Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Nation Divided

Monday night, several thousand mostly white Chicagoans celebrated the victory of a mostly white hockey team which has not one native Chicagoan on it. Our home team, consisting largely of Canadian millionaires, leads a league in what is sometimes referred to as the most segregated professional sport.

Many of the fans poured out of bars in various stages of drunkenness. Some threw bottles at police. Some broke store windows. Some tried to destroy a public sculpture. At least one woman took off her clothes for the entertainment of the crowd. Numerous arrests were made.

On the preceding Friday night, about a thousand Chicagoans, mostly African-American, took to the streets to march in protest of the gun violence that has once again made our city internationally famous, just like it was in the days of Al Capone. This crowd was peaceful, orderly, and generally somber. Nothing was destroyed. No arrests were made.

There is nothing wrong with frivolity or sport. There is something wrong with the divisions between people that allow violence to be the concern of only one racial group. Why weren't the hockey fans in the streets protesting gun violence a few nights earlier? Certainly the violence is more emblematic of Chicago than any game played on artificially frozen ice. Certainly the gun violence will affect people's lives more deeply than a five-minute penalty.

The answer is simply that one group is white and the other is not, and to an alarming and disgraceful extent, white people don't care very much whether black people get killed.

On the Saturday between the two street demonstrations, I spoke with a member of the Illinois State Rifle Association at that group's annual open house at their shooting range in downstate Illinois. A retired white Chicago cop, he said there was a much larger open-air shooting range not far away, – the south side of Chicago. He laughed as he called the residents of that area “free targets.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, making it more difficult for the government to assure that minorities in our country will be represented in our government.

Shortly, we will find out whether George Zimmerman is judged guilty of shooting Trayvon Martin. A lot of people on both sides of the great divide already know what they want the verdict to be.

Our country is suffering in many ways. The mayor of Chicago has responded by shutting schools in poor, largely minority neighborhoods and pledging money to build a new sports arena for relatively affluent college students. The reactions to the mayor's announcements were as divided as the reactions to the shootings and the hockey victory. Some people care. Too many don't.

Abraham Lincoln, referencing the Christian Bible, said that a nation divided against itself could not survive. It appears he was wrong. We have been divided for a long time, and the nation endures. So does the alienation, resentment, and suffering.

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