'Flash' Mob Violence, Poverty, and Reclaiming the Streets

Streeterville is a quiet, upscale part of Chicago that encompasses the Magnificent Mile and is just south of the Gold Coast. Northwestern University’s Law School is in Streeterville, as is its hospital. Oprah has an apartment in Streeterville. A close friend of mine once lived in Steeterville, and I spent many a late night walking off jet lag on its streets. After all, if you’re not safe in Streeterville, where are you safe?

As a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital learned the other night, you’re really not safe in Streeterville.  Accosted by a “flash” mob of black teenagers, the physician was repeatedly hit and beaten.  He wasn’t robbed.  He says the motive wasn’t racial, as he’s Asian.  But typically such mobs are black and their victims are whites, who are abused with racist insults while they’re being injured.

The physician observed that the teenagers had accosted others before they attacked him. The teenagers were simply looking to have fun by hurting someone, and the next someone was him. And, of course, this is not the first instance of such mob behavior flowing out of the deteriorating inner city into the city’s wealthier areas. It isn’t even the first foray into upscale Streeterville. The criminals now have done what any species does when it exhausts the resources of its immediate environment. They have moved on to another habitat.

Don’t expect Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton to be organizing a march against this brand of racism. After all, black-on-white violence isn’t really good for the kind of media exploitation that fills their coffers. Barack Obama will not find that any of the victims could have been his son, and Eric Holder is too busy looking into the racial motives of George Zimmerman to launch an investigation into black mob violence against whites.

Sure, Chicago, like most major American cities, has its crime-polluted neighborhoods where going out on the street at night is about as safe as going out in Baghdad. We all know how to avoid those, unless our economic circumstances regrettably compel us to live in such neighborhoods. Last week, 53 people were shot in Chicago. Most of us will dismiss this as an irrelevant statistic.  After all, we know without reading the papers where those people live: in the south and west sides. There, the population is largely black or  Latino,  gangs fight turf wars over the drug trade, and getting a gun is not only a rite of passage but also is more common than getting a high school diploma.

We don’t ask if our laws and social system have gone astray in tolerating such violence.  After all, we delude ourselves into believing that people like us are immune to being violated in our own safe neighborhoods. Basically, we know where to go or not go in our cities and don’t question if it’s acceptable for some of our fellow citizens to live under persistently threatening conditions.

We assume that because people who look like the victims are also the perpetrators, it’s not our problem. Our continually reinforced ethnic tribalism really comes down to: we don’t give a damn about black-on-black violence or what happens in the deteriorating parts of our city. We can be smug about gun control because none of our neighbors are shooting each other. We can be self-righteous about microscopic adherence to due process because none of us will have to testify in open court against people who belong to vengeful criminal organizations.