Friday, June 22, 2012

Gang-Related Violence Explodes In Upscale Chicago Locales: Is Chicago Becoming Detroit?

University of Cincinnati Professor Emeritus of Political Science, and native Chicagoan, Abraham Miller, writes at the conservative PJ Media about the recent eruption of violent, gang-related crime in some of the most affluent parts of Chicago:

Streeterville is a quiet, upscale part of Chicago that encompasses the Magnificent Mile and is just south of the Gold Coast. Northwestern University’s Law School is in Streeterville, as is its hospital. Oprah has an apartment in Streeterville. A close friend of mine once lived in Steeterville, and I spent many a late night walking off jet lag on its streets. After all, if you’re not safe in Streeterville, where are you safe?

As a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital learned the other night, you’re really not safe in Streeterville.  Accosted by a “flash” mob of black teenagers, the physician was repeatedly hit and beaten.  He wasn’t robbed.  He says the motive wasn’t racial, as he’s Asian.  But typically such mobs are black and their victims are whites, who are abused with racist insults while they’re being injured.

The physician observed that the teenagers had accosted others before they attacked him. The teenagers were simply looking to have fun by hurting someone, and the next someone was him. And, of course, this is not the first instance of such mob behavior flowing out of the deteriorating inner city into the city’s wealthier areas. It isn’t even the first foray into upscale Streeterville. The criminals now have done what any species does when it exhausts the resources of its immediate environment. They have moved on to another habitat.

Streeterville, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in particular, are relatively frequent haunts for some the proprietors of this blog.  So we know both the area, and the institution well.

And as bad as it may sound, when the Drive and Dish proprietors initially heard that there had been an attack on a young, male Northwestern physician, we more or less assumed that he was probably, well, Asian.

That's not to say that the roving bands of teenaged and pre-teen thugs who have been venturing into posh Chicago neighborhoods from their ghetto stomping grounds aren't on the hunt for white guys to beat down.

They most certainly are.

But Northwestern is full of young Asian doctors.  And on the whole, Asian-American males tend to be smaller, and tend to appear less threatening than their white American male counterparts.

Is that an unfair stereotype?  Sure, but, like so many stereotypes, it's rooted in a level of truth.  

Of course, most of the time the teenage thugs (or "youths," as the media prefers to call them), hit upscale, urban white guys -- most of whom appear as soft as tapioca pudding to thugs from the 'Hood.  But just as in nature, where predators tend to prefer hunting the weakest (i.e., easiest to catch) prey, 13-15 year old up-and-coming ghetto thugs will hit the softest-looking target they can find.

Up-and-coming "shorties" from Da 'Hood tend not to care that stereotyping people by their race or ethnicity violates the principles of political correctness.  And since even 13 year old ghetto thugs  know that most young Asian-American doctors don't know to fight like Bruce Lee and didn't work their way through medical school by busting kneecaps for the Yakuza ... well ... do the math. 

That the young Asian-American Northwestern physician would be so hopelessly na├»ve as to actually assume that a throng of black, teenaged ghetto thugs would leave him alone simply because he's not white ... well, again, do the math. 

But if the clueless, Asian-American physician from Northwestern has his head planted firmly in the sand, so too does most of Chicago.  Miller hits on a couple of largely unspoken factors that have been quietly enabling Chicago's dysfunctional inner city street gang culture for years -- indifference and the reliance on smug, bien-pensant politically correct tropes:

Sure, Chicago, like most major American cities, has its crime-polluted neighborhoods where going out on the street at night is about as safe as going out in Baghdad. We all know how to avoid those, unless our economic circumstances regrettably compel us to live in such neighborhoods. Last week, 53 people were shot in Chicago. Most of us will dismiss this as an irrelevant statistic.  After all, we know without reading the papers where those people live: in the south and west sides. There, the population is largely black or  Latino,  gangs fight turf wars over the drug trade, and getting a gun is not only a rite of passage but also is more common than getting a high school diploma...

We assume that because people who look like the victims are also the perpetrators, it’s not our problem. Our continually reinforced ethnic tribalism really comes down to: we don’t give a damn about black-on-black violence or what happens in the deteriorating parts of our city. We can be smug about gun control because none of our neighbors are shooting each other. We can be self-righteous about microscopic adherence to due process because none of us will have to testify in open court against people who belong to vengeful criminal organizations.

Such delusions are part of what makes us not only smug but also hypocrites. We invoke the notion that poverty causes crime.  If only we’d have greater redistribution of income and wealth, all this would go away. We take comfort in the idea that there is a solution to the problem. Why not? It’s ingrained in our psyches, pontificated as one of the few real “laws” of social science, and comes to us as strongly from the classrooms as it does from the bar stools. We can, thus, avoid the thought of 53 white people being gunned down on our streets over a few days.

Miller then raises a critically important question and challenges one of the aforementioned longstanding politically correct tropes: does poverty cause crime (as we're always told), or is it the other way around?

(The) late James Q. Wilson so artfully pointed out decades ago, it might be that poverty causing crime is just another logical fallacy. Wilson challenged us to think that maybe it’s the other way around: crime causes poverty.
My brother drove a chemical tanker in Chicago. He was a big, powerful man who had been an amateur boxer. One day, while he was setting up his hoses on the south side to pump chemicals into a factory’s tanks, a group of teenagers surrounded him and demanded his money. He carried a spiked billy club for such purposes and instead of producing his wallet produced a lesson in night stick justice. When he returned to his yard, he told his dispatcher that he’d never deliver to that business again. Next time, he said, the kids might have guns and a shot would explode the flammable chemical truck and take out a city block.
 Eventually, no driver would deliver to the business. The business moved to the northern suburbs and with it went the neighborhood jobs. Repeat this by tens of thousands of times encompassing all types of crimes, and you get a snapshot of an environment where few are eager to invest capital or write insurance. Add to that a demographic of low education and criminal conviction, and you have a labor force no one is eager to hire.
 As gangs of black teenagers roam the streets of places like Streeterville looking for nothing else but to hurt people, we need to realize that the social order has changed. More important, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that if we just pump more money into the inner city, the problems of teenage violence will be solved.


Last night, mere hours after Dr. Miller's PJ Media piece was published, there was a gang-related shooting on Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile at Michigan Ave. and Ontario St. That’s the most high-end and high profile location yet to get a taste of Chicago’s burgeoning citywide explosion of violent crime.

For years, Chicago got a bad rap, as most people around the country — conservatives in particular (especially after the advent of Chicago’s own Barack Obama) — mistakenly thought of the Windy City as some sort of impoverished, post-apocalyptic Rust Belt war zone inhabited by gang-bangers, project-dwelling “welfare queens,” mustachioed blue collar fat guys in Bears jerseys from an old Saturday Night Live skit (Da Bears!) and … well, Eskimos. But Great Lakes locale aside, Chicago never actually suffered much from the kind of decline that sucked the life out of nearby crumbling Great Lakes cities like Detroit (and to a lesser degree, Cleveland) over the past 35-45 years.
 
That’s not to say that Chicago didn’t have its share of God-forsaken, hell hole neighborhoods that were overrun with poverty, gangs and violent crime. Chicago, in fact, had those in spades. But what people outside of Chicago often didn’t understand is that Chicago proper was, is, and has always been, home to both areas of great wealth and areas of great poverty, and that Chicago’s notorious crime-infested precincts have largely been confined to sections of the South and West Sides — two areas that were/are more or less isolated from the rest of the city.

The heart of Chicago, though, with its pedestrian-friendly lake shore and canyons of skyscrapers, has traditionally been as safe, as clean and as crime-free as the central part of any big city in the country.

Unbeknownst though it’s apparently been to much of the country, Chicago’s center core became so gentrified that, for years, it’s been safe enough to walk alone at night through great swaths of the city, including its bustling downtown business district, its fashionable Near North Side (Streeterville, River North, the Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, etc.), its North Side Yuppietopia (Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Ravenswood, Roscoe Village, Andersonville, etc.), and even its trendy/hipster regions on the ever-gentrifying Near West and Near Northwest Sides (Greektown, Fulton Market, West Town, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, etc.).

Contrary to the widespread perception of Chicago as some kind of gritty, hardscrabble, post-industrial wasteland, the aforementioned areas have heretofore mostly served as urban versions of the kinds of upscale, safe, Caucasian-dominated hamlets that the professionally angry black journalist Richard Benjamin disparagingly terms “Whitopias.”

Chicago’s central location, no doubt, accounts for much of its up-to-now mostly unfounded bad reputation. Opinion makers from the East Coast don’t typically set foot on non-coastal real estate unless they have to.  So Chicago usually doesn’t figure very prominently in their collective consciousness ... unless, of course, it’s being used to fulfill some kind of unflattering regional stereotype (i.e., violent racist crackers from the South; dumb, "Bible-thumpin'", "gun-totin’" hillbillies from Texas; fat, blue collar rustics from the Midwest, etc.).

Thus, it’s been easy for people to conflate Detroit and Chicago, and to lazily assume that Detroit’s problems are Chicago’s. After all, they’re both older, industrial cities in in the upper Midwest…

But perhaps more so than any American city (other than New York, of course), Chicago has, over the past 20 years, come to resemble a European city of sorts, replete with a wealthy, expansive and largely white central core, and with poor, high-crime areas that have been pushed ever farther to the city’s far-flung edges (not unlike the Paris and its crime-infested banlieues).

The bulk of Chicago’s crime, however, has historically been contained to neighborhoods which are best described as being in "the ‘Hood," and thus, it never much figured in the lives of people in the heart of the city.  That general attitude of indifference to crime was even prevalent during the much-hyped crime wave of Summer 2010, when a rash of gangland shootings grabbed headlines and figured prominently on the Drudge Report (thus, “confirming” the preconceived notions so many conservatives had of Chicago as a Detroit-style ghetto hell hole).

The big secret that everybody in Chicago intrinsically understood — and which, of course, could never be acknowledged in polite company — was that as long as the crime and violence stayed in the ghettos on the South and West Sides (well, at least crime and violence of the non-white collar variety, non-Italian “wise guy” variety and non-City Hall “Corruptocrat” variety), the rest of the city didn’t really give a rat’s a** about who shot whom.

And even though the city has become so overextended (err, broke) that it’s slashed 3000 officers from the police force since 2007 (those curious as to why violent crime has been on such an dramatic upswing in Chicago might start by pondering that fact), the mostly good liberals of Chicago’s fashionable parts can be forgiven if they adopted a “see no evil” attitude.

If it’s not in your back yard, it’s not your problem.

Of course, that all changes the minute that it comes to your back yard. And with gang shootings and gang-related violence having suddenly moved downtown and into ever more upscale sections of the city since last summer, it’s everybody’s problem now (even if a lot of wealthy downtown liberals are uncomfortable acknowledging the ethnicities of the perpetrators).

None of that is likely to register in the national consciousness, though. For most, Chicago’s recent troubles will just confirm what they already knew (or thought they knew) … that Chicago is just like Detroit.