Steinberg: What do we expect?
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A neighbor — older, meticulous, German — was explaining to me how he flings plastic bags of dog excrement over his well-tended hedge and into the street.
He was indignant, almost proud.
Of course there was more to it. The conversation had been about dogs — mine was in tow — and he told me that some dog owners, incredibly, hurl their poop bags into his yard. So he hurls them back.
I walked away thinking: “Framing.” How you begin a story determines how it ends. You include the provocation, and the reaction seems justified. Leave it out and he becomes a jerk, throwing dog crap into the street. Which is he? Jerk or victim? Maybe both.
We see this constantly. Micah Johnson wasn’t firing blindly at innocent police officers — in his own mind, that is — he was reacting to the Black Lives Matter movement, which keeps its view tight on those jumpy videos of cops shooting innocent folks. The cops would rather we widen the frame to include the violent neighborhoods they patrol. They wonder that everyone doesn’t do so.
“Why are we just focusing on the very, very small percentage of all interactions with police officers that go bad?” a reader wrote Saturday. “Why don’t we start a movement that focuses on all black lives that tragically end? Let’s go to the South Side and West Side and protest the shooting of all those young blacks by mostly other blacks . . . . Can a liberal Democrat answer this question please?”
Umm, sure, he can try. Victimhood is now a form of power. The cops don’t say, “We’re the guys with guns and badges. It’s up to us to keep these neighborhoods safe. Killing even one innocent civilian unprovoked is unacceptable.” No, they view attention on such crimes as an unfair attack — making them the victims — and announce that nobody has their backs, so they might as well do the Sudoku sulking in a coffee shop rather than try to protect these animals.
The black community, meanwhile, has suffered such routine violence from police for years; it wasn’t born with dashboard cameras. Open the frame of our perspective wider, to span the history of North America and try to take in the centuries of slavery, the century and a half of revolting racism that followed, leading right up to this very moment. You can be Barack Obama, president of the United States, maybe the most dignified, thoughtful, measured man ever to hold the office, and still you are abused and ridiculed with these hallucinogenic racist fantasies that are entertained by 40 percent of the country. “Worst. President. Ever,” they hiss, hooting him out the door.
So yeah, Black Lives Matter shifts the frame from rampant crime, broken families and crumbling neighborhoods to a picture where they’ve been done wrong. Urban crime is a cause and symptom of all of that is haywire in their communities. And Americans like my reader ask disingenuously why our nation’s most downtrodden element doesn’t keep its gaze fixed on our nation’s most intractable problems. They insist that black America should accept full responsibility for a mess with roots deep in our common history, while the rest of the nation . . . what? Helps how? With the bald hypocrisy of demanding others do a self-assessment they won’t do themselves? America can’t even perceive the words “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment.
My opinion? I frame these incidents differently. I look not at race, not at politics, but at age. Johnson was 25. Most terrorists are in their 20s, the age when latent mental illness intensifies. Randomly shooting people is a definition of insanity. Sure, shooters offer grandiose justifications: Justice! The cause! Why accept them? The truth is, whether they’re rushing to Syria to join ISIS or gunning down officers in Texas, they’re all troubled men with self-esteem issues and a few screws loose who decide to go out in a blaze of glory. Now widen the frame to include the rest of us, a nation that makes it far easier to get guns than therapy. That respects the armed man but not the one seeking treatment. What do we expect?