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I Was Robbed

Reflections on landing a mugger in prison.
Photo: Jamie Manley

While adjusting to college life—learning how to get all your work done, do your own laundry, and squeeze in a reasonable amount of sleep—the threat of getting mugged hardly takes priority. That changed for me when, just after midnight on October 10, 2011, three weeks after arriving on campus as a first-year, a gun was put to my head on the Main Quad just steps outside of Swift Hall.

It was after dinner on my third Sunday of college, and I was heading to Harper Reading Room with a thermos full of coffee and my Fagles translation of Homer’s Iliad, prepared to make some headway for the next day’s Human Being and Citizen class. It took me a few hours, but I finished and had slumped back in my chair when I got a text message from my best friend from high school at around 11 p.m.

“You free to talk tonight?”

Done with my work and realizing it was getting late, I packed up my things, headed downstairs, and called him from the Harper Quad.

Both having just completed our first few weeks of college, we shared awkward moments from orientation and discussed the Iliad, which we were both reading for introductory humanities classes. This went on for a half hour before I made my way to the front of Swift Hall, where I sat down on a bench facing the center of the Quad.

We were still talking around midnight when three young men turned onto the Quad from University Avenue, walking past Walker and Rosenwald, and then past me in front of Swift. They were casually talking in low voices and laughing, but each of them stared as they slowly passed.

Sitting on that bench, I realized that I had rehearsed this moment just two weeks before in a workshop during Orientation. In one exercise, my housemates and I were asked to place ourselves along a spectrum between two walls, illustrating our responses to certain prompts.

“You’re walking alone at night,” one of the scenarios began. “And an African-American man is coming toward you on the sidewalk. Do you cross the street?”

We spread out. Well over half the group stood at the wall indicating, “Don’t cross,” while just a handful, including me, stood somewhere in the middle.

“You don’t know that this guy is up to no good, and the prompt doesn’t say anything negative about him,” I remember hearing. “So who are we to judge him?”

One girl stood alone near the “Cross” side of the room.

“I have the right to do whatever makes me feel safe,” she said, and left it at that.

This scenario flashed before my eyes as the men walked past. All three of them were black. It was a similar choice: Profile or don’t profile. Is it fair for me to label them as sketchy? I wondered. Do they look like they could be University students? I quelled my doubts with another fact I had learned at the workshop: all kinds of students go here. I asked whether I had the right to judge them. I decided that I didn’t.

A few minutes after the group had passed, I heard footsteps behind me in the grass. I turned around to find one of the men pointing a gun at my head, standing just an arm’s length away.

“Give me the phone,” he said simply.

Almost too quickly, I handed over my iPhone—my friend still on the line. Next, he eyed the backpack sitting next to me on the bench. That’s when panic kicked in. My backpack, containing my new laptop, all my schoolwork and books, my cash, my journals and various mementos—my material life—was about to be pulled away from me.

“No!” was all I managed to say, weakly reaching for the bag. But he thrust the gun at my head and said “I’ll shoot!” He pulled it over the bench and retreated to the alley between Cobb and the Administration Building, still pointing the gun at me. Noticing I had stood up, he shouted, “Stay there!” I sat down until they had all run through the alley, then instinctively scanned the Quad for a blue light phone. Spotting one in the Classics Quad, I ran through the bushes and hit the button at 12:05 a.m.

“I’ve been robbed at gunpoint!” I shouted into the receiver, interrupting the woman who answered. “By three black men, running away on Ellis!”

The woman dispatched an officer, who arrived about three minutes later through the Classics gate. After I showed him the bench and explained what had happened, we waited for the Chicago Police for formal questioning, after which he drove me back to my dorm.

It was three in the morning when I wandered up the stairs of my dorm and went straight to my RA’s room. I knocked on the door, telling her it was an emergency.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I was just mugged at gunpoint,” I began, suddenly choked with tears that continued through the night. I spent the next half hour on the phone with my mother, who was stunned but supportive as she delivered calm advice: call and cancel the credit cards and Dad and I will pick you up tomorrow. I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote—the notes from which provided the basis for this article.

The next day, I couldn’t even go outside alone. My RA accompanied me to breakfast and my appointment at Student Counseling, which just brought back memories from the previous night. I cried again. Still, we made progress: they e-mailed my professors and told them why I wouldn’t be in class. They allowed me to check my e-mail and use their phone to call my parents.

A grad student had e-mailed me saying that he had found my books strewn about the Midway and collected them for me to pick up—a bit of kindness that made the entire ordeal easier. I gathered the books in a shopping bag, packed a week’s worth of clothes, and met my Dad in front of B-J.

We returned to the Midway and picked through the contents dumped from the backpack—wrappers, some coins, but nothing useful or identifiable—and drove to our home in Barrington, an hour away in the northwest suburbs. I spent the rest of the day playing in the yard with my dogs and sleeping, now acutely aware of how safe I felt in my childhood home.

At first, I considered transferring, thinking of how things might have been different if I had chosen to attend some scenic, rural liberal arts college. But before long I was busy with schoolwork and joining RSOs, and I was able to put the mugging out of my mind.

Still, something I had written down that night continued to nag me: Chicago is my home now, and I’ve got to learn how to live in it.

After some months, I figured that a good starting point would be the conversation already happening on campus about crime. In late January, I saw an opportunity: an RSO called the Chicago Justice Initiative (CJI)—more like a political salon, I learned, than the activist group its title suggests—was hosting an open discussion on the topic of “campus and community security.”

The opening question that night was whether Hyde Park has “a crime problem.” Ambivalence was present from the start.

“Not a crime problem per se,” one student said. “The bigger problem is the perception of serious crime that is distorted by students.” To some, crime wasn’t as threatening as “the presence of so many guards and UCPD cars everywhere.”

Race was a factor. Several black students recalled officers asking them to show identification for little or no reason. Still fresh was the case of Mauriece Dawson, the student arrested in 2010 for allegedly causing a disturbance in the Regenstein. The arrest, seen by many as racially charged and excessive, sparked a heated debate about police accountability that has continued to this day. One student at the meeting called it “offensive to those in surrounding neighborhoods.”

Singled out for scrutiny was the UCPD’s apparent stance on whether students are free to go where they please: You can go anywhere, so long as you “remain vigilant.” People at the meeting scoffed. “The University has constructed an enormous network of blue lights that clearly dictate a boundary of where students should and should not be,” said one student.

Frustration with crime was certainly there. And it did seem that the reality of muggings like mine was registering.

But the recurring line of argument seemed to run like this: Violent crime is not something to be dealt with directly—it’s too big for students to avoid, and too tied up with social forces beyond our control for the police to make a dent. Meanwhile, the UCPD’s costly missteps are making life worse for more students every year. Better to just keep our heads up.

One comment struck me as something I would have believed before the mugging.

“I resent the idea that these criminals should affect my choices…I just need to live my life and ignore it.”

About two weeks after the mugging, I got a new iPhone and restored my old number. I had no reason to think that any of the information logged into my old phone could still be tied to me, but a friend of mine pointed out something strange: someone had been using my phone number to play the mobile game Words With Friends.

I Google-searched for the username and found what I was looking for within minutes: an 18-year-old male who had attended Kenwood Academy tweeted “iphone 4 stuntin” the night of the mugging. Heck, we even had a mutual friend on Facebook—a friend of mine from middle school who had moved to Chicago.

I forwarded this information to the UCPD, who within a few days called me to verify the serial number of the phone. It turned out that the phone was in the hands of someone named Edward Davis. He was taken into custody for possession of stolen property.

Though I could not identify him in a lineup as the man who mugged me, the Chicago Police were able to get Davis to confess to the crime, likely by exaggerating the evidentiary weight of security camera footage they had of him robbing me. However, Davis continued to claim that the gun was a fake and that he was alone—two parts of the case that were never resolved.

I continued to call the attorneys to ask when the trial would be so that I could recover my property, which had been held as evidence. Each time, I was told that the trial date was near, but had been pushed back due to hearing cancellations or attorney changes. Finally, on January 15, a full 15 months after the crime, I received notice in the mail that Davis had pled guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison (including the time he served before the sentence). I got the closure of a solid conviction that few victims of muggings ever do.

And so a man my same age was about to spend the same four years behind bars that I’m spending at one of the best universities in the world. Our meeting—however short and unfortunate—was a live example of systemic inequality.

While I attended events rallying against “mass incarceration,” I had also fueled it with my own efforts to seek justice against the man who had mugged me. I don’t feel guilty about what I did, nor do I in any way excuse the mugger’s behavior, but I feel obligated as a citizen of social conscience to situate this experience in a broader context of inequality. While I condemn the mugger and the pain he brought into my life, I realize that he likely faced challenges I couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

For whatever reason, I hadn’t felt comfortable speaking up at the CJI meeting.

For one, I felt a great deal of shame about getting mugged in such a public place. I had been that first-year who thought he was immune to crime and was doing exactly what the police told us not to: being out alone at night, using electronics, and sitting down rather than purposefully walking somewhere.

But there was something else: one of the effects of realizing the need for security around campus is that you end up qualifying any criticisms of the police. You become moderate. I don’t think it’s unreasonable; in fact, I think most students here have a centrist opinion of the UCPD.

Even still, I have been to several activist events at the University, from forums on the need for a South Side trauma center to the annual “Disorientation” event (a follow-up to Orientation that presents a far less rosy take on town-and-gown), and I’ve noticed that opinions of the UCPD have tacked toward the extreme.

“Lost in all the commotion following the protest and arrests of January 27 has been the question of whether the University of Chicago might be well served in dissolving its private police force,” wrote one graduate student in a recent letter to the Maroon, calling the student body’s acceptance of the UCPD’s existence an “unreflected assumption.” Mauriece Dawson, the UCMC protests, incidents involving racial profiling—it all amounts to a “heavy price.”

My first and strongest reaction to this view is that this person has never been the victim of a violent crime. The author of this piece is right to ask for an analysis of the UCPD’s costs. But the fact is that only a small fraction of students become victims, and it is easy to lose sight of what that feels like when you’re focusing on the police’s occasional missteps.

And this cuts both ways. Students continue to accept the threat of violence as just one more condition of daily life.

“We live on the South Side, so, for better or worse, it’s just something we have to deal with,” said a male third-year in a Maroon article covering my mugging.

I spent a great deal of time after the mugging immersed in the Iliad, which I continued to read for Hum, inevitably comparing it with my own experience. I had decided to change the subject of my first paper from Hector, prince of Troy and an embodiment of civic duty, to Andromache, his wife, a personification of despair in response to harsh fate. I had read an essay by French philosopher and literary critic Simone Weil shortly after the mugging, in which she calls the Iliad “the poem of force:”

The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relations with force, as swept away, blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.

The administration and the UCPD do not operate in a vacuum. They are subject to the same perilous social forces that held both Edward Davis and me in their grip. And they have a tough job; in Chicago, force still calls the shots.

An explanation from the UCPD for its missteps is a good start for bridging student attitudes toward crime, but blaming them for all our woes is just as detached from reality as thinking, stubbornly, that crime shouldn’t affect our daily choices, or that violence is an inevitability that we must simply accept.

These are the tensions that up until now had rendered me silent on the issue of campus safety. We would do well to remember that other moral positions exist that often stray from sight, and to consider in these moments both the fact of injustice broadly and the experience of victims individually (who continue to suffer at the hands of violent criminals).

At a place such as the University of Chicago where we are so privileged to have the time and resources to think critically and adopt multiple perspectives about our choices, there’s no excuse not to.

40 comments on “I Was Robbed

  1. reply

    This piece is thoughtful and well-written. It’s a good reminder that there is more subtlety to this issue than most will admit.

  2. reply

    well done. the maroon should have more pieces like this exploring the relationship between school and city. thank you for sharing your experiences, and for keeping such an open mind despite them.

  3. reply

    I was in your SOSC class for (I believe) fall and winter quarters last school year. I’m so sorry that you went through this tough experience but thank you so much for sharing it. This is a truly moving piece.

    By the way, I also read your Boy Scouts piece a few months ago and it was also fantastic. I think you’re a wonderful writer. Best of luck to you!

  4. reply

    Thank goodness this was written, and so well. Reconfirms my recently wavering belief that reasonable people — and journalists — do attend this university.

  5. reply

    I remember biking past the three guys while going home from Harper that night.. they eyed me. Next day, seeing the UCPD report I couldn’t believe it..

  6. reply

    Very well-written. I was mugged on campus my second year of college at the UofC, and now as an alum still living in Hyde Park, my apartment was recently broken into. Your perspective really does change once you are the victim of crime, and it’s difficult to be unbiased when assessing the role of the UCPD in the area. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece about a complicated problem.

  7. reply

    Okay, so this post is powerful, and well written. But he forgets perhaps the most abrasive in your face event that’s happened in the last four years, and for which the victims may truly be hit with life consequences, broken bones, PTSD, real phobias. This guy seems pretty well mended, had no /physical/ damage, and seems pretty amicable about the whole thing as a social force.

    But what about these kids?

    “9:20 p.m., Thursday, November 11 – on University Avenue between 60th and 61st Street – A University student walking on the sidewalk with two friends was approached by 6 or 7 unknown males. One of the males struck the victim on the head with his fist and took his cell phone from his hand. The suspect and his companions fled on foot. The victim declined medical attention.

    9:30 p.m., Thursday, November 11 – On the Midway Plaisance near Harper Library – A University student crossing the Midway Plaisance saw three males as he neared the Linne statue. A fourth person jumped from the bushes and struck him with an unknown object knocking the victim unconscious. When the victim regained consciousness, he sought help and was transported to the Mitchell Emergency room for treatment.”

    This shouldn’t be a game of who’s had worse, but my point is the crime is not all just muggings, and it’s gotten /a lot/ better since they’ve redone the midway, hired more security, posted a UCPD officer on the quads, etc.

  8. reply

    “And so a man my same age was about to spend the same four years behind bars that I’m spending at one of the best universities in the world. Our meeting—however short and unfortunate—was a live example of systemic inequality.”

    Wow. This is an amazing piece and you show an unbelievable amount of restraint, growth, and maturity. Please continue to use your invaluable voice to be part of this discussion as I think for many the issues of violence and inequality in our neighborhood is still so abstract.

  9. reply

    Agreed, really great piece. You raise some really relatable concerns.

    Although, I can’t help but worry that as more people read it, even more people will cross the street to get away from that Black student who is just walking home from the library.

  10. reply

    Wow. I am floored by how well-written, introspective, and provocative this piece is. This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have ever read. Keep writing – you have a natural talent for it.

  11. reply

    I never thought you could define “privilege” in such a concise way and yet whoever wrote this generously covered each and every single aspect of the phenomenon in a single article. Just kidding. Let’s talk about violence. But from someone white, cisgender, upper middle class, live in a bubble suburban, young, male human being attending, like you laughably point out, one of the best universities in the world (apparently this is the only point where you’re privileged… I’m falling off my chair laughing). Breakthrough.

    I must admit and gotta hand it to him; I literally laughed out loud at the irony of him using the “P” word in his last sentence. Cry me a river buddy, cry me the freaking Scamander. You should consider a future in standup comedy instead of journalism.

    PS. Don’t get me wrong, Jon, what happened to you is unfortunate and I hope you’ve recovered from the trauma. The whole police force vs crime perception cost-benefit dilemma is very real. But honestly, while the delivery is flawless (kudos on the writing), the whole premise underlying this article is laughable. You just took too many words to define what the world understands as “privilege”. Just google it and you’ll be a little bit less of it. Because at least you’ll be aware of all of the levels on which you are privileged, and you won’t feel compelled to write about it without really acknowledging the fact that it’s already a well known, existing issue for many many people who had to wait much less than 20ish years to come across violence like that. Violence comes in many shapes and colors, not just police cars and black men. Just remember, most of the victims don’t just ever get a sentence notice- they often lack a voice to tell their story, much less have it heard. Thank your privilege for that one, too.

    • reply

      I felt there was an important part of the concept of privilege that was left out of the discussion in the article and in carefully reasoned comments like this one, namely the nature of the criminals the privileged author encounters. Mr. Davis was certainly no pre-salvation Jean Valjean type wild man. He was a very plugged-in youth, on twitter, facebook, etc. in search of what any modern youth needs: an iPhone. I tend to take him at his word that the gun was fake. After all, who really wants to shoot a friend of a (facebook) friend for a phone?

      Who knows what kind of guy would mug the mugger? I have to think it’d be a much rougher, more dangerous sort. This kind of supposition just goes to show what a joke it is for people in a position of such privilege to give voice to their privileged experiences with crime, etc. while the real victims go to jail.

      I, too, am falling off my chair laughing. If you could fill a theatre with people who share our perspective on the notion of privilege, the author would be ready for an HBO special.

  12. reply

    Nice piece. It reminds me of my own experience.
    When I was 5 months into my first year at UChicago, someone stole my laptop and wallet in harper (now renamed as the Cathey Learning Center). I blamed myself for it, just like the author did – I did exactly what I was told not to do: leaving my laptop and book bag unattended for 5 minutes. I know laptops got stolen on campus every day, and indeed it was like nothing compared to robbery and murder. I wish UCPD had done more in the investigation though. In my case, it took more than 15 minutes for a UCPD officer to arrive on the scene, which was longer than I expected (maybe there was no need to rush since it wasn’t a serious crime? maybe it was college break day and not many officers were on duty?). He was nice and helpful, and told me there were surveillance cameras downstairs and they would pull out the footage to see if anything suspicious was caught on tape. An officer called the next day to confirm some information I had provided. She told me UCPD would take good care of my case. I called a few days later to ask for update. I was told my case was still under investigation. They would call again if more information was required. They never called again. I wish they could have at least let me know whether or not they looked into the footage (maybe I was to blame again for not calling them more often?). If the UCPD did want to solve the crime, there were many ways to do it. They had the serial number of my laptop. Moreover, the thief used my credit card and debit card at multiple gas stations, BestBuy and online. Anyway, I am not saying they would definitely be able to find my stuff with the information I provided, but I wish they could at least let me know where they were in the process and what they have done besides giving me a useless confirmation number.

  13. reply

    This is an excellent article. You are a very clear and thoughtful writer. Thanks for sharing- these things needed to be said.

  14. reply

    First of all, I’m sorry that you had to go through that. Getting mugged is certainly a fear in the South Side of Chicago, so I’m glad that you’re okay.

    I thought this was a great piece, but I got angry after I read “Our meeting—however short and unfortunate—was a live example of systemic inequality.”

    I don’t believe that this is about systemic inequality. I think you have every right to intellectualize as much as you’d like—after all, it *is* your narrative.

    From what I read, there was no institutionalized racism—at least none that was readily apparent after reading your piece (unless you believe that your assailant was coerced into pleading guilty, and that, had he not been black, it would have been a different story).

    You can pity him, sympathize, and say that you’re deeply affected by the circumstances that led him to do so as much as you’d like.

    From my perspective, you were mugged by someone that just wanted an iPhone. He kept it to play Words With Friends. He was armed. He threatened to kill you for it. He wanted an iPhone, and he got it.

    If you want to turn it into a race issue, or a class issue from your position of privilege as a, presumably, white, economically stable male, you can. You have that power. But that is dangerous. Privileged perspectives and rhetoric like this that grasp for straws and frame acts and events that are not race or class issues into race or class issues compromise the legitimacy of greater issues that are substantively related to inequality, that have clear, causal relationships to racism and classism.

    On that note, I do believe that there is plenty of exaggerated animosity towards the UCPD on issues that do not merit getting rid of them for the greater amount of protection that they afford the student body (but that’s a different discussion).

    All the same, thank you for sharing your story and providing some perspective for the more naïve students at the college that don’t know how to come to terms with the institutions and the violence that often do not directly affect them.

  15. reply

    I would be so thrilled to learn the jerk who broke into my home while I was sleeping and stole my laptop landed in jail. I don’t care what color s/he may have been.

  16. reply

    As a victim of violent crime myself, I understand Jon’s instinct to want to do justice in this situation. And what else was there to do other than to report the crime? It is in no way the author’s “fault” that this young man is spending time in prison.But, when I read this article, I cannot help but mourn the four years Edward Davis will spend behind bars more than Jon’s one traumatic experience. The number of years most of us will spend studying at UChicago, Edward Davis will spend in prison.

    As I read the comments here and see people repost this on Facebook, I can’t help but cringe every time I read “Thank God you’re okay,” even though I agree. Because it rings bells of “Thank God you’re okay NOW,” now that we’ve pushed those outsiders out of our campus again we can study in peace.

    But what about the high school students in neighborhoods /uncomfortably/ close to campus who stay at home at all times for fear of being shot when they walk outside? At Harper High School last year, 29 current or recent studies were shot. Harper High School is less than 5 miles away from UChicago. Are we glad that those kids are safe? Would we be more concerned if they were white?

  17. reply

    I’ve been called racist, mostly by people who didn’t grow up in cities, for crossing the street or otherwise avoiding guys in groups or alone on the sidewalk who are not wearing backpacks or UChicago hoodies. The choice is between feeling more comfortable and vigilant about my safety (however unjustified) or a frankly paternalistic desire to spare their feelings. I do not know for sure which choice is more costly or wise, but I think they are equally racist. So I would be interested to hear from “that black student who is just walking home from the library” or anyone else affected by white-girl profiling. I would like to know the magnitude of the effect of my behavior so I can make a better-informed decision next time what side of the street to walk down.

  18. reply

    Dear everyone talking about “privilege”,

    Here’s an idea—next time someone gets forcefully robbed by a non-white, don’t call the police. Just let the robber get away with it. If you stop putting non-white criminals in jail, you stop perpetuating systemic inequality. How dare *anyone* go to jail for threatening to fatally injure someone for a material possession? Unreasonable.

    So please, if you’re reading this, from now on, keep your guard down and allow yourself to be robbed at gunpoint. But make sure you don’t do anything about it afterwards, or you’ll risk showing your privilege, which is worse than literally anything that a non-white person could do to you as a privileged person. Your non-white robber deserves immunity for their actions, because they’re powerless in this system ran by affluent white cis males!

    I’m going to start a free Edward Davis campaign because it is RIDICULOUS that a criminal that THREATENED to KILL SOMEONE for a PHONE is in jail, and for what? Because he is black? That’s systemic inequality if I’ve ever seen it.

    • reply
      I love this response

      I love the irony in this comment. It’s exactly why I’m opposed to all this politically correct horsesh**

      If either your life or safety is at risk, don’t worry about being politically correct. If you feel bad about being perhaps “judgmental” or “stereotypical” or whatever, you have plenty of time to feel remorse later when you are safely in your dorm room or wherever.

  19. reply

    I find it naive and confused that people use the term “profiling” to refer to their own gut reactions while walking around late at night. The point of anti-profiling campaigns is to protect people’s rights from intrusive police action. There is a world of difference between a police officer stopping someone or pulling someone ove merely because they are african american and look “suspicious” and you following your own instinct to cross the street. In the latter case, no harm is done, no rights are infringed. Therefore, trust your gut, cross the street. Don’t let guilt overwhelm your common sense, as well-intentioned as you may be.

    • reply

      Do you have the same “gut reaction” when walking down the street and encountering a white or Latino man? This isn’t about street smarts, it’s about race relations and how people choose to interact (or see through) others because of skin color and status. A distinctly frightening stigma has been attached to black men that appears to be confirmed in the media and even in the streets. For this reason, people tend to react a certain way when they encounter a black man, and it proves to be problematic because it demonstrates a level of fear that turns you into an easy target. So while you may think that it is smart to cross the street or turn around, it actually sets you up for a bigger trap than you intended.

      It’s very important to examine these “gut reactions” that you have, and ask yourself why they exist in the first place. Why do we avoid contact with certain people, and how can we become more active advocates for improved relations between UChicago and the South Side? I’d like to see the University of Chicago play a more active role in educating its students and fostering better race relations– not by painting a mural at a public school for a day, but by initiating a productive dialogue on these issues.

      It probably will never happen, though.

  20. reply

    ……and people wandered why there are so many police on campus and actually protest them. This area is surrounded by slums. What do you people expect? Its not enough that hyde park is a vibrant area on the south side the Uof C needs to pick up where they left off in Urban Renewal 2.0 and help to gentrify the surrounding areas.

    People need to use common sense and stop the political correctness this area is an oasis in the desert. The area is a great area for robbing. We know what the crimals look and dres like if you see them avoid them cross the street,or call the police, or simple carry a weapon.

    The police must also stop the pcness they also know what the crimals look and dress like. They should observe these people more carefully.

  21. reply

    Interesting article.

    The racial debate in Chicago has always intrigued me. There’s not a doubt in my mind that African Americans are racially profiled by the police in Chicago, both the Chicago Police and the UCPD. But is this really due to “race,” per se? As in, do these officers actually have something against black people?

    I would say this certainly isn’t always the case, at least. Why? Because black police officers seem to take part in racial profiling just as much white police officers. Do they hate their own race? Or are they just “working the numbers,” so to speak? By that, I mean are they aware that the majority of violent crime in this city is committed by racial minorities? For instance, although about 30% of Chicago is black, about 70% of convicted murderers are black (in 2011). Is this because the police turn a blind eye to white murderers, or is this because minorities are just committing more crimes?

    As a point, I’m not at all suggesting that minorities are somehow more violent than white people. Rather, I think these kind of statistics have less to do with race and more to do with economic disparity. Chicago is extremely segregated, with the majority of its minorities living in poverty-ridden, high-crime areas. But then the question becomes: are these minorities living in poverty because of racial discrimination or because of some other confounding factor?

    It is difficult to sort out the effects of being poor from the effects of being a minority, but it’s worth thinking about. I don’t propose at all that racism isn’t a problem – it’s certainly alive and well, unfortunately – but so is economic disparity. I certainly believe that if there was less economic disparity, there would be less crime. How we achieve that without becoming a socialist society is a very complicated problem, indeed.

    I don’t think harassing the UCPD for the way it conducts its business is the way to go, though. True, we should make sure they do not overstep their boundaries, but that means we should have all of the information before we condemn all UCPD officers as hopeless racists because of a few highly publicized incidents involving only a tiny subset of their active officers.

    Also, I think the idea of getting rid of the UCPD is absolutely hilarious. Do you realize who will replace the UCPD if we get rid of them? More Chicago police officers. Their presence is reduced in Hyde Park because of the UCPD (meaning the people who allocate CPD resources in Chicago have less patrols in Hyde Park because they realize we already have a police force). It’s highly entertaining to me that in a forum that was presumably about “privilege” there were people that were either deluded enough to think the U of C “owns” Hyde Park and can dictate whether there is a police presence in Hyde Park, or stupid enough not to consider who would replace the UCPD if we got rid of them.

    With the CPD, the kid gloves come off. The CPD is far more corrupt than the UCPD ever was and they will not put up with the student BS that the UCPD is paid to put up with. Do you realize if a Chicago police officer had been “caught” undercover at a student protest on campus, it’s very likely no one would give a damn? Sure, you could complain to the CPD, but they probably wouldn’t do anything. They don’t always do anything when their officers actually physically assault people. So go ahead… get rid of the UCPD and see how you like how the police treat students then.

    While we’re talking about student privilege, let’s take a moment to realize the UCPD is one of those privileges.

  22. reply

    While I enjoyed the article, i couldn’t help but feel a jarring disparity between these two points made in the article:
    “While I condemn the mugger and the pain he brought into my life, I realize that he likely faced challenges I couldn’t even begin to comprehend.”

    “Someone had been using my phone number to play the mobile game Words With Friends.
    I Google-searched for the username and found what I was looking for within minutes: an 18-year-old male who had attended Kenwood Academy tweeted “iphone 4 stuntin” the night of the mugging.”

    While the individual that robbed the author has surely faced systematic and racial challenges the author surely will never encounter, was that truly the reason for the mugging? It’s not as if the mugger did this for survival.. To me, the whole injustice angle, while valid in other contexts, doesn’t fit here, I needs to be stressed that personal responsibility trumps any sort of inequality.

  23. reply
    Christian Sheppard, College Class of 1991

    I am sorry you have suffered this crime and am grateful for your on-going recovery as well as for your thoughtful reflections here. I do wonder, however, about your statement: “And so a man my same age was about to spend the same four years behind bars that I’m spending at one of the best universities in the world. Our meeting—however short and unfortunate—was a live example of systemic inequality.” It seems to me more of an instance of irony rather than inequality. If you had stuck a gun in his face, threatened to murder him, and made away with his property — and were stupid enough to get caught the way he was — you too no doubt would spend at least 4 years in prison (and like Mr. Davis would deserve the punishment). Allow the criminal at least some responsibility for his actions. He is not merely a victim or a symptom of some systemic social malady, and neither are all of the other citizens of Hyde Park not privileged with University affiliation, most of whom somehow refrain themselves from killing and stealing despite the systemic social forces pressing them to do so. (Irony.)

  24. reply

    Excellent article. Too few victims of crime have the interest, courage, and/or voice to tell their stories. As the instructor of the UChicago Self-Defense Club, I always encourage my students to follow their gut instincts and uphold safety as their primary concern.

    Your perspective as a survivor of a violent incident is a valuable addition to our University-wide discourse on safety and policing. I thank you for sharing it with us all. Whether your readers have or have not experienced violence of their own, your contribution is a powerful one.

  25. reply

    “iphone 4 stuntin” lol. Fuk moral agency, Steve Jobs’ ads caused this robbery!

    My advice to you young buck Maroons is: “rather be caught with it than caught without one”

  26. reply

    “And so a man my same age was about to spend the same four years behind bars that I’m spending at one of the best universities in the world. Our meeting—however short and unfortunate—was a live example of systemic inequality.”

    Don’t feel bad/white-guilty. There are literally billions of people much worse off than Edward Davis who don’t commit crimes. That he spent time at a place called “Kenwood Academy”, and is (marginally) literate already shows he is a ton better off than so many.

    Shoot, most of Davis’s friends (except 2, maybe) don’t pull stuff like this. Systemic inequality is at most a reason or an explanation, not an excuse, for such behavior.

  27. reply

    Why do U of C student muggings receive such inordinate press and soul searching editorials???

    Students get robbed at UIC, IIT, Depaul, Columbia, Northwestern, Loyola, etc. all over Chicago. Why are U of C students so freaked out about the possibility of getting robbed at gunpoint??? It’s a concern for all Chicago citizens, even those in the safest of neighborhoods. By the way, Hyde Park statistically ranks as one of the city’s safest communities in the last several years. You can just as easily get robbed in Lakeview as in Hyde Park (statistically much higher in Lakeview).

    So seriously, pull your heads out of your butts and quit using “South Side” as an epithet for anything “spooky and that goes bump in the night.” Please show me a U of C student who is both ‘book smart” and “street smart” because a diploma don’t mean jack if you don’t have any real world common sense. The writer of the above article should consider himself lucky for getting a tough life lesson and coming out relatively unscathed.

  28. reply

    Plus ca change … I remember a similar, protracted debate sparked by an article in the Maroon when I was an undergrad (probably about 1978) on the topic of whether and when U of C students should cross the street when they see a group of unfamiliar African-American males approaching. In those days there was less blather about “narratives” and “privilege,” so (if I recall accurately) the discussion centered around the somewhat more concrete, materialistic trope of cheap vinyl greatcoats as a proxy for danger.

  29. reply
    Eduardo Vidal, B.A.'78, J.D.'81

    Jon Catlin is not responsible for the choices made by Edward Davis, a graduate of Kenwood Academy who has been active on Facebook and plays mobile games. Davis disregarded the commandment against stealing, and instead resorted to force in order to satisfy his greed and envy for some of the useful instruments of contemporary life: a smartphone and a laptop.

    He chose not to work in order to earn the money to buy these instruments, and instead forcibly stole them from a naive victim. His loss of liberty for four years seems like a reasonable and just punishment for the choices he made.

    • reply

      I agree wholeheartedly with this response, and think that Mr. Catlin is a hero in this situation for insuring that Edward Davis cannot bring harm to any other UChicago student for at least four more years.

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