Hat tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates for this one. I was a victim of an attempted robbery at gunpoint (by a young black ign't) and am thus a bit too close to this story to offer a traditional essay.
Consequently, I have more questions than answers and will share accordingly.
I must applaud John Conroy's honesty in sharing the complex mix of feelings he experienced in the aftermath of his attack by a group of black hoodlums. For the uninitiated, Conroy is a local Chicago journalist who is good people and has worked diligently to highlight injustices wherever he has found them. In total, Conroy is a sincere defender of the "powerless" and the "disadvantaged"--how ironic then, when a member of said group viciously attacks him.
In reading "A Mugging on Lake Street" I must ask: what happens when you are one of the good guys (in this case a self-avowed, white progressive) and you are betrayed by those folks who you are invested in helping? Do you give up the fight? Should you? Or is this betrayal a litmus test for how deep one's commitment to a cause really is?
For example, if a person is invested in rehabilitating pitbulls, and one of those poor abused souls does not return the generosity of your deeds--except for a sudden and painful bite...so much just rewards for your hard work--are you a fool for continuing with that cause? How do we reconcile the moment of praxis that occurs when theory meets practice?
Did these ign'ts attack Conroy because he was white? Or did they attack him because he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Are these predators so utterly unreflective, and controlled by their base impulses, that to assign any amount of premeditation to their deeds functions as an ironic, backhanded "complement"--one which they are not worthy of receiving?
When you hear about instances such as Conroy's attack, does your mind wander to the inevitable question, "what if a group of white kids had attacked a local black journalist? Wouldn't there be protests?" More generally, what of our common humanity? I bring hell down on white folks when they don't stand up for justice, and I try to bring the same rain down upon black and brown folk as well: Where were/are Sharpton et al. when hate crimes are committed against White people?
Or is this is a story of power, where "the powerful" i.e. White people, have enough advocates already? Thus, those who speak for the "weak" cannot and must not divert their attention from that cause? Or is the reluctance on the part of the media, public intellectuals, and activists to turn a bright light on hate crimes against whites a function of how these violent incidents are often taken as a cause de celebre by White Nationalists and other hate mongers, and thus there exists a natural aversion to giving said groups any additional ammunition?
Finally, what is more disturbing? "Larry's" behavior? Or that of the "responsible" adults around him? Is it not at all surprising that so many young black men end up in prison as much because of poor choices, as because of how those around them act as enablers? What is the over/under on how long until this young ign't, piece of human debris ends up in prison? I say 2 years, 5 on the outside. What is your bet?
Am I too callous, when after reading these stories I shake my head and say incidents such as these aren't about race at all? That instead these happenings are more precisely a commentary on the thin dividing line which separates the civilized and the savage--and that Conroy is actually lucky because if he were black those young ign'ts might have just as soon killed him?
Some choice excerpts:
I was willing to believe that this was just an example of the inexplicable teenage mind at work. Carolyn Frazier, a Northwestern law professor who often represents juveniles facing criminal charges, told me recently that her clients sometimes use the phrase “going on dummy” to describe doing something stupid, something bad, offering “a big ‘fuck you’ to society. . . . It’s that whole frontal cortex issue: They are just incredibly impulsive; they are not thinking about the higher consequences.” Of course, not every kid behaves that way, so there’s obviously more at work. “It’s peer pressure; it’s what you see in your neighborhood, what values you are being raised with; it’s all sorts of things.” Maybe, she said, “you got dummied.”
“Some people are just thugs,” an African American friend of mine said. And I thought there might be something to that. I just had the bad luck to run into one—they come in all colors—and perhaps mine was an equal opportunity thug. Maybe if I’d been black, I’d have hit the same piece of pavement.
Larry sat still for all of this, his eyes downcast. Aaronson asked him to reply. “Wasn’t no motive,” he said quietly, his voice hardly carrying to Aaronson’s end of the table. “Nothin’ like that.” He was hesitant, didn’t seem to be able to look at me directly, and there was no trace of cockiness or street toughness. “We was playing basketball at school, and then we got off the train, and one of the guys said, ‘Let’s do somethin’.’ ‘Like what?’ ‘Like beat up somebody.’ Thirty seconds later you came riding by on your bike.”
Larry maintained that he wasn’t the guy who’d hit me. He said that he hadn’t objected to the plan, and that afterward he had just run away with the others. “Seeing the way it happened, I had no feeling. Didn’t know what to feel.” The whole thing had nothing to do with race, he said. “If it was any other person in that state of mind we was in as a group, it would have happened to anyone. . . . Really wasn’t no reason. Just kids doing kids.”
“Why didn’t you steal anything?” I asked.
“Wasn’t part of the plan.”
I called seven more times, trying at hours when I thought I might catch Larry but not his aunt, but had no success. Finally, I called on Memorial Day. Larry’s aunt answered and said her husband wanted to talk to me. “I don’t see what it is that you want to know,” he said. “You got mugged, he got in trouble. So what is it that you want to know?”
“I’d just like to know what is behind it, what happened that day.”
“So, what you writing—a book, a movie, or what?”
“No, I’m just trying to write a magazine article. I’m not using—”
He interrupted before I could explain I wasn’t going to use Larry’s name. “Oh, you just writing a magazine article? That means you gonna get paid.”
“So is he gonna get paid?”
“Okay, then he ain’t gonna do the interview. I am his uncle, and that’s the end of that. Thank you. Have a nice day.” He hung up.