One summer just over two decades ago, I remember walking into a hot dog stand and – while waiting for my order – overhearing a conversation of some guys whom I had never seen before, and have never seen since.
Their topic of conversation was about crosses. Specifically, the proper way to build one so that it could be lit afire. Their plans, as I recall, were that they were going to erect the cross and burn it in the front yard of someone who had somehow managed to offend their sensibilities.
NOW BEFORE I go further, I should point out that I never heard of any incidents in the neighborhood (I lived one summer in the part of Chicago near Norridge and underneath the flight patterns of O’Hare International Airport) about cross-burnings.
For all I know, these guys were just a batch of meatheads who were all talk. Because I’ll admit that one of them looked at me briefly, then turned his attention back to the conversation.
They didn’t seem to care that I was close enough to hear what they were saying.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we seem to have some people in our society who want to accept the old symbols of racial hatred as somehow acceptable behavior, or something that can be joked about.
I SUSPECT IF I (or anyone) had confronted those knuckleheads, they would have claimed to be joking.
This memory came back to me when reading in the Chicago Tribune a report about an incident last month in the Beverly neighborhood that involved a hate crime.
In that incident, three teenage boys (all white) lured one of their black school mates (all are, or were, students of Brother Rice High School, which likes to think its students are among the civilized people living on the South Side, as opposed to those riff-raff public school kids) to a house – where they proceeded to beat him up.
It seems the black student was being friendly (if not quite dating) a female cousin of one of the boys. So it seems that in the name of racial purity, these three thugs were going to teach the student a lesson.
DURING THE BEATING (which wasn’t subtle, since the three screamed racial epithets throughout), one of the teens got a rope, created a crude noose, and put it around the student’s neck.
From the information provided by Chicago police, it seems that the three didn’t actually try to commit a lynching. The idea was more along the lines of having him wear the noose while being beaten.
Which means that, once again, we have an incident where someone thinks the sleazy imagery of the past is somehow acceptable in the present. Some people just seem so determined to live in the late 19th Century at a time when we’re in the second decade of the 21st!
I won’t even be surprised if some people try to dismiss this incident as somehow being a joke, gone bad. This isn’t humorous – under any circumstances.
I’M SURE THERE will even be some people who will look at this case and put their interest in the futures of the three young people who now face charges (two of them are so young that they merely face delinquency petitions – which means this is a Juvenile Court matter).
As though the kid who got jumped was somehow of secondary importance.
I’ll also be interested in seeing what reaction, if any, the school takes. Because while this attack did not happen on campus, these private schools usually have ways of getting involved in the private lives of their students and Brother Rice officials have said they're investigating the matter to see what reaction, if any, they should take.
They’re supposed to be building their “character” for adult life. I want to see how this incident will be used as an educational “experience.”