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Bears down and murder’s up

Bears football is a distraction from city woes, if you don’t expect anything or watch too long.

Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks battles Brian O’Neill, a Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle, at Soldier Field on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. The Vikings defeated the Bears 17-9.
Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks battles Brian O’Neill, a Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle, during Monday night’s game at Soldier Field. The Vikings defeated the Bears 17-9.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

How bad is it? I watched the Bears game Monday. Part anyway. The end of the second quarter. Enough.

Why would I do that? Beats me. It was evening. End of another unexceptional day in Year Two of The Forever Plague. The old friend who was supposed to meet me for lunch downtown canceled at the last minute. Sick. That was disappointing. I was looking forward to going into the city, or what’s left of it. Maybe watching the game would connect me with the larger world, the community spirit of Chicago.

My announcing that I felt like watching the Bears must have alarmed my wife. She joined me, to monitor the situation.

“They get four attempts to move the ball 10 yards,” I explained, trying to bring her up to speed.

“I know that,” she replied.

Earlier, when lunch was still on, I contemplated the walk from Union Station to Michigan Avenue. Not too cold. Would a raincoat do? Yes. And what if I got shot? (Is that crazy? My hunch is, it’s exactly the calculus people perform nowadays.) No worries: I’ll tell my wife to bring the laptop to the hospital, so I could write up the experience. That would make a gripping Wednesday column ...

But would it satisfy readers demanding more about shootings? Probably not. Whatever I write about, they pepper me with with complaints: “Waffles! You’re a joke! Write about the 800 murders in Chicago?!” You’d think that would be coming from city residents frantic over the crime spike. But they’re always from people who obviously a) don’t live anywhere near Chicago and b) don’t seem to really care much about urban crime or the people it affects.

Rather, they are are angry red-staters trying to score points on the Fox World tally board. Crime is a real tragedy and constant worry in Chicago, even among those of us with little to worry about. But elsewhere it’s a schoolyard taunt, the kind of look-a-squirrel whataboutism that passes for argument.

What’s there to say? Murder is up in Chicago because it’s up everywhere. That’s no big secret. “The U.S. murder rate rose 30 percent between 2019 and 2020 — the largest single-year increase in more than a century,” the Pew Research Center reported two months ago.

And 2021 is just as bad. A dozen cities will break their all-time murder records. Chicago isn’t one of them.

What’s to be done? Chicago’s murder rate is far higher than New York’s or Los Angeles’s. When you parse reasons — our gangs are worse, as is our police department — rather than demand action, it points to its futility. Vigorous law enforcement made gangs worse, by breaking up large, established gangs into countless mini-gangs, increasing the slaughter by being less, for want of a better word, disciplined. And any attempts to reform or hold accountable police only makes them sulky and sad and thus, they do their jobs even less effectively, which encourages crime.

Given the track record of action, maybe inaction is called for. But no mayor is going to demand that. Not when they can project an aura of Doing Something.

Returning to the Bears. Even the brief time I watched, two moments stood out.

First, the camera cut to a boisterous fan, his face painted blue and orange, wearing some furry bear outfit. I think he had claws. Anyway, he was in the stands, wildly cheering and, well, I appreciated his efforts. Me, I had difficulty turning on the TV and focusing my attention for a quarter hour. This guy bought face paint, applied it — quite skillfully — then hied himself to Soldier Field. Probably paid for the privilege too, and no thanks from anybody. So I’ll thank him. Thank you, Mr. Face-Painted Bears Fan. You were encouraging, somehow. Perhaps as a display of faith unshaken. A beautiful thing.

The other, opposite moment was when the camera cut to Bears general manager Ryan Pace. He had this expression of — how to describe it? — focused grimness. Intense, desolate hopelessness. Suppressed anger.

“Look at his face!” I marveled to my wife.

I’m sure Pace was concentrating on the flaming train wreck before him. But really, he seemed to be expressing some general civic malaise. Something tells me the whole next month, maybe all of 2022, is going to be just like that, long after the Bears stop embarrassing themselves.