About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

June 5, 2016

The New York Times goes to the Hood

I applaud any effort to focus on the victims of violence in America. Too often nobody knows or cares about this real carnage in this country.

So over Memorial Day weekend the New York Times went to the bad parts of Chicago to sightsee:
[We] dispatched a team of reporters, photographers and videographers to virtually all of the shooting scenes across the city. Working around the clock through the three-day weekend, The Times interviewed relatives, witnesses, police officers and others, and captured how much violence has become a part of the city’s fabric.
After that self-congratulatory moment (wow, did they really work "around the clock" on a "three-day weekend"?!) I really did have high hopes for this 5,000-plus word article. But I was left feeling empty. Though I can't quite put my finger on the problem, let me try.

Murder victims should be humanized. You're not just a homicide victim. You're a real living human being with lives and stories and loves and problems. (And also, as cops know all too well, with soft flesh and blood and sometimes spattered brain matter.)
This weekend, among the six killed are a father, Garvin Whitmore, who loved to travel but was scared of riding on roller coasters; and Mark Lindsey, whose outsize personality brought him his nickname, Lavish. The oldest person struck by a bullet is 57. The youngest person to die is Ms. Lopez, a high school student and former cheerleader.

And so the logic of one Chicago mother, who watches another mother weep over her dead son in their South Side neighborhood, is this: She is glad her own son is in jail, because the alternative is unbearable.

“He was bound to be shot this summer,” she says.
That last part is powerful. Let's be clear: a mother says she's happy because her son is in jail, because otherwise he would probably be killed. As Yakov Smirnoff says, "what a country"!

The Times reports that one victim was just watching the Newlywed Game on TV. Another has an "outsize personality." (Though I'm not certain what that means, his nickname of "Lavish" raises my eyebrow. And how can you a "former cheerleader" at age 15? But maybe I protest too much....) I'm torn between my usual line, "damnit, these victims are Americans we should care about!" and "damnit, this is tear-jerking PC bullshit!"

I quibble with this Times' portrayal because most murder victims in Chicago (and other cities) are not just normal hard-working people with normal jobs who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, sometimes the street draws in kids despite loving moms. Maybe mom is too busy working poorly paid jobs to keep an eye out on her child. But too many never had a loving parent when they needed to be brought up right.

Cops see this all the time: living situations where little kids are growing up without any structure, much less electricity or a functional loving parent. Dad might be dead or in prison; mom might be turning tricks to support her addiction. Then what? What happens to the kids sleeping around mice and roaches, three to a bare mattress? Nobody talks to the kids, much less reads to them. Kids are simply ignored or neglected, ineffectively raised by siblings and cousins. What if you parents try to sell you for drug money? [Update: What if your dad shoots your grandfather at your uncle's funeral?] How do you think you're going to turn out?

These things need be discussed, but the Times doesn't want to go there. You might say I'm blaming the victim (because I am), but my point is not that "these people" deserve to get shot and killed (call me a pinko-lefty, but I'm firmly in the camp of those who believe that nobody deserves to be shot and killed). The problem is that if we don't accurately address the real problem and characters involved -- if we only romanticize victims and blame bad luck -- we're never going to get at effective solutions.

This gets more at the truth:
Sometimes only minutes after the gunshots end, a computer system takes a victim’s name and displays any arrests and gang ties — as well as whether the victim has a rating on the department’s list of people most likely to shoot someone or be shot.

Police officials say most shootings involve a relatively small group of people with the worst ratings on the list. The police and social service workers have been going to some of their homes to warn that the authorities are watching them and offer job training and educational assistance as a way out of gangs.

Of the 64 people shot over the weekend, 50 of them, or 78 percent, are included on the department’s list. At least seven of the people shot over the weekend have been shot before.

For one man, only 23 years old, it is his third time being shot.
As a cop, this makes me question the operational effectiveness of the "strategic subject list." But as an editor, I would say this point needs to be more developed.

You can't say with certainty that an individual who is shot is also a shooter, but you can hazard a bet that a 23-year-old who has been shot on three separate occasions has also pulled the trigger a few times. On the front end of every murder is a murderer. Collectively the pool of murder victims is the pool of murderers. An exclusive focus on victims as victims glosses over the fact that many of the victims are the problem. They are murderers. (And, as the article points out, these murderers are not being arrested.)

The Times quotes a Mr. Hallman:
“Why did I gang bang?” asks Johnathan Hallman, 28, who lives on the South Side. “Just to be around something, like just to be a part of something, man. Because when you growing up, man, you see all these other people, older people that’s in the gang life or whatever. They making they little money and they doing they thing. You see the little ice, the car they driving. It’s just an inspiration, man.”

Mr. Hallman says he joined a gang at a young age, but eventually decided it was not all he thought it would be. He got out, he says.
Is he a good guy because he got out of the game? Hell if I know. But what about all the people who never got involved in the first place? Even in bad neighborhoods, it's not normal to gang bang, shoot people, or be shot.

Or take Mr. Roper, 24:
who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood, says he had occasionally carried a gun to protect himself from being robbed, but never used it. “I have to have a gun to scare them off,” he says.
Poor Mr. Roper. Personally I'm thinking that Mr. Roper is part of the problem. Does the Times really think Chicagoans should carry illegal guns for protection? Their editorial board has certainly preached to the contrary. Are young men who don't carry guns irrational or somehow wrong? So what is the Times position on people's needs to carry guns in Englewood?

And then there's Ashley Harrison, 26. She and her fiancée, Mr. Whitmore
had been sitting in the car outside a liquor store, in a South Side neighborhood accustomed to gunfire, when, in broad daylight, shooting started. Mr. Whitmore was fatally shot in the head.
"Broad daylight!" Like shooters don't even have the common courtesy to kill at night. But it's the intransitive almost-passive voice that kills me: "shooting started." Like nobody actually shot a gun. Those guns, they just start shooting. And poor Mr. Whitmore got shot. And in "broad daylight"!

So what would you do if you were with your fiancée in a car, and he gets shot? I suspect you wouldn't be as bad-ass as Ms. Harrison, who grabbed her illegal gun, jumped out of the car, and popped off a few "warning shots" in return. (She has since been charged.)

This is not the normal urbane behavior one might expect in a civilized society. But it goes unquestioned by the Times.

By my count, the article talks about 12 of the 64 victims. What about the other 52? So far it doesn't seem to be a random sample. Eight of the weekend's 64 victims are 39 years or older. The Times mentioned four of them (out of the 12, total). The median age of the victims in the Times is 32. That's more than 5 years older than the average murder victim over the weekend. Except for the 15-year-old "former cheerleader" -- and to mention the youngest is pretty much obligatory -- what about the other 21 victims under age 23?

Who are these young black (and occasionally hispanic) men? The Times doesn't tell us. I suspect this is because most of these young victims are less sympathetic than those who "love to travel but are afraid of roller coasters."

I don't know if this is superficial reporting, a desire to avoid being "judgmental," or something else. Is it because older victims are more sympathetic? Is it because younger victims would not talk to reporters? Is it because reporters couldn't or were afraid to approach the younger victims and their friends? I don't know.

The Times mentions "52 of the shooting victims are black, 11 Hispanic and one white." Just one white? Think of what that means for policing. The black/white disparity in shooting victims this weekend was 52(!)-to-1! And yet when police hassle/stop/arrest/shoot more blacks than whites, the Times and others scream bloody murder about racist policing and implicit bias. When I highlighted this racial disparity to explain/defend/justify racially disproportionate policing, I was called (by the Times no less) a "denier."

Jose Alvarez, 28 -- AKA "Chi Rack Alvarez" (red flag!) -- is mentioned. There's a video of Chi Rack flashing signs disrespecting a gang. He was on the receiving end of 15 shots.
The police describe Mr. Alvarez as a gang member and say he may have been the intended target of the shooting.
You think?
Mr. Alvarez insists that the police are wrong in labeling him part of a gang.
Well, I bet the police are right. But who am I to judge?

There's Mark Lindsey (AKA Lavish), whom a friend calls, "one of the success stories." "Lavish" was targeted in his car. (The last sentence on "Lavish" mentions, just barely, that he was arrested the previous day on domestic battery and released on bond. Hmmm, that is, as we say in the police business, "a clue.")

Or take Calvin Ward, 50. Two young men come up the street and fire is his direction six times. One bullet goes inside a home and hits his wife. Ward says he has no idea why people would shoot him, "I ain't no gangbanger or nothing." But Ward was "convicted several times of battery and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon." I'm thinking that he may not be fully out of the game. But what do I know?

If we want to reduce violence -- and we do -- police need to be more aggressive and focus on on the criminals who are linked to violence. When somebody gets killed there's almost always a link to public drug dealing (even if the actual murder stems from some more mundane beef).

If the goal of the Times is to show that murder victims are people too, great. That should be done. But most murder victims in Chicago are young black men who never realistically had a chance. They grew up with absent or bad parents (this point cannot be stressed enough). They dropped out of school (and you, gentle reader, have worked damn hard to make sure your precious little angels aren't even in the same school building as them). These cast-offs are functionally illiterate. They have no mainstream social skills. They've never had a legal job. Nobody wants to hire them. They have no money. They hustle to get by. Then one day their luck runs out, and they're slow on the draw. Rather than shooting someone, they get shot. This is reality that most of American and the Times still won't touch.

Statistical postscript: The Times also refers to a poll (an interesting poll by the way) in which 54 percent of blacks say calling the police will "make the situation worse or won't make much difference." That sounds damning. What do you think that means?

The same poll also says -- the same damn question! -- that 84 percent of blacks say calling the police will "make the situation better or won't make a difference." Given those two statements (both are true because 42 percent say "calling police won't make much difference"), how would you summarize the results?

Their analysis is either statistical ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. Statistically and logically, it makes more sense to take out the middle ("won't make a difference") and observe that blacks are 3.5 times more likely to think police make the situation better than make than the situation worse (42 percent to 12 percent).

This question isn't a Likert scale, where a 3 is halfway between 1 ("strongly disagree") and a 5 ("strongly agree"). These are three distinct non-linear answers. Hell, I called police in New Orleans even though it wouldn't "make a difference" simply because because calling police is the right thing to do.

The poll also has some interesting data that go beyond the scope of this post or their article, but they're worth mentioning in light of the "progressive" context much police-related reporting.

Compared to blacks, a greater percentage of whites have "had interactions with police officers in the past 6 months" (and this does not include close friends or family members). If this is true, what is going on? Given the level of violence in black Chicago, this is odd and even problematic.

Thirty-seven percent of blacks (a plurality) say that "lack of strong family structures" plays the biggest role in Chicago's high crime rate. The Times won't touch this with a 10-foot pole. (Next on the list is "lack of good jobs.")

Also, even though 72 percent of blacks in Chicago consider themselves Democrats (compared to 53 percent of whites), blacks are just as likely to be "conservative" as "liberal" (compared to 17% conservative, 40% liberal breakdown for white Chicagoans. "Progressives" always seem to know what is best for other people, but they and their Bernie supporters doggedly refuse to acknowledge that collectively, blacks aren't actually liberal like them. (Blacks are also much more likely than whites to be religious and go to church. And I never arrested any kid who went to church.)


Andy D said...

Wow prof, that was an epic post. So much that I'm not even sure where to start! I'll try to pick out a few things that I love, and maybe a few quibbles.
1. Calling out the Times on their lack of intellectual rigor, especially on the "won't make a difference/will make it better/will make it worse question.
2. The Black/hispanic to white ratio vs the "biased policing" narrative. Funny how when YOU say it people give you a fair hearing, whereas if a conservative says it they are dismissed as racist immediately. No matter your political persuasion, I HATE shutting people down with shouts of "racist!" instead of addressing the substance of their argument.
3. Your questioning of why they pick the victims that they do to highlight

1. "This is either statistical ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. " While you are being fair-minded here, I think you are giving the Times too much benefit of the doubt. They are not stupid, they are being dishonest. The anti-cop narrative is more important to the majority of the media than honesty.
2. Not that it matters but I disagree about whether some people "deserve" to be shot. They don't deserve it just because they are in a gang, dealing drugs, etc. But when THEY commit violence, rob someone at gun or knife-point, or point a gun at the cops or an innocent person, they deserve to get shot IMHO. I doubt we'll agree and that certainly doesn't invalidate anything you have said. I'm just a little more old-fashioned in that way.

All that being said, I think the Times totally missed the point and missed an opportunity to do some genuine reporting when they cherry-picked their victims and tip-toed around the real hard issues that they could have hit hard in this article.

In addition, the fact that the Times reporters were there was known and worried about by CPD. Commenters on the Second City Cop blog were warning CPD about gallows humor at shooting scenes because the Times reporters were supposedly using parabolic mics to listen to conversations at the crime scenes. No matter the truth of that, it shows that the cops in Chicago are more worried about the media and publicity than about the violence. In the Mosby era, I can't blame them much.

woolywoman said...

excellent post

Andrew Laurence said...

@Andy D: No one deserves to be shot and killed. Sometimes shooting and killing someone is unavoidable, but what they DESERVE is to be arrested, taken into custody, given a fair trial, convicted if guilty, and imprisoned.

Andrew Laurence said...

Did you ask every kid you arrested whether s/he went to church? And if so, are you sure none of them lied? I'm not a cop, but in my experience, regular churchgoers are no more or less moral and law-abiding than others similarly situated.

Andy D said...

Sure, because we live in a civilized and relatively safe society, they DESERVE all those things I suppose, from a civil point of view. From the point of view of something admittedly older, uglier and more feral, no, they deserve to be shot and killed. Don't take that as some kind of bloodthirstyness on my part, because it isn't. But in even the most civilized of societies, self-defense is completely justified, and when you try to take someone else's life, there is no legal or moral requirement that you get apprehended and tried fairly. The person whose life you are trying to take, or a third party with a duty to protect others, has an absolute right, IMO to defend themselves or the innocent third party.

In that way, you deserve to be shot and killed. That doesn't mean you MUST be shot and killed. But I cannot say you don't deserve it. I understand what you mean by saying what you did. But I disagree to the extent that I have explained.

Peter Moskos said...

I actually did ask every juvenile I arrested if they went to church. Not one said they did. Maybe they were lying, I can't be certain. But judging from their "home," I certainly didn't see anybody who would be taking them to church... (It wasn't the only question I asked, mind you; I liked talking to them).

Of course it could also be that the same factors that lead to no adult figure being able to get up on Sunday and take them to church *also* leads to them being delinquent. So it may not be church, but I bring this up because I suspect the church can be a positive influence too often overlooked by the secular left.

Peter Moskos said...

As I much as I started this by saying nobody deserves to be killed, I'll admit I'm a bit tickled when, say, an armed robber gets killed by an intended victim!

Peter Moskos said...

(and with regards to going to church: funerals don't count)