Do justice to 'justice' by keeping an open mind
Those who equate "validation for my preconceptions," or "revenge" with "justice" are doing it wrong
11-4-21 (issue No. 9)
Below you’ll find:
A meditation on the concept of justice
News & Views about Heather Mack, “Let’s Go Brandon” and the controversial text message by the McDonald’s CEO
A renewal of my long-abandoned crusade to shame a Sun-Times columnist into conforming with journalistic standards
Still more items for the sports suggestion box
A promo for my upcoming speech
Love for the Carter family
Last week’s winning tweet
Scroll down to read this week’s nominees or click here to vote in the new poll.
Defining justice downward
In 2018, when Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was on trial for shooting and killing Laquan McDonald, protesters gathered outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building waving signs reading “Justice for Laquan” at the top and “Convict Van Dyke” on the bottom.
I argued in a column that these demands were oxymoronic. Justice is the outcome of a fair trial in which all the relevant evidence is considered by an impartial finder of fact.
Demanding a particular verdict before such a process has taken place is the opposite of justice — it’s a potentially dangerous form of vengeful mob rule in which guilt is determined by general impressions and political leanings.
I argued this point even though I believed strongly at the time — based on my review of the evidence then available to the public — that Van Dyke was guilty and should be convicted (which he was).
But “justice” is not necessarily the courtroom vindication of beliefs, yours or mine, popular or unpopular. Indeed our entire criminal justice system is an elaborate if often imperfect attempt to minimize the passions of outsiders, to marginalize opinions based on incomplete understandings of the facts, to remove from consideration irrelevant factors and to ensure that outside agendas don’t determine the fates of defendants.
“The police” were not on trial in 2018. A law enforcement establishment that has too often minimized the value of Black lives and brutalized Black defendants was not on trial. Jason Van Dyke was on trial for his actions when he fired 16 shots into Laquan McDonald, killing him.
Similarly — and, obviously, why I’m now bringing this up — Wisconsin’s permissive open-carry gun laws are not now on trial in Kenosha. The wisdom of allowing armed citizens to protect private property during potentially destructive street protests is not on trial. The ugly ideology of many of those who were pleased that two Black Lives Matter supporters were fatally shot and third was wounded during chaotic demonstrations last summer is not on trial. The tendency of some police officers to give a pass to white people in circumstances where they might not give a pass to people of color is not on trial.
Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial for specific acts committed during a short window of time.
If your call for justice for those killed and wounded is a call for a guilty verdict that repudiates open carry and curtails the circumstances in which lethal force can be used in self-defense, you’re confusing justice with legislative reform.
If your call for justice is a hope for a guilty verdict that discourages the white supremacists and firearms fetishists who’ve rallied to Rittenhouse’s cause, or a guilty verdict that somehow compensates for how Black people have been unfairly treated by the police and courts, you’re confusing justice with a social agenda.
If your call for justice is a hope for an acquittal that underscores the value of armed citizens threatening deadly force to protect property or an acquittal that repudiates the destruction of property as a form of protest, you, too, are confusing justice with a social agenda.
Ideally, justice is blind to such considerations. Ideally, justice convicts or acquits based on what the law says, not what we want it to say or wish in retrospect that it had said. Ideally, justice does not scapegoat defendants or elevate them in the name of broader goals, no matter how noble. Ideally, justice ignores public opinion.
I’ve been discouraged by the lack of this kind of idealism in the online chatter about the Rittenhouse trial.
On the left, hatred for everything Rittenhouse stands for is palpable and the desire to damn him for who his supporters are, where he lived, and even the fact that police failed to arrest him when he tried to surrender himself that night is in seemingly every posting that equates justice with a conviction.
On the right, the enthusiasm for vigilantism is equally palpable, as is contempt for Rittenhouse’s alleged victims. His supporters have already decided that justice equals acquittal.
But justice is a premise. Verdicts are conclusions.
Our adversarial trial system and the safeguards built into it are explicitly designed to sort out what feels right from what is right. They are supposed to guard against popular sentiment, not reinforce it.
Does the system always work? No. We can all think of verdicts that history and common sense tell us were affronts to those ideals. Wrongful convictions. Appalling acquittals. And they are often the result of the misapplication of passion and prejudice, of misplaced sympathies and of twisted understandings of the law.
If you want revenge out of a trial, then simply be honest and say so.
If you want vindication out of a trial, then simply be honest and say so.
But please don’t bellow about justice.
News & Views
Heather Mack’s attorney has branded the effort to prosecute her again as “inappropriate and reprehensible” and is vowing a “dogfight” on the issue of double jeopardy — the principle that one cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
Mack was convicted in 2015 in Indonesia of helping her boyfriend kill her mother and stuff the body in a suitcase. She got a 10-year sentence from a soft-hearted Indonesian judge who said she “decided to be lenient toward Mack, of Chicago, because she gave birth to the couple's daughter, Stella,” during the trial, the Tribune reported:
The fact that she knew she was pregnant while plotting the execution of her mother would have been an aggravating factor at sentencing if I were the judge, but maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, with good-time credit, Mack served just 7 years and 2 months before being released last week prior to deportation to the U.S. this week. FBI agents arrested her as she arrived Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport. She and her boyfriend, who was sentenced to 18 years and is still in prison overseas, were charged with both conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
If the legal system in Indonesia had done its job and administered proper sentences to them both for a brutal, premeditated and depraved murder designed to gain access to an inheritance, the lawyer’s complaints about prosecutorial overreach and double jeopardy might have some emotional resonance (though a Tribune report suggests it will have little legal effect)
As it is, no. Seven years was not enough.
This result suggests to me that if former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had come out quickly, forcefully and indignantly to demand answers after the police killing of Laquan McDonald the way Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey came out quickly, forcefully and indignantly after police killed George Floyd, Emanuel would not have paid much of a political price. He certainly wouldn’t have been dogged by accusations that he orchestrated a cover up.
Defendants and key witnesses should be allowed to enter and leave courthouses outside of the glare of the cameras and the shouts of reporters. Trials are not and should not be circuses.
Never mind the origin story, this meme has spread virally through conservative circles and has been heard in the halls of Congress. A Southwest Airlines pilot said it to passengers over the intercom. Here’s an image from an ad that appeared on a Daily Herald blog:
Right-wingers who were aghast when Robert DeNiro snarled “Fuck Trump!” during a speech at the Tony Awards in 2018 and who nearly wept with indignation when comedian Michelle Wolf took a dig at Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ clumsy eye makeup during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2018 (“Disgusting!” bleated Fox News correspondent Ed Henry “Despicable.”) are now chortling.
Heh-heh. We’re swearing in code so it’s OK.
The cost of this simpering juvenalia is the loss of any right ever to complain again about the coarsening of our political discourse. But is that a right Republicans show any interest in exercising? Their religious base and the “family-values” crowd clearly doesn’t give a shit — and I see no reason given this climate to ask you to pardon my language — that the leader of their party is a foul mouthed, treasonous, mendacious reprobate.
The left ought to come up with a similar meme. Might I suggest something unpleasantly scatalogical that matches the rhythm of the words “God Bless America”? And might I note that “America” and “Republicans” are metrically identical?
The Democratic party’s terrible, horrible no good very bad Tuesday
The silver lining in the poor performance by Democrats in the off-year elections is that they have a full year now to paw through the wreckage looking for clues about why they lost, to adjust course before the potentially disastrous midterms and to fire up their voters.
If the economy is strong, COVID-19 is mostly in the rear view mirror and the party can get a few things done instead of bickering, President Joe Biden’s approval rating will rise and with it hopes that all won’t be lost.
A Freedom of Information Act request surfaced an April 19 text from McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski to Mayor Lori Lightfoot that said: "Tragic shootings in (the) last week, both at our restaurant yesterday and with Adam Toledo. With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can't say…”
He was referring to the April 18 slaying of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams in a drive-through lane at a West Side McDonald’s and the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village on March 29.
Kempczinski has been roundly criticized for a message called “ignorant, racist and unacceptable” in an open letter to him by activist groups.
“He’s blaming parents for violence on the streets and that’s not fair,” Adriana Sanchez, a McDonald’s employee from the Back of the Yards neighborhood told the Tribune during a protest rally Wednesday.
Lightfoot, who did not challenge Kempczinski’s text at the time, said through a spokesperson Tuesday that “victim shaming has no place in this conversation.”
Kempczinski expressed regret for a statement that he said “lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families.”
His text expressed a very common sentiment, however.
I received literally scores of letters last April from people all along the political spectrum asking some version of the question “Where were Adam Toledo’s parents?” given that a police officer killed him at the conclusion of a foot chase that took place a little after 2:30 a.m.
That response was so voluminous and so sincere that it prompted me to write a column headlined No, ‘Where were his parents?’ is not an important question, in which I wrote,
We should reject that line of inquiry. When I mentioned it in a staff Zoom meeting Wednesday, one of my colleagues replied wryly with what he referred to as an old saying: “The easiest job in the world is raising other people’s kids.”
Ain’t it, though?
Any time a teen gets into high-profile trouble, even when the teen is the victim, the Parent Police turn on the lights and sirens. Indifference! Neglect! Irresponsibility!
They seem to have no idea.
No idea how environment, peer pressure, disability and simple nature can shape a kid’s life beyond ways that a parent can control.
No idea of the financial, emotional and health challenges the parents may be facing that prevent them from being storybook mothers and fathers.
No idea that luck plays an outsize role in rearing successful, healthy, happy children.
The Adams case is different. Jaslyn’s father was evidently the target of the gang-related attack that killed her. And it doesn’t strike me as ignorant, racist, unacceptable or victim shaming to say that if you’re involved in a potentially violent street feud it’s irresponsible to travel in public with your children.
Those who have never dashed off a blunt thought in what you assumed was a private text that would make you look bad when reprinted in the papers should feel free to write me to express your disagreement.
My long-abandoned crusade to age the ageless resumes
In the early days of my blog at chicagotribune.com, I periodically attempted to shame Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed out of her habit of referring to certain people as “ageless” (or, worse “ageless and priceless”) when listing notable birthdays at the end of her gossipy report.
Why would she tell the ages of some people but not others? Yes, she herself is a woman of a certain number of years, but what sort of ageist rubbish is it to imply that there is something shameful about how old certain people are, especially when you’re more than willing to reveal the ages of other people?
So I would routinely pluck the “ageless” people out of her column and use public records or other sources to put the number on them online, hoping Sneed or at least her editors would come to recognize how unethical and slimy it is to play favorites by withholding the ages of only certain people in the newspaper.
Give birthday shout outs if you want, but be consistent.
My campaign had no effect and I gave up after a while. Sneed’s gonna Sneed, and I must have been smokin’ poseys (to borrow one of her signature phrases) if I thought otherwise.
Still, because I am relentless in many ways, I posted this image from Sneed’s Sunday column on social media —
— and pointed out that, hey, Ivanka Trump is 40. This information is everywhere, and even if Sneed is always gonna Sneed, why would otherwise smart, journalistically minded editors publish deliberately incomplete information in the pages of the Sun-Times?
The only journalistic reason to list birthdays is to tell curious readers how old certain famous people are since, for better or worse, rightly or wrongly, readers attach certain assumptions to those numbers.
Unless you’re a crazed fan, you don’t care that it was actor Henry Winkler’s birthday yesterday. But you probably are intrigued to know that he’s 76. You compare him in your mind to other 76-year-olds you’ve known; you consider the difference between his age and your own, and, if you’re a Boomer, how old you both were back in the mid to late 1970s when “Happy Days” was a thing.
Omitting Ivanka’s age while reporting the ages of the other on the birthday list smacks of particularly oily political favoritism.
Several commenters on social media groused that I was making far too much of this, to which my response is that making far too much of things is my brand! And it’s not like these critics of mine use their social media feeds to post about climate change, poverty, violence, racism and other urgent topics. No one who posts photos of their food or of sunsets has any right to give me grief for posting a gripe about a gossip column.
Plus the post got more than 90 comments and some 150 reactions on Facebook as well 106 likes on Twitter, suggesting that people were engaging with the topic.
Does age matter? For some things, of course. Legally, 18 and 21 are important for how they signal society’s view that those with a certain number of years on them are possessed on average with levels of judgment and wisdom that confers extra rights and responsibilities. Natural physical development and decline make the ages of unusually young or unusually old athletes or birth mothers matters of interest, and so on.
But Associated Press style says journalists should "use ages for people commenting or providing information only if their age is relevant,” and not just a matter of curiosity.
Making broad assumptions about people based on their ages is still an acceptable form of prejudice, and gratuitously dropping in or revealing someone’s age feeds that prejudice. And we still too often do so in situations where it would unthinkable to mention other attributes such as religion, sexual orientation, ability status or race.
I admit to being increasingly radicalized on this as I get older— I’m nearly 64 and proud of it — and become more and more aware of how our culture uses age to build assumptions that are often misleading and unfair.
Referring to a person as “ageless” in the context of listing the ages of other people is to suggest that, yes, there’s something embarrassing and private about getting older and something valid about the prejudices associated with particular ages.
Land of Linkin’
Mike Royko 50 Years Ago Today is a project by a Chicago writer who for now is writing under the nom-de-Substack TBD. It summarizes and quotes from the legendary columnist’s output in the early 1970 and is a companion effort to TBD’s serialized period novel, Roseland: 1972.
Don’t miss Mary Schmich’s Tuesday Post on the topic of souls. Here’s an excerpt: “Gone? How could they be gone? How can people you love just vanish? The question never goes away, but the mortal people do, and so we take comfort in the idea that their souls are still available... Whatever a soul is, there’s a reason we have these autumn days dedicated to remembering the ones that have vanished from ordinary view. Remembering them, we feel less alone.”
“The Christian tradition was not interested in the fetus until recent times,” says Northwestern University’s Pulitzer Prize winning emeritus historian and author Garry Wills in an Old Goats conversation with author and journalist Jonathan Alter. “That is fascinating.”
Scottie Pippen doesn’t hold back in this excerpt from his upcoming autobiography "Unguarded" co-written by my former Michigan Daily colleague Michael Arkush: “ I was nothing more than a prop (in ‘The Last Dance,’ an ESPN docu-series about the Bulls final season). ...(Michael Jordan) couldn’t have been more condescending if he tried.” While it seems true that MJ was a sociopathic competitor and unpleasant teammate, he was our sociopathic competitor and unpleasant teammate who brought home six world titles. I doubt this score settling will serve to endear Pippen to Bulls fans.
Finally, everyone interested in Chicago media ought to read The Men Who Are Killing America’s Newspapers, a recent Atlantic article on the hedge fund that now controls the Chicago Tribune. Here are a few highlights from writer McKay Coppins 7,000-word takedown of the men who inspired me and many of my colleagues to leave the paper earlier this year:
The (Alden) model is simple: gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring out as much cash as possible. The men who devised this model are Randall Smith and Heath Freeman, the co-founders of Alden Global Capital…
Even in a declining industry, the newspapers still generated hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues; many of them were turning profits. For Freeman and his investors to come out ahead, they didn’t need to worry about the long-term health of the assets — they just needed to maximize profits as quickly as possible.
From 2015 to 2017, (Freeman) presided over staff reductions of 36 percent across Alden’s newspapers, according to an analysis by the NewsGuild (a union that also represents employees of The Atlantic). At the same time, he increased subscription prices in many markets; it would take awhile for subscribers — many of them older loyalists who didn’t carefully track their bills — to notice that they were paying more for a worse product…
There’s little evidence that Alden cares about the “sustainability” of its newspapers. … For Freeman, newspapers are financial assets and nothing more —numbers to be rearranged on spreadsheets until they produce the maximum returns for investors. For Smith, the Palm Beach conservative and Trump ally, sticking it to the mainstream media might actually be a perk of Alden’s strategy.
More slips of paper in the sports suggestion box
It’s diverting, I suppose, to watch the grace and athleticism on display in the NBA over the first three quarters of action. But the way the Bulls came back from 19 points down late in the 3rd quarter to beat the Celtics by 14 points Monday night underscored for me that it’s otherwise pointless to watch all but the last 10 minutes or so of NBA games. According to an analysis of 14 years’ worth of NBA games, there’s a 13% chance that an NBA team losing by 10 points at home at the start of the 4th win the 4th (11% for visitors).
It would be a great idea for the NBA to have each current game be a doubleheader consisting of two half-length games. The only downside would be how it would render obsolete many of the old statistics for those who care deeply about such things.
Walking past a restaurant on Division Street near Damen Avenue Sunday night I happened to catch a glimpse of the Astros/Braves game on a TV and I cursed under my breath. My goal not to watch a single second of a World Series between the team that cheated and the team that encourages an ethnically insensitive cheer had been foiled.
Sports Media Watch reported that the game I inadvertently caught a glimpse of “averaged a 7.4 rating and 13.64 million viewers on FOX, marking the highest rated and most-watched Game 5 Fall Classic game since 2018 …(but it was) no match for NBC’s competing Cowboys-Vikings Sunday Night Football game, which averaged an 8.7 and 15.68 million.” That was a mid-season game featuring the mediocre Vikings.
Baseball needs a shorter season and shorter games. Post-season contests averaged 3 hours, 38 minutes, up from 3:32 last year. The Associated Press reports that the average MLB game lasted 2:49 in 1991 and just 2:33 in 1981.
A reader wrote to suggest that women’s basketball would be a better game — more appealing to fans — if it were played on a rim somewhat lower than 10 feet.
There’s nothing inherently offensive about the idea of different standards — women play with a smaller basketball than men and the dead-on three-point shot in the WNBA is about 19 inches closer to the hoop than in the NBA. The net in women’s volleyball is set about 7 inches lower than the the net in men’s volleyball. Women tennis pros play three-set matches rather than the five-set matches men play. Women pro golfers compete on courses that average roughly 700 yards shorter than the courses on which male pros compete (and some argue that LPGA course set ups should be even shorter).
WNBA superstar Elena DelleDonne is among those who have advanced the idea of experimenting with lower rims, and so is famed UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma. Two strong arguments against it are that rim-heights in most gyms and nearly all playgrounds are fixed at 10 feet so changing back and forth would be logistically difficult, and that girls and women would have to adjust their shot mechanics and overall style of play dramatically to accommodate such a change.
Another argument is that the women’s game is just fine as it is — exciting on its own terms and more rewarding of fundamentally sound play than the men’s game — and wouldn’t benefit from becoming an NBA-style dunk-o-rama.
Kate Fagan of ESPN.com laid out the case against the change here.
But would it hurt to experiment?
I lead my organization’s HR department and implemented our vaccine mandate. 10 employees submitted religious exemption requests under the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act and I was the person responsible to referee the sincerity of their beliefs. Apart from the fact that not one of their arguments hung together, there’s no clear guidance available to HR people to evaluate the legitimacy of a belief. Not a surprise when by definition religious beliefs are rooted in faith, not facts. — SM
With regards to your friend who feels guilty for having left his mother’s hospital room to grab a sandwich only to learn that she passed away without him there: Hospice nurses will tell you that many people, even those who don’t seem cognizant, wait until their loved ones leave the room to die. They don’t want you to be there at that moment. — Joanne S.
I want to support local journalism, but the Tribune's subscription process makes it hard to feel good about it. I have a subscription and gave my son a gift subscription. As you note, I can't find out at the "my account" page online how much I'm paying. Also, I learned I was paying for "up to twelve premium issues per year" at a cost of $6 per issue. That's $72 dollars a year! I called to complain because I don't want the premium issues. They go straight to recycling. The person I spoke to removed that charge . . . I think! It's hard to know for sure. — Geraldine B.
EZ reply — I had the same concern, made the same call to 312-546-7900 and received the same assurance that I was not on the hook for the premium issues. Evidently, if you don’t call to opt out, you’ll be charged.
A Mincing Rascals podcast panel opened for Thomas Jefferson interpreter Clay Jenkinson Saturday morning at the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove. Our half-hour chin wag was very well received and the experience has inspired us to look for somewhat smaller venues where we might be able to headline. Suggestions?
This week’s episode begins with a recording of that event, and continues with John Williams, Jon Hansen, Heather Cherone, Austin Berg and I discussing the following topics:
“Let’s Go, Brandon!”
The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse
The Chicago police sergeant charged with reckless discharge of a firearm for shooting at carjackers who stole her car
The McDonald’s CEO under fire for criticizing the parents of slain children in a text to Mayor Lori Lightfoot
The Democratic party’s faceplant in Tuesday’s elections
The soul-crushing length of baseball games
By the way, the next time you get a chance to see Jenkinson as Jefferson, take it! His act is amusing and informative, a one-act play of sorts. And he deals forthrightly with some of the less pleasant aspects of the Jefferson legacy.
“The Perils of Public Discourse”
I will be speaking this Sunday to the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago on a topic dear and relevant to me: The difficulty we now face in society of conducting civil debate and tolerating differences of opinion.
Reservations are required for in-person attendance at the society’s Skokie headquarters because of limited seating during COVID-19, but you can watch the live stream on YouTube or watch it after the fact. I’ll be offering up a personal critique of so-called “cancel culture,” of course, but will not be limiting my complaints to the radical left.
Here are the finalists for Tweet of the Week
I was shocked by how much you can save by doing your own wiring … @RickAaron
The older I get the more I feel that the most impressive thing about Jesus was that a man in his 30s had 12 friends … @MoiraDonegan
Any trip can be a guilt trip if my mother comes along … @UnFitz
My girlfriend: We’re out of food. We need to eat somebody on the island. Me: OK, but who? My girlfriend: I don’t care, who do you want? Me: Dennis? My girlfriend: I’m not really in the mood for Dennis … @MnateShyamalan
Facebook is now “Meta,” which is like a 30-year-old coming out of the basement to tell his mom & stepdad he'll only answer to his Warcraft screen name … @ozzyunc
If you discover that your spouse says “eckspecially” within the first six months of marriage, you can have it annulled no questions asked … @AmishPornStar1
Shuffling into the kitchen in a robe Sunday morning to change the clock on the microwave is the lamest form of time travel ever … @RickAaron
I'm at the age where I've still got it, but nobody wants it … @ItsMeHelenMary
You've become an adult when the milk in your cereal stays white … @darksidedeb
Day 14 of me randomly counting days … @GDUB18T
For poll instructions and guidelines if you need them, click here.
Attentive readers will note the inclusion of “I was shocked by how much you can save by doing your own wiring,” the @RickAaron tweet that I put to a special vote last week.
I asked you to tell me whether you thought adding the words “Several times” to the tweet made it funnier.
Fifty-four percent of you said no, the shorter version was funnier. When I asked the same question on Facebook, 88% of respondents preferred the shorter version, which was my proposed edit. Aaron, who has two entries this week, acceded to my request to use the edited version, saying “this nation is still a democracy… for now.”
I didn’t include “Drinking Won't Bring Her Back, Charlie Brown,” @Home_Halfway’s recent addition to the #DarkPeanuts meme. These tweets play on Charles Schulz’s cloying titles — “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown,” “Have It Your Way, Charlie Brown” “But We Love You, Charlie Brown,” “You Can Do It, Charlie Brown,” and, most famously “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” — and I’m saving them up until I get enough for a special bonus poll.
I’m a big fan of the Carter Family, one of the most important groups in the history of country music. Their powerful, often simple songs make for great group singing and I could easily imagine a “Carter-thon” event where a succession of noted folkies would lead attendees through the entire list of some 300 Carter Family numbers.
One of my favorites on that list is “When I’m Gone.”
The catchy chorus was adapted for Anna Kendrick in the 2012 movie “Pitch Perfect,” where she sang along to the “cups” ritual.
Please help me spread the word about the Picayune Sentinel! New issues each Thursday.