Chicago Gangland

What would it be like to live in an American city where shootings and gun violence are so frequent they have become routine?  You can get your answer, apparently, by asking someone who lives in Chicago.

The statistics about shootings in the Chicago area are breathtaking and frightening.  The Chicago Tribune reports that, in 2013, there were 2,185 shooting victims in Chicago, and 595 shooting victims so far in 2014.  Over this past weekend, 4 people were killed and another 24 were injured in Chicago-area shootings.  Just between last night and this morning, another eight people were shot in Chicago and one of them was killed.

There is a terrible randomness about the incidents, and drive-by shootings are commonplace.  People are outside in the early morning hours, a car drives by, the driver flashes gang symbols, and the shooting starts.  Two men get into a fight on a public street and one is shot multiple times.  A man is sitting in his car, is robbed at gunpoint, and is shot in the head.

The stories about the shootings linked above indicate that many of the shootings are gang-related, and the Tribune piece, which identifies where the shootings occurred, depicts a clear geographic pattern.  I’m sure many Chicagoans rationalize the amount of violence by saying that the gunplay is a South Side or West Side gang problem that can be avoided simply by avoiding the dangerous neighborhoods.  But when gang members and criminals are so emboldened that they shoot dozens of people on public streets over a weekend, how can anyone in Chicago truly feel safe, even on downtown streets?

There’s a certain cavalier and wrong-headed dismissiveness in that attitude, too.  Not everyone who lives on Chicago’s South Side or West Side is a gang member.  People who are trying to work and raise families live there, too.  What must it be like to live in a neighborhood where you regularly hear shoots ring out and then reflexively look for your children, hoping they didn’t happen to be outside when the latest drive-by shooting occurred?  How can kids possibly grow up in such hyper-violent environments without being forever twisted by the experience?

Are the authorities in Chicago losing control?

Line-Drawing And Violent Content

If you establish a social media site, and allow the world at large to join and post, you’re running a risk.  Some people will post pictures of kittens, old family photos, or corny but uplifting messages.  Others, however, may want to post other things — things that are disturbing.  So you establish a content policy — but where do you draw the line?  That’s an issue that Facebook is wrestling with these days.

IMG_5117Facebook has an extensive set of “community standards” that address topics like “nudity and pornography,” “violence and threats,” and “hate speech.”  One topic is “graphic content.”  As Facebook puts it, people use the site to share their experiences and thoughts about issues, some of which “involve graphic content that is of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism.”  Facebook distinguishes between sharing such content for purposes of condemnation and sharing “to celebrate or glorify violence.”  Facebook asks users to share content “in a responsible manner” and warn the audience about any graphic video.  If Facebookers report that certain content violates the community standards, Facebook decides whether to remove it. 

The most recent controversy involves a video showing a woman being decapitated.  The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and others criticized Facebook for not removing the video and for apparently loosening its standards on hyper-violent postings.  Facebook reacted to the criticism, removed the video after determining it improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence, and issued a “fact check” statement to explain its new approach and its decision.  

It’s the right decision, of course — but it shouldn’t have been a hard decision to make in the first place.  There is a big difference between disturbing images of starving children that sharpen an appeal for contributions to a hunger relief charity and a video of a planned execution by beheading.  Line-drawing can be tough, but I would certainly draw the line so that videos showing real people actually being killed, tortured, or horribly injured are excluded, whether their accompanying text purportedly “condemns” such action or not.

If He Had Only Walked Away . . . .

A Florida state court jury has deliberated for more than 16 hours and found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin.

The jury heard all of the evidence; I didn’t.  Their verdict will settle the issue of whether Zimmerman committed a major crime under Florida law, although prosecution for violation of federal civil rights laws remains a possibility.  Of course, that is a different question than whether Zimmerman bears significant responsibility for the incident in which Martin was shot and killed.

When I think of this case, I always come back to one thing:  why didn’t Zimmerman simply walk away after he had reported Martin’s presence to the police and the police had told him not to pursue?  He had advised the authorities, and it had become their responsibility to deal with the situation.  If Zimmerman had just walked away, the course of events would have changed and, perhaps, the fatal encounter would never have occurred.

In virtually very confrontation, there is a tipping point at which the situation is defused or events escalate.  The surly man in the bar who is becoming angry at the behavior of another patron chooses between having another drink or heading home.  One driver in a road rage incident speeds up and flips off the guy who just cut him off or decelerates and lets it go.  Or a would-be neighborhood watch volunteer decides whether to pursue an unknown visitor or let the police do their jobs.  In each situation, choices are made and the causal chain moves in one direction or another.

One other point:  in an encounter between an adult and a teenager, I put the onus on the adult to do what is necessary to avoid a physical confrontation.  The adult should be able to draw on years of experience, appreciate the potential consequences, and exercise cool judgment when the teenager cannot.  Any parent of teenage boys must hope that, if their sons become involved in such a situation, the adults around their children will, in fact, behave like adults.

It’s unfortunate that George Zimmerman didn’t just walk away.  We’d be better off as a society if more people did so.

When Rivalries Get Ugly

The San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders last night.  Although the two towns are separated only by the San Francisco Bay, they are fierce rivals.

Last night’s game was marked by significant violence.  Two guys were shot, and another guy was seriously beaten in a stadium bathroom.  The story on the violence also features a video of a slugfest in the stands between two big guys who probably had too much to drink and were mouthing off until things got physical.

I’ve been to Browns games where violence seemed to lurk just below the surface, and it is a scary scenario.  After all, when you go to a professional football game you are sitting with tens of thousands of strangers, many of whom have been drinking steadily as they have enjoyed the on the field violence.  It makes for a volatile situation.  It doesn’t take much to move things from taunting to brawling, and once a brawl breaks out it can spread easily.  And then, suddenly, you go from an orderly scene, where you are sitting with other fans watching a sports event, to a melee where the guy sitting next to you could decide he wants to punch you out because he doesn’t like your t-shirt or can’t figure out any other way to deal with the testosterone rush.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of sports fan fights are alcohol-related.  Sports teams could cut back on the fighting if they cut back on the beer service — but they don’t because that would cut back on the profits, too.