Monday, July 11, 2016

How the story ends depends on how it begins

     A neighbor—older, meticulous, German—was explaining to me how he takes plastic bags of dog excrement and flings them over his well-tended hedge into the street.
     The street we both share. Our street.
     He was indignant, almost proud.
     Of course there was more to it. The conversation had been about dogs—mine was in tow—and he told me that some people hurl their poop bags into his yard. So he hurls it right back.
     I walked away thinking, "Framing." How you begin the story determines how it ends. You include the provocation, and the reaction seems justified. Leave it out, and he becomes the jerk, throwing dog shit into the street. Which is true? Maybe both.
     We see this constantly. In his mind, Micah Johnson wasn't firing blindly at innocent police officers, Instead—again in his own mind—he was reacting to the Black Lives Matter movement, which keeps its view tight on those jumpy videos of cops shooting innocent folks. The cops meanwhile widen the frame, to include the violent neighborhoods they patrol, and wonder why everyone else doesn't.
     "Why are we just focusing on the very very small percentage of all interactions with police officers that go bad?" a reader wrote Saturday. "Why don't we start a movement that focuses on all black lives that tragically end? Lets go to the Southside and Westside and protest the shooting of all those young blacks by mostly other blacks....Can a liberal Democrat answer this question please?"

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  1. Marvelous intro to a complex and confusing subject. It seems the only time we are willing to think about how others feel is when we ascribe to them our own thoughts and inclinations. We're afraid to look that if we look into Micah Johnson's mind, we'll understand and perhaps even empathize with his motives. No, No. Can't go there! Far easier to say that he was crazy, that all these uppity blacks are lunatics and that the violence we see all around us is caused by street corner demagogues lusting for power.

    And treatment? I think most of us would rather bear with the horrors of the disability rather than be branded forever as a "mental case."

  2. Very well put. As usual. An argument well marshalled, putting one in mind of a saying by Horace: "What grace may be added to commonplace matters by the power of order and connection."

    Steinberg, Mark Brown and Mary Mitchell, a somewhat disparate triumvirate, have all published thoughtfull columns (The other Chicago paper tends toward the inflamatory, particularly in the reader comments it allows). But Ms. Mitchell, who points out that Blacks need cops as well as cops need cooperation from them, is preaching to a different choir, and, for that reason is more apt to do the most good.

    It would be nice if one could put an embargo on hyperbole. As President Obama correctly oberved, the recent events, tragic as they are, don't mean, we are back in the racial turmoil of the 1960's. There is no "war on cops," or, as some of the BLM people have it, a police "genocide" of Black men.

    There were some other sane voices on the Sunday morning gab fest. But, unfortunately, coverage had to be also given to the likes of Walsh and Giuliani.

    Tom Evans

  3. Laura Washington has a column along similar lines in the Monday ST.

    Saying, where's daddy or it's the drugs, isn't the answer

  4. You raised an interesting point about "framing". I think it is important to take all things in context, but you have to know what the context is. That's why it's important to have all the facts and then study how the facts apply to the situation. Clear communication is important too, so we're not misunderstood. Beyond this, there's not much we can do. Everyone has their own perception of situations based on their own backgrounds.

    Linda B

  5. Old 'frame of reference' joke. The tailor's guild in Boston raises a fund to send a retiring member to Rome, and the Archbishop arranges an audience with the Pope. When he returns they ask him what His Holiness was like and he says, "A 43 regular."



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