The ‘Windy City’ long ago became the go-to example for many who need to play a trump card (pardon the expression). Whenever the conversation threatens to turn to the killing of unarmed black men and women by law enforcement officials, there will always be some who insist upon bringing up the crime statistics in Chicago (as if they, at all, truly care about those victims).
Without question, the numbers coming out of Chicago are, indeed, bleak and distressing. This specific example of ‘What Aboutism’, however, is an overused, racially-charged dog whistle. The obvious deflection presented is clearly a low-hanging attempt to say “These police shootings aren’t important to me because they kill themselves anyway” — without, you know, sounding nearly as awful.
However, for those who feel the need to cling to the ‘black-on-black crime’ defense in order to somehow clear the good names of the trained officers who murdered civilians while on the job, yes — we can easily discuss the rise of gun violence as it relates to poverty, gang activity, and overall disenfranchisement in the greater Chicago area. We could put discriminatory housing practices (like, redlining) on the table before talking about the history of economic stagnation (and the negative effects they’ve had on working class black families). In the event you still having some time available, we could finish by acknowledging the amount of guns flowing in from neighboring states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana.
The selective moral outrage behind “What about Chicago” is just as telling as the need to downplay the unnecessary loss of life at the hands of law enforcement officers. For those who need to, please know it’s perfectly okay to admit you simply don’t value the lives of those who are different from you.
Because we already know.
Turn the page, and the other note of deflection is the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. The destruction that occurred in Minneapolis, and throughout other cities, is both heartbreaking and strangely bittersweet. Please understand: By no means am I standing in support of the riots (which has a now-suspicious origin), but I understand why it came to this. It was always going to happen. How else are people supposed to get their urgent ‘stop killing us’ message across when those with any measure of real power are always quick to criticize and shut them down?
You hear “Why don’t they protest peacefully?” Well, they tried that, and people called them “UnAmerican” because we value made-up traditions and symbols and football more than Black life. Then, people say “Maybe you should show up and vote!” Okay, but they’ve done that, too — and were greeted with gerrymandering, broken machines, a decrease in polling places, and other approved methods of disruption. And, then, they watched two presidential candidates in the past twenty years win the popular vote, only to lose the election.
It should be noted that the questions asked are never “Why was the system set up for most to fail” or “Why is racism still so prevalent?” But I digress.
There’s a problem of systemic racism in this country, and one part of that devastating condition is the reluctance of those who refuse to acknowledge the overall problem (or the role they themselves play). THIS is where the anger of today comes from, and why people — tired of being ignored, and tired of hurting — are lashing out. Two weeks ago, we were all way too quiet about armed wannabe militias storming state capitals and threatening to use violence in order to get their way.
The only difference today is that there are people in the streets who aren’t fueled by fake anger and talking points; and, quite obviously, they should have been taken seriously years ago.
Why is it so easy for many to recognize violence when it’s in the form of black looting and the destruction of private property, but not when they watch a white murderer in action? Riots, mugging, shootings are all violent acts, but so is poverty. And privatized prisons. And larger budget cuts to certain school districts. And homelessness. And the elimination of social programs. And contaminating water supplies for profit. And excessive healthcare costs. And the disparity of mass incarceration (A.K.A. who has, and doesn’t have, access to effectual legal representation).
And police officers who murder.
I challenge you to look within yourself, and question why you are unable to acknowledge the systemic racism that exists throughout society. Unlike possibly you, the epidemic of ‘black-on-black crime’ IS a real concern for me — and I agree that the issue of personal responsibility should have been addressed long ago. However, it is nothing short of willful ignorance to deny most of the factors that go into said inner-city/urban violence.
Collectively, the real problem at hand, though, is that ‘we’ feel the need to take opposing sides in matters that shouldn’t have any. Once you view a recording of an unarmed and handcuffed man being slowly murdered over the course of several minutes by someone who swore to uphold the law, how is it an appropriate response to point to the crime rate in an unrelated city?
[Side Note: Post-slavery, my family lineage is filled with military service. And, besides the obligatory “many of my friends are LEOs,” my father (who grew up in a legally-segregated America) was a proud police officer for the NYPD. I absolutely support those who put their lives on the line, but I can be honest about them, too.]
Male/Female. Black/White. Gay/Straight. Red/Blue: All of this back-and-forth conflict is organized chaos meant to divide us. It’s this nonsense that gives power to the bullshit we all despise. Oppression by way of discrimination doesn’t just keep most of us down — it’s also a tool to control the aggressors. The more time spent blaming all of your problems on those you feel superior to, the less energy you have to focus on improving your life (while questioning who actually benefits from our manufactured division).
I don’t think most of us are outright bad or evil people, and I bet most of us have more in common than not. Unfortunately, for some (suspected, but) unknown reasons, we have all been given excuses to turn on each other — and they were easier to buy into than outright question. All of us want not just better lives, but a better America. It’s still a possibility, but, first, we all need to figure out how and why “United, We Stand” isn’t just a catchphrase.
You are not my enemy, and I don’t have to be yours.