During the last weekend of May 2020, 85 people were shot in Chicago – 24 of them were killed. According to the Chicago Tribune, “The majority of the victims of homicide in Chicago are young, black men.”
A week earlier, on May 25, about 400 miles to the northwest, as the whole world by now knows, a white police officer in Minneapolis put his knee on the neck of an unarmed black man and kept it there for nearly nine minutes. George Floyd died and Americans, from New York to California took to the streets to protest his gruesome death.
No one has marched or demonstrated or held up signs for any of the more than 1,000 people shot this year in Chicago — or the nearly 200 who were killed so far this year in the city – virtually all of them victims of black on black crime.
Let’s acknowledge that when someone is unjustly killed by a police officer it’s different than what we might call a routine homicide, if any homicide can be called routine. Police not only have guns, but also wear badges and carry with them the authority and force of government.
So as bad as a Saturday night killing on a dimly lit street in Chicago might be, what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, because it involved an officer of the law, is worse.
So we understand the outrage when a white cop kills an unarmed black man. But why the silence when black men are killing other black men? Surely 85 shootings during just one weekend in just one city is worthy of attention, beyond a mention on the local news.
But even before we knew the name George Floyd, even when the marches and the riots and looting hadn’t taken center stage, even before there was such a thing as a coronavirus, the national news media pretty much ignored what was going on in places like Chicago.
My friend Lee Habeeb, a radio executive who also writes for Newsweek, has said that, “In Chicago, it’s Parkland every week,” referring to the high school massacre in Florida where 17 kids were killed in February of 2018.
In Chicago it’s worse than Afghanistan a lot of the time.
“Americans know none of the thousands of innocent young black men and women killed by other black men in our nation’s third largest city — and across America,” Habeeb has written. “There’s a reason. A young black male’s life is not worth reporting when it is taken by another black male. That’s the real racism that prevails in America’s newsrooms. The marginalization of black urban life.”
He’s right. And on May 16, 2018 I wrote this on my website: “Liberal journalists don’t feel comfortable when it comes to reporting dysfunction in black neighborhoods in places like Chicago. If white kids in tony suburbs were being gunned down in such horrific numbers, you can be sure that the liberal media would more than simply take note. They’d run stories on Page 1 for days on end.”
A lot of this has to do with what the California scholar Shelby Steele calls “good racial manners.”
Liberal whites, Shelby Steele (who is black) says, “must always imagine blacks outside the framework of individual responsibility.” It’s how white liberals redeem themselves from “America’s racial shame,” as Steele explains it.
In other words, white liberals (along with just about everybody else) rightly condemn the killing of one black man at the hands of a white cop, but don’t feel comfortable even commenting on the slaughter of hundreds of black men when they are the victims of other black men.
There’s a name for this phenomenon. It’s called white liberal guilt. By ignoring mass murder in Chicago, white liberals feel better – about themselves.
Because when it comes to the slaughter of black young men, liberals in general and liberal journalists in particular fear that playing up this kind of bad news could give ammunition to bigots, who might use the information to bolster their already nasty opinions of African Americans.
By looking the other way, they show their “good racial manners.”
It’s important that journalists hold powerful people accountable. It’s important that they document police brutality. But it’s also important to document on a national platform the gun violence that plagues places like Chicago – and to delve into the reasons it happens.
And if they did they’d find an all too common thread running through these crime statistics: fatherlessness. More than 70 percent of black kids are born to single mothers in America. And it’s well documented that fatherlessness often leads to poverty and poverty too often leads to crime.
But that’s another story the media shies away from, fearing that too would give ammunition to white bigots.
It seems that white liberal guilt knows no limits, thought it should be noted that conservatives try to stay clear of issues like fatherlessness too. But in their case it’s not so much good racial manners that keeps them quiet. It’s the justifiable fear of being labeled a racist if they bring up thorny issues like the absence of men in so many black families.
As for George Floyd, he rightly deserves a nation’s attention. But so do the nameless victims who are gunned down every day in places like Chicago.
Their black lives matter too.