We had a mostly wonderful week—we celebrated Christmas with Beth’s family, we celebrated Beth’s birthday, and we traveled to Wisconsin to see our son Gus at his group home, where we found him in terrific spirits.
And then I read about this. A 19 year-old college student and a 55-year-old mother of five shot dead by police.
Listen, we can say we don’t know for sure what happened, and we shouldn’t rush to judgment. But screw that. We know this: The Chicago Police Department is under fire for very good reason, and even after the Laquan McDonald video surfaced, even after the Mayor’s crocodile-teared speech, somehow the police officers in this instance were still inclined to shoot first and not answer questions later.
What details have surfaced would indicate that there was a 19 year-old raising some hell in his own household—but armed with a baseball bat, not a gun. He graduated from a very good high school, was in college, and had not exhibited any such behavior until recently. I can’t know, but conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often strike 15-25 year olds. I’ve known some. And they did some crazy, scary stuff. They didn’t get shot. But they were white, and lived in places where the first inclination with good kids doing bad things is to not shoot, but to calm and control and manage, so everybody lives to keep trying.
As for whether race has anything to do with all this—if you can still hypnotize yourself into thinking it doesn’t, I got nothing. Look, I get why some of my fellow white people get perturbed by the terms “white privilege” and “black lives matter.” I confess: I get irked by “white privilege,” though I completely agree that in lots of circumstances, I’m going to be treated differently—and better—than I would be if I were black.
My issue has always been semantic: How I’m treated should not be considered a privilege, but something owed to everyone. But the truth is, the term is effective—because it’s drawn attention to this disparity. So if “white privilege” is irksome to some, so what? Also—the alternative is to turn it around and say the people who aren’t getting their due are “disadvantaged” or the like. Which, intentionally or not, kind of puts the onus on them. Quit complaining and get advantaged!
And in an ideal world all lives do matter. But it’s clear that often—not everywhere and not every time and not in all circumstances and not in everyone’s eyes—but in many, too many instances, black lives have not mattered. If you don’t like “black lives matter,” try these two: “All lives should matter.” Or how about, “black lives matter, too.”
I’m not sure what to do, and am open to ideas. I didn’t vote for this mayor either time, and that didn’t help. Maybe I’ll join the next march, but I don’t know if the current powers-that-be give a damn.
For now, given that the deadline for tax-deductible contributions is approaching, I’m going to support the national work of organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Equal Justice Initiative.
Here in Chicago, there are great people fighting the good fight. Check out the non-profit Invisible Institute, which has done grueling work in helping to assemble a public database of complaints lodged against police; records, that were, incredibly, not available until some good people had the gumption to fight a long fight.
The Institute’s complaint database work was done in partnership with the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project. It’s a program of the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Clinic, which you can also support via donation.
Whether or not you support these particular efforts, I hope you’ll find and share ways we can do something about the problem. It’s not a South Side or West Side thing, or only a Chicago thing, it’s on all of us.