News Break: 9-year-old boy was executed in Chicago: Where is the outrage?
August 25, 2014
Antonio Smith, 9 years old, was assassinated the other day.
He was Chicago’s youngest fatal shooting victim this year. He was shot at least four times and fell in a backyard on the South Side.
And when I went out there on 71st and Woodlawn less than 24 hours after he was murdered, here’s what I didn’t see:
I didn’t see protesters waving their hands in the air for network TV cameras. I didn’t see the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson playing their usual roles in the political race card game.
I didn’t see white college anarchists hiding behind their white plastic Guy Fawkes masks talking about being oppressed by the state. I didn’t see politicians equivocating. But the worst thing I didn’t see was this:
I didn’t see the theatrical outrage that you see in Ferguson, Mo. A white cop in Ferguson — a place most people never heard of just two weeks ago — shoots a black teenager and the nation knows what to do. The actors scream out their roles on cue.
But in Chicago, a black child is assassinated, and Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t on his way here. There are no hashtag campaigns saying #saveourboys. And instead of loud anger, there is numb silence.
"It’s only the second day. I don’t know what will happen," said Helen Cross, 82, a neighbor who lives down the street from the shooting. She’s lived in the neighborhood for 49 years.
"Everybody says it’s a shame," she said. "It was terrible. But nobody’s … nobody is …"
Her voice trailed off.
"A lot of people don’t want to be involved until it happens to their family," said her son, Lewis Cross. "And that’s the shame."
The screamers and the race hustlers buzzing in Ferguson like flies have it easy: White cop/black victim is a script that sells, and the TV cameras come running.
But in Chicago, young African-American and Latino men and boys and girls are shot down far too regularly, by neighbors, meaning other black and Latinos.
Venting outrage at police is easier, and it’s politically advantageous. Venting at neighbors is a bit more complicated and dangerous. The neighbors will still be there on the block long after the columnists and the TV cameras leave. People are afraid. They don’t want their children to pay for anything they might say.
"This city is crazy," said neighbor Arnold Caffey, a mechanic from Detroit. "I mean, Detroit is better than this."
We were sitting on his porch out of the rain.
"A baby has been assassinated, and where’s the anger?" he asked. "When that child was shot, some people out there were still drinking, I’m saying a baby has been assassinated, they’re like, well, they don’t care."
What if the shooter had been police officer — a white police officer?
"You know what would happen, the whole Ferguson thing," Caffey said. "But it’s not."
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church, has consistently condemned the violence in Chicago. He doesn’t flit in or out of town. He’s always here and was scheduled to lead a neighborhood prayer vigil Thursday evening.
"This 9-year-old boy — in my mind — when you get multiple shots for a 9-year-old boy in a back alley, that’s an execution," he said in a telephone interview before the event. "That’s not a drive-by, that’s not an accident. That sounds like an execution."
He’s been outspoken about Ferguson, but he knows that moral outrage is undercut if there’s silence over the assassination of a child.
"We cannot simply be outraged about something that happens someplace else and get immune to what happens at home," he said. "This is pure evil.
"We have to be absolutely outraged. And we have to say, ‘We’re going to find out who you are, and we’re going to turn you in because you’re not going to get by with this. You can’t kill a 9-year-old kid and go home and eat McDonald’s and watch TV.’"
Antonio Smith was shot in a backyard that borders a railroad viaduct on 71st Street. To the east, the gang that runs things is called Sircon City. To the west, a group called Pocket Town runs the show. Police say he was not a gang member.
Cynthia Smith-Thigpen, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, talked about the lack of public outrage.
"There’s shamelessness to the silence over this boy’s death," she said. "It’s like, ‘Oh, another child dead in Chicago.’ Perhaps we’re all numb to what goes on in this city."
In the alley, on hot, rainy afternoon, three men sweated through their suits. They weren’t politicians or cable TV screamers. They were detectives working a heater case.
Out there was a concrete pad where a garage once stood, and thick grass in the yard and bushes around the edges. And there was the rain and the silence in Pocket Town.
I stood off to the side and pictured Antonio in my mind. Was he running? Were his hands raised the way activists said Michael Brown’s hands were raised in Ferguson?
Antonio was a baby. He didn’t allegedly steal cigars or threaten a shopkeeper or punch a cop. He was 9 years old. He was targeted. He was murdered.
"People need to be angry, but this isn’t TV, and some people really don’t care," said neighbor Tony Miller, who has a son about Antonio’s age. "And people who don’t live here don’t want to know, but people get killed all the time."