Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Yesterday, in response to...

...a post I wrote about guns, fear and race, a reader tweeted to me:

2000 shootings in Chicago so far in 2016 hope you're strapped because it wasn't white suburban people doing all that shooting.

(When I was at my brother's house in Minnesota last week he asked me what people who read my blog for the posts on high school football thought of my liberal politics. I guess we have our answer.

Actually, I'm impressed that this guy reads my stuff at all. In this Internet age most people -- including me, if I'm being honest -- only read what reinforces what they already believe. So kudos to him.)

It's hard to know where to begin, but I guess my first response to this tweet is that I've never owned a gun and probably never will. (The only time I've ever even fired a rifle was up at Boy Scout camp in northern Wisconsin with my son. He hit a clay pigeon on his very first try!)

As far as I'm concerned, guns are dangerous, especially to those who own them. And don't give me that baloney, "If you're properly trained, blah, blah, blah..." I worry most about the people who think they're qualified to carry a weapon.

Second, only one person in my family has ever been shot and killed by a gun, and it was by another white guy and it happened in the suburbs. But more on that in a minute.

Should I be afraid to live in the city? Should I be "strapped"? I don't know. Maybe. But I wrote a post on this very subject a couple of months ago.
According to the Times piece:
Chicago has long wrestled with guns and gangs, and the splintering of large gangs into smaller, disparate groups had added to the bloodshed that largely plays out on the South and West Sides. As of late April, murders were up 54 percent from last year, and shootings were up by 70 percent.
Oh, so it's a "gang" thing. Or, more specifically, a "drug trade" thing. I seem to remember reading that ever since the Feds broke up the dominant gang in the local drug trade several other gangs have been fighting over "market share" in the "industry."
Makes me kind of wonder what would happen to gun violence in Chicago if they ever legalized drugs. My great-uncle Tom "Red" Duffy was a small-time bootlegger who was shot and killed by Al Capone's gang back in the 1920s. (Capone, himself, was thought to have pulled the trigger. Talk about "high barriers to entry!") Funny, though, ever since Prohibition was repealed all of my family members have died of natural causes. Go figure.
So what's my point? The city is a dangerous place, no doubt about it. But is it because of race, drugs, gangs, poverty, guns -- what? From an article in yesterday's Tribune:

A complex mix of factors is driving the violence. But much of the bloodshed can be linked to gang conflict over everything from petty disputes to control of drug dealing, as well as the splintering of gangs into smaller cliques fighting over a few blocks at a time and easy access to guns, experts say.

Yet there are deeper societal problems at play as well, including long histories of poverty, joblessness, segregation and neglect in these crime-ridden neighborhoods.

The makeup of Chicago's gangs has changed dramatically over the years. They once were massive organizations with powerful leaders and hundreds of members who controlled large chunks of territory. Now small cliques battle for control over a few blocks.

Veteran officers say the fractured nature of gangs has made life more chaotic on the street, with rivals sometimes living just a few blocks apart.

Now back to my great-uncle, Tom "Red" Duffy. According to family lore he was a barber, in his mid-twenties and married with a young daughter. (The family disowned his widow and child -- it must have been her fault that he strayed from the strait and narrow!) I looked him up once on ancestry.com and his occupation was listed as "cigar salesman." This would make more sense. My father-in-law was also a cigar salesman and traveled the bar/saloon/tavern circuit in Wisconsin (after Prohibition). So Duffy probably took orders for cigars in the front and for booze in the back.

On the night he was killed -- again, by another white guy in the suburbs -- his body was taken to West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park (where I was born, incidentally). His sister, my great-aunt, was a nurse on duty. Can you imagine that?

"Hey, we got a couple of stiffs here."

"That's my little brother!"

And how about those proper WASP doctors of Oak Park? You know, the town that Ernest Hemingway once described as having "broad lawns and narrow minds"?

"F*****g Irish! Always drinking and causing trouble. Well, here's at least one mick who won't be a problem any more."

(We were barely considered "white" back then.)

But a few years later FDR repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, my family went straight (bad risk/reward ratio!) and I was eventually born (and raised) in the suburbs.

Now, if you think I'm being more than just a little self-righteous you could ask me why I chose to move to the suburbs back in 1992 and raise my own kids there. Fair question. And my answer would be something along the lines of better schools and, yes, safety. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. (I've been called worse.)

But I hope -- I hope -- unlike my own father I never said to myself, "Too many blacks here." While I think pretty much all whites are at least a little racist, I also like to think that even though I'm not color-blind I'd like to be. Maybe that's the best you can do.

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