Friday, July 9, 2021

We keep track of shootings like a box score

Vatican Museum

     Numbers deceive.
     Some are so big we can’t grasp them. Chicago is on the hook for $32.9 billion to its four biggest municipal pension funds. Does that number mean anything to you? Me either.
     Some purport to represent something concrete when in fact they only vaguely symbolize something unknowable. When we report that 104 people were shot in Chicago over the July 4 weekend and that 19 died, those numbers are offered as clear, understandable figures.
     Are they?
     We write the figures, pretend to grasp their significance. But do we? Do we even try to stretch our minds to consider the pain? The hospital hours, funeral home visits, cemetery services, the endless days of grief, the entire supernova of tragedy expanding from those digits? I don’t believe we do, which might be just as well, because we probably can’t.
     Alice Yin wrote a heartbreaking story in the Tribune Thursday about the family of Natalia Wallace, a 7-year-old girl shot and killed on July 4, 2020. While I’m not in the habit of plugging stories in the Trib, those considerations are insignificant compared with the matter at hand. Yin takes readers on a journey alongside the girl’s crushed family, her grief-stricken father (“When they killed her, they killed me too,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Manny Ramos in a story for us last August), her traumatized siblings, hiding in the house, flinching at loud noises, struggling through therapy.
     Yet read those stories, and what have you accomplished? Spent 10 minutes sensing a flicker of the pain of one family after one death. Then you move on, the privilege of the untouched. It’s like scooping up a handful of salt water at the beach, and gazing as it runs through your fingers. Meanwhile, unseen, the ocean.
     Those who can’t shrug it off, because they’re supposed to be leaders, are unable to admit their own powerlessness. So they seek somebody to blame, and we’re left with sorry spectacles like CPD superintendent David Brown simultaneously blaming Chicago’s shootings on national trends and Kim Foxx letting violent criminals go. Which is it? Or is he suggesting that Foxx somehow sends ripples of violence across the nation?
     Brown is among many twisting the stats to their own purposes. My readers regularly paint Chicago crime as some kind of refutation to Black Lives Matter.
     “Biden is here to talk about the violence in Chicago,” one wrote Wednesday. “Everyone knows what the problem is. Why is there never a story about the low life, scum bag gang bangers who have absolutely no respect for human life. I’ll tell you why. Because people are afraid of the gangs. ... Your never going to submit an article calling out the gangs for their killing of innocent people. I’ll tell you a little secret. I’m a 58 year old white male. So everything i say is wrong. But i do not understand the BLM movement. 60 to a 100 people shot a week. Most of them black. Do these people not matter?”

     Call me a cynic, but I suspect this email isn’t from a person whose heart is breaking for the victims. He wants to use the killings to discredit the movement against police misconduct.


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9 comments:

  1. Neil, I don't believe you were here yet, when the newspapers had a field day with competing headlines after headlines announcing the upcoming 1000th gangland killing in Chicago.
    There were giant 72 point & larger headlines starting with #990 & then counting upwards.
    When was the 1000th poor slob who got whacked, well, it was like every holiday combined, along with fireworks on the front pages.
    Of course there were the sober editorials, but those never sold a paper.
    One of the most bizarre newspaper wars in a city infamous for its newspaper wars.

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    1. I rememebr when the newspapers competed with each other to announce..."the upcoming 1000th gangland killing in Chicago." That was a LONG tima ago...late Sixties or early Seventies...when Nr. S. was still a kid, growing up in the suburbs of Northeast Ohio.

      You are, of course, referring to the one thousandth Mob-related killing in Chicago, going all the way back to the ealiest days of Prohibition and the rise of Al Capone. Easily a thousand Mafia killings in fifty years, as there were scores of them annually during the Roaring Twenties. And long afterward.

      As for "street gang" deaths, probably far more than a thousand by now, if you count back far enough. Some of today's biggest outfits go back to the Forties, and there are chapters with members who range in age from eight to eighty. That's why Trump's plan to "pacify" Chicago was laughable. And it would have been as successful as pacifying Stalingrad was for Hitler.

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  2. Can the stats be narrowed down further to identify deadliest neighborhoods or square miles? The per capita murders in Chicago get absorbed and for most of us the killing is not right nearby. Can we identify our worst square mile of hell and start there? Maybe we could see more clearly if we narrowed the scope.

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    1. Of course. The cops generate stats up the yin-yang. But if you have police on each corner, there aren't any left for the rest of the city.

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    2. I wasn’t thinking of police or national guard. I was thinking of development, investment, jobs, and grocery stores.

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    3. I work at Cicero and Chicago one of the top spots for shooting and murder. Many many police officers in the area.

      I live at 71st and Woodlawn. Very near to another top spot for shooting and murder. Many many police officers there to. The near constant presence of a CPD helicopter every night.

      Cops and more cops don't seem to be the answer. People need to put down their guns in order for the killing to stop.

      Even if it were all gang members being gunned down which we all know it isn't this circumstance would be a terrible tragedy. The collateral damage humanizes the carnage , children and other innocents dying everyday. Our fellow citizens, friends and family.
      So much sorrow.

      People please put down your guns. Even if just for the day. Much like a twelve step program. One day at a time.

      This should be a policy goal of our leaders . Put down your guns today. It can be done.

      Blame the guns, pray. False hope. Talk to your fellow citizens. See what it would take to call a truce. Just for today. That's the place to start. Break the cycle of killing.

      329,000 millions dollars.

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  3. I remember seeing Larry King on a TV talk show several years ago, mocking the New York papers for exploiting crime news with headlines such as "Death in the Streets," "Murder, Murder, Murder," and similar hyperbole. It was hilarious, if morbidly so.

    john

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  4. You don't have to be a Trump-loving Republican to feel some empathy toward the guy who wrote the letter criticizing BLM. Police misconduct is certainly a problem, but it defies sense to believe that taking Chicago cops off the beat and replacing them with patrolling social workers would cut the body count. You are right about people not understanding that Chicago is not really the murder capital of the U.S. It's not a point you ever hear mentioned on the six o'clock news.

    Tom

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  5. The only relevant number is zero. Zero jobs, zero hope and no place to go. Throw in mans' homicidal nature and the digit counters spin. In a Smithsonian Channel program about elephants it was speculated that mans opportunity to leave the trees was provided by habitat change wrought by the giant beasts. In payment we are now driving them to extinction for their tusks. We are a sorry bunch, Homo Sapiens.

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