Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Mugging on Lake Street

For my degree, I took a Crime Policy class with Jens Ludwig, who wears awesome sport coats. He was fantastically enthusiastic but also completely realistic in his expectation of our ability to enthusiastic about the topic. I was impressed by his ability to successfully walk the line of introducing humor to leaven tragic subjects without being disrespectful in any way to parties involved. I also appreciated his willingness to devote a portion of most class sessions to explaining the statistical mechanics of the studies we were reading. He would go so far as to make up simpler data sets and write them out on the board so that he could mathematically manipulate them in ways that were parallel to the ways the data were manipulated in our research. I liked that dedication.

Jens had two overriding morals in every discussion that we had: the data is ambiguous AND this is the best research we have on any particular topic.

In other words, there is no truth about why crime occurs or how to stop it that any group of experienced, knowledgable and educated people will agree upon.

In other other words, who knows?

This morning I read a first-person account by a white investigative journalist about a random attack he suffered while biking on the west side of Chicago, a predominantly poor and black area of the city.

It was terribly honest in its reluctance to make public the internal searching he has to to give meaning to this experience and, ultimately, ends up with the same conclusions that Jens voices. It's all ambiguous. There are no answers yet.

I appreciated his willingness to be honest about his anger for the kid who did it but also to recognize that anger won't answer the question, "why?" Anger will only lead to repeating stereotypes and will tear the world apart further. So he does research to answer the question in an attempt to mend his own soul (although he never speaks in spiritual terms) by talking to police officers and his friends and other victims and his attacker and the kid's mom and experts on hate crime and members of the juvenile justice bureaucracy. He listens to his friend who is also a pastor who suggests that he examine how much he wants to invest in the rehabilitation of his attacker. He displays his own thought process as he moves through his analysis.

Through it all it is clear from the tone off his writing that his statement early in the article is correct:
At a moment when millions of Americans set race aside to vote for an African American presidential candidate, I've been forced by juveniles to look it square in the face. Last February, Attorney General Eric Holder said that we are a nation of cowards when it comes to addressing race. I plead guilty. There is no joy in writing this.

The article is in this month's Chicago Magazine (September 2009) but it isn't online. However, it is worth purchasing the paper version to read "A Mugging on Lake Street" by John Conroy. For me, it was the perfect complement to my class that studied the quantitative data analysis regarding crime. It uses one crime as an object lesson to analyse the wisdom of experts and eyewitnesses: sources that are just as valid as numbers.

The conclusion of both sources of knowledge are the same. What we know is not enough. If problems must be solved by digging out the roots, we still have a long way to go to discover the extent of the underground tendrils and branches that crime grows from.

1 comment:

amy said...

i am somehow in my head tying this into the arab-israeli conflict. i guess a week of lectures can do that and sleep deprivation. can i borrow this and read it when i get home?