Updated: April 30, 2011 4:45AM
A large pool of blood in the middle of the street — congealed, dried and frozen — was all that was left at the scene of a Wednesday morning shooting in the 6900 block of South Marshfield when reporters arrived for a press conference called by mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun.
I didn’t notice the blood at first, not until a guy accidentally walked through it and everybody yelled at him. That’s when I finally realized all the cameras were set up to point in the direction of the blood, with the microphone stand in the foreground, so that Braun could use the grisly scene as a backdrop.
If there had ever been any doubt as to why Braun had summoned us to this West Englewood location on short notice, the pool of blood erased any doubt. We were there on a dare, unstated but also unmistakable.
Braun was daring us to ask her questions about her income tax returns and personal financial problems when weightier issues of life and death were staring us right in the face.
It’s an old political manuever. Rod Blagojevich used it a lot, especially in those months before his arrest. He’d call a press conference on some issue of legitimate public importance, with members of the affected interest group arrayed around him, daring the reporters he’d been dodging for weeks to change the subject by asking about the federal investigation bearing down on him.
In this case, Braun had only avoided the press for barely two days after arousing a swarm of interest with her refusal Monday to release her tax returns, followed by her reversal Tuesday when she made public portions of the returns without any substantive explanation for the bleak picture they painted of her finances.
So when an advisory went out that Braun would speak out against a shooting that had occurred that morning at this corner “where three young men were gunned down,” all media outlets hurried to the scene.
Braun was all business when she arrived and stepped gravely to the microphones, surrounded by a group of sober-faced men.
“The level of violence and murder in Chicago is completely unacceptable,” she said. “The crime statistics that the superintendent and the police department published last week, trying to convince us that murders are down in Chicago, are misleading. The level of violence has not decreased. The number of drive-by shootings, and the amount of random violence has not decreased. What has happened is that the technology is better. Technology from our wars is keeping some of these young people alive while they otherwise might have died. With this shooting today, I’m told one young man has died and the others are in different conditions. We send our condolences to the mother and the families of the young men who have died.”
“As mayor,” Braun concluded, “I will not tolerate this type of conduct.”
Well, she got part of it right. The level of violence and murder in Chicago IS completely unacceptable. Nobody has said otherwise.
As to this particular shooting, however, Braun’s information was a bit suspect.
According to police, two boys were shot at the location, not three, and more importantly, nobody had died as a result, although one of them was said to be critically wounded. The medical examiner’s office confirmed it had not been notified of a death, so either Braun is really on the cutting edge of this murder statistic cover-up by police, or she got her facts wrong.
Her campaign never responded to my request for clarification as to the identity of the victim, which is one reason I strongly believe the latter explanation.
Mistakes happen. Even without a death, the blood alone was enough to convince anyone this was the scene of a serious crime.
What’s less easy to overlook is Braun’s reckless suggestion that crime statistics showing murder to be down are misleading.
The numbers are the numbers. Homicides were down more than 5 percent last year, falling to 435 from 460 in 2009. It was the city’s lowest homicide total since 1965.
As Police Supt. Jody Weis told our Frank Main in response to Braun, “Individuals are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to a separate set of facts.”
Braun’s comments feed into a mind-set in some parts of our city that the police are fudging the statistics, which is irresponsible for a candidate for mayor without facts. As far as medical technology, it was pointed out murders were up in New York, where doctors presumably have access to technology, too.
On her financial woes, reporters finally took Braun’s dare. It probably won’t surprise you she didn’t want to talk about it.
“There’s a kid laying up dead,” she said. “Come on guys, be responsible yourselves.”