"In my next conscious moment, I was dimly aware that I was facedown on the pavement. There was blood in my mouth."
September 2, 2009 5:48 PM   Subscribe

"A Mugging on Lake Street" : John Conroy -- author and former staff writer of the Chicago Reader best known for his articles on police torture finds himself a victim of a "senseless" crime and is forced by circumstance to examine his own opinions about race, hate crimes, and violence. (last link is referenced in original article)
posted by MCMikeNamara (118 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
During the session, Larry had yawned, stretched, and cleaned his fingernails with a pen, but he’d also said he regretted being part of the incident.

Officer McCoy, the African American cop in District 15, took it further. “They were bullshitting you. They told that guy what to say. ‘To squash that shit, you better show some remorse.’ His mother was afraid they would put his young ass in the penitentiary. He intentionally tried to hurt you, and you let them get off the hook. Trust me, he attacked you because of the color of your skin.”

posted by jason's_planet at 6:06 PM on September 2, 2009


This is the second "bike bashing" in Chicago I've heard of this year... on bikeforums.com, in the commuter thread, someone told a story about getting decked with a baseball bat as he was riding home at night. He wasn't robbed or otherwise beaten, they just swung the bat at him as he rode by, and then ran off. I don't think it's a black/white thing, I think it's a stupid teenage thug fad, like Happy Slapping was in the UK a few years ago.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:07 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does this mean he's a conservative now?
posted by Kwantsar at 6:14 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Excellent article. I found myself thinking of this satirical song from Avenue Q.

What was most interesting to me was the reaction from the Fireman, who tried immediately to encourage Conroy to lie to brand it as a hate crime.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:21 PM on September 2, 2009


It's a tough situation. Like the article says, often times good people try to be lenient with the hope of encouraging change or remorse. Then when it doesn't happen they feel cheated.

There was a group of about 20-30 kids in front of our apartment the other night. We debated calling the cops, as that many teenagers hanging out often gets out of control. but the thought was, well, they're not doing anything wrong yet, so why hassle them? After about an hour or so they all headed off up the block.

the cops came by today - turns out on their way up the block the group jumped someone and robbed them.
posted by dubold at 6:25 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was very thoughtfully written. He questioned his every assumption and reaction, with a willingness to reveal himself that I found quite refreshing. A regretable incident, but a good read.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:28 PM on September 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


I think there’s a fine line here—that I may have been chosen for my race, but with such minimal thought that no hate was present.

I actually agree, but that's a very fine line, and probably one of the reasons some people oppose hate crimes.

If he didn’t do it, McCoy said, why not clear his name and say who did? “If you say you know the guy but you don’t give me the guy, you are the guy.”

Very specious reasoning. I'm sure the cops must know about snitches.

Good story, but unfortunately, the most important eyewitness statement comes from an undercover police officer. Who knows his motivations. Maybe he thought "the poor guy who just got sucker punched deserves a perp. let's just pick one of those kids."

Thanks for the link--a well-written, honest article about victimhood and the feelings involved. It's interesting how much motivation matters.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:29 PM on September 2, 2009


I enjoyed the article as well. Conroy seems a little naive in his dealings with his attacker; particularly considering his job as a reporter working the police beat. Even though I consider myself liberal I have a real problem with the concept of hate crimes and this article does a good job of showing why.
posted by TedW at 6:30 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


What was most interesting to me was the reaction from the Fireman, who tried immediately to encourage Conroy to lie to brand it as a hate crime.

More interesting that Conroy is quick to dismiss such a lie at the scene of the crime, but later when talking to other people trying to push the act as a hate crime, he doesn't seem to question their motivations.

People seem to have a strong desire for vengeance. Labeling something a "hate crime" lets them get their vengeance on with even less remorse.

We have little clue to the motivations of the attacker, or in my opinion, whether they grabbed the right attacker or not. Based on how we would feel in that situation, as either the attacker or victim, we interpret it as a "hate crime." That's probably why the cops were so insistent on getting hard evidence of hate toward a protected class. It must be a hard charge to stick.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:34 PM on September 2, 2009


Great article. Thanks.
posted by docpops at 6:34 PM on September 2, 2009


One time when I was in New York a bunch of teenagers were walking behind me and one of them asked me for the time. I turned around to say I didn't know and I was immediately pushed into a parked car on the side of the road and punched repeatedly. I broke free and ran the remaining 30 feet up the block to the apartment I was staying at. It wasn't particularly violent and I only ended up with a few bruises. I'm white, and I was in a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood; they were black and presumably in high school. The only lesson I took from it is that I'm scrawny and easily victimized by dumb kids. If I was this guy, I would certainly be a lot more upset, but these things are often pointless. Teenagers are by their nature brain damaged.
posted by palidor at 6:35 PM on September 2, 2009


“Say that they called you ‘honky,’” a fireman told me. If my attackers had indeed said that, they might be charged with a hate crime and face harsher punishments.

Honky? How out-of-touch is this guy? Is he an old-fashioned Archie Bunker slob, or does he advise African-Americans in similar straits with white people to say that they were called 'jive turkeys' to up charges to hate crime?
posted by porn in the woods at 6:35 PM on September 2, 2009 [12 favorites]


Two things: karma is a bunch of shit, and good on this guy for meeting with a person involved with his injuries and trying to figure out why all of this happened. I don't know that I would have been so charitable, no matter who hurt me, if this was something that happened to me.
posted by elder18 at 6:38 PM on September 2, 2009


America is a very fucked up country and there is very little getting around that.
posted by Avenger at 6:40 PM on September 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


I’d asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to play in the NBA,” he said.

This country is fucked.
posted by stargell at 6:41 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


What was most interesting to me was the reaction from the Fireman, who tried immediately to encourage Conroy to lie to brand it as a hate crime.

I have no idea how it works there, but I've seen local beatings and muggings completely ignored by the cops. However, as soon as something gets labeled as a hate crime (be it black on white or white on black,) the media attention makes it harder to ignore.

I don't really know what that says about hate crime laws. Intent is a hard thing to prosecute for, and race can be the motivation in what police will ignore as a 'standard robbery.'
posted by mhz at 6:44 PM on September 2, 2009


A friend of mine got jumped last year on his bike.

Most of the time, when kids are looking to do something stupid, it's about convenience more than anything else. Who's available, who's beat-up-able, and who's unlikely to be around in their neighborhood to bring shit back on them... if they're thinking even that far ahead.
posted by yeloson at 6:44 PM on September 2, 2009


Guy is kinda dense, eg the part about the apparent difficulty in getting KO'd by a guy while riding a bike toward them.

FWIW, here's street view of the corner in question.

I've lived in borderline tough areas -- the Richmond Annex, Salinas -- so I think I know the score on this a bit better than the writer. It's partially "race" issues, partially "class", and, for lack of a better word, partially tribal.

Guy not understanding the uncle telling him to sod off is odd, too. This is a hard world.
posted by Palamedes at 6:44 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a bit hyperbolic, stargell. The kid is 16. Dreaming about playing in the NBA is not that strange for a 16-year-old kid from Chicago. Unless it's the juxtaposition of his violent actions and his wish to play in the NBA, that somehow indicates the fuckedness, in which case I still don't get it.
posted by Mister_A at 6:46 PM on September 2, 2009


Damn that looks like Kensington, Philly, Palamedes. Another good place to get hit with a blunt object.
posted by Mister_A at 6:48 PM on September 2, 2009


I’d asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to play in the NBA,” he said.

This country is fucked.


And the funny thing is: he doesn't seem to connect dropping out of high school in his junior year after only passing one class with his chances of being drafted for the NBA. Maybe I haven't been paying attention but the NBA should really educate kids on what it means to be a pro-athlete (.i.e, graduating high school and college).
posted by Avenger at 6:48 PM on September 2, 2009


Good story, but unfortunately, the most important eyewitness statement comes from an undercover police officer. Who knows his motivations. Maybe he thought "the poor guy who just got sucker punched deserves a perp. let's just pick one of those kids."

Perhaps. Or perhaps he saw one of the kids punch him in the face. Conroy himself remembers one individual stepping out from the curb, while several others remained on the sidewalk; if the incident was witnessed at all, presumably a passerby would have witnessed one individual stepping out from the curb to hit Conroy. The undercover cop's quickness to the scene suggests that he was at least quite close. It was broad daylight, 4 in the afternoon in May. I was not on that corner, at that time. Perhaps there was some circumstance of which I am not aware. But on the information as given, it seems to me that a witness would have been able to readily identify the attacker.

It is possible, that despite being able to identify the actual attacker, that a witness would finger another person in lieu of the attacker. But this seems to me an argument which requires additional evidence.
posted by Diablevert at 6:53 PM on September 2, 2009


TedW: "Conroy seems a little naive in his dealings with his attacker; particularly considering his job as a reporter working the police beat. "

That was part of the reason why I ended up posting this. I found the disconnect between how I knew of him already as a reporter and his own naivete (though I hate to use that word because it seems so...I don't know... condescending, I guess) with something happen to him personally really fascinating and somewhat understandable. In fact, I think it's necessary for a good person to have those blinders to live in this messed up world we live in.

The reaction of the fireman ("honky" - really?) and "Larry's" aspirations for the future (sorry kid, but today anybody who hopes to play in the NBA is already well on that road by the time he's 16)* -- details that have have already been pointed out by others here -- were also, strangely, for me, some of the saddest parts of this sad story.

* - on preview, what Avenger said
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:57 PM on September 2, 2009


hmm, let's try that streetview link again. Previous one goes someplace further south.
posted by Palamedes at 6:58 PM on September 2, 2009


I think the takeaway lesson here is that a guy who is casually cleaning his nails while talking to you isn't exactly brimming over with regret and angst over his actions.
posted by adipocere at 6:58 PM on September 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


Great article. Tough to read, too, without letting my emotions get the better of me: what I really want to do is find someone or something to blame for this terrible event, but none of the principle characters suffice:

I want to blame Larry, for beating the guy up unprovoked and lying about it. But I can't, because I also agree with the following statement from the link:
some sort of territorial anger might be part of it. People who live in Chicago’s rougher neighborhoods, he said, see few whites on their streets except for police officers and schoolteachers who go straight from their cars into their schools. “And so there is this notion, ‘Okay, if we are not good enough for you, don’t bother to come.’ And here is this white guy who is coming through and you feel almost like someone is trespassing.” The kid failed all but one of his high school classes, he has no chance of conventionally defined success in life, nobody around him does, his neighborhood is full of decrepit abandoned buildings, gangs, homeless, drug addicts, litter... how could you not be full of pure anger at the world as that kid. You know white people, on the whole, have it better, and you know something about the history of race relations in this country. It's all too much to process. I can understand why he lashed out.

I want to blame John Conroy--any middle class white guy with an ounce of common sense in Chicago knows not to bike alone on the West side. The prosecutor who rolled his eyes kind of had a point. But then again I admire the guy--his idealism and all the work he had done for to try to better race relations, he was just trying to 'be the change he wished to see in the world.' It's hard to blame him for his totally earnest trust and lack of prejudice.

I want to blame 'black culture' in general: the glorification of violence, the machismo, etc. But I know this is an ugly stereotype, and even the parts that are contain a kernel of truth are more responses to the problems that Larry shares with all his peers than anything else.

I want to blame 'white culture' in general: the general lack of care or concern for the conditions of the urban underclass, despite the fact that 'white culture's' history has in some way caused those problems. But I can't do that either, since most 'white people' are sympathetic, but not directly at fault, and understandably just want to get on with their lives unmolested.

So I just get angry and frustrated because this is a problem with no easy solution, no simple answer. It's that desire, I think, which leads so many people to a conservative viewpoint: it's cognitively easiest to just assign all the blame to 'thugs' or to the individual perpetrator and not have to deal with all the messy socioeconomic or historical stuff. There was that study a few years ago that concluded that conservatives are generally happier than liberals, because they're confident they have answers to all these tough questions--oversimplifications, sure, but answers. It would be reassuring to be able to place all the blame on Larry's shoulders, and the world would make more sense if it was feasible, but in the end, that's intellectually disingenuous.

Avenger is right: America is fucked up.
posted by notswedish at 6:59 PM on September 2, 2009 [34 favorites]


One of the plainclothesmen offered to load my bike into the trunk of his unmarked car and deliver it to my house. The bike is nothing special: a black 12-speed, modest when I bought it in 1982, now dented and well chipped, worth perhaps $20 on the open market. But I like the bike, and I was grateful for the officer’s offer.

That guy needs to check out Portland.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]




This is close to home to me in more ways than one. Not only do I live near here but my teenage son was a victim of a similiar crime a few blocks from where this happened earlier this year. He was on foot and a boy a year or two older walked up and punched him twice in the face, breaking two of his teeth.

Yes, my son was guilty of walking on the wrong side of the street, not in our racially mixed neighborhood of Oak Park, but stepping across the line into what has lately been one of the most volatile areas of the city. As a kid who has always had both black and white friends (and whose best friend is black) he learned a lesson I wish he hadn't.

Just like Conroy, he never knew what hit him. One minute he's walking along and a guy walks up to him quickly, next thing he knows he's on the ground with a mouthful of blood. His money and cell phone never left his pocket. I am thankful that some good samaritans in the neighborhood called the cops, shoo'd the gang of thugs away and stayed with him until the cops got there. As soon as he had his wits about him my son called me and I got there right after the police.

The officer that we talked to told my son this wasn't necessarily racial but it was about hate. It was a young hispanic cop that described the kids that do this kind of thing as "kids that get beat all their lives, they walk out' the house looking for someone to hit".

It's as good a reason as any.
posted by readery at 7:20 PM on September 2, 2009 [12 favorites]


Slap*Happy:

In the Michael Bryant thread I posted a story of a similar baseball bat attack on a friend of mine (she was in Milwaukee at the time).

Another friend got dropkicked while bicycling in Oakland. There were no witnesses. As he picked himself up off of the street one of his assailants demanded money, while another pointed a gun at him. Like in the story in the FPP he was a white cyclist jumped by one of a group of black men in a black neighborhood. He handed over two bucks and a change of socks (all he had on him at the time) and they decided to just let him go if he was that broke (they weren't about to follow him to an ATM). As he realigned his handlebars and assessed his injuries he asked them what the deal was "so is this how you guys make a living, or what?". "Pretty much, we got laid off from our jobs and a bicyclist who is not from this neighborhood is an easy target". It is a testimony to this guy's level headedness and affability that he came out of that situation with only a fractured arm and a weird story about it, it could have turned out much worse if he had displayed as much anger as I am sure I would have.
posted by idiopath at 7:20 PM on September 2, 2009


Many years ago, when I was living in San Jose and commuting to work, my car was totaled by a drunk driver. He blew through a stop sign and broadsided me--had I not slammed on the brakes and turned into the collision, I doubt I'd be here now. My car was demolished, but his van had only minor damage. After the collision, he paused, looked out his window, and then sped off. We got his license plate, but the police said they couldn't do anything unless they caught him elsewhere.

A few years later, my car was stolen. The thieves used it for a series of armed robberies and led police on a high-speed chase. When the detectives who found it asked me if I wanted to press charges, I hesitated--after all, I'd pulled some crazy stunts in my day, so maybe I should let this slide.

The thieves turned out to be a couple of 19-year-olds who lived nearby, and when I hesitated about whether to press charges, the detective was quick to tell me this was not their first crime spree, guns were involved, and these were, to quote the cop verbatim: "bad kids from the hood." (Yes, I know what that meant in cop-ese.)

I decided to press charges. When I finally got my car back, I had to have it towed to the mechanic. The interior smelled like burnt plastic and stale beer, the repairs took over two months, and the final bill for the mechanical damage was $1600, which at the time wiped out almost all of my savings.

For a while, I regretted pressing charges against those kids, and I still don't know if it was the right thing to do. I think I'd have been more inclined to let it slide if they'd just been joyriding, but with the armed robberies, I doubt whether me pressing charges would have changed any part of the final outcome.

Fuck you, Tinh Tranh Nguyen, in your silver van, Ohio plate #KJU 020.
posted by mattdidthat at 7:25 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fuck you, Tinh Tranh Nguyen, in your silver van, Ohio plate #KJU 020.

Matt, what part of San Jose did that happen in? It seems like he would be a pretty easy target to find in just about any part of town. I'm surprised SJPD basically threw up their hands at that. They're usually sharper than that.
posted by Avenger at 7:29 PM on September 2, 2009


America is a very fucked up country and there is very little getting around that.

This is true. But it seems to be coming from some sort of misguided idea that other countries do not have similar (though not identical) issues. Can we agree that the world is f'd up?
posted by The World Famous at 7:33 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not long after, I was talking about the incident with my neighbor and fellow journalist Alex Kotlowitz, interpreter of racial maladies in There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River. I mentioned the coincidence of hearing the same thing from two such different sources. “I don’t think there is any question that it had to do with race,” Kotlowitz said. (Our initial conversation was over the fence, and I recently asked him to reconstruct his perception.) “There is some surmising here, but what other explanation is there for it? It is not like they had some animosity toward bikers.”

I dunno, it seems like a lot of people do have problems with cyclists, and he would make an easy target for kids who just want to fuck with someone. But still, I would guess his race made him stick out more then he otherwise would have.
posted by delmoi at 7:35 PM on September 2, 2009


I still ride through the West Side.

Stupid is as stupid does.
posted by digsrus at 7:35 PM on September 2, 2009


I like to think I would be as calm and non-confrontational as the guy that idiopath describes. I probably would be exactly that, partly because I would be in a state of shock and partly because my default mode in those sorts of situations is automatic deference.

I can't decide whether this deference is a good self-preservation strategy or merely chicken-shitness, and it makes me ill that in this country, I have to stop to think about which of those two descriptions applies to the behavior that I would probably exhibit.
posted by blucevalo at 7:38 PM on September 2, 2009


Wow yeloson, that is pretty much the M.O. my friend mentioned, and in the same city, damn.
posted by idiopath at 7:38 PM on September 2, 2009


posted by Avenger Matt, in what part of San Jose did that happen?

11th & San Salvador. I think the traffic signal was added shortly after my accident.
posted by mattdidthat at 7:42 PM on September 2, 2009


blucevalo: if you are unarmed and a group of dudes has a gun trained at you and you are disoriented in the immediate recovery period after a bike crash, being polite and conversing in a way that would tend to dissipate violent tension takes much more willpower and levelheaded wisdom than getting angry and confrontational, and will probably lead to much better results. I think all of use here would be wise to be "chicken shit" in that dangerous a situation.
posted by idiopath at 7:44 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I realize if I'm an unemployed writer and a kid lays me out, especially a black kid from 'the streets', I'm sure as hell going to milk a long article out of it. However, reading way too into the situation. Cyclists are premo targets for random abuse because all you have to do is put something in their path and it's disaster for them. Cyclist abuse happens anywhere, and it's virtually always teenagers trying to impress their friends doing it. This had little to do with race, class, or America.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:44 PM on September 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Can we agree that the world is f'd up?

There are common threads to the various discords, but 7 years in Tokyo showed me that not all societies are screwed up equally. I biked thousands of miles around that city and never found a particularly tough area, though Shin Okubo and Higashi Shinjuku were obviously on the shady side in several places.

Now, Tokyo sits in the center of an economic web that aggressively taps wealth both from the rest of the Japanese nation and internationally, so it's something of an anomaly, but the systematic failure gradients observable in most urban hellholes just aren't there.

Einstein's “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” is applicable I guess.
posted by Palamedes at 7:54 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw three young (12 or 13 tops) kids push a 60-ish guy off his bike and run off (one kid was riding the bike). I was out walking my dog, saw the whole thing and gave chase. The kid on the bike couldn't get it into high enough gear to escape quickly, and was afraid of my dog, I think - a 90-lb chocolate lab who might have looked black under the streetlights. He bailed and I returned the bike to the man. The victim and the perpetrators were all black. People go after those who seem vulnerable, those who they can overpower.

Race was part of the equation in Conroy's story, but only because race was one of the things that identified the victim as a target; Conroy would not likely have friends nearby, nor the wherewithal to find the perpetrators and exact revenge, as he might have had he been from that neighborhood.
posted by Mister_A at 7:55 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


EXTRA EXTRA: LIBERAL MUGGED
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


idiopath -- Of course I agree with you 100%. My idea in using the word "chicken-shit" (probably not the best choice of words, but I think it fits the description of what some would describe as the nature of the calm/rational approach to this sort of situation) was to highlight that in this culture, a calm/rational approach to violence is often seen as somehow inappropriate, or a sign of weakness, when in fact, it should be the opposite reaction that is seen as inappropriate.
posted by blucevalo at 8:09 PM on September 2, 2009


Also - I'm amazed at the level of service Conroy got from the police. When my son was assaulted he gave the police the description and a witness gave the same description with information about where the guys were headed. After it was all done, my son and I drove off, kind of getting stuck in a maze of one way streets. As we get headed back in the right direction I see a group of young men with the perpatrator (obvious to me from listening to the description) in the street ahead of us. I motion to my son, who hadn't been paying attention, just cradling his head a bit, and he says "Hey, that's him!" and ducks.

Next he looks at me in terror, expecting me to go all righteous mom and get out of the car and go after the dude.

I did get out my phone to call the cops so they could get the guy, but right then a squad pulled up, looked over the situation and drove away. Obviously they weren't looking for anyone. My son asked me to let it go - he didn't want to spend the night at the station identifying the kid and unless we pushed nothing would happen.

So, wow - not only did they catch the guy but they delivered his bike to his house.
posted by readery at 8:10 PM on September 2, 2009


This is the second "bike bashing" in Chicago I've heard of this year... on bikeforums.com, in the commuter thread, someone told a story about getting decked with a baseball bat as he was riding home at night. He wasn't robbed or otherwise beaten, they just swung the bat at him as he rode by, and then ran off.

Assuming this is the incident I know about from someone who is friends with the victim (and I certainly hope it is, because otherwise, that means more than one Chicago cyclist got attacked with a baseball bat recently) -- he was also in a quote-unquote unsafe neighborhood, namely, Humboldt Park. And it happened late at night. I found that story shocking and horrifying, no doubt. This one, simply because it happened in daylight, unnerves me further.

...And, I'm sad to say, it underlines to me that in the bicycle vs. car debate, I (as a woman? or as someone who's just overly cautious by nature?) am generally going to side with the car when venturing into neighborhoods that people talk shit about, because at least I know I can lock the doors and put steel between me and anyone I come across who might mean me harm. On that note, I noticed the article mentioned white teachers who go from car to school and back again. Well, yeah. I used to teach in a very rough neighborhood, and while the eco-optimist in me was always tempted to do the El + bike/walking thing, the uber-paranoid (or simply cautious?) part of me always ended up grabbing the car keys. Paranoid vs. cautious: actually, I think it's a useless debate. People should do what they feel comfortable with; no need for apologies or justifications.

I still ride through the West Side.
...
Stupid is as stupid does.


Yeah, so this journalist still rides his bike through the West Side -- and I gathered that the guy who was injured badly by a baseball bat is still commuting through that neighborhood by bike too. As I said above, no need for apologies or justifications - more power to them, if they still feel comfortable in doing so. They certainly understand, far better than I, how the personal benefits of their decision weigh against the potential costs of it.
posted by artemisia at 8:24 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


This guy did his attacker a good turn and thereby neutralized a bad thing by taking it on himself. That's pretty much all one can ask for most of the time. It's the very definition of altruism (and "Christianity" as I prefer to think of it). There's no telling where or how it might lead down the road. Larry Johnson, if he survives the numerous, more serious, other troubles in his life, he'll grow up. In the event that he gets some time to reflect on his life, he may have much bigger regrets than this. But I figure Larry's got two things going for him. One the memory of this incident and the knowledge that someone who he once figured for a sucker, gave him a break nonetheless. Two is that his aunt and uncle care enough about him to try and protect him a little. The odds seem pretty long but more has been made from less.

That's the best I got.

that and the obligatory "This is what happens Larry!"
posted by wobh at 8:29 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is a great article.

Bonus thought provocation: Take your reaction to it, and then try to imagine how you'd feel if the roles were reversed in any number of ways -- if it were a wealthy white kid beating up a middle aged black man, or a middle aged black man striking out at a white teenager.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2009


how you'd feel if the roles were reversed in any number of ways

or if it were a group of Lebanese men beating up Christopher Hitchens
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:45 PM on September 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


It was an interesting article, but Conroy strikes me as someone who struggles with nuance, complexity, and an understanding of justice more complicated than a 7th-grader's reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. I mean, fighting for the unjustly incarcerated is incredibly important work, but it's a little cut-and-dry. I mean, who would disagree with such a mission? I don't want to denigrate good work, and there are huge logistical barriers to the effort, but hardly serious moral ones (other than fluff like "what is really the truth?"). To me, the article seems to fail in that sense.

The big giveaway is when he wonders what would have happened if the races had been reversed. This is solely a tactic of those who don't understand the nature of any serious societal problems (and often those predispositioned to come to certain conclusions anyway). I mean, how can one simply reverse the races of individuals in a specific act without changing the dynamics surrounding the event. This is similar to people who think "had I only been Black, I would have gotten into Harvard" with the obvious assumption that being Black in modern America is just a binary switch that can be flipped without anything else changing. Regardless of the conclusions (opposing hate crimes and affirmative action, etc) this is just a dumb way to see race relations.

Would it have been a hate crime if Emmit Till was White and his murderers Black? What kind of a question is that? How does ignoring the context of race relations help this discussion? Neutrality is a fine principle when it comes to regulating telecoms, but attacking a problem as complex as racism requires far more context. Yet this nonsense passes through mainstream filters all the time without being called out. So watch out for those that reverse the races of certain actors within a counterfactual and expect to have some grand revelation that just-so-happens to dovetail with a defense of the status quo.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:51 PM on September 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


The big giveaway is when he wonders what would have happened if the races had been reversed. This is solely a tactic of those who don't understand the nature of any serious societal problems (and often those predispositioned to come to certain conclusions anyway).

I don't think you read this story very carefully: the author didn't wonder what "would have happened," he wonders, rather, how he himself would have responded, right or wrong, and there sits some of the most nuanced, most difficult sentences that he writes.

If you read this story trying to get some grand social truth out of it, you're likely projecting: this is a deeply personal narrative, and the only real gesture it makes toward an all-encompassing truth is in the beginning, when it implies that we're all cowards when it comes to confronting race.
posted by Damn That Television at 9:01 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


In previous discussions on MetaFilter regarding hate crimes, the general consensus seemed to be that the motivation of the attacker is not particularly relevant, only that some segment of the populace in the established categories, to one or more of which the targeted victim belongs, was frightened, terrorized, intimidated, etc.

Does this apply?
posted by adipocere at 9:08 PM on September 2, 2009


You know, I'm not usually in the OMGPUNISHMENT camp, but for unprovoked and pointless assault on strangers? Yeah, then I kinda am.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:30 PM on September 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


So watch out for those that reverse the races of certain actors within a counterfactual and expect to have some grand revelation that just-so-happens to dovetail with a defense of the status quo.

I am confused about what aspect of how the author uses this rhetorical technique in the article defends the status quo, in your view.

In previous discussions on MetaFilter regarding hate crimes, the general consensus seemed to be that the motivation of the attacker is not particularly relevant, only that some segment of the populace in the established categories, to one or more of which the targeted victim belongs, was frightened, terrorized, intimidated, etc.
Does this apply?


Dunno about the consensus of Metafilter, but stuff like this is why I personally don't support hate crimes laws. I'm fine with extra punishment for premeditation, and for randomness; I think this would cover most hate crimes, and the ones it wouldn't cover are the very ones in which it is very difficult to piece apart hate from anger. But I think for the most part, good and evil are qualities of action. If one could somehow erase all racial and class and vehicular distinctions between the victim and the perp in this case, would Conway's knee be any less fucked up?
posted by Diablevert at 9:41 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great article. The story definitely gets under my skin, and Conroy really was quite naive at the start of the story, but it sounds like he has wised-up a little. He shouldn't be so hard on himself, though; Conroy's liberal white guilt is a liability in his effort to understand the situation. This kid is an awful specimen of humanity, and I think the most education thing about the whole experience, for someone like Conroy, is to clearly see that singular fact.
posted by Edgewise at 9:45 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, this whole story is a nearly perfect metaphor for America's foreign policy: we go where we're not wanted because we think we can help those who don't want our help. Complete with the endless discussions about the causes of violence. Maybe Larry just hates John Conroy's freedom.
These fuckin' gentrifiers are worse than the KKK, what bunch of arrogant, patronizing, self-important jerks. "Everyone here hates me, but I'll stay because I know best for them - my very presence will uplift these poor unfortunates".
posted by 445supermag at 9:51 PM on September 2, 2009


At some point we as a society need learn to look at this kind of thing through the lens of economics, and not of race. Substitute the word "poor" for "black" and i think you get a much clearer view of the landscape.

It's also interesting to me how often the wayward, rowdy, or violent group of black teenagers is so often the focal point of discussions of "black racism". That's the last place you should be looking for nuanced observations about how the world works.

Last I checked being sullen, un-remorseful, and lacking perspective is one of the ways teenagers of all races join hands in togetherness.

But mostly, It seems to me like the author of this article missed every obvious opportunity to look at this kid as an individual and not as some sort of racial cipher. By the end, he pretty much admits to being willfully obtuse about it service of some larger point that wasn't really there to begin with.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:53 PM on September 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also about criminalization of intent vis a vis hate crime laws: I am against them, although I don't see why this case is a better example than any other.

In previous discussions on MetaFilter regarding hate crimes, the general consensus seemed to be that the motivation of the attacker is not particularly relevant, only that some segment of the populace in the established categories, to one or more of which the targeted victim belongs, was frightened, terrorized, intimidated, etc.

If that's the consensus, then it's chilling as hell. What about targeting a wider group, like the entire society? I think that Conroy makes an excellent point about that.

Race was part of the equation in Conroy's story, but only because race was one of the things that identified the victim as a target; Conroy would not likely have friends nearby, nor the wherewithal to find the perpetrators and exact revenge, as he might have had he been from that neighborhood.

I think you're assuming an awful lot. Who really knows what was on these kids' minds?
posted by Edgewise at 9:58 PM on September 2, 2009


This story reminds me very much of the opening of Nik Cohn's book Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap.

As a music writer he had immersed himself in the work and environments of black musical artists, had studied and met many black musicians, had collected artifacts from the legacy of black music in America. He had black friends and black lovers. One these black lovers tried to tell him that all whites are racist to some degree down inside, and that all it takes is one bad experience and "you'd turn cracker in a heartbeat." Cohn of course denies this possibility. And then he describes one evening when he makes a bad decision in New Orleans, wanders into the wrong neighborhood and is set upon by a gang of black kids. He escapes without injury, but in looking back on his moment of terror he discovers that he was afraid less of getting robbed or shot, but mostly of their "blackness." And up came "the poison" of racism that was really was deep down inside him.

You can read it for yourself at the Google Books link above, it's the first three pages and is an excellent story.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:06 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, apparently when I asked Metafilter about living in Chicago, I should have added "oh, yeah, and where is it a totally stupid idea to ride your bike?"

All this "everyone knows that, duh!" stuff makes me nervous. Everyone but me.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:07 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was standing on the sidewalk in West Berkeley about 5 or 6 years ago, when a guy blew by me on his bicycle. I just stepped out of his way, completely oblivious, and was shocked to hear from my ex that the guy had swung a large metal pipe at my head as he rode by.

There are a lot of angry, crazy, messed up people out there. If you are lucky, you'll never meet any of them. It's just a matter of luck.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:08 PM on September 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


445supermag:

Wtf?

At some point we as a society need learn to look at this kind of thing through the lens of economics, and not of race. Substitute the word "poor" for "black" and i think you get a much clearer view of the landscape.

I disagree. Race and economics are not interchangeable. In the next paragraph, you are asking for more nuance, but here you want to drop a variable from the equation.
posted by Edgewise at 10:09 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, this whole story is a nearly perfect metaphor for America's foreign policy: we go where we're not wanted because we think we can help those who don't want our help. Complete with the endless discussions about the causes of violence. Maybe Larry just hates John Conroy's freedom.

These fuckin' gentrifiers are worse than the KKK, what bunch of arrogant, patronizing, self-important jerks. "Everyone here hates me, but I'll stay because I know best for them - my very presence will uplift these poor unfortunates".


Why do you assume that gentrifiers are anything more than low-income white folk who are moving into areas with low-income housing?
posted by Frankieist at 10:10 PM on September 2, 2009


Why do you assume that gentrifiers are anything more than low-income white folk who are moving into areas with low-income housing?
posted by Frankieist at 10:10 PM on September 2 [+] [!]


Nobody calls white trash moving in next door "Gentrification". Believe me, I know, I bring down property values wherever I go.
posted by 445supermag at 10:17 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


One the memory of this incident and the knowledge that someone who he once figured for a sucker, gave him a break nonetheless.

Or he was dead-on all along. Do what you want and then pretend to apologize and those idiots will let you go!
posted by codswallop at 10:19 PM on September 2, 2009


And then he describes one evening when he makes a bad decision in New Orleans, wanders into the wrong neighborhood and is set upon by a gang of black kids. He escapes without injury, but in looking back on his moment of terror he discovers that he was afraid less of getting robbed or shot, but mostly of their "blackness." And up came "the poison" of racism that was really was deep down inside him.

Pardon? So he was fine with being killed, but he was terrified they would... what? Dunk on him? Bust rhymes? Wear loud sweaters like Bill Cosby?

This is just weird nonsense. I am white, and most of my negative experiences with shady people have been with poor whites. So yes sometimes I am tempted to generalize that I don't like "rednecks." Was there a poor-white-hating "poison deep down inside me all along?" Or, like all human beings and probably all animals, do I tend to generalize from past experiences?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:37 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, this whole story is a nearly perfect metaphor for America's foreign policy: we go where we're not wanted because we think we can help those who don't want our help. Complete with the endless discussions about the causes of violence. Maybe Larry just hates John Conroy's freedom.
These fuckin' gentrifiers are worse than the KKK, what bunch of arrogant, patronizing, self-important jerks. "Everyone here hates me, but I'll stay because I know best for them - my very presence will uplift these poor unfortunates".


As I read the article, Conway was biking through one neighborhood on his way home following a meeting. Which is, of course, very much like the second Iraq War. In that Conway was in the midst of working on an article about investigative journalism when he was attacked by a stranger while passing through a shady neighborhood, and the second Iraq War was launched by George W. Bush on the premise that Saddam Hussein posed an implacable threat to American national interests and had to be deposed, bolstering his causus belli with accusations that Saddam was developing chemical and/or biological weapons in violation of UN sanctions and assertions that Iraq could prove a Western-friendly democratic ally in the heart of the Middle East, potentially paving the way for the wholesale democratic reform of the region. Castor and Pollux, really.
posted by Diablevert at 10:50 PM on September 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Upon actually reading the article. It's pretty strange. Especially this:

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.”


The "frontal cortex" thing sounds like either eugenics or bad 50s teenager paranoia. It seems even someone who represents these people in court just can't grasp the very basic concept of Just Not Giving A Fuck.

When people have shitty lives anyway, no hope of anything better, they just don't care. If they feel angry, or bored, or whatever, they will lash out at someone, because it at least makes them feel good for a few minutes. I don't buy that they are too stupid to think about "higher consequences" - surely they have seen peers go to jail. I just don't think they consider going to jail something to give a fuck about. I'm not excusing their behavior at all, but just stating the way it is.

I'm reminded of the end of season four (I think) of The Wire, where the mother wants the son to go into the drug game, and the dad, who's in jail, says: "who the fuck would want to be this, if they could be something else?" I'm pretty sure these kids would accept a nice job and a big house if it was offered to them, and they wouldn't be attacking people on the streets. But they can't even imagine that ever happening. Again, not blaming "society" or whatever- they deserve to be punished for the crimes they chose to commit. Just trying to explain in a slightly more realistic way.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:57 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Diablevert, wow, what a great way of showing that had I wrote what you mistakenly thought I meant, it would have been really idiotic. (Instead, I sure it has plenty of idiocy on its terms)
posted by 445supermag at 11:11 PM on September 2, 2009


And by great, I really mean pretentious.
posted by 445supermag at 11:13 PM on September 2, 2009


This is the second "bike bashing" in Chicago I've heard of this year

My co-worker's girlfriend was intentionally run off the road by a group of teenagers, again in Humbolt Park, on the night of the Puerto Rican Parade. Like Conway, her knee is fucked up and she's got months of physical therapy ahead of her.

Stupid is as stupid does.

I've biked through Chicago's rougher neighborhoods, including that stretch of Lake Street. I've received a couple of threats of the you-don't-belong-here variety. The first, on the South Side, was by a group of black kids barely in their teens who ran across the street in front of me, talking shit. The second was being told "Get out of this neighborhood" by a young Latino man in the passenger seat of a passing car. There was undoubtedly a racial motive here, or, as is usually the case in these things, assumptions about race and class--the class of people who have road bikes and wear spandex shorts for fun.

But it's not all bad. Really. A couple of weeks ago me and about 75 other mostly white people went on a somewhat organized bike tour around the perimeter of the city. We rode through Woodlawn, Riverdale, West Englewood, all without incident. In fact people seemed delighted to see us, amazed that we were going for 100 miles, and generally patient of our slow progress through the intersections. It wasn't until we got back to the North Side that we got the verbal and physical abuse. The abuse was sort of amusing ("You are all assholes!" yelled a woman from an SUV while we were stopped at Superdawg; "Get a car you faggot commies!" yelled a man when we were stopped at Burger King) and innocuous (I'm sure the egg washed off without any problem), but it didn't feel like a warm welcome home.

And it's not like I have to ride my bike or travel very far to get harassed. I've had rocks lobbed at me in Bucktown, and the closest I've gotten to beaten up for walking down the street was in Wrigleyville on a Saturday night.

But I'm still going to bike down Lake Street, just like I'm still going to go to Wrigleyville whenever I damn well please. Chicago is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, and our crime rate is soaring, but honestly, truthfully, when stuff like this happens it's surprsing because it's rare. Surprising to me, who grew up here, and surprising to Conway, who's worked on stories that have taken him all over the city.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:32 PM on September 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I want to blame John Conroy--any middle class white guy with an ounce of common sense in Chicago knows not to bike alone on the West side.

Two stories:

#1: my mother grew up white and poor on the west side, and was a child-to-preteen when the neighborhood rapidly changed from predominantly white to mixed-race. She tells me that she sometimes felt nervous when non-white kids harassed her verbally, but nothing physical ever happened to her, and eventually they moved away. About a decade ago she visited, and was shocked at how much nicer it was and how much safer it seemed, whereas I looked at it and though "well, holy fuck, I'm not gonna hang out around here."

To hear people I know on both sides of the fence tell it, the tension at the time (and I imagine still) is that from the time my mother was a child, this was a poor area, and then suddenly with the rebuilding of the green line lots of wealthy white people moved in. In Chicago (and, I suppose elsewhere) that's always a recipe for tension and violence.

#2: when I was but a 14-year-old lad in the 80s, I got it in my head that it would be a good idea to ride my brand-new mountain bike down Cicero avenue, from the north side (at Devon) down to Cermak Road, to visit a girl I had met and fooled around with a few times. So picture me, tall skinny white kid with spiked blond hair and a short-sleeve collared shirt with an oh-so-80s colorful pattern on the front, riding my new bike along my merry way.

I had to ride through projects; I had to ride through neighborhoods that, later as a adult, I didn't even like to drive through; I had a prostitute should "hey, want a date? I have a bike too!" at me as I rode past. I also stopped at one point to buy a homemade sno-cone from some kids in a crap neighborhood selling 'em from their lawn. And the whole time, I never felt nervous or threatened, not even once -- that is, until I hit Cicero (the city) proper. It's a predominantly white town, and when I got there, nobody was around; it felt almost vacant. Suddenly I felt nervous as hell, and decided to turn around and go home. Made it home just before dark, and again nothing bad happened and I felt just fine (if somewhat tired) the whole way back.

So it's hard to say sometimes; what seems foolish to one person may seem brilliant to another. Sometimes things go obviously wrong, or right, and sometimes you get the opposite of what you expect out of a given scenario.
posted by davejay at 11:32 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Race and economics are not interchangeable. In the next paragraph, you are asking for more nuance, but here you want to drop a variable from the equation.

Yes I want to drop that variable.The whole point of the fight against racism is dropping that variable. Unless you believe that being Black makes you more likely to punch a stranger than some other determining factor, it seems to me that the search for deeper meaning lies elswhere.

Looking at the totality of someone's motivations is indeed more nuanced than pinning it all on race.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:38 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


These fuckin' gentrifiers are worse than the KKK, what bunch of arrogant, patronizing, self-important jerks. "Everyone here hates me, but I'll stay because I know best for them - my very presence will uplift these poor unfortunates".

Where did you get this idea that Conway was a gentrifier? Or did you just pull your straw man out of your hat?
posted by hydrophonic at 11:42 PM on September 2, 2009


Diablevert, wow, what a great way of showing that had I wrote what you mistakenly thought I meant, it would have been really idiotic. (Instead, I sure it has plenty of idiocy on its terms)

Okay. You wrote:

You know, this whole story is a nearly perfect metaphor for America's foreign policy: we go where we're not wanted because we think we can help those who don't want our help. Complete with the endless discussions about the causes of violence. Maybe Larry just hates John Conroy's freedom.

You suggest that the story is a metaphor, and the quality that the story shares with America's foreign policy is that "we go where we're not wanted," and "try and help those who don't want our help." I assumed you were alluding to Iraq. That's been the biggest foreign policy controversy of recent years, and the one that was most frequently justified by saying that we'd be helping people, e.g., freeing the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein dictatorship. That was my reasoning, perhaps that was not what you meant. If you intended to allude to America's foreign policy more broadly, then I think that's such a narrow description of our aims as to be inapt.

But whether or not you were alluding to Iraq or America's foreign policy more broadly, the connection you make to the story is baffling to me. So far as the attack goes, the author was neither going to the neighborhood where he was attacked, not intending to help anyone there. The author himself lives somewhere else, and it's completely unclear to me how his passing through the neighborhood has anything to do with gentrification, or could be critiqued from that standpoint. Are his other interactions with the guy who assaulted him the basis for saying he's going where he's not wanted, trying to help someone who doesn't want his help? I guess you could say that by choosing the mediation process, the author is trying to help his assailant, but it seems clear that the assailant, through likely indifferent to the author, would rather go through the mediation than face the prospect of probation and a criminal conviction. And the author has his own selfish motives, which he openly cops to, for picking that path.
posted by Diablevert at 11:56 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good thing I got mugged by white folks or my understanding of the grand narrative of race in America would never be the same. Yeesh.
posted by BinGregory at 2:01 AM on September 3, 2009


"... It would be reassuring to be able to place all the blame on Larry's shoulders, and the world would make more sense if it was feasible, but in the end, that's intellectually disingenuous.

Avenger is right: America is fucked up."

posted by notswedish at 9:59 PM on September 2

Let's not place all the blame on Larry's shoulders, just the part of it where he couldn't be bothered to come up with a better idea for something to "do" than beat up the next passerby. And the part where he abdicated his moral responsibility to other human beings by going along with his gang's ethos to do this. And, then, also, the part where his knuckles met John Conroy's face. And also the part where Larry left the scene, without bothering to see how bad Conroy was hurt. And the part where Larry ran, trying to avoid punishment. And the part where Larry continued to be a callous, insincere jerk in making any kind of real amends. And the part where he dropped out of high school, having passed only a single course in his time there. Let's just put those parts of this incident, and its aftermath, and its foreshadowings of future problems, on Larry's shoulders.

There's still plenty of blame left for Doris, and for Larry's "uncle." They're raising that kid with gypsy values. They're teaching by overt example, that it is alright to scam the justice system, and that hurting other people carries no real consequences. They're reinforcing the idea that the color of your skin should have some bearing on the outcome of your case, and that just being black means you should expect special consideration from the justice system, if your accuser is white. They're making the case that the opportunity for the paid work of writing about a painful personal experience should be compensation enough for enduring that pain, and they have the gall to suggest that Larry should get some compensation from Conroy's work, for being the instigator of that incident.

These are all classic Romani strategies in dealing with confrontations involving the larger society. And that's not how you raise a good citizen of a larger society.

In 1957, my family lived in a trailer park in Aurora, CO, near the now closed Denver Naval Air Station, where my dad was stationed, as a Navy enlisted man. A lot of other Navy personnel lived there too, because it was the cheapest, closest off base housing available. One of our next door neighbors was a retired man, and his wife, who lived in a bright, shiny aluminum Airstream trailer - more or less, the Cadillac of trailers, in that day and age. They took a lot of pride in that Airstream, and had surrounded it with germaniums and zinnias, in decorative little bordered plantings, behind a little white picket fence that bordered the front of their little patio/yard. But to us kids, it was just a big, impossibly shiny trailer, that reflected the sun at odd angles all day long.

One afternoon, my kid brother and I were playing in our little trailer park yard, next to the Airstream, which included making mud balls into mud pies on a sun warmed little concrete block, at our kid sister's earnest direction. Suddenly, for no particular reason, my kid brother turned around and chucked a mud ball at the Airstream, and it stuck! He laughed, reached down, made another mud ball, and chucked that one, too, at the Airstream, and it stuck, too! The hot metal skin of the Airstream was baking mud pies better than the concrete block by far! Within a few minutes, both of us were plastering that Airstream with mud balls as fast as our little fingers could roll them. My sister started screaming at the top of her lungs, because we weren't making her any more mud pies for her concrete block "oven."

My sister's cries alerted my Mom, who was visiting a neighbor on the other side of our trailer, that something was wrong. When she came around the corner of our trailer, she saw me and my brother covered in mud up to our elbows, our kid sister crying, and that Airstream covered in flatten mud pies so thick she couldn't lay her hand between 'em. She later said it was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud, but that she knew the neighbors would be livid. So, she shooed us all into our own trailer, and started cleaning us up, and telling us how we'd have to tell our Dad what we did, when he got home.

We knew that wasn't good. In our house, and in most houses in that little neighborhood trailer park, no kid ever wanted to wait until their Dad got home, to be disciplined. That was sure to result in unpleasantness of a high, and long lasting order. The kind of unpleasantness that permanently Built Character. But it wasn't more than about half an hour before our Dad got home from work, so there wasn't any choice. And when he did get home, the first thing he saw, was about a 100 mud pies hanging in the orange glow of the setting sun, on the once brilliant side of the now-not-so-shiny Airstream.

He didn't have to ask what had happened, or who had done it.

And he really didn't get the chance, immediately, because, about that time, the owners of the Airstream returned from their afternoon of shopping. And they had a hissy fit, that we could hear inside our trailer, right there in the street with my Dad, who was apologizing profusely, and vowing to "get to the bottom of this" the whole time. So, after being harangued for 10 minutes, Dad came inside, and there we were, in the front room, fairly clean, and so scared we could just barely hiccup-breathe.

So when the first thing my 6' 4" tall uniformed father said, before he said "Hi, honey." to our mother, which he always did coming home, was "Did you boys do that?" while pointing through our open door to the Airstream, we were just too scared to say anything. Maybe, in mortal fear, one of us shook our head, as if we could deny it. I don't remember if it was me or my brother that tried floating that impossible denial, but my Dad nearly lost it, right then and there. The one thing he never would abide was a lie, and we were both just big enough to know that. But he drew himself full up (I still remember it!), and just said, loudly, slowly, again "Did ... you ... do .... that?"

And then we both confessed, by breaking into full out blubbering at the same instant.

So my Dad closed the door, and told us, pretty calmly, that we'd done a very bad thing. And worse, that he thought we'd tried to lie about it. And he told us we were going to get, right then, bare butt spankings, not for the bad thing we did, but for lying about it to him. And that after that, we were going to go apologize for what we'd done, and after that, we were going to try to clean up the mess we'd made. And that's exactly what happened, in that order. We got one of only two bare butt spankings we ever got, and then we got dressed, and still crying, we were marched over to the neighbors, and made to apologize to them, as sincerely as we possibly could, through our blubbering and tears, and we also had to promise to try to clean up the mess we made, and then we promised never to do something like that again.

That semi-mollified the neighbors, but they were still concerned about the dents in their trailer some of our bigger mud balls had made. Our Dad promised to make good on any repairs financially, if their insurance didn't cover it. And then we went right around, still blubbering, and got to work, with our Dad, washing down that trailer, by hand. We worked and worked until dark, but the baked on mud was a lot harder to wash off, than it had been to apply. We worked on cleaning it most of the next day, with our mother, too. And when Dad got home from work the next day, we worked on finishing the cleaning with him. I still remember that my arms hurt so bad, I couldn't scratch my head for several days thereafter.

But that Airstream shone again in the sunlight, even if it had a few dents it never had before. I think it eventually cost my folks several hundred dollars to have some of the bigger dents pulled, and some aluminum panels replaced, which was a huge sum back then, on a Navy enlisted man's pay. And when we were finished cleaning it, we had to go face the neighbors again, offer another apology, invite them to inspect our cleaning, and promise, again, that we'd never do something like that in the future. It was some weeks before those neighbors really spoke easily again, to us, or our parents, but eventually they did. It was good of them to do so, and eased tensions in that little place, a lot. We were grateful that they did, finally, forgive us for being stupid little kids, and that they didn't make it harder on all of us, to make amends.

But we never forgot that incident, any of us. We weren't allowed to. Our kids all heard about it, when they got old enough, too. And even my grand kids have all heard about it. It's now a concrete part of the expected behavior teaching of our family. It encapsulates, personally, what our family thinks is The Right Thing To Do When You've Screwed Up, and it continues to remind my brother and me of how it feels to do wrong, and what it takes to make amends when you do:
  • You don't lie. Lying is 10 times worse than any honest mistake or misdeed.
  • It's wrong to get your fun by damaging the property or interests of others.
  • That parents stand behind their kids, and are responsible for the bad actions of their children.
  • Misdeeds have real consequences, and if you're old enough to understand that, you're old enough to suffer them accordingly.
  • When you've wronged someone, you owe them an apology, and they shouldn't have to ask for it.
  • An apology should be sincere, and heartfelt.
  • An apology, by itself, means nothing, if you don't learn something from your action, and try to make amends.
  • You have to make amends, to the very best of your ability.
  • You can't expect to be forgiven, just because you tried to make amends.
  • If a person you've wronged does forgive you, it's to their credit, not yours.
  • Being forgiven feels good, and it is worth the effort of trying to make amends.
  • Forgiving others who hurt us, if they have sincerely tried to make amends, is the right thing to do.
There's nothing particularly special about my family, when it comes to raising children, or passing down morals, and I don't relate this as if I thought what my family teaches should be the standard for what all families teach. A lot of people are probably horrified, reading this, that 50+ years ago, my family discipline included physical spanking. Some might think my mother was at fault for not personally supervising us in every second of our outdoor play. But, whatever you think of the points I've illustrated as our family teaching from this incident, I doubt Larry is getting any of that, or anything like it in a positive sense, from Doris or his "uncle," judging from John Conyer's description of his behavior, or that of Doris, or Larry's "uncle."

But let's never confuse the failures of one family to morally instruct their young, with our whole country's problems. Larry and his family may have the morals of gypsys, but the fact that they fail to teach Larry what is right, does not mean our society does not have a moral code, or the legal obligation to try to protect the peaceable majority, from the predators among us.

Whatever your lights regarding the sociology of urban youth, you can't take John Conroy's account as the logical base for a statement as broad as "America is f****d up." All you can say is "Larry and his family are f*****d up."

And that's where the blame should stop. Because until families work, society is going to have problems with the kids who never learned right from wrong.
posted by paulsc at 2:43 AM on September 3, 2009 [19 favorites]


The "frontal cortex" thing sounds like either eugenics or bad 50s teenager paranoia. It seems even someone who represents these people in court just can't grasp the very basic concept of Just Not Giving A Fuck.

I think it refers to recent research that suggests our brains don't stop maturing until we're in our early to mid twenties -- and that one of the last parts to fully develop are the frontal lobes, including parts of the brain responsible for ethical judgment calls. Forgive my layman's speak, I'm no neuroscientist. First read about this in a Newsweek article.
posted by artemisia at 2:49 AM on September 3, 2009


I think paulsc hits it right the nail squarely on the head when he says this:

Whatever your lights regarding the sociology of urban youth, you can't take John Conroy's account as the logical base for a statement as broad as "America is f****d up." All you can say is "Larry and his family are f*****d up."

And personally, I think that, if there was any statement made by the article in the post, that's it. If there's any broader statement, it's that there are folks like that in the world -- not that they are of a particular race, location, or bike-hating class.

(This may have been colored by my summary of the article, stating that Conroy is forced to examine some of his ideas because of the incident, which obviously led some folks (though certainly not all) to assume this was a "white liberal has an eye opening experience about the world he lives in and changes his mind" which I really don't think was what happened here beyond his own opinions about the people involved and himself. I don't think this examination necessarily led him to change his mind about the lofty things (race, hate crimes, etc) -- just that he was asking more questions.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 5:55 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great article. Thanks for sharing.
posted by molecicco at 6:24 AM on September 3, 2009


These are all classic Romani strategies in dealing with confrontations involving the larger society.posted by paulsc

And the prize for awesomely overt racism of the day goes to...
posted by haveanicesummer at 6:32 AM on September 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


Thanks paulsc, I think you really nailed it. Some people are falling all over themselves to excuse Larry so as to fit their pre-existing political narratives. The simple fact is that he is a rotten person, and his elders never held him to good standards of accountability. Race may be a factor in the overall incident, but most of what you need to know about Larry is pretty simple.

billyfleetwood:

Yes I want to drop that variable.The whole point of the fight against racism is dropping that variable. Unless you believe that being Black makes you more likely to punch a stranger than some other determining factor, it seems to me that the search for deeper meaning lies elswhere.

Again, I disagree. That's not the point of fighting racism, in my book -- the point of fighting racism is to give everyone a chance. It doesn't mean that we ignore what is there.

If I may jump to conclusions, it sounds like you are of the mindset that race is a construct, and racism is something artificial, for lack of a better word. I won't get into that first point, but I will say that I believe that racism is a natural inclination for human beings. I think it's natural for people to trust people who look more like themselves, etc. That doesn't mean it's a good instinct; I see the point of resisting it in many cases. However, if racism is something natural and distinct, we obviously can't ignore it as a factor.

Looking at the totality of someone's motivations is indeed more nuanced than pinning it all on race.

That's a strawman. Nobody, including Conroy and everyone in this thread, is pinning it all on race (whatever that means...it could mean a lot of things, but nobody is making any of those arguments here). It's a factor, simply put. Did racism motivate Larry? Very possibly, although it's hard to say for sure, since I cannot read minds. Did class motivate Larry? Again, very possibly...and they aren't the same thing, even though there is plenty of overlap. I see absolutely no point in eliminating race from the conversation, because it's there, and it's not interchangeable with class or economics. If we eliminate race from the discussion, then we are unable to even consider whether or not Larry was motivated by racism.
posted by Edgewise at 6:36 AM on September 3, 2009


This is not just about race. With Conroy and with my son actions were taken by one teenage boy within a group. The motive is isn't financial gain, but just to gain approval of peers. My son doesn't remember much as he hit the pavement but the kid that hit him was given cheers and whoops by his friends. I think it is mentioned in the article, but these are crimes of random violence, the victim chosen because he is instantaneously known as an outsider by his race. The neighborhood this happened in has been increasingly violent over the past three years or so, more due to the tear down of high rise public housing and additional drug markets than overt racial pressures.

I'm in the process of looking for a new job and I bike commute. I know men, like Conroy, that bike through the west side and I have been wondering for the past couple of weeks if I would or not - I'd be taking a route a few blocks south of Lake Street. I think not.

And I worry about the Larry's of the world.
posted by readery at 7:27 AM on September 3, 2009


... Some people are falling all over themselves to excuse Larry so as to fit their pre-existing political narratives. The simple fact is that he is a rotten person, and his elders never held him to good standards of accountability. Race may be a factor in the overall incident, but most of what you need to know about Larry is pretty simple.

I'd say that most of what we actually know about Larry is pretty simple. I'm wary of concluding anything on it, even if there were in fact nothing more to know. Simple things add up over time. Conroy's quest to know more has come to a frustrating dead end at the time of writing, and meanwhile life is busy moving on, and adding things up.
posted by wobh at 7:38 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


These are all classic Romani strategies in dealing with confrontations involving the larger society. And that's not how you raise a good citizen of a larger society.

The hell? Where did that come from? Great way to ruin an otherwise excellent story - did your folks teach you about the Romani too?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Larry and his family may have the morals of gypsys

Thanks for the reminder that Gypsies are raised as criminals, paulsc! Could you come up with a family homily about the time your dad taught you not to be like those money-grubbing Jews, too?

What an awful comment. Absolutely inexcusable in this day and age.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not so sure about the "gypsy values" thing myself.
posted by blucevalo at 8:19 AM on September 3, 2009


If there's any broader statement, it's that there are folks like that in the world -- not that they are of a particular race, location, or bike-hating class.

Yes, but this is news to who exactly? Random teenage delinquent commits random act of violence and on further investigation is found to come from a delinquent household. You don't say! Had they both been white you couldn't get through three pages of him thrusting the blindingly obvious in your face. The only reason this story is a story is because the kid was black and he was white, and thus, oh no, hate crime. Discrimination against white men is such the hot topic.

The twist here, such as it is, is that where the audience is expecting from the liberal author that the kid is a victim of circumstance or misunderstood or has a heart of gold underneath or whatever, it turns out that he really is a degenerate product of a degenerate household, confirming what we deep down knew to be the root cause of black criminality: bad family values. Like Gypsies even. And Doris claimed she was a Christian, for shame!

The whole thing is just so contrived - at least he had the decency to let us know he was broke and desperate for a story from the get-go.
posted by BinGregory at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2009


META
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2009


Paulsc's comment has been called out on MetaTalk.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2009


And I did preview!
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2009


oh, so this is why my husband told me not to go down Lake Street (we live nearby)
posted by desjardins at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2009


Wow, why in the world would anyone ever flag paul's comment as a favorite? The article was great. Paul's comment was a pointless and irrelevant personal anecdote shedding no light on anything, not even on paul himself. "One time I did something naughty as a kid and my parents spanked me and now I'm a good person," stories are just one of the many species of emetic fungi that sprout in comments and on messageboards everywhere.

The "gypsy morals" comments are simply the brightly colored dots you see on the most toxic of mushrooms: overt warnings that this cap is not fit for consumption.
posted by kavasa at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


A significant number of people seem to think that "kids today" are bad people because their parents didn't hit them physically. Notwithstanding that many "kids today" are bad people because their parents didn't stop hitting them physically.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:19 AM on September 3, 2009


Very specious reasoning. I'm sure the cops must know about snitches.

I'm guessing there are a few factors in this: first, most people actually snitch. There's a huge culture of not saying anything, which I'm sure works if you are an innocent witness and can say something like, "Are you going to arrest me for something, or are you going to let me go?" But if you're the guy, and they have you tapped as the guy, you're probably going to snitch. At that point, the advantages to you for snitching (avoiding jailtime and punishment) probably outweight the disadvantages (worst case, potential retaliation from others in your gang but most likely just losing esteem; this isn't a drug deal or murder we're talking about, so the stakes for protecting the real guilty party aren't that high). Also, the idea is if you know who did it but won't divulge the information, you're basically obstructing justice. They might not be able to get a conviction on you but you're still guilty of "something".

Reading this article reminded me of the time I got punched in the face, probably because I was white, a few years back in DC. I was walking along a street with another two friends, a guy and a girl. Two tall black guys started walking behind us. The girl started making some kind of comment about the guys behind us being really shady. I remember thinking that her comments were racist -- that she was only saying this because the two guys were black.

The guys started to close in on us, and started talking to us. I didn't know what to do at that point...we were crossing the road and were right in front of some cars. I thought about stopping and waving at the drivers to honk their horns or something, get them to do something, but we crossed the street instead and the thugs followed. At this point we were only two houses away from our apartment and I figured we could make it inside.

"You got any money?" one of them finally asked.
Oh man, I thought. "No," I honestly replied.
"Then what's that in your pocket?" (My empty wallet).

Next thing I knew, I was sort of lying sideways on a wall. I'd be punched, as had my male friend (the girl had been spared). My mouth was bloody, and my gums and cheek were so cut up that for a week I couldn't eat any solid foods comfortably.

The guys, of course, were never caught. Even if we'd had money and had given it to them, I don't doubt that they would have still punched us in the face, and the reason would be that we were white and they were black.

There was a part of me that hated black people for the next day or two. It was a horrible feeling to have, to be angry at a race of people. I knew that black people, as a whole, do not believe that they are entitled to treat white people like shit because of history, or because many of them are poor when white people are rich. I knew that the two black guys (not more than teenagers) were just doing it for kicks and it had little, on a conscious level, to do with structural racism or disenfranchisement. But there was still a part of me that felt like I couldn't be fully and totally angry and embrace my victimhood in the moment because, when all was said and done, I was still going to be the male white oppressor. Once my lip fully healed, wherever I went, black people could still, if they wanted, see me as no better than the whites who had owned slaves even if my ancestors never did, or the whites who strung up black people in trees even if no one in my family had done that (and actually I know for certain that one of my grandfathers, who I never knew, was a racist who was horrified at the idea of sharing a public pool with black people, so I guess racism is in my genes). Regardless of my intentions, actions, or inactions, I earn my white W for no reason other than being something called white in a society where that gives me overwhelming privilege over non-whites.

The thing is, I know that I can't understand how racism affects people of color. And that I can't equate my experience with anyone else's. I just wish, I just really wish, that people wouldn't be assholes, no matter what happened in their or anyone else's past. That people could say, "Okay, I am not perfect, you are not perfect, let's try not to treat each other like shit." and really mean it.

My experience hardened me for a long time. Even after I got over my anger, I found it difficult to feel safe or comfortable when I saw groups of black teenagers. Living in a safe area of Philly, where the black teenagers are, you know, nice ordinary teenagers, instead of thugs, has really helped.

I wouldn't be nearly as nice as the author if I ran into my assailants. I'd want a conviction, and I wouldn't feel bad about their parents having to pay compensation, either. I don't ever care to know why they punched me. Basically, they punched a harmless stranger for the very reason I would never do it -- I'm a decent human being, they're not.

The beating wasn't an isolated incident in that area. The landlord of my friend's apartment was beat to a pulp on the way home, also for "no reason". There had also been numerous incidents of delivery guys being lured to an address and then mugged. I hate thugs.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2009


Because until families work, society is going to have problems with the kids who never learned right from wrong.

Paul, as all good conservatives do, you're ignoring the stratification of society and the inherent feedback effects that operate thereupon.

I challenge you to find a white face in google streetview in the area around that corner. Our society is ghetto-ized just as much WW2 Poland and that is how if not exactly why "America is f****d up.". Lack of economic opportunity and equal access to isn't the sole negative gradient in operation here but it is significant.
posted by Palamedes at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2009


This is a sad story. I hope Conroy does not change his feelings about society because of these actions. He gave Larry a chance to say he was sorry and do something about it and was burnt at the end. John is a good person and the world needs more of him.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2009


By the way, aside from the oddly placed reference to Romani and the spanking, I think that the list of things to do when you screw up is totally sound and paulsc is right. Disenfranchisement through poverty and racism is the context in which bad behavior takes place, but it does not excuse that behavior. Basically, it is on Larry's shoulders to choose proper behaviors (eschewing violence and working harder on his education). In turn it is on our shoulders to make sure that if and when Larry -- or another poor black youth -- chooses the better behavior, that it actually results in a better life. If there really is no appreciable difference in results from working hard and being conscientious, or in engaging in illegal behavior, then that is when we are failing.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Honestly, all the, "What do you expect dumbass" reactions are the most depressing bits about this story. Yeah, yeah, and she was dressed slutty, she was asking for it.
posted by rodgerd at 12:06 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


but it does not excuse that behavior

Nobody's looking for excuses. What I'm interested in are solutions.
posted by Palamedes at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2009


I remember once when my friend and I got jumped.

It was right after our high school football game while we were waiting for the bus. This was literally right outside the school, you could see the field, and cars were driving by. There were 6 black guys, 3 of whom we knew since middle school, and the other 3 were total strangers.

One of the ones we didnt know decided to walk up to us and start chatting. Then he punched my friend in the face while another random black guy came up to me and started fighting.

It went on about 5 minutes until we stopped fighting. This was a pretty busy street too, in a decent neighborhood.

After a while we ran away and the cops picked up the guys who fought us. They didn't start shit with us to steal our money or anything, they just did it for fun. I don't think they were even wasted.

My friend and I decided not to press charges since it would have been too much of a headache and because they didnt try to rob us. The sad thing is that one of them it turned out used to play on the same peewee football team as I did (though he was in a different weight group when we were both active).

Last time I heard 2 of the 3 guys we knew are in jail now. The guy who shot someone, but didn't kill, was in the same art class as me in this running start program at the local community college. We used to paint next to each other.

Why does this shit have to be so fucking pointless.
posted by Allan Gordon at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


More local context:

The publication:
The magazine it was printed in is not known for it's heavy hitting reporting, which fits well with its primary mission to be the definitive voice on top dining, entertainment, shopping and real estate in the region, which means I read this article in my dentists office, and was surprised to find it there in between the breathless restaurant reviews and too-cheery housing reports.

The location: North Austin
That particular intersection has had one homicide and 15 more in an 8 block radius in the last three years. Once a realtively wealthy neighborhood with houses like these after a massive round of white flight (was 99% white in 1960 census - of course that's before the massive 1968 race riot that the place still hasn't recovered from) it is essentially one of the worst neighborhoods in the region. Across the tracks from the incident is the closed Brach's candy manufacturing plant which is famous for being the hospital that was blown up in the last batman movie. Brach's, along with many other companies in that area have closed up, so it is very depressed.

The other neighborhood:
This North Austin neighborhood borders on Oak Park, which is not part of Chicago, and is a rather fine, sort of place to live for folks of all colors and creeds, something I would like to note is still rare in America, rarer still in Chicagoland. Oak Park is not a cheap place (color and creed, ok: poor, not so much) and many of the residents of Oak Park commute into Chicago, passing over on the train or by on the expressway. There is certainly tension.

So people looking to draw up grand conclusions about the situation- the major issue is the difference in wealth. readery has it nailed with source being related to the demolition of public housing and related effects. The original author neatly summarized what many people in Oak Park might feel in similar circumstances, and reminder that life is often cruel to old hippies & their idealism.

I live in Oak Park, and if I rode my bike to work, it could go down Lake st. I know many people who do, I imagine more folks will switch to using Roosevelt Rd, and some will simply stop and go back to passing the area by entirely.
posted by zenon at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2009


Young black male here, when I was in Crown Heights, there were two people who moved in to one run down-down building. There was a slow trickle of whites , relocating or implanting there. and for the first time I saw scaffolding go up and sidewalks re-done. Right before the sidewalk dried, it was defaced. I thought "what a shame, this is why we can't have nice things".

But on second thought, why should these kids care, because they could've done that shit before but they left it in disrepair, now whites are looking for cheap rent they want to fix it up. The place wasn't being fixed for us black kids that's for sure. But most of you whites here are reactionary and I applaud your restraint on this thread.

You would say "well young black kids are messy anyway" "they have a poor state of mind". to which I would say let's go back even further to see what is the cause of their miserly and peevish disposition. If you say "they just are" well then congratulaions you are a ...

the last few paragraphs of that piece was your answer right there. When he spoke to his friend Alex Kotlowitz about it. His friend's "musings" on the story was the unfettered truth, It was not a hate crime because THE definition ( not Mr. Kotlowitz's definition as John puts it) of racism assumes you are superior, therefore your deference to the presumed inferior race is justified. Indeed young blacks, the pariahs, the rootless and the ruthless, are made to feel as if they don't matter and are perpetually left out. This is act is hopelessness than dierected anger--and believe me I know that anger. As matter of fact I feel like cracking some fucking skulls right now.
posted by Student of Man at 3:34 PM on September 3, 2009


“Why is a racist thug more dangerous than the man who just feels like beating someone—anyone—up?”

Racists are organized. The nonracist thug – yes “you count for nothing” but they’re not sending a message. There is no message. No point. It’s just chaos. Chaos is unstable. It’s why a small organized group can usually defeat an unorganized mob. S’why I support hate crimes despite the distaste I’d otherwise have for the seemingly authoritarian veneer on the thing. That and the intent to terrify others in the same grouping.
Palamedes is right – partially about race, sort of about class and tribe, but all about boredom.

“It would be reassuring to be able to place all the blame on Larry's shoulders, and the world would make more sense if it was feasible, but in the end, that's intellectually disingenuous.”

I find it easy to place the blame for this particular act on Larry’s shoulders. I place the blame for him wanting to lash out however, yeah, on society, etc. But not because of the weight of history. This kid is nowhere near being a scholar. He has no sense of history. He only knows what he sees. Or rather – doesn’t know what he sees.

He doesn’t need a sense of abandonment to be abandoned. If he were being engaged instead of being abandoned to wander the streets – if he had something else to do to make him feel a sense of his self-worth, then he wouldn’t belt some guy on a bike out of boredom.

There are cultural matters, but that’s all background. And the closer you get to this kind of thing the sharper the focus and the more immediate and practical the concerns. Immediately – he should have been more aware of his surroundings. Wearing a helmet was a good idea, but in certain neighborhoods humans are more dangerous than other obstacles.
Stepping back, those kids should have been engaged, distracted, doing something more productive with their time. So there should have been a social program, school program – something. There wasn’t.
Stepping back further – their families should have provided that for them. They didn’t.

Stepping back a bit further – there are reasons the schools, society and their families weren’t occupying their time with useful things – at least part of that is economic. Stepping back further – part of that is social too. From there we can ask the “history” kinds of questions.
But on point – no, Larry’s to blame for his own actions whether his anger, frustration, etc, is justified or not.
That said – the matter of what to do in reaction, stepping back from the practical (don’t give him the chance to hit you in the first place and break him in half if he does) - is more complex.
How can we justify locking him up having abandoned him in the first place?
(and again with the Palamedes but the quote from Einstein is apt and worth reiteration: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”)

What Conroy here states is actually sort of inverted in reality.
He says: One thing about being hated, though—you have an identity. You’re a member of a distinct class who is important to the attacker. If you are attacked without reason, you’re nobody— you’re of no importance whatever. Mulling this over makes me question the whole notion of prosecuting hate crimes. Why is a racist thug more dangerous than the man who just feels like beating someone—anyone—up? The racist might send a message to a large population, but the nonracist sends a message to an even larger group, a message that says, “You count for nothing” and “No one is safe.”"

But, to the contrary, it’s his voice that is being heard. It is his experience that we’ve read, and it’s his perspective that for the most part we’re all taking.
And Larry who pretty much just sat there with his thumb up his ass through school is working at McDonalds and probably will never be heard from again in any capacity.
You tell me who’s “nobody.”
And that's institutionalized racism, if we want to step back talk about 'the system' and history. That apparatus has been there a long time. And it's by design.
I've been shot at a number of times. The generalized "bang" that marked 'general delivery' and says 'you count for nothing and should be gone' was always far less scary than someone taking a more personal interest in, and devoting special interest to my demise.

But the pen is mightier than the sword, man. Larry might make the police blotter. But no amount of damage Larry could do with his fists is ever going to give him the kind of voice Conroy has.

Not that Larry specifically shouldn’t go to jail. But that’ll only stop Larry from belting some guy randomly again (for a bit). That won’t stop people from getting belted. Which I’d think would be the point.

So maybe throw guys like Larry an after school basketball game. Fund a freakin’ park district program. Get some enrichment programs together. Sure it will fall flat on its face at first. But give it time, maybe even a generation or so. Long enough for people like Larry’s uncle to fade and stop sheltering Larry from the consequences of his actions while not taking any responsibility to keep him occupied so he’s off the streets looking for something to do in the first place. (paulsc is dead on about Larry and Doris using “strategies in dealing with confrontations involving the larger society” – and fostering an insular society. Unfortunate framing of the Romani for that aside – there are folks from nearly every ethnic background who do that as well (and I disagree on some other stuff – but that aside, right about this))

Want to kill a tiger, use a rifle. Want to stop people from being attacked by tigers? Burn the tall grass.

Stopping Larry from attacking you is different from stopping the creation of people like Larry in the environment. But we keep conflating the two.

We’re content to keep breeding them by blowing off the prevention programs (social intervention stuff, education, enrichment), and feeding the punishment programs (prisons, etc.).

Oak Park aside, Maywood, Melrose, Bellwood – and on into the city – a lot of it was created by the changes in public housing – importantly – a lot of folks still don’t have the feeling they’re invested in their community. In part because of the absentee landlords, lack of jobs, infrastructure investment, all that.
Seems almost tautology tho – they have no money, so they’re not worth investing in. But they don’t have any money, because no one’s investing.

“You know, this whole story is a nearly perfect metaphor for America's foreign policy: we go where we're not wanted because we think we can help those who don't want our help.”

Yeah, where does Conroy get off riding his bike on a public street minding his own business. Fucker had it coming.

“Wow, apparently when I asked Metafilter about living in Chicago, I should have added "oh, yeah, and where is it a totally stupid idea to ride your bike?"

I do think it was bad luck, timing, bunch of other things (plus Larry himself being a dick) more than it being a bad neighborhood per se. Chicago is patched in terms of ethnicity. And rarely is it a problem. You do have more to fear from bored kids than gangs (unless you're messing with their business). And it’s a lot in the way you look (which Conroy can’t help) or present yourself, etc. He apparently looked like an easy victim, really I don’t know. But short of just generally being street smart and alert (which, doesn't sound like Conroy was), not a whole lot you can do to defend against randomness in terms of avoidance. Bored kids everywhere. Sometimes you still get punks with a gas can looking to torch a homeless guy.

Doesn’t much affect me though. I’m a large guy. Although, I was at 26th and California few years ago getting some cash at an atm. I’m in a suit and trenchcoat (no muscle bulge), and I have to hunch down and some kid, 17-18 year old black kid, goes “Boo!” at me and he sort of lunged as he did it so I whipped around and pinned him with my blade to his neck (maybe I overreacted. It had been a long week though. I did apologize.). This was not the response he’d been looking for. But I think the ethnic presumption on his part (white rich looking guys are afraid of black thug looking guys) was less a motivation than just the desire to sort of counting coup against the ofay (hey, if we’re using words like “honky”...)

And I think to some degree that’s how Larry’s uncle saw this. Which only deepens Larry’s (current) nihilism. Which actually might result in Larry going around looking for an ethos which justifies his need to kick ass and feel strong. And maybe he would have gotten it in prison. But maybe not. Might have straightened him out. But then he'd have a pretty black mark on his record towards getting a job and staying straight.

I agree there’s no easy answers. But I think there is some effort that will work. Just doesn't look like we're trying at all (well, some folks are, quite hard, but I mean more broadly "we").
To quote Doughboy: "Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood. They had all this foreign shit. They didn't have shit on my brother, man."
posted by Smedleyman at 5:12 PM on September 3, 2009


Uh, the second to last sentence in my last paragraph should have read. "this act is less of hopelessness , more of direct anger"
posted by Student of Man at 5:52 PM on September 3, 2009


Uh, the second to last sentence in my last paragraph should have read. "this act is less of hopelessness , more of direct anger"
posted by Student of Man


I don't know - I've been thinking about what you said and thinking about Larry and the kids he hangs out with and I keep coming back to hopelessness. I'd like to think that with his uncle, Larry is in a school system that could offer him success, because the odds are against him in the CPS. There's no businesses in Austin to speak of that could offer the many under educated young men employment. The factories along the industrial belt along Cicero Ave. are mostly closed and the neighborhood corner shops and liquor stores are small family run operations - often Palestinians.

Yeah, I see the wanting to crack skulls, but the acting on it without regard to consequence speaks to me of an utter disregard for the future. There's no worry about, "hey, if I get in trouble, I could lose my job" or "I might get thrown out of school."

Hopelessness.
posted by readery at 6:54 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few years back, after leaving a soup kitchen where I was volunteering, I was mugged by someone who drove up as I was walking to my car. He tried to get me to get in his car, with another individual, to "show them directions" on a map. There were probably 20 people standing there watching this whole thing go down, and rather than coming to my aid, they blocked off my only exit. I was more trapped than I had ever been in my life. When I wouldn't get in the car, or walk around to the passenger side, the driver got angry and reached out and grabbed the little bag that was hanging on my wrist, and floored his gas pedal. I was dragged by the car until the ribbons of the bag were cut by the bones in my wrist.

Of the 20 people standing outside the soup kitchen, a place where I'd been volunteering for a long time, nobody "saw nuthin". A few, according to the police, remarked that "white do-gooder bitches don't belong down here anyway".

I hadn't realized how much they hated me for being white, and for volunteering at the shelter, which they saw as condescending...a thing I never meant to be. My parents worked for civil rights my entire childhood; I'd grown up marching to support equal rights for blacks, native americans and women. My volunteering at the shelter was something I did not to feel good about myself, but because I thought it was the right thing to do. But that's not how the people who needed the shelter's services felt.

To them, I was a tourist, gawking at their misery, and able to get in my car and head back to the north side of town. They hated me for being there, they hated me for being a witness to their need, they hated me as a representative of a culture they believed were repressing them.

Among the people who worked at the shelter, almost every white woman who dared to go down there was assaulted, and no matter how many people were around, there were never any witnesses.

I don't know what it says about our culture when a girl whose parents marched on Selma refuses to go into downtown Dallas after dusk, but it's not anything good. And I don't know how to change anything, if by being there to help change is just making the people who live there angry.

I don't know if crimes like these are hate crimes...but I don't know what else they can be called. I wasn't targeted because I was rich, or because I was carrying cash or valuables or anything else. I was targeted because I was a white girl in a neighborhood where I wasn't welcome. I don't know how to fix that.
posted by dejah420 at 7:07 PM on September 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


One important thing about paulsc's story is that it shows how people, particularly young people, often need help to atone for their bad deeds and to do good generally. Paulsc and his brother had their parents to help them. What would they have done had they not been caught outright and had even a little more practice in deception? Well there's no way to know that really. What happened is that their father got in there with his sons, helped them apologize, clean up, and repair.

What should Larry do to make right with Conroy? Who is willing get in there with Larry, to help Larry (and maybe also his family) do what he ought?
posted by wobh at 8:46 PM on September 3, 2009


My volunteering at the shelter was something I did not to feel good about myself, but because I thought it was the right thing to do

...to . . . ?
posted by Palamedes at 1:16 AM on September 4, 2009


Palamedes said: ...to . . . ?

Feed hungry people? Bring blankets to folks living under bridges? Try to provide some comfort and aid to people who have been abandoned by our non-existent safety net? Because I've been unbelievably lucky in life, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the universe, and helping people who aren't as fortunate seems like a good way to pay down the karmic debt?
posted by dejah420 at 5:46 AM on September 4, 2009


Yeah, doesn't every Ask Metafilter question that doesn't recommend therapy recommend volunteering at a soup kitchen? I didn't think the worthwhile value of contributing to society in a selfless manner was up for debate.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:51 AM on September 4, 2009


Student of Man:

You would say "well young black kids are messy anyway" "they have a poor state of mind". to which I would say let's go back even further to see what is the cause of their miserly and peevish disposition. If you say "they just are" well then congratulaions you are a ...

Who is this "you" you're talking about? I don't know how anyone can read a thread like this on mefi and come to conclusion that there is some kind of consensus among white people.

It was not a hate crime because THE definition ( not Mr. Kotlowitz's definition as John puts it) of racism assumes you are superior, therefore your deference to the presumed inferior race is justified.

"THE" definition? Can you refer me to your source? I'm willing to accept that it's your definition, and I know there are plenty of other people who define it that way. But you guys don't get to decide what a word means for the rest of us. There are also a lot of other definitions in use. What you are talking about, I would call a particular type of racism. My definition is no better than yours, except for one fact: I don't insist that it is the one and only.

The reason that I use the word this way is because racism towards whites is pretty destructive, too, and has enough in common with your definition of racism that I lump them together. Of course, the nature of the destruction is different; black racism towards whites seems to hurt black people more than white people, on the whole.

dejah420:

I don't know what it says about our culture when a girl whose parents marched on Selma refuses to go into downtown Dallas after dusk, but it's not anything good.

I can empathize with your reaction, and understand the reactions of the bystanders. It is kind of humiliating to have people from another community coming in to help, and I'm sure some condescension is involved with some volunteers, and it's easy to project it onto the ones who aren't condescending. I'm not, by any means, defending this behavior, because I think it is very limited in its perspective. There is an aspect of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't. All I can say is if the community is so hostile to people coming to help, then maybe people shouldn't come to help.
posted by Edgewise at 7:55 AM on September 4, 2009


For the record; I still do charity work...only now I help at a local food pantry, rather than heading 30 miles away into Dallas.
posted by dejah420 at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2009


Paradropping in to address some symptoms perhaps once a week while not addressing the underlying causes in a sustained, systematic manner really isn't that much help.

The way I see it, from the economic classism angle, the underclass has got to pay Capitalist Man every moment of the day. Pay the Man rent for a place to live. Pay the Man to talk on the phone. Etc. Etc. Gil Scott Heron resonates with me deeply.

Now, as a left-libertarian I am of course a committed capitalist, but I do think its "Got Mine F*** You" core values generate immense amount of stress among the excluded.

"The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it”. --Chief Sitting Bull

Here working in the Sunnyvale for the past 9 years, I have yet to see a single black person in a professional/peer capacity. The societal challenge we have is immense.
posted by Palamedes at 1:28 PM on September 4, 2009


Paradropping in to address some symptoms perhaps once a week while not addressing the underlying causes in a sustained, systematic manner really isn't that much help.

So other than pontificating on Metafilter, listening to Gil Scott Heron and wearing your political posture on your sleeve, what exactly is it that you do in Sunnyvale that does help, Palamedes?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2009


^ Nothing except gladly paying my taxes & not voting Republican.

I fear there are too many ideological idiots in the US for us to change things at the national level, but I'm hoping to be proved wrong with the outcome of the present health insurance battle royale, which is a clear first step in removing long-standing obstacles to economic egalitarianism.

If I were king it would be followed by tax incentives that favor redevelopment of urban hellholes; my main man described one underlying problem and its solution over 100 years ago now. That's not a sufficient policy change, but IMO it is necessary.
posted by Palamedes at 4:59 PM on September 4, 2009


It was not a hate crime because THE definition ( not Mr. Kotlowitz's definition as John puts it) of racism assumes you are superior, therefore your deference to the presumed inferior race is justified.

First of all, I tend to agree with the idea that racism implies a structural inequality, and therefore racism is generally something perpetrated by whites towards people of color. But who cares? Hate crimes are not about racism. If a black person beats up a black gay person, does that mean it's not a hate crime because no racism was involved?

It's a hate crime if one person attacks another person because of the color of their skin. It's also a hate crime if one person attacks another person because of their gender, sexual identity/orientation, or disability. If a black man attacks a white man because they are white, that's a hate crime.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:17 PM on September 4, 2009


black racism towards whites seems to hurt black people more than white people, on the whole.

Edgewise, try this statement on for size. Racism hurts people. It doesn't have a direction. It is not a bat that you hit someone over the head with. It is more like a fine dust that settles over everything. It gets in our eyes and affects how we see, and even the act of cleansing ourselves of it just gets it all over our hands and under our nails.

I said earlier that it might be helpful in understanding the incident that started the author's journey if one were to read the article again, substituting the words "poor" for "black". And the argument was made that rece andeconomics arent interchangeable. Which of course I agree with, but it stuck in my head over the past few days. And after mulling it over a bit, Dejah420's story brought it into focus.

Race and economics are obviously not interchangeabie in the grand scheme of things. But In the case of this author and this story, it seems to me that that's the exact mistake he made. And it's a mistake that getsmade a lot. There are many examples of it in this thread, and those mistakes are most often made as the result of unfortunate incidents.

Think of how many of the stories here revolve around chance encounters. One where somebody, victim or perpetrator, is "out of their element". Think of How many of these stories involve someone getting hurt.

When we are hurt, we lash out, and we don't have time to think. We don't have time to wipe that fine dust of residual racism out of our eyes. We instinctually rely on the false knowledge that has been drummed in our brains from day one.

"the color of or skin is where the line is drawn"

And there are so many people who would rather die than treat someone on the other side of that line any different, and that's great. But in our society, the next step is hard to make. realizing that treating people on the other side of that line equally is not the same as realizing that the line is not where you thought it was.

Dejah420 said : I don't know what it says about our culture when a girl whose parents marched on Selma refuses to go into downtown Dallas after dusk, but it's not anything good. And I don't know how to change anything, if by being there to help change is just making the people who live there angry.

And that's what crystallized it for me. I understand where she's coming from, and commend her efforts. But her parents marched in Selma to secure equal rights for Black people, and she went to that shelter to help poor people. And while racism and poverty in this country are thoroughly intertwined, when you get down to the scale of interaction that we all live at. Those random encounters, where one person is out of place and someone gets hurt? You are more likely than not dealing with an economic problem and nota racial one. The only thing that makes it seem racial is that dust in our eyes that we don't have time to clear away.

There is a permanent underclass in this country,and for too long the face of that underclass has been a black one. Which does a disservice to all that fall in that category. When you live in generational poverty, you are dealing with a virtual smorgasbord of despair and dysfunction. Addiction, physical and sexual abuse,mental illness, all mostly untreated, and more importantly not isolated from the damaging effects on the surrounding environment. Poor nutrition, inadequate access to relief, and the mind numbing stress of living every day in these conditions. People who are hurt lash out. And if a middle class liberal can get it wrong when hurt, how do you think a person who's life is nothing but hurt will act? And this is applicable to people of all colors who are part of our nation's underclass.

I'm sorry that people who want to help get hurt. But before you can help, you need to know what you're dealing with. I don't meanto belittle your effort, but I've had this conversation countless times with many well meaning people. And i've been on the other end after years of working in disadvantaged communities, only to get spit on and turned away by those I wanted to help.

This doesn't mean that we can just toss issues of race by the wayside. We all have our issues with the subject. But the way we react to those issues are mostly influenced by other much more pressing and important factors. The racial component is usually little more than an easy distraction.

In my mind the great injustice left over from the civil rights era is the dismissal of where MLK and Malcolm X were at the time of their deaths. Both had evolved to a position of recognizing that the boot of economic injustice kicks black and white asses alike.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:21 PM on September 4, 2009


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