“They” were at Chicago Ridge Mall the Saturday after Christmas.
I know this because some people who post on Facebook said so.
As you know by now, there was a melee, riot, fight, disturbance at the mall that caused stores to be locked down and the building evacuated.
Police from several communities—some carrying rifles, others joined by their canine companions—descended on the mall at 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue as shoppers as well as teens who were simply hanging out ran for the exits.
It turned out that a fight in the food court led to chaos when word that gunshots were fired spread throughout the mall. Turns out the sound of gunshots was really restaurant worker in the food court banged some pots together to disperse the crowd.
A few hours later after the incident, several local Facebook pages blew up. And while many posters voiced genuine concerns and raised serious questions about mall security, others spoke using the not-so-difficult-to-decipher code words that said “they” were responsible for the incident at the mall.
It’s the same disgusting code that substitutes the word “Canadians” for blacks or led a woman I once knew to run her fingers across her hand when she was referring to African-Americans. Her objective, I guess, was to indicate a different color of skin without speaking.
Saturday’s incident was shocking and disturbing. No one goes to the mall and expects to be threatened by sudden mob action that causes crowds of people to scream and shout with fear as they head for the doors.
Similar incidents happened at other malls throughout the county over the weekend. It’s a situation that Chicago Ridge Mall management in cooperation with the village of Chicago Ridge has already addressed by considering a youth escort policy that would prevent teens from gathering in the mall during certain hours without having an adult companion.
North Riverside Mall has had such a policy in place for more than a year.
The action at Chicago Ridge Mall reportedly involved some black youths. To say so does not make one a racist. The problem is, once some people discovered that black teens were involved, they were off to the races.
One poster noted: “Nothing but savages. And they wonder why good people don't want them in their schools, in their stores, in their neighborhoods.”
First, who are the good people? And who gave them control of the schools, stores and neighborhoods?
Scary mindset, no? Not for some. Not for those who lack the ability to stand back and place an incident into context. It’s easier, you see, to blame an entire race for the actions of a few members of that race.
Let’s face it. Times have changed. White folks can’t drop the N-bomb or make openly disparaging remarks about various minorities like they did 50 years ago.
As a result, I believe we’ve been lulled into a false notion that the last remnants of racism have disappeared.
Many Facebook posts I saw over the weekend proved that a more subtle, camouflaged racism is still alive and well among some people. And when an incident such as the one at Chicago Ridge Mall occurs, they pounce on it to reinforce their racist thinking.
My daughter and two friends were in the food court when the melee broke out. One of her friends is African-American. She’s an honors student, plays in the school band, is heavily involved at school and is exceeding polite.
She’s clearly never going to be involved in a mob action at a mall. But when Facebook posters toss around words like “savages” and other hateful epithets, they wound my daughter’s friend and her self-esteem all the same.
I recall an evening more than 35 years ago playing softball at Rosenwald Park on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I looked over my shoulder as I stood in the outfield and saw a group of white boys chase a black boy who was riding his bike. This kid was pedaling for dear life. No question he’d have taken a beating if the white kids caught him.
Back then, Western Avenue was the line of demarcation between black and white neighborhoods. As long as both sides stayed where they belonged, we’d all be fine. It’s the way we thought back then. Sadly, it’s how many of us were raised.
It didn’t work out that way. Many racial barriers dissolved and we’re better for it.
While many Facebook posts were difficult to read, I found one that was especially encouraging.
“I understand that there are a lot of things going on in our country and our own backyard, but please be respectful and watch how you phrase things. Using words and phrases like “them,” “animals,” “savages,” “ghetto” (and) “cage them all up” is very offensive. I don't support this inflammatory wording on either side of the race card and neither should any of you.”
Accuracy in Reporting
Note to Facebook posters: knock it off with dangerous misinformation like “shots fired at the mall.” The situation was bad enough without people insisting, even after police officials reported otherwise, that they heard shots.
I get that everyone wants to be first to social media with information, especially when it’s something critical like a crime or emergency. But try to follow the “better to be right than to be first” credo we journalists abide by before you comment.