Convoluted Nonsense: Chicago

(Something from the draft pile from a month or two ago, that is sadly still pertinent.)

Over the course of reading American history and especially the history of education in America, I’ve developed an interest in Chicago’s history. Also, there was a time about 15-20 years ago when I had a number of customers in Chicago, and so made a trip or three there each year. I still get there occasionally. I’m familiar enough with the city to get the Chicago references in the Matrix without having to look them up.

Today’s absurdities/fake news comes out of Chicago – hardly a surprise. Chicago’s press, such as it is, is remarkable for its ability to ignore the obvious and simultaneously double down and minimize anything that makes the city, and, more importantly, the progressive project the city embodies, look bad. (1) I recall a while back, when googling around for information on Fred Roti, a lifetime Illinois politician, long-time city alderman, son of Mafia hit man Bruno “the Bomber” Roti, FBI-identified made man and convicted criminal, that I found an article about how Fred was just the nicest guy, a true lover of the city and patriot, that the FBI was clearly picking on him, and that law enforcement was the real criminal here. This appeared in one of the major Chicago papers back in the early 90s. This was the man who, for his decades as an alderman, always voted first – clearly, the rest of the city council, in their humility, needed the guidance of his example before doing something so stupid as voting against Roti.

The eminations coming out of the Chicago press defending Chicago are suspect in exactly the same way as the enthusiasm of the 2nd alderman to vote after Roti.

Problem: Chicago has a huge problem with gun violence. People kill each other with alarming frequency. Here’s not at all ever fake news CNN:

Chicago marked 2016 as the deadliest year in nearly two decades, data released by the Chicago Police Department shows.

The city saw a surge in gun violence in 2016: 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents, and 4,331 shooting victims, according to a statement released by the department on Sunday.

There were 480 murders in 2015, the most in the city since 1997.

Sounds like things are getting worse. Compare this with the situation in Houston, a similar sized city with a similarly diverse population:

Houston had 302 homicides in 2016, one fewer than a recorded 303 homicides in 2015, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced.

Houston has about 2.2 million people, Chicago about 2.7 million. By the magic of math, we see that Houston has a murder rate per 100,000 people of 14; while Chicago’s is 28. In other words, if murders are evenly distributed (fat chance), one would have twice as high a chance of getting murdered in Chicago as in Houston. However the murders are distributed, there were twice as many per capita in Chicago as in Houston in 2016. Further, Houston had a slight decrease in murders while Chicago had about a 59% increase.

Now, one might conclude from this that it seems likely, barring some pertinent additional information, that whatever the city of Chicago is doing to reduce murder rates isn’t working, while whatever Houston is doing seems to be working a better.

One might turn to the piece linked below in search of whatever might explain the murder rate differences. It is, after all, titled A Reporter Explains What Out-Of-Towners Keep Getting Wrong About Chicago Violence. Hey! I’m an out of towner! And I think Chicago’s murder rate – violence par excellence! – is twice as high as Houston’s because, well, it is. So, what am I getting wrong?

A reporter with the fine name of Evan Moore (no relation as far as I know) was approached by people wanting to make a documentary about Chicago, to get a sort of insider view.

After running down a list of what he liked about my work, he asked me to take him somewhere “relatively safe” on the South Side.

After shaking my head in disbelief, I wrote back asking what his definition of “safe” was. I didn’t hear back from him, but his associate offered a meeting at a coffee shop.

It was clear that the guy wanted to cover the violence in Chicago from a controlled environment. More importantly, he already had a preconceived notion about Chicago that he was going to use to shape his film.

I find this fascinating. I once visited the South Side – University of Chicago, to be specific – and *locals* were giving me all sorts of ‘stay away from there’ advise. They, people living on the South Side, seemed to have opinions more like the people doing the documentary than Mr. Moore. (2)

Also, as is so often the case among our media, our intrepid reporter has leet mind-reading skillz. He *knows* the documentary maker is going to use ‘preconceived notions’ to ‘shape’ his film.  Now, it is fair to assume that the filmmaker has notions about Chicago. They may even be ‘preconceived’ if by that phrase we mean ‘different from what he would have if he knew the city better’. What’s missing are reasons to suppose bad intent on the part of the filmmaker, other than the reporter supposing it.

Now, a simple man, especially a simple man with no bone to pick, might imagine that the documentary maker was soliciting input from locals precisely to ameliorate the effects of his ignorance, with the hope that he would then be able to present a better, truer picture of Chicago in his film. How Moore knows the filmmaker is going to ‘shape’ the film using ‘preconceived’ notions is, based on the information given in the article, borderline calumny – he wants us to believe that this unnamed documentary film maker is out to get Chicago, to sell preconceived notions – meaning negative notions, of course – to show how bad he imagines violence in the city to be. A responsible reporter (I slay me!) would never suggest such an unfavorable interpretation without, well, some facts.

Related image
Downtown, under the L. I’ve whiled away hours walking these streets. Fun. Very alive place. The picture captures, I think, something essential about Chicago’s soul: we need a train here. So stick it here! Not something you’d see in London or even LA.

Now, to be fair, I’ve lived in either LA and the Bay Area almost all my life, and people do get crazy notions about safety. You want to go to Watts or Compton or East LA? Fine, nobody will bother you if you just do your business. Just don’t leave stuff in your car, or park someplace out of the way where it might get stolen or stripped. And don’t just go hang out on the streets in the wee hours. Same goes for Oakland, except that about 75% of that city is really pretty suburban or even upscale. The only time I’ve gotten mugged in my life was at the LA Coliseum when I was a teen, and that was because I was lost in thought and got separated from my friends (who came back to check on me before things got ugly). Stuff happens. Personally, Berkeley, especially around Cal, is the worse, because people will steal your stuff in the blink of an eye. Kind of like in Rome.

So, yea, people get wrong ideas. But you straighten them out. You don’t accuse them of trying to set you up and produce propaganda – unless you’re willing to lay down a lot more evidence to support that idea than is presented in the article.

I understand why people want to come to Chicago to document the violence here. After all, Chicago has a long history of it—from Al Capone to Chief Keef. Chicago has always been considered sexy due to the violence. From the outside looking in, many media pundits, parachute journalists, and the people in the comment section in every media outlet known to man seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.

Who considers Chicago ‘sexy’ due to the violence? Any real people you can name? I would not use the word ‘sexy’ to describe anything about Chicago, let alone the violence. (And starting the violence with Capone is late – how about “Bathhouse” John Coughlin- or the Haymarket Riot, occasioned at least partly by voting fraud that never takes place? The not at all sexy history of violence in Chicago goes way back.) Millennium Park is cool, the Art Institute is lovely, the architecture down town is beautiful. Great restaurants. Nice museums. Other than that, it’s mostly a big, kinda dirty city – that is full of life, which is why, I suppose, people like big cities so much in the first place. I can dig it. Colorful might be a better overall term.

“…seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.” Let’s see: 762 divided by 365 would indicate that, on average, more than 2 people are getting murdered by *somebody* someplace in Chicago on a daily basis – which might explain the attitude. This would be the point at which a responsible reporter (can’t slay me, already dead) would throw down some facts, something that contradicts what seems on the surface a pretty reasonable position. The statistics I’ve seen largely support the idea that white people killing other white people or white people killing black people isn’t nearly the problem black people killing black people is – but hey, Mr. Reporter, I could be persuaded by some clear information here.

I’m thinking it’s the “…no one in those communities seems to care” that is the point of interest. But wait: Who, again, would imagine such a thing? I, for one, would not in a million years suppose that the people *in the community* in which the murders are taking place don’t “care” – I would assume that they care passionately. How could they not, if it’s their children and brothers and fathers getting killed? The idea that there are people imagining they don’t care is preposterous. One might get that impression cherry-picking the Internet, I suppose. But how about somebody on the record saying such a thing?

Who I would assume don’t care are those who do not live in the neighborhood. Political ideologues, for example, don’t care, those for whom murder is a complex and difficult problem the causes of which are nothing so simple as anger, jealousy, greed, and the desperation and insanity that spring up and thrive like so many mushrooms on the wreckage of destroyed families. (3)  If your ideology requires that you hate and oppose all the traditional supports for families – churches, making divorce hard, making abortion illegal, recognizing marriage and family as greater, more fundamental goods than any state – then you’ll be forced to come up with other supposed supports, such as ever-growing social services, even if such ‘help’ by its very nature divorces the individual from local ties and marries him to a distant bureaucracy. Like Vietnamese villages, we evidently must destroy the neighborhoods in order to save them.

Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. If so, arguments and numbers might be presented to explain it, or at least to suggest an avenue of exploration. There are no numbers in the article itself. Numbers may be what are giving out of towners their wrong impressions, after all. There are a few links to other articles in the same paper that take exactly the same approach – but do have some numbers. Maybe I’ll take a crack at them later. On the surface, none struck me as very helpful presentations, in that they do, in fact, show Chicago as a comparative disaster in terms of murder rates, yet never really offer any reasons why that aren’t highly speculative and frankly self-serving.

They focus on the amount of deaths and shootings, but not the systemic issues that have festered over time. That’s where the meat of Chicago’s problems are at.

Here’s an assertion. Given the lack of data and argument, one might call it a religious dogma. What gives Chicago such a tragic high and lonely destiny, murder wise, as opposed to other large, diverse American cities? Why don’t those systemic issues show up in the same magnitude in New York? Or Houston?

Chicago is increasingly a talking point of white supremacists and conservative media. After all, Chicago is often looked upon as everything that can wrong when you let liberals run a big city. President Donald Trump recently threatened to send in the National Guard (or in his words, “the feds”), and recently discussed our city with a select group of black people. Previously, Trump falsely claimed that two people were shot during President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago. He tweeted the numbers of shootings and killings in Chicago, along with calling our city “War Zone,” in meeting with black “leaders” at the White House.

Ah! Now we play the white supremacist card, and link it with the simple word ‘and’ to conservative media. Sure. Why not? That a Chicago neighborhood dweller can’t see any material difference is not an indictment of his eyesight, but rather proof that the overlap of the Venn diagram is near perfect. In classic critical theory, everything is explained as a function of economics, thus rendering all non-economic causes invisible. Here, in accord with the current more flexible iteration of critical theory, race takes the place of economics – that the (undefined – kind of a running theme, here) conservative media might say something from a place other than mere racism is conclusively presumed to be impossible.

Next, if any black person deigns to talk with Trump, that fact alone proves conclusively that they are not black leaders, but black “leaders”.

As you may have noticed, our president, and those who chide our city from the outside, never mention how it’s a small sample of hurt people in hurt communities that commit violent acts towards one another. That stance is willfully ignorant of the importance of investing in poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies that can help our communities in the long-run.

There are no arguments. We are merely presented with a story about preconceived notions, the presumed bad intent of some filmmaker, wild and nonsensical accusations that unnamed out of towners think locals don’t care about their family members and neighbors getting killed, a dismissal of the idea – supported by the numbers we’re not seeing – that minorities in the neighborhoods tend to kill each other at a much higher rate than the larger community. We are then told, in conclusion, what to do: invest in “poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies”.  Because it’s not like Chicago has been at the forefront of such efforts for a century or more, with the results we see before our eyes….

We report, you decide has passed even from memory; we report and decide has been taken off life support. We’ll tell you what to think is passing before our eyes into we’ll tell you what to feel on its way to we’ll tell you what to do.

  1. Which, if they ever even acknowledge anything wrong with the way the city is run, is always nuanced and complicated, in their view, and in any event the possibility it might have something to do with 100 years of Progressive politics is never raised except to be mocked.  As the linked piece demonstrates.
  2. The University employs 140 police officers. Not security guards, but people with police powers, who patrol University grounds and also patrol some of the nearby streets. I don’t think UCLA or Stanford does this.
  3. I tended to discount stories about how social programs destroy families – seemed overstated, at least. However,  we’ve gotten to know a young family through the local Gabriel Project. Black, poor, from shattered families, but heroic – the mom kept her baby, dad didn’t run away but stayed and eventually married the mother of his child. They both work low end jobs. Crazy hard life, but they’re trying! Well, the mom told my wife recently that a social services person told her that her husband should move out, that as long as he stayed, there were severe limits on what they could do for her and the baby, but if he were out of the picture, there would be more aid available. Pure evil. I wish I could be sure this is an unintended consequence.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Convoluted Nonsense: Chicago”

  1. I tended to discount stories about how social programs destroy families – seemed overstated, at least. However, we’ve gotten to know a young family through the local Gabriel Project. Black, poor, from shattered families, but heroic – the mom kept her baby, dad didn’t run away but stayed and eventually married the mother of his child. They both work low end jobs. Crazy hard life, but they’re trying! Well, the mom told my wife recently that a social services person told her that her husband should move out, that as long as he stayed, there were severe limits on what they could do for her and the baby, but if he were out of the picture, there would be more aid available. Pure evil. I wish I could be sure this is an unintended consequence.

    That’s the most direct line noticeable. There’s another line I’ve begun to suspect and am formulating. I call it “the asshole threshold.” (or “pride threshold” if you want something more religious and less crude)

    To quote myself from another comment elsewhere:

    The ultimate problem is that people will eventually hate each other. Sure we may get along for awhile, but eventually we’re going to do something to anger each other. Then, while I may need to get out of the house once in awhile but why would I want to do anything with that bastard Joseph who won’t pay me back? Or that guy John who hit on my wife? Or Nathan who is just generally creepy? Why work things out? It’s easier to just ignore them and go do other things. So of course communities disintegrate.

    Conversely, for an example let’s look at when lodges provided health insurance.

    (seriously, watch that video) Now, if I need health insurance, I’m going to stick around in the lodge and work things out with Joseph, John, Nathan, and others in that lodge because I have an incentive more powerful than my feelings.

    Likewise it’s pretty clear that back in the day, people’s principle retirement plan was their children. So there was a great incentive to not only get married, but have lots of kids and raise them for your own sake & health if no other.

    Nowadays? Retirement is taken care of. Health is taken care of. So what incentive do I have to swallow my pride and work things out with the wife or the guys? It’s of no consequence for me to just move on and go elsewhere.

    The Left wants to remove all hindrances to a person’s whim and then wonders why nobody practices self discipline. They assume you can pile food on everybody’s plate and not get an obesity epidemic because everybody just loves to exercise.

    Well they won’t, and as long as there’s no incentive out there stronger than people’s pride (and we can be VERY proud), then the results we see are to be expected. If we want to build communities and families – we’re going to have to give people a reason to be in either. As long as we have government subsidies for our pride, there’s no reason to be humble.

    And humility is needed for family, and community.

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