Friday, September 9, 2016

Guilty as charged

In a Washington Post article titled It's time to stop talking about racism with white people, the author Zack Linly makes the point that most whites either cannot or refuse to comprehend the injustices facing black people in this country, especially in light of the recent focus on African American people being killed by the police. He cites many examples of white people being "dismissive" of the problem and as the title to the piece indicates, he's willing to throw in the towel as far as trying to convince them otherwise.

Here's a list of things white people say that proves, according to the author. they just don't get it:
  • “There must be more to the story.”
  • “If you people would just do what you’re told.”
  • “Cops have a hard job.”
  • “White people get shot too.”
  • “He was just another thug. Good riddance!”
  • “Why do you people make everything about race?”
  • “What about black on black crime?”
  • All lives matter.”
Turns out I'm one of those white people he's talking about. I've expressed at least four out of those eight sentiments right here in this space. And while in the context of this issue I understand the sentiment behind Black Lives Matter movement, I also believe deep in my heart that all lives (including blue ones) matter, although I don't state that publicly. Oops guess I just did, sorry, that makes five. 

So far this year, six people have been shot and killed by the police in the City of Chicago and eleven have been shot and wounded, which is roughly on the same pace as last year. I don't have the data on the race of the victims, the cops in those shootings, or the circumstances behind those deaths and injuries. I can only assume some may have been the result of power obsessed, racist cops abusing their authority. Others may have been tragic cases of mistaken motives or identity of the victims. And still others may have been the result of a police officer confronting an armed person both willing and able to take the life of that officer, and perhaps others. Most of the circumstances probably fall somewhere in between, as no two police shootings are the same.

Six instances of police killing civilians are indeed six too many but yes, there is more to the story.

On the flip side, there have been 500 homicides in Chicago so far this year, surpassing the total number of murders from last year, and it's barely September. The vast majority, 78.2 percent of those murdered in Chicago this year were black people. We can't know exactly because most of those crimes will never be solved, but I think it's fairly safe to assume that the racial breakdown of people doing the killing is a comparable number. Using those statistics and assumptions, if you were a black person in Chicago this year, you were at least sixty five times more likely to be murdered by another black person than by a police officer. As I've said before, separating the violence in the African American community from the police killings is disingenuous.

The author of the Post article claims that white people
aren’t paying attention to these stories (of the police shootings) out of fear for their lives and the lives of their children and spouses; they are only tuned in out of black and brown contempt.
Obviously I can't speak for all white people. The author is absolutely correct in assuming that as a white man, I cannot possibly know what it's like to be black in this country. I don't know what it's like to be constantly harassed by cops, or judged harshly by people unlike me simply because of the color of my skin.

It's also true that I cannot imagine having been brought up without two loving parents who taught me to respect others as well as myself, parents who praised me when I did right and let me know in no uncertain terms when I didn't. I don't know what it's like to have to find a parental figure somewhere out on the streets, someone who doesn't have my best interests at heart, someone who wouldn't give his or her life for me if he or she had to, in other words, a parental figure who doesn't give a shit about me.

That's exactly the plight of far too many children living in our cities today. No child should have to live under those circumstances, not is there a good reason for it to be so, but that's the reality for tens of thousands of children in our city alone. Combine those kids growing into teenagers who don't give a shit about themselves or anybody else, poverty, segregation, and the criminally outrageous availability of guns in this country, and we get the situation we find ourselves in today.

By the way Mr. Linly, I live in a neighborhood where it's not unusual to hear gunshots from our home, and in a city where life is often considered cheap. So please don't tell me that I'm "not invested", "don't have skin in the game" or that I don't live in constant fear for the safety of my wife and children. I've invested plenty in this city that I love dearly, both the black and white of it, with literally my blood, sweat and tears.

The same is true for all the hard working people of Chicago of every race, creed and walk of life.

Incidentally, the Washington Post article came to my attention as it was posted by a white Facebook friend who lives in San Francisco. It was followed in my FB feed by a picture of a young black girl holding up a sign that read, "Stop the violence, let me grow up" posted by a black friend who lives on the south side of Chicago.

That little girl's chances of growing up, something all of us should be concerned about. are not going to improve by well intentioned people sitting out the national anthem, or chanting inflammatory slogans. Unfortunately we live in a society where ideology, slogans and symbols are more important than critical thinking and self-reflection.

Until that changes, I'm afraid we can only expect more of the same.

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