Racism, Crime, and Facebook

You see these all over BoystownThere have recently been stabbings and attacks in the trendy Boystown area of Lakeview, which is home to several gay bars and the annual Pride Festival and Pride Parade. As a result of these attacks, some Boystown residents have taken to Facebook, creating a Facebook page with some blatant racist remarks. (Sample quote: “‎I’m not racist, but those black kids have got to go!”) I would have been completely oblivious to the Facebook page had it not been for a friend posting a link for the page on his Facebook profile, showing disgust.

Sunday night, a 25-year-old man was attacked and stabbed by a mob of young people in Boystown. The attack was recorded and posted on YouTube, although the video is attached to the Tribune article I linked to. Judging from that video, some of the assailants appear to African-American, although I can’t say that accurately say what the ethnicities of all the assailants are because of lighting, angles, and the quality of the video. My immediate thought after viewing the video is why some residents are jumping to the idea that African-American youths should not be welcomed in their neighborhood.

But first, some background.

In Boystown is the Center On Halsted, which is a large LGBT community center that features wide-scale programming, including programming for LGBT youth. Generally, LGBT youth that aren’t white suffer from lack of resources and possibly higher discrimination, as well as a stronger stigma. In Chicago, which is a very segregated city, having a beautiful facility with a wide-array of programs for LGBT youth is a needed resource for teenagers that might not have someone that’s LGBT to look up to, which is something that applies to all LGBT youth in Chicago, regardless of race.

Another point: Whenever the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases the most recent statistics about new HIV infections, African-Americans represent an extremely high amount of HIV cases. Among African-Americans with new HIV infections in 2006, African-American Men Who Have Sex With Men accounted for 63% of infections among African-American men, although 35% of infections among Men Who Have Sex With Men. Because of these statistics, it seems as though organizations should be trying to educate young LGBT African-Americans about issues including safe sex, which they might not find out about in their own communities. Again, education about safety and safe sex is something that would benefit all LGBT youth, regardless of race.

Because of the resources and programs at Center on Halsted as well as statistics, the racist rhetoric on the Facebook page is a bit disturbing. I don’t know why those teenagers were in that neighborhood, but the point is that the group involved in these attacks belongs to a larger group of people that the rhetoric is targeting. There’s a clear difference between trying to catch those committing violent crimes and making racist statements that make it clear that people of color aren’t welcome there.

It goes back to the old situation where African-Americans would come into a neighborhood or suburb that’s prominently white and white people would become terrified because of the skin color they saw. They would be afraid of what would happen to their neighborhood. (Although in the neighborhood I reside in, I’ve heard plenty of African-American residents wonder what the yuppie white people will do to their neighborhood.) In this case, we have people coming into this neighborhood because they want an accepting place for LGBT adolescents, and you would think that the neighborhood dotted with rainbow obelisks would be tolerant of them. Contrary to the beliefs of some people, racism is still alive in America and Chicago is still a hyper-segregated city.

The optimist in me–It does exist–believes that it is possible to confront the crimes being committed by large groups of teenagers without making it a race issue. These are crimes that could have been committed by anyone, regardless of race. Growing up in suburban Iowa did teach me that upper-class white kids are very capable of comitting all types of crime. If white teenagers were committing these crimes, would residents of Boystown be as riled up as they currently are? If anything, I think the rhetoric would shift from racist to agist, which brings me back to “LGBT youth need these resources.”

As for a Facebook page being used to organize the people wanting to stop the crime, I’m all in favor of social media being used to organize people. However, this could be done on the site EveryBlock, where there might be a lower tolerance for racist remarks, but EveryBlock doesn’t have nearly as many users as Facebook. While using Facebook as a way to organize people for positive loitering or evening patrols works, you have to take initiative based on ideas being generated, like positive loitering or evening patrols. (There was a positive loitering rally the evening before the stabbing, but I’m not sure if there will be more on a regular basis.)

The key problem with this situation is that it seems as though people are failing to look at the bigger picture. These crimes are occurring in a city with a still fairly new mayor and a police force that has been cut. The people committing these crimes belong to an ethnic group that includes people who need the resources in Boystown. Assuming that this is an area where police patrols have not been increased, what would happen if the residents were vigilant? Would this man have been stabbed had someone maced an attacker or two?

The big question that comes from this is whether or not these crimes can be fought without turning it into a race or age issue. If Boystown is really a fun, safe place, as the Facebook group proclaims, then it should be that for people regardless of race, gender, or age.

Update: The Sun-Times points out in their article covering the incident that this past weekend was Black Gay Pride Weekend, which is something that none of the other articles I’ve read have mentioned, although it doesn’t look like any of the events thrown by the organizer of the Black Gay Pride Weekend were in Boystown.

There’s also a very interesting piece by Erica Chu, a student at Loyola University Chicago, over at Huffington Post that deals with the race and class issues facing LGBT youth and what could be done about them.

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