Monday, May 15, 2006

The Chicago Way

From the Sun-Times:

Army soldiers who belong to the Gangster Disciples have robbed people to raise money for the gang, orchestrated drug and gun deals, and even killed two people after gang members were kicked out of a bar.

The article details the work of a Wisconsin National Guardsman, Jeffrey Stoleson. Sgt. Stoleson sent the Sun-Times his photographs of gang graffiti he found in Iraq, including the photo here. The caption from the article: "This picture was taken at Camp Anaconda, a large U.S. base north of Baghdad. The graffiti represents the Chicago-based Black Gangster Disciples. To the left is a message from a soldier shipping out telling comrades to 'Be safe.'"

The article primarily details the criminal careers of two individuals, both of whom were convicted at court martial for gang related crimes. The careers are really quite dramatic, but they can hardly be said to represent a meaningful trend, given that both individuals were investigated (and presumably convicted) in the late '90s.

The article is really just an excuse to publish Sgt. Stoleson's pictures. The photos are really quite interesting, though it would be nice to have a little more information about the graffiti's particular purpose. The article ends with a paranoid suggestion from a Chicago police lieutenant that the gangs may have infiltrated the Army to make criminal contacts with drug suppliers in Iraq. It seems a rather convoluted strategy, and I don't think it explains the graffiti. I suppose a general desire to mark one's territory would explain the graffiti, but that doesn't explain why this particular graffiti appears in the particular places it is found.

Finally, a question about the media. From the article:

The Army Criminal Investigation Command has downplayed the problem, saying gang activity in the Army is insignificant. Whatever the scope of the problem -- both overseas and on the home front -- the cases in Texas and Colorado show it's not new and it's not harmless.

So, basically, the reporter dutifully reports the quote from the Army, acknowledges that he doesn't know if the problem is big or small, but then tries desperately to keep the reader from turning away by reminding the reader that death is in the offing. An utterly pointless paragraph: the story sells itself, and there is no need for the sociological handwringing.

Reporters always seem to feel the need to remind the reader that what they are reading matters in some larger, sociological sense. Why is this?

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