Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is a “Ferguson” incident inevitable somewhere in the greater Chicago area?

We’ve all been inundated with reports of the violent outbursts taking place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where the police killed a young man whom they’re now claiming was a suspect in a convenience store robbery.

The outbursts have become so intense that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has sent in the state troopers and even called in the National Guard to try to restore order to the community located to the northwest of the city.

NOW I’M NOT about to engage in a 600-word diatribe about the ineptitude of the local police. Nor about whether the behavior of local residents borders on criminal itself? You can find many other pundits who will eagerly engage in such debate.

What intrigues me about this incident is the way in which it seems so likely that we’re going to get something similar occurring in the future in a community that is part of the Chicago metro area.

I’d like to think I’m wrong. I’d like to think I’m over-reacting. I’m sure the apologists for police will send me rants telling me how ridiculous I’m being.

But there are just too many circumstances about this incident that make me wonder how long it will be before we hear of something similarly stupid happening in a place like suburban Riverdale or Blue Island, or perhaps across the state line in Hammond.

I PICKED THOSE communities off the top of my head – they are places that not all that long ago had significant white populations, but have now become majority African-American in their composition.

Which makes me wondering if the long-standing, but now a minority, white populations there could take a similar attitude in support of their police if some sort of incident were to break out.

Just this weekend, I caught part of a conversation about the Ferguson incident that included one person whose cousins had once lived there. He claimed the incident was so out-of-character for the Ferguson he remembered – a peaceful community where middle-to-lower income people raised families.

But it was a place where white people lived back then – unlike the current composition where 67.4 percent of the 2010 population of 21,203 people are African American.

THAT IS WHAT provoked the anger in Ferguson to the shooting earlier this month of an 18-year-old by a police officer. It didn’t help that for the longest time, police tried keeping the officer/gunman’s identity secret – then made sure to unveil it as part of a larger statement that tried to claim the 18-year-old was a robbery suspect.

Stealing some cigarillos from a convenience store; not exactly the second coming of John Dillinger.

The matter is now under investigation, and I won’t be surprised if it turns out that police are somehow cleared of this. We should realize that the reason we permit police to carry weapons in public is because we expect there to be instances where they will use them.

And sometimes, unfortunate things happen that just don’t cross over the legal definition of what constitutes criminal behavior.

IT MAKES ME recall an incident in suburban Calumet City from a couple of years ago – one in which a boy with a form of autism was shot to death by local police. That incident, too, caused some outbursts – albeit none with the physical violence of Ferguson.

Rev. Jesse Jackson made his appearance in Calumet City to try to bring back peace and comfort. But the local officials were eager to do as little as possible.

Once an Illinois State Police investigation came back with a finding of no criminal charges against the officers, that became the end of it. Aside from the lingering resentment in the community that likes to talk of its Polish immigrant origins but is now 70.6 percent African American.

Maybe we got lucky that we didn’t get such an outburst a couple of years ago and that “Calumet City, Ill.” didn’t wind up on the map of public opinion. But how much longer can we be that lucky before something stupid happens in our state?


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