CHICAGO, July 10, 2012 — The TV news story about a flash mob that attacked a man in Chicago’s River North neighborhood over the 4th of July holiday sparked an interesting conversation.
“Why didn’t he cross the street? If you see a bunch of people looking like that coming toward you, wouldn’t you cross the street?”
Skipping the obvious oblivion of how flash mobs work, I went straight for the controversy.
“A bunch of people looking like what?”
“You know, 10 or 12 black guys with their shirt sleeves rolled up, chains, tattoos, mean look in their eyes. They just have that look.”
“Do you realize that he (Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy) never said they were black?”
In fact, they never do. The Chicago media, along with city officials, are engaged in an unofficial covert action in the war on racism in a deeply divided city. In what one assumes to be an attempt to subtly alter the city’s psyche, race is intentionally not mentioned in the media.
Colin Flaherty, author of White Girl Bleed a Lot: The return of racial violence to America and how the media ignore it, took Chicago specifically to task last month in an article on WND.com. Flaherty states that Chicago is “Ground Zero for an epidemic of racial violence and denial – with dozens of attacks against women, ‘gays,’ seniors, Asians, and others from black mobs. Few, if any, were reported as racial violence.” He lists several incidents of violent crime in June of this year, noting that “all the suspects are black,” yet none of them are reported as such.
Debate has been swirling furiously, with the negative voices, as usual, screaming the loudest. Why are police not giving out informative details about violent crimes? Why is the media leaving out a common characteristic linking several different crimes? Why are they both concealing important information that could help the general public protect itself? All of the 9/11 hijackers were Arab and we said so, so why aren’t we saying all of these attackers are black?
While City Hall has not come out with an official statement on the unofficial policy, Chicago media has made its position clear. An article by Chicago Tribune editor Gerould W. Kern stated the following:
“We do not reference race unless it is a fact that is central to telling the story.”
He goes on to state:
“There are circumstances when race may be relevant, such as describing a criminal suspect being sought by police. But this description must be accompanied by other detailed information, such as height, weight, scars, clothing, etc. By adhering to this practice, we guard against subjecting an entire group of people to suspicion because of the color of their skin.”
It is a shame that this is something we must guard against. It would be lovely if the thought never entered society’s collective mind. But ugly comments left at the end of these articles and questions like those above are proof enough that we’re not quite there yet.
Steve Chapman of the Tribune editorial desk has a few questions of his own.
“Why do you care so much about the attackers’ race? If you fear or dislike blacks, I suppose it would confirm your prejudice. But otherwise, it tells you nothing useful.”
By refusing to mention race is A) Chicago protecting innocent members of racial minorities, B) endangering its citizenry, C) diffusing potential riots? Or D) all of the above?
Yes, innocent members of racial minorities are being protected. Being a teenager of any color is not easy. Now imagine walking into a job interview knowing that the first thing the interviewer notices is that you have the most obvious qualification for being one of “those troublemakers.” This problem already exists. The policy does not solve it, but it prevents it from worsening.
Is the policy endangering its citizenry? If an African-American teenager walking down the street is more likely to be a threat than any other teenager, perhaps the citizens have a right to know. (Again, all of the perpetrators of the crimes mentioned were African-American.) However, chances are very low that that one teenager walking toward you is part of a flash mob. Chances are high, though, that the citizenry, armed with racial information, is going to make matters worse for everyone. The policy is very likely protecting us from ourselves. Which answers the “diffusing potential riots” question above and brings us to…
D) All of the above.
The real question regarding Chicago’s “Don’t Tell” policy is whether it has had any effect. The couch-sitter in the opening dialogue above simply assumed (correctly) that the mob was black. Mr. Kern’s statement mentioned above was written a year ago, yet the attacks are back again this summer. Based on what has happened, the quick answer to whether the policy is working would be “No.”
The tricky part, however, is judging policies by what has not happened. There are a lot of young, angry, out-of-school, unemployed people in Chicago. Some of them, apparently of a certain race, have found an outlet for their anger. Not an appropriate outlet, but an outlet nonetheless. Some of them from other races could just be waiting for a “legitimate” reason to ignite. The Chicago media and city officials do not want to be that reason.
Unless race is pertinent to reporting a story, any story, it will not be mentioned in Chicago. If anyone asks, “What race are they?” the answer should be “Human, just like you.”
To contact Julia Goralka, see above.
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