Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Not everyone is dug in all the time

"Progress of the American Negro," by Charles White (Howard University Gallery of Art)

     The days when I happily crossed swords with any reader who could flop his fingers onto a keyboard are long past. That just leads to quick deterioration into insults, and the aggressor running off to complain to my boss—nobody cries like a bully—wasting his time and mine.
     So I rarely answer emails from two groups of people—Trump supporters and haters. Were they open to reason, they wouldn't hold the opinions they have.
     But occasionally an email will have something so patently false that I'll be lured in, such as this one, which postulated the notion that you never see stories about gang violence. That drew a reply, against my better judgment. I also used the email in my column about the strange ritual of tallying shooting deaths in Chicago, "We keep track of shootings like a box score." Which lead to an exchange out of the ordinary, as you will see. The initial email read:

Biden is here to talk about the violence in Chicago. 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? I'm extremely happy with the sentence that Chauvin got for killing George Floyd. I have a question for you. Would it be racist to write an article saying that the shootings in the news every week are all from black gang bangers. Put the faces of the leaders of these gangs on the front page. I'm tired of blaming these shootings on Republicans and democrats. The blame lies with the black gang bangers. Their spineless leaders have names.

     I considered remarking on the "Oh poor me!" quality to the "everything i say is wrong" line, but resisted, instead writing back with a link:

That story you say you never see runs all the time. I would speculate about why it always eludes you, but then you would start crying about THAT, and frankly, I've had enough for one day. Thanks for writing.

    I never expected to hear back. So imagine my surprise when I got this:

Thank you for your article today. That was a good explanation of the BLM movement. And i needed to hear that. I wish the BLM would talk more about the violence in Chicago and what they think should be done to help stop the violence. Sometimes i need to be hit over the head to see things. Going forward i will give my little speech i sent you the other day a rest. And try to be more understanding. Not that it matters but i do care about the people being shot every day in Chicago. I cant imagine the pain of going through something like that. I'm like the police chief you mentioned in your article, I lash out because i really don't have an answer. I'll try and stay open, helpful and hopeful. Have a good weekend.

     At the risk of overstating the case, I don't believe I get one email a year showing that sort of re-evaluation. Frankly, I might have never gotten one. But one is enough. Perhaps there's hope for our country. I wrote back:

     That's an encouraging email. Thank you. Seriously—and since sarcasm is the water we swim in lately, I feel the need to say that. People are so dug in. Your email helped me to address a topic that puts me in a bind. To me, it's cowardice to say nothing, but as a white guy living snugly in hyper-safe Northbrook, what can I possibly add that is of any use to anyone? We all need to be open to suasion, to change, to evaluating our beliefs in light of the evidence before us.


  1. This is really beautiful. Would that it was not so rare. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Obviously you write a different column than Kass. And maybe I just don't read enough other pundit enough. But he does write a lot about the violence in Chicago. Of course he blames every one it on everything else including letting people out jail before their trials. Huppke had a great column about that a few days ago. He didn't point out any one by name, but according to facts (and who knows what is true these days) Kass is wrong. I don't agree with much of what he has to say, but a couple of weeks ago a bang gangers young daughter was killed while they were going to McDonalds. He questioned why that guy would put his daughter in danger like that. I saw a video the other day. A black woman was being interviewed. She said there were a lot of police around when there was a White Sox game was being played. Not so much otherwise.

  3. I'm in over my head here, too, but I think the vast majority of newspaper readers have an outdated picture of gang violence, still thinking it's large gangs with identifiable leaders in two-sided wars. What's making it so difficult to stop the killing these days is how fragmented things have become, with tiny cliques that think of only a single block or two as "their turf," and who relish taunting other cliques on social media (never seen by nonparticipants) and taking offense at the taunts—with deadly consequences.

    1. It amazes me how victories can be turned into defeats. Even Brown v. Board of Education seemed to make Black education worse before improvements kicked in, police triumphs over the big gangs have made certain neighborhoods more dangerous for the inhabitants and the police themselves now that the bigshots who could talk peace without fear of reprisal have all been locked up or killed.


    2. That's exactly it. Tom Dart thought it would be a great idea to bust up the big gangs, only to find that the small gangs, as you well explained, have made things far worse. It also makes a solution that much more difficult.


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