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Monday, November 12, 2007

Step forward, be a community

Daley is right: ID the suspects

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

What more proof do we need that Mayor Richard Daley has lost his mind? How else can you explain his recent public scolding of the Back of the Yards community for not ratting out the shooters who killed a pregnant woman in front of her three children on Halloween?

It's exactly what so many of us think every time someone gets killed in the crossfire between gangs, but it's a truth that no one dare speak for fear of getting raked over the coals. Unless he is out of his mind.

"You know who did it," Daley told several hundred people who had gathered for an end-the-violence rally. "Don't be blaming the police. Look in the mirror and say, 'I can do better.' ... If you don't turn these individuals in, you'll be marching for the rest of your life."

He spoke the truth, and it took courage. Some undoubtedly will accuse him of "blaming the victim," which is sociological coinage for, "You can't say anything negative about victims." It's like saying, "If a woman doesn't want to be stared at, she shouldn't dress provocatively." Only a primitive would say such a thing.

When it comes to the causes of violence, the willingness to be victims can't be overlooked. It is simply inconceivable that the gang members were complete strangers to every single person in the neighborhood. Yet no one is willing to step forward to identify the shooters and, hence, to help stop the violence. This is not an isolated case.

We're told that the witnesses are too terrified to step forward: "Ha, you have no concept what it is to live in a neighborhood infected by gang violence and hopelessness. Identifying the shooters can get you killed!"

All true. I don't know what it is like. I'm fortunate enough to live in a community free of such fears. Most of us do. But that doesn't make the principle any less valid. Daley is right; nothing will save a community if it isn't willing to save itself, all the candlelight marches demanding an end to the violence notwithstanding.

Daley's frustration with the treatment of his police department is obvious, and it's not unexpected that he pleads for us not to blame the police, who constantly are being assaulted -- sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly -- by charges of excessive force. Just a few weeks ago, Daley's emotions overflowed when he was responding to demands for the release of the names of cops most frequently accused of brutality. In that case, he overemoted; the public, I believe, has a right to the names.

But sometimes the complaints are just bellyaching. Days before, Daley was presented with knee-jerk criticism of police officers who used a Taser to stun an 82-year-old woman who was brandishing a hammer. Daley expressed proper amazement and distress, but wasn't so quick to condemn the police, as were some others, before knowing all the facts.

The police had been called to the woman's home because Department on Aging employees trying to do a well-being check were face to face with the hammer-swinging, belligerent, mentally ill woman. When she refused to put down the hammer, the police zapped her. Which brought on the furies: She was just a tiny, little thing, confronting people who "forced" their way into her house; she was within her rights to refuse police entry; the police should have found a better way to subdue her (with their nightsticks?); she wasn't a danger to herself or neighbors (although I'm not sure how they were supposed to know that in the heat of the moment); and so forth.

Maybe the police should have said, "OK, suit yourself. We're gone." You can imagine the criticism then: "Just another example how police aren't doing their jobs. They wouldn't have deserted their responsibility if it had been in a white or better-off neighborhood." And so forth.

No, I'm not in favor of the willy-nilly Tasering of grandmothers. I'm married to one. But I do wish that the folks who are so hard on the cops would get their demands straight. The cops are condemned for supposedly failing to protect the neighborhoods from the punks, but witnesses then refuse to name names in the most egregious of murders. We are supposed to believe cops randomly pick on innocent people for -- what? -- the fun of it? We're supposed to be outraged that in one crime-ridden Chicago Housing Authority development, the police ask residences to carry identification cards voluntarily so that the officers can keep away outsiders who bring drugs and violence into the neighborhood.

All I know is that I wouldn't want to be a Chicago cop.

1 comment:

Keith Johnson said...

Monday, November 12, 2007

In this column (November 12) (“Step forward, be a community”), Dennis Byrne makes this slur upon my profession: “Some undoubtedly will accuse him [Mayor Daley] of ‘blaming the victim,’ which is sociological coinage for, ‘You can’t say anything negative about victims.’” I have been racking my brain to imagine where Byrne came up with this idea that sociologists promote victimology.

The concept that “victims” were somehow freed from responsibility for their state and their acts was originally promoted by psychologists, especially in regard to mental health (an ‘illness’) and drug use (an ‘addiction’) to justify treatment rather than punishment for their patients. Eventually advocates for various groups took up the cause, stating claims that their members were victims, and therefore could demand special treatment. Finally we have lawyers arguing in court (using the ‘abuse excuse’) to justify criminal acts, since they were done by ‘victims.’

The role of the sociologist in all this has been to study and document the rise of victimology, for it goes against a fundamental principle of sociology, that a social relationship involves mutual responsibility for the outcome, and the victim role is not blameless.

Perhaps Byrne has confused the "abuse excuse" with the sociological concept of "victimless crime" which involves consenting adults and no victim at all (like being gay and engaging in gay like behavior (see Senator Craig's bathroom arrest for a good example). These actually are opposed concepts, one that an offender can be excused for causing harm, and the other, where harm has to be defined as existing outside the relationship, as in harm to the community or society. The second concept is what Byrne seems to be reaching for, as he tries to explain why community members who individually are protecting themselves by not reporting a crime in their community are also harming their community by their inaction.

So instead of attacking sociology, Burne should be applying it and get those ideas straight. Good luck.

Keith R. Johnson, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Sociology, Oakton Community College
1856 Sherman Avenue, Evanston 60201


William Ryan (a psychologist): Blaming the Victim. Vintage Books, 1972 (The first book stating the claim)

Saundra Davis Westervelt (a sociologist): Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense. Rutgers University Press, 1998 (a book which gives the history of how special claims to be a victim have been studied by sociologists)