The “Take a stand against violence” slur

This is quick, but it’s one of my least favorite things:

As he has in the past, Emanuel said gun violence plaguing the city must be addressed in a variety of ways, which he said include policing, tougher gun laws, more investment to help children in impoverished neighborhoods and instilling a “shared sense of purpose and values” in communities across Chicago….

Right: similarly, the Mexican drug war began in 2006 when Mexicans suddenly found themselves without a shared sense of purpose and values.

Chicago gangland violence unleashed by Prohibition in the 1920s might have been assuaged if Chicagoans had just felt themselves more strongly to be part of a larger, purpose-driven community.

This slur – that violence could be prevented by the people who live in the neighborhoods it affects, if only they cared or tried hard enough – needs to end. For one, you only have to walk a few blocks in most of the communities most affected by crime in Chicago to see lots of indications that the people who live there – shock of shocks – are, in fact, “taking a stand” already.

You see signs like this all over the South Side. It’s almost as if black people like safe neighborhoods, too! Photo credit:

But what makes this trope really sublime is the fact that neither mayors, nor police commissioners, nor the most esteemed criminologists, have more than the barest understanding about why crime goes up or down to begin with. Concentrated poverty and unemployment can’t help, of course, but consider that crime continued to fall or remain steady in Chicago and the rest of the country during the worst economy since the Great Depression. So people like Mayor Emanuel, faced with a problem he doesn’t know how to fix, instinctively reach to blame the people who are most brutally affected.

Of course, this slur wouldn’t work if we weren’t so eager to believe that people who are poor or non-white – the people who disproportionately suffer from crime – are somehow less civilized, less moral, less interested in their communities, than everyone else. But that’s a lie.

So is “take a stand.” End it.

4 thoughts on “The “Take a stand against violence” slur

  1. Thank you for this post! I’m a relatively new reader here but becoming an avid one.
    On Friday, I saw a bunch of these signs in South Chicago–my dad took our (suburban, white) family on a mini-tour of his childhood (pre-white flight) neighborhood. Even just spending twenty minutes in that area altered the way my parents read the Tribune’s story this morning on the shootings spike. Adds some pathos and empathy.
    Anyway, I’d love to know more about the way black politicians discuss violence. In Philly, Mayor Nutter gave a high-profile speech to a congregation last year about the need for families/fathers to step up to the plate. And Senator (or candidate?) Obama used to say the same kind of thing, I think.

    1. Thanks! I mean, I’m not the best person to talk about black politicians’ rhetoric. That said, there’s definitely a history of this sort of bootstraps thinking, on everything from slavery to Jim Crow to jobs to education to crime, that goes back nearly as far as there are records of the speeches and writings of black Americans.

      Because I outsource a good amount of my thinking to Ta-Nehisi Coates (I kid – sort of), I think he’s done some of the better analysis of the more modern versions of it. Here’s one on Bill Cosby (, and here’s one (of many he’s done) on Obama (

  2. This post reminds me of another counter-intuitive post a southside blogger somewhat recently wrote.

    She makes an attempt to humanize the struggle many face in “taking a stand.” Ironically, humanizing the story equates to putting a white face on the victims.

    Thanks for the great blog! I recently found the blog and will be a regular reader.

    My southside irish “brain” may not understand some (OK most) of what you are talking about but your posts lead to further knowledge for all of us Chicagoans.

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