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Yes, it’s news when mobs beat the innocent

Updated: September 18, 2011 12:15AM



I’m hearing this from more than one reader, more than a couple of listeners.

It goes like this: “So when a bunch of black kids attack a white guy downtown, it’s front page news — but if the same thing happened to a black guy in Englewood, you guys in the media wouldn’t even cover it.”

The short answer: You’re right.

But what’s your point? That race and social status and geography play a factor in news coverage? There’s a shocker.

First, if there were a series of incidents in which packs of teenagers — white, black, green, whatever — attacked innocent victims in any neighborhood, of course it would get coverage. But yes, we’re seeing much more news coverage about these mob attacks than has been devoted to more violent crimes in other neighborhoods that have occurred over the same time period.

That doesn’t mean the editors of newspapers, radio stations, online sites and TV stations are racist. It just means they understand the definition of news.

It’s news to us

If I wanted to devote every one of my columns for an entire year to crime in certain neighborhoods in Chicago, I would never run out of material. Never. And by the second week, you’d stop reading the column because you’d think: This isn’t newsworthy. This happens every day.

That groups of teenagers are swarming into downtown stores, attacking people on the Gold Coast and on the North Side, is the very definition of news. It’s unusual, it’s shocking, it has people talking, it has attracted national interest, it affects the image of the city — and yes, there are social and racial elements. We are talking about black teenagers who almost certainly have not been given a level playing field on which to develop, and by the age of 16 or so, they’re so hardened to life they think nothing of randomly attacking innocent strangers. (I’m not excusing their actions for a moment. There are no excuses. I’m saying that as we all know, there’s more to the story than the headlines or the shorthand.)

We’re talking a city on the verge of a long hot summer, with a new mayor and a new police chief dealing with a crisis that has everyone in the city talking. The dominant conversation in Chicago these days isn’t about a New York congressman sending pictures of his maleness to women. It’s people telling each other to be alert and to be careful, even when in they’re in the nicest neighborhoods in the light of day.

How is that NOT news?

A good day to step up

Memo to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and any other community leader who isn’t shy about crying “foul” whenever there’s racial injustice:

Today would be a good day to make a statement about the rash of group thuggery, wilding, whatever you want to call it, taking place in Chicago and elsewhere.

Today would be a good day to note the alleged assailants in these cases are young men of color — black teenagers.

Today would be the day to speak to these young men and their families through the media, and to tell them to be better than this, and to say this thing has to stop, and to call for the parents to do a better job of watching their kids, and to ask for the older role models in the neighborhoods — whether those role models be sinners or saints — to do whatever they can do put an end to this.

Do I think this will lead to a cessation of mob action? Of course not. This is real life. Real life isn’t a movie.

The point is to make the statement. The point is if you’re the type of social leader who is always ready to make a media play when there’s social injustice, you’d have a lot more credibility with the public at large if you also made statements and demanded action and called for justice in these mob-action cases.

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Note: in Tuesday’s column I referenced the famous case of the alleged “wilding” attack on a jogger in Central Park. I should have also noted that the five men originally convicted of the crime were eventually exonerated. For an excellent account of the case, read The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding, by Sarah Burns. As Alan Dershowitz writes of the book, “[It presents] a powerful argument that the minority youths who [were] convicted of raping and nearly murdering ‘the Central Park jogger’ were innocent of the crime, though not necessarily of other violent crimes committed that night.”



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