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Monday, August 14, 2006

Widening the racial divide

Opportunists distort boy's tragic shooting

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Residents of the Near North Side Cabrini-Green low-income housing project may have a lot to complain about, but not the shooting of a 14-year-old boy who menaced police officers with a gun.

It doesn't matter that the boy was wielding "only" a BB gun that happened to look like the real thing. When you show police officers any kind of weapon, fake or otherwise, you shouldn't be outraged when cops defend themselves. Even if the weapon can "only" fire a projectile at 400 feet a second.

As Mayor Richard Daley said, it was a tragedy that the boy was shot, and we hope for his recovery.

But, it is no reason to storm City Hall and the police station, peacefully or otherwise, with complaints about everything from inadequate housing to police brutality.

But that's what the usual band of opportunists are doing, taking to the streets and media, attempting to drive another wedge between the races. In their protests and warnings, they too easily equate an apparently justified defensive response by police to years of outrageous police torture. A complaint about a single event becomes elevated into blanket statements of condemnation and disgust.

Talk about "disproportionate" responses.

Talk about demagoguery.

For some, the temptation to elevate an individual event into universal statements about white or black people and law enforcement is irresistible.

It's more than intellectually dishonest or ignorant; it jeopardizes the workings of our civil society. It drives the community and police further apart, and makes law enforcement, especially in the neighborhoods that need it most, all the more difficult.

As are the attempts to turn this into another "blame-the-victim" episode.

The boy, we are tutored, is a victim of poverty and racism, of an environment of police brutality, and of a gentry plot to force residents out of Cabrini.

Therefore, we're further tutored, you can ignore his displaying a BB gun that looks identical to a 9mm handgun to police who were investigating an attempted arm robbery just minutes before.

The cycle of poverty and ignorance will never end as long as this dodge is deployed for every upsetting or tragic event.

Funny, while I was researching this latest cause celebre among the racial dividers, I came across something else, something positive, that has received virtually no attention. Responding to community concerns, police in early August announced that they had shut down two open-air drug markets and charged 21 people in separate undercover investigations on the West Side. For the racial dividers, this good news has no substance.

But maybe we can learn something from the racial dividers, when it comes to Salomeja Januska.

They had nothing to say about the 94-year-old woman who was mugged in her old Marquette Park neighborhood she had dared to revisit to purchase some Lithuanian groceries. Outside an old favorite deli, a 30- to 35-year-old man "came out of nowhere," grabbed her purse and then pushed her to the ground, shattering her right arm. She's expected to recover after undergoing surgery at Holy Cross Hospital.

Ironically, the mugger escaped by running down the gangway of her former home, which she had moved from three years ago to escape the growing number of muggings and sexual assaults.

Januska is white. The police said the attacker is black, a fact that didn't make it into many, if any, stories.

Now, if the racial dividers were white, they'd be turning this attack into a universal statement. About how it proves that crime goes up with the appearance of blacks in the neighborhood. About how young black men are preying on old white women. About how blacks are ruining the city. And so forth.

You might hear this in bars and rec rooms. But you didn't hear much, if any, of this in the media, because saying such things is inexcusably racist. Even though these are empirical questions, which may or may not be true.

The point here is an old one: You can openly march on City Hall making the most outrageous claims about how an individual event involving a black "victim" proves the most racist hypotheses. And the press will dutifully report those claims, often sympathetically.

But stretching an individual event, such as a black man's attack on an old white woman, into sweeping generalizations about race is intolerable, never to be publicly uttered.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

You really don't think the fact that police officers were only involved in one of the incidents, makes them too different to compare? Should police officers perhaps be held to a higher standard of accountability than common muggers?

And the comparison would also fly better if some of your alleged "race dividers" were claiming anything about all white people.

And maybe also if we weren't waist-deep in a scandal about white police who got away with torturing black suspects for decades.

Wake up!

Amir said...

Mr. Byrne,
You missed a crucial point in your commentary. Precisely because nothing has been done, nor, it appears, will be done, about issues like CPD use of torture, these wrongs remain un-righted. If you want normalization of race relations in a city with a history like Chicago's, then somebody has to own this sordid past. When the report on torture was released, I didn't hear many CPD officers or former DAs, the mayor included, actually owning the fact that they were involved in, directly or indirectly, that widespread abuse. More recently, allegations of CPD attacks on Stateway Gardens residents suggests that this pattern of police brutality against vulnerable African-American populations still continues. So your words about demonizing the victim ring a bit false. You've painted only half a picture for us. If you were to tell the whole story, then the response of the members of the community who again claim police brutality would be much more understandable.

sirbOOm said...

Dennis,

FINALLY someone writes an article that actually tells the gosh darn truth! Your article was perfect! I am so sick of "the neglected" using events such as this to complain. Any person right of mind knows that the child was being irresponsible by waving a 45-look-a-like cap gun around and the parents were being poor role models by allowing their young child to even have one of those in such a setting.

Again, great article. Thank you for writing it.

Don said...

You are the one who needs to wake up, anonymous. Sure, officers need to be held to a higher standard than common citizens, but when someone points a gun at an officer, he deserves to be shot. There is really nothing to discuss, and certainly nothing to protest against.

Anonymous said...

And I thought I was the only one who felt this way! Dennis, I'm speechless. This was simply the best and most truthful article on the race issue that I have ever read. I don't know what else I can say becaue my words can't do justice to the pleasure I had in reading that article. I passed it on to several people within my office and they couldn't agree more. Great job.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with "sirboom".
I applaud you for the article. I read an article last week that quoted one of the protestors as saying "we birthed these children...." I couldn't help but think, you may have birthed them, but you sure didn't raise them! ANYONE disobeying a police officer's direct orders in a tense situation, especially one wielding a weapon, just might have to pay the consequences!
Learn to teach your children right from wrong!!

Hank Sheppard said...

Dennis,

Your example of how the media is quick to take the side of blacks is just one of many.

Consider the cases of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder and Dusty Baker.

Baker said of early in his Cubs tenure that whites weren't as good as minorities during day games because: "We were brought over here because we could work in the heat. Isn't that history? Your skin color is more conducive to heat than it is to the lighter-skinned people. I don't see brothers running around burnt. That's a fact. I'm not making this up. I'm not seeing some brothers walking around with some white stuff on their ears and noses."

Snyder made similar historical comments while drunk in a restaurant and lost his job for them. Baker says this in a press conference and no one blinks.

Hank Sheppard

Anonymous said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the community that suffered the shooting, WAKE UP! What is a kid in the inner city doing with a BB gun? Shooting at wayward pigeons? Rats? I ask those that question the police officers justified response, what would YOU do had you seen a kid with a BB gun that to all appearances looks like a "real" gun? Dismiss the kid as just playing with his toy BB gun? I highly doubt it...if anything, ANYONE walking by that kid that saw his weapon would be frightened, wondering if they were about to be robbed at gun point. The police response was JUSTIFIED. The parents here need to take responsibility for their children's actions. Again, what is a kid doing with a BB gun in the inner city?

Dana said...

Dear Mr. “Undercover Racist” Byrne,

Your article was subjective and appalling to read. I had to reread the commentary to ensure that my eyes were not deceiving me. If anyone was being “intellectually dishonest or ignorant”, it would be you. Are you trying to say that White police officers have never assaulted Black Civilians? Are you saying that Blacks have not been harassed or treated unjustly on a daily basis? I see it everyday. African Americans have been oppressed for years and have still continued to fight for rights to equal treatment, spanning from job opportunities to something as simple as service in a restaurant. Racism is still present.

I am not making excuses for ANYONE who commits crimes or any acts of violence whether Black or White. Compared to the fire power, training, and experience that the officers possessed, there was no reason for them to use excessive force on the minor. Yes, there was a weapon present (BB gun), but was there any other solution that could have been used to be less detrimental to the 14 year-old boy? I don’t know. But, your response was cold and heartless and I believe this is the stance of many, not all white people, and this is one of the many reasons that our country will continue to be racially divided.

Irate reader,

Dana P.

Anonymous said...

I was born into a poor white family and was later given a home by a poor white family. Poverty is no excuse for dishonest behavior. Plenty of people live lives of want without taking from others.
Point what looks like a real gun at a policeman and you're going to get shot. It's a fact of life especially in a big city, especially in todays world and especially in Cabrini Green.

Anonymous said...

There is a world of difference between agreeing that the police did what they had to do in this case, and buying the whacky racially-charged argument that Byrne makes in his rant.

If Byrne wants to show that the people protesting the shooting are racists, he needs to quote/cite some examples of blanket claims made by those people against a whole "race" (sic) of people. All the "comparison" claims he made concerning the Marquette Park matter were against a whole "race" of people.

The protests around this shooting focus on the behavior of ONE or at most TWO people. In fact (as written) the racist leap of inference is Byrne's -- and then he justtifies it with further examples of (hypothetical) racist invective...huh?

Less heat please and more light.

Don said...

Dana P,

It is attitudes like yours that are the problem. Being a minority is not an excuse for one's criminal behavior. Just because blacks have been oppressed does not mean that they are always blameless. The fact that racism exists is not a default excuse for anything and everything that one does wrong.

"...but was there any other solution that could have been used to be less detrimental to the 14 year-old boy?"

Are you kidding me??? This "14 year-old boy" pointed a gun at a police officer. What should the officer have done? Should he have stopped and asked, "Pardon me, but is that a real gun?" Police do not have time to ascertain whether or not the weapon being pointed at them is real. They only have enough time to save their own lives. The fact that this was a 14-year old boy is irrelevant. Absolutely irrelevant.

Jim P said...

Dr. Mr Byrne,
I am glad to have to opportunity to comment on your article. I am a white male who volunteers at Cabrini Green. I attended the march to City Hall last Thursday (but not the two earlier marches at Cabrini Green). I am disturbed by some of the ommissions of your article.

(1) you do not name anyone in the article. No organizations or individuals, just "the usual band of opportunists." Who are these people? I was there, and I saw about 200 Cabrini Green residents and 50 supporters from the south and west sides. There were other white people there as well. I saw people who are positive leaders in the Cabrini Green community organizing this march and asking for concrete rewards. Many marchers carried signs that said "I am not anti-police, I am anit-brutality." Sure, there where some people there with their own agenda, but 80% of the marchers were angry community members. The Tribune had a reporter there, Tanya Maxwell. Her article shows she was very aware of the nature of the event.

(2) If one examines the initial news reports, it is apparent that the police gave three different versions of what happens. Was the child waving the BB gun or was he putting it down and was shot in the act? What happened? The police reviewed the episode and gave the officers a free pass. This sounds all to familiar. What actually happened is contentious and will most likely be decided in civil court--- and not criminal court. It is looking like no charges will be filed against Ellis Woodland and if they do that they will not stick. This is also telling. (and yes, speculation)

(3) Context. The Burge report show WHY many African Americans in this city presume the worst. There will be no consequences for the past actions of the CPD for years of fales arrest, torture and false imprisonment. Cabrini Green residents have every reason to distrust whatever the police officers on the scene say happened. Why should the community, who know this kid is a nice boy not involved in gangs, believe what the police say about him. And after the Burge report and the decades of conspiracy, why should any of us take the police at their word.

(4)context part 2: Why was the boy carrying the BB gun? And who flagged down the police and why was can't they find this young man? For two years, there has been conflicy between the teenage boys at CAbrini Green and a group of guys from the nieghborhood nearby. This is not a gang conflict but rather a juvenile turf issue. I have spoken to a Park District Employee who says that the police will not even get out of their cars when the kids fight. The police have known about this confict for months and not done anything to abate it. Community leaders have tried to intervene and been unsuccessful. Ellis Woodland was walking to a ball game and walking through territory that was dangerous to him. And he could not rely on police protection.

(5) context part 3: The CPD has changed its tactics in Cabrini Green lately. For the last 3-6 months they have increasingly arrested young men for tresspassing in Cabrini Green. Most of these young men have been released without charges. Many of them are arrested visiting friends or even in their own buildings. I know one man (who is a lease holder in Cabrini Green) in his thirties you is unable to go into his sisters building to pick up his children after work because he been arrested in the act previously.

What I am trying to say is that the community outrage about this shooting of a child is not random. This is not opportunism but the release of bottled up frustration and rage. It is the result of a pattern of events. From reading your article, I do not get the impression that you have spoken to anyone involved. I encourage you to do so.

jims said...

Mr. Byrne, Thank you for a great column. I passed it around to many.

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

The reason incidents of alleged minority victimization get more attention is that, historically, minorities have been the victims. People with black-sounding names are less likely to get job interviews, so prejudice is still alive and well. When it finally ends, so will the double standard of victimization.

Dave said...

I saw one of my recent favorite words, “empirical”, in the column. So, I’ll use that as a prompt to offer a comment. A small bit of background - I work as a statistician, and I’m interested in Bayesian statistics in the philosophy of science. It is the modern empiricist response to the “social construction” theories of science of the late 20th century. From this perspective, I would argue that science can indeed be objective, with a few qualifications. One qualification is that while science can provide objective answers to questions, there is really no such thing as a completely unbiased question. Often our questions will be value dependent. I think that idea has application here.

If I ask “Is it justifiable for a police office to shoot someone pointing a BB gun at her, if she mistakes it for a real gun?”, the unbiased answer to that question (without asking other questions), is pretty clearly “yes”.

If on the other hand I ask a question like “Would a white youth in an affluent white suburb be as likely to be shot in the same situation as a black youth from an inner city neighborhood?”, I think an unbiased answer to this question (without asking other questions), is pretty clearly “no”. The officer is less likely to immediately perceive a real threat.

The different perspectives on the issue are not due to the inability to provide unbiased answers to questions. The differences come from the fact that the different values of the different groups lead them to view different questions as more important.

Englewood Ranger said...

Dear Sir,

Wonderful article. I understand what you are saying. Just like the Beverly Park incident the "seperatists" were no where to be found. Where was Jessie, and Meeks when that white kid got beat up and robbed by black kids because he was "a goofy looking white kid"? Nowhere to be found but if the table was turned and the white kids beat up the "goofy looking black kid". Glad to see someone has actually put out some quality work. Also to you mopes putting up about how poor blacks were tortured by the police that was quite some time ago. Things don't work that way anymore. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

The article is correct!
I am black and I am a police officer. When confronted in a life and death situation police officer's have only seconds to assess the situation and react. You dont have time to ask people whether the gun is real. I lost my best friend to a criminals gun.

It would help more if the community encouraged people to not commit robberies and to obey the orders that they are given by police officers to drop their weapon. I have a son that does not commit robberies and my least concern is that he will put himself in a situation to be shot by a police officer, because of how I raised him.

"Dont point a weapon or fake weapon at an officer....and you wont get shot". Theres nothing racial about it and it makes a lot of sense.

Despite what has happened in the past involving Chicago officers, when the same people who are jumpimg up and down about the injustice of this shooting call 911, they are going to pray for the arrival of a police officer and be thankful.

Shooting a juvenile is a horrible feeling but not reacting and losing your own life is a greater tragedy!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for finaly printing the facts that so many other journalists are afraid to state. I am just a blue collar worker in the city and I don't dislike police or black people based on the fact that they are police or black people, I dislike individuals that that do not want to or don't know how to interact in a civilized community. Most police and black people do know how to interact and I believe that it is a very small percentage that creates a very large part of the problem. When the media is afraid to state the truth as you have, they are compounding an already out of control situation.

jurw said...

i agree an excellent article. Any time there is an argument/confrontation between involving a black person they immediately hijack the argument and charge overt or latent racism. So many other groups struggle/ no group has more excuses.

EmB said...

Whoa Horse! slow down for a minute.
First of all, to all of YOU Liberals and socialists wannabe's get a life. I do not know under what stretch of the imagination that anyone would believe or quote that (1) family suffering under duress, with an accompanying bunch of idiots are some sort of mandate fom the Black Communities of Chicago. Once again "WHITE MEDIA" types have determine who and what speaks for the Black Citizens of Chicago. Dennis Byrne in his wisdom has determined that the ranting and ravings of appx: 200 Vocal, Locals Nitwits are expressing the beliefs of the entire Black Community of Chicago. Dennis it is you and your media friends who attempt to determine via print, who is and isn't leaders of the Black Communities. I been here over 50 years, and not once have I voted for " A Leader of the Black Community" Personally I don't know of any other Blacks who have.It was your media that decided that J. Jackson, Sharpton, Meeks, and Jakes were the undisputed voices of Black America. It was "White Media" that gave voices and recognition to these babbling idiots in Cabrini. There are more then a few BLACKS who aren't really broken up, regarding the shooting of this THUG TO BE!
You have a problen with Cabrini or any other Public Housing site in this city, maybe you should have been pecking on your typewriter keys, when City Fathers decided it would be best to stock pile all of these poor people in a designated areas to keep them from spreading through out the city, maybe someone should have address the infamous "WILLIS WAGONS" which where used to keep city schools segregated, maybe there should have been people that were upset that BLACKS had to sue the City of Chicago, just to be on the Fire Department and Police Dept. at tax payers expenses, there are more then enough fingers that can be pointed in every directions, by every racial group that exsist. It was you and "WHITE MEDIA" that open the door for the blame game, now you have the audacity, the unmitigated gall to feel offended, you pumped the water, so drown in it...........

Anonymous said...

Dennis,

Great article. My most sincere appreciation goes out to you for printing something that will probably never see the light of day again.

My favorite sign from the protest was "Police = Terrorists". Personally, having worked in the area as a police officer, I always felt it was the gun-toting, gang-banging dope dealers that were the terrorists. Evidently I ust have been mistaken. While I admit that some nefarious activity has been attributed to police officers (Burge, etc...), I can't for the life of me figure out why every time something happens, it's always the same rhetoric. A bit of free advice for the protesters: Pick something that happened recently. And for those who claim nothing was done, Burge was fired! As far as jail time goes, that's another story. But, the statute of limitations is for everyone, not just your friends.
A last bit of trivia for you Dennis to end with. How many bullet holes are in the Fire Department building at the corner of Larrabee and Division and who was responsible and why? And, to answer your question, no, it wasn't the police!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article and appreciate someone can step up and say how it is. Thank you for writing it.

I am concerned, however, with what appears to be more planning on the part of the city to resettle the Cabrini residents if I understand this correctly from a recent article on the shooting. There was a quote in which a Cabrini resident said that those in the remaining Cabrini buildings don't know where they are going. This to me seems like a dangerous situation. Tell people they must move but there's nowhere for them to go yet? I don't think that aspect of black relations is being handled right.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article and appreciate someone can step up and say how it is. Thank you for writing it.

I am concerned, however, with what appears to be more planning on the part of the city to resettle the Cabrini residents if I understand this correctly from a recent article on the shooting. There was a quote in which a Cabrini resident said that those in the remaining Cabrini buildings don't know where they are going. This to me seems like a dangerous situation. Tell people they must move but there's nowhere for them to go yet? I don't think that aspect of black relations is being handled right.

Anonymous said...

Mr Bryne-

I can agree that there are many times in the media where the side of "Blacks" are given sympathy for the areas and conditions that they live in by exposing how law authorities profile them.

True that this is an incident with police violence in a dodgy part of Chicago's streets, but it doesn't mean to say that it is a direct reflection of of the state of police brutality against "Blacks."

You also are a part of the media machine when you take the adamant point of the being against the knee-jerk reaction of playing the sympathizing journalist.

I thought your article was contrary for contrary's sake and not a good example for you to make your point with. This child is still in the hospital recovering, but that doesn't give you the right to say he deserves being there for what he had done.

As a journalist it pains me to see you taking avantage of the injury of an adolescent to make your absurd point of how people overreact due the media.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very true article that was written. The boy deserved to be shot. In this day and age a police officer has every right to defend themselves, given that a younger age group is more capable of commiting acts of violence. As for those who were protesting, all the pictures in the paper had people that looked so high they didn't even know what they were protesting about. These people need to become more responsible for their kids and if they can't do that they shouldn't be having kids.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realized that there were so many ignorant individuals out there that actually believe that a young black male in an "impoverished" neighborhood would waive any type of weapon at a police officer, I wouldn't care if it was a neon water gun!

One of the first lessons for young black men in any urban area is how to respond to police officers. Not only is this taught at hoem and in the community, but it is taught by examples.

Plain and simple, if you're old enough to read this, you're old enough not to believe everything you read.

Jean said...

Every so often we hear about someone who moved out of a neighborhood to get away from the dangers posed by violent criminals - then returns to visit and is victimized by one of those criminals. Usually, the victim is a young black person. But this latest story involved an elderly white woman. I thought the lesson has always been, when you leave an area for this reason, you must never go back, even for a short visit, until it changes drastically for the better. This story shows that anyone might be foolish enough to ignore this lesson. It's very sad, but when you leave, you don't acquire a bubble of safety around you which will protect you on a return visit.

Bruce said...

We can view these incidents in a race neutral way and "kid shot by cops" trumps "granny forgets why she left dangerous neiborhood" every time. Racial divide? Is that a shovel I see behind your door?

Anonymous said...

As a Chicago Police Officer, I cannot thank you enough for that article.

What is society coming to when a weapon is pointed at an officer and the officer is not expected to protect himself against the threat?

For anyone who states that this is only a 14 year boy, come work the streets with police officers and see what damage kids can do today.

Why isn't the black community asking about the boy's parents? That's where the outrage should be. But it's easier to blame the police for everything.

If you are pointing a weapon at a police officer we don't have time to ask you if it's real. Bottom line, don't point a weapon at a police officer and you won't get shot whether you are white or black.

For this to be turned into a race issue is a disgrace.

I'm happy that my fellow Chicago Police officers were able to draw their weapons in time so they could go home to their families.

Anonymous said...

amazing that so many people will swallow a comparison between unspecified statements by unidentified "race dividers" -- vs. very inflammatory statements made by nobody but DenAFlame...and somehow agree that because the hypothetical racism is bad, the never-even-quoted "bias" must also be bad?!

Earth to readers -- this was an article to push your buttons. No actual facts were part of your knee-jerk reactions! Nice job Denny!

Anonymous said...

I read with interest your article on "Widening the Racial Divide". You were right on the mark. I was born and raised in Chicago in the Lawndale neighborhood which was primarily Jewish. I am not Jewish, but when the neighborhood was changing my parants were accosted on the street (purse stolen)and I was also accosted by several minorities. Our house was also robbed. Although we could not afford to move, we had to.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Byrne for writing this article and printing the truth. I came from a changing neighborhood and your article hits home.

Anonymous said...

The first point id like to make is that Ellis allegedly pointed a look-alike BB Gun at an officer. The police says that Ellis pointed a weapon at them and it was taken as fact. I guess it couldnt be that the police found a reason to shoot at a young black man and took the opportunity. From what i know, the police requested Ellis put the weapon down, he proceeded to do so, and was shot. It was wrong for Ellis to carry a BB Gun in any way, but just as that is true, this is also true - Any black male living in Cabrini-Green knows full well not to point anything, even a black pen or a cell phone at a police officer. Before anyone starts taking what the officer said as truth, get Ellis's side of the story, which im sure will be something like what i told you. There's a history of tension between the police and the community in Cabrini, are you defenders of the police so naive to believe that they(the police) are not crooked and what they say is true. The police who shot him know the truth and if he did shoot Ellis unjustifiably he'd have to live with that for the rest of his life. I know thats not something i'd want on my conscious.

Anonymous said...

The first point id like to make is that Ellis allegedly pointed a look-alike BB Gun at an officer. The police says that Ellis pointed a weapon at them and it was taken as fact. I guess it couldnt be that the police found a reason to shoot at a young black man and took the opportunity. From what i know, the police requested Ellis put the weapon down, he proceeded to do so, and was shot. It was wrong for Ellis to carry a BB Gun in any way, but just as that is true, this is also true - Any black male living in Cabrini-Green knows full well not to point anything, even a black pen or a cell phone at a police officer. Before anyone starts taking what the officer said as truth, get Ellis's side of the story, which im sure will be something like what i told you. There's a history of tension between the police and the community in Cabrini, are you defenders of the police so naive to believe that they(the police) are not crooked and what they say is true. The police who shot him know the truth and if he did shoot Ellis unjustifiably he'd have to live with that for the rest of his life. I know thats not something i'd want on my conscious.