boy is dying in the street in front of you. A teen that one of your brethren shot. They all knew it was an unjustified shooting. They saw it happen. But still, none of them so much as laid a sympathetic hand on the kid, dying, in front of him.
     As if he weren't a person.
     Bingo. The core of the problem, one that no lopping of leaders, no amount of arm-linking in front of Michigan Avenue stores, will remedy. I could say that Van Dyke didn't view McDonald as a human being when he pumped 16 shots needlessly into him, but that unfairly puts the burden on Van Dyke's shoulders. The undervaluation of black lives goes back to the foundation of the this country; it's what slavery was based on, what Jim Crow lasted for a century because of, and whose after effects are so obvious in Chicago every single day. Blacks aren't seen as human by whites. Not really. Not all whites, of course. There are exceptions. But enough.
     Do I overstate the case? I don't think so.
     In their defense, whites do not have a monopoly on the practice. The undervaluing of human lives, the viewing people, not as individuals, but as fungible units of a certain group, is not an exclusive white sin, or a black one, but an affliction plaguing all people in all times, one that drives much of the sorrow and wrong of the world. Blacks certainly do it too. The idiot at University of Illinois who posted his brief threat that shut down the University of Chicago was succumbing to it when, upset about McDonald, he raged against whites he had never met online, destroying his own young life, or at least seriously sidetracking it. Imagine his next job interview, assuming he doesn't go to prison. Another future snuffed out by not holding others in the esteem they deserve, that all people deserve, at least until they demonstrate that they don't. 
    That's why I resist the excitement of the protests, the momentary thrill and romance. I narrow my eyes and think, "Toward what end?" They might as well be protesting gravity. What power can grant them their wish? They think every march is Selma, but if you look at the issue in Dr. King's time—the signs at his Sanitation workers strike said "I am a man"—and now, well, they're still protesting to assert the exact same thing. We believe there has been some progress, and maybe there has. But that could just be another illusion.
    When we all succumb to lumping people together, to a greater or lesser degree. I just did it now, in the previous sentence, and it feels so natural we hardly notice we're doing it. The problem can't be fixed, big picture, but only addressed small picture. Society cannot change us, we have to change society. Try not to generalize so much; try to see each person as the individual  he or she certainly is. It's not much of a solution, and not easy, which is why nobody demands it. But it's the only solution that can work, eventually; I don't see another. 

33 comments:

  1. Wow Steinberg that was a race neutral article. A little blame for everybody not your usual blame the majority for everything. That's why I keep you on the payroll.

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    1. This column should go in the paper upon your return.

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    1. ooh good phrase from that song- Same as it ever was- perhaps from that 80's Talking Heads band...

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  3. Good article, NS. But some have to realize this isn't the same as Selma. How about the lack of value in the thugs that entered that ministers wife and raped and killed his pregnant wife? And where is the respect for black lives among the gangbangers in some neighborhoods? Where is the demonstration against the Tyshawn killing gang types? One article on Sat. in the ST suggested that those blocking off stores on Friday were concerned with white privilege? Really???? Is there a whites only sign on those stores? Work, dress & act respectfully and go to the stores on Michigan ave-and not in a droves of a group of teens that could incite suspicion. Of course we mustn't generalize but look at the stats of crimes committed as per ratio of population. Living in a mixed race subdivision without problems (and I don't mean just one or 2 African American families living in the area) my comments can be directed to gangbangers and thugs in the hood. Certainly not my A-A, middle class neighbors, some who visit my living room.

    By the way, isn't "black" an ancient term? How about saying Afr. Amer.? wink

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  4. Mrs. G., you lost the message somewhere in there.
    Barbara M. P.

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  5. Until Black people start respecting Black lives, other races won't.

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    1. To anon at 8:20- that might apply today. But there was no excuse for disrespecting black lives of decent people now or in the past, especially as per the Old south treatment.

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  6. Good reader feedback today in the paper. A reader points out that none of the killings took place in the magnificent mile. Where should the marches take place?

    Barb, I don't think Mrs. G lost the message. She just added some of her own messages.

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  7. The media has done a great job in painting young black teens as thugs, gangbangers, and dangerous. When a black life is taken the media reports on the violent act of the black criminal. When a white life is taken by another white the media focuses on the "good" person the victim was. I keep hearing why isn't anyone protesting the black lives taken by other blacks. You miss the point. The protest should be on the discrimination, lack of good education and the whole socio-economic structure many black people live in. But when police continue to stop, harass, yell, use racial slurs, beat, spit, and treat them inhumane, a boiling point will be reached and incited by videos such as was shown of Van Dyke.

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    1. You make a good point, Luis, but some of the people in those areas have also made bad choices and shoot themselves in the foot, so to speak. There are some African -Americans who will agree with that statement.

      Poor blacks in the past were discriminated against and killed by whites in worse ways and they often didn't end up shooting each other. Now did drugs and drugdealing make that difference? perhaps

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  8. The media has done a great job in painting young black teens as thugs, gangbangers, and dangerous. When a black life is taken the media reports on the violent act of the black criminal. When a white life is taken by another white the media focuses on the "good" person the victim was. I keep hearing why isn't anyone protesting the black lives taken by other blacks. You miss the point. The protest should be on the discrimination, lack of good education and the whole socio-economic structure many black people live in. But when police continue to stop, harass, yell, use racial slurs, beat, spit, and treat them inhumane, a boiling point will be reached and incited by videos such as was shown of Van Dyke.

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    1. Yes, I saw that editor's opinion in the paper, that Mr. Evans speaks of, as well.

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  9. You seem to have fallen out of step with your editors who, in today's paper, have jumped on the 'resignation' bandwagon. Perhaps like you, I dislike bandwagons.

    That Emanuel is "charmless," seems to me beside the point. Everybody thought his predecessor full of charm, particularly when he was deploying malapropisms. And Rham does seem to be grappling intelligently with problems Daly allowed to fester.

    We are, of course, living with the heritage of slavery and Jim Crow. As Exodus has it, the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons to the third and fourth generation.

    Tom Evans

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    1. I hope I was never in step, at least not more than coincidence would dictate. To be honest, I wrote that last night, before the editorial was tweeted. There seems to be some impression that the bosses dictate what columnists write, and they don't. I slagged Bruce Rauner with all my might, for all the good it did, while the paper endorsed him. This is nothing new. For a few agonizing days we considered endorsing Dan Lipinski for senate over Barack Obama. Like all businesses, it has its ugly side.

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  10. Your comments on the other officers behavior resonate. As I watched the video, I observed the other officers' behavior which was just as telling as the shooting itself. It looked as though there was a dead dog lying in the street. It would have been interesting to see another officer try to physically keep Van Dyke from shooting in his rage but it didn't happen. And it had to be apparent to all the officers in multiple vehicles that Van Dyke was out of line but again, nothing. Just another day on a dark street with a lunging 17 year old and a knife, and no backup.

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    1. The police union could use some scrutiny too. They often make it difficult to fire bad cops.

      IMO, unions should be for blue collar only like they were first intended and by that I mean factory workers, coal miners and such. But those are dwindling jobs these days.

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    2. Van Dyke was a bully who probably bullied other officers too. Those who don't follow in step, won't get promoted or get bad hours and bad working locations.

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    3. Van Dyke's defense, communicated through his attorney, was that he was in fear of his life. Strange, none of the half-dozen officers surrounding him felt this same fear. In fact, they were quite emotionless throughout the event. Where's the humanity?

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  11. There may be a prospect for improved police behavior, the pending implementation of police body cameras. Much as I dislike the Orwellian nature of ubiquitous surveillance, some cities that have implemented the camera systems have seen improvement. Police officers knowing they are being monitored have a tendency to follow procedure, and act more courteously. Suspects noticing the difference respond in kind, and are less confrontational.

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    1. And how about the doctored tape? If there's no audio on it, how come sirens can be heard?

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  12. Now McCarthy is gone. Good riddance. He either lied about this whole affair or he made categorical defensive statements without knowing what the hell he was talking about, and as far as I'm concerned, the second is just as bad as the first.

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  13. Yes, McC. is not just some scapegoat. I wonder if the south and west side could have all Afr. cops, an Afr. states attny, and police supt, if all would suddenly be well then. I doubt it.

    But McC being canned isn't enough. What about Alvarez, Rahm? Will they just resign.

    The Mitchell column in the ST today speaks of another video that isn't being covered up. That indep. police review board is in cahoots.

    Agree with the body cameras. That can work well both ways, not just on a racist cop but a thug claiming he was innocent.

    ag

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  14. (meant is being covered up)

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  15. Ten workers with the highest salaries, not including unpaid days off:

    1. Police Superintendent McCarthy, $260,004.

    2. Mayor Emanuel, $216,210.

    3. Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, $202,728.

    4. Police Asst. Superintendent Beatrice Cuello, $188,316.

    5. Police Asst. Superintendent James Jackson, $188,316.

    6. First Deputy Fire Commissioner Charles Stewart III, $188,316.

    7. Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, $179,109.

    8. Deputy Police Superintendent Ernest Brown, $178,740.

    9. Deputy Fire Commissioner Michael Callahan, $178,740.

    10. Deputy Police Superintendent Debra Kirby, $178,740.

    (Six other employees are also at the $178,740 level.)

    The full list is at data.cityofchicago.org

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  16. One would think the mayor should make more money than the supt.

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  17. Well, what would work to make things better? Maybe getting rid of the corruption? And how will that be done?

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    1. I thought nobody would ask. First it has to be a value. We just elected a governor who tried to eliminate daycare assistance for low income working parents. As inexcusable as the cop behavior is, you can't deny they're left holding the bag for every social problem we have. Families fall apart because nobody has a job -- the one thing Rahm did right, at first, was try to get businesses into decayed areas. The trouble was, he got one Whole Foods in Englewood and called it a day. The best way to fight crime is with a) jobs b) pre-school education c) more jobs.

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  18. Well said, NS. But some won't want a minimum wage job working in a store when they can make much more selling drugs. And the parents have to be willing to stay off drugs themselves and parent! Also, some need to be wary of who they are making babies with or their kids could be in danger.

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    1. Some are too busy worrying about abortion clinics, but refuse to accept teaching sex education in schools or making contraception more available to the poor, working poor, lower SES.

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  19. Right on point NS, the problem is we seem to have lost our humanity. With so many folks taking advantage of that these days can we ever get it back?

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  20. Right on point NS, the problem is we seem to have lost our humanity. With so many folks taking advantage of that these days can we ever get it back?

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.