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Thomas Alter Headshot

Trayvon and Chicago

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In the emotional wake of Saturday's George Zimmerman verdict, a new public outcry has emanated from the gleeful band of brothers dedicated to defending the Zorro of Sanford, Fla.

The evolving narrative from this bunch has changed from, it was a sad accident, to Trayvon deserved it, to why does his death matter when hundreds of black teenagers die in Chicago every year?

Media luminaries like the illustrious Sean Hannity and the measured Ann Coulter have declared that it's impossible to be angry about the death of one individual black boy without mentioning all of the others.

Even if you don't consider the source, this argument is ridiculous. From Natalee Holloway to Jon Benet Ramsey, isolated cases of murdered blonde white girls have dominated cable airwaves for years. Hannity, for example, spent months on the Holloway case, a tragic disappearance with few changes or subplots.

The narrative that nobody is paying attention to the horrible murder rate in Chicago is false as well. CNN (multiple times), NBC and FOX have all aired specials before the Zimmerman trial began, about this epidemic in one of America's great cities and the problems Police Chief Garry McCarthy faces.

Many of these same bloviators seem to have forgotten that President Obama gave a speech at Hyde Park Academy on the South Side of Chicago in February of this year, decrying many of the same social ills he supposedly ignores. Ironically, before the 2008 election, Obama was mocked for his South Side "community organizing," his fight to help stem the violent tide in the city. Or that in one of Michelle Obama's most powerful moments as first lady, speaking about a slain Chicago teenager who performed at January's inauguration she said, "Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her."

Having spent some time in these decimated neighborhoods, working for a community newspaper in the now torn down Robert Taylor Homes, the problems are easy to identify and tougher to fix. The upheaval of many of the city's gang bases because of the removal of public housing, combined with the easy accessibility of guns in neighboring states, has created a fragmented system where it is at times, literally every man for themselves. The cities' school system has struggled mightily under the weight of a battle between a successful but combative mayor and a stubborn, locked-in teachers union.

For those legitimately interested in the cities' gun violence, a 2011 Steve James documentary The Interrupters tells the story of three "violence interrupters" on the South Side, who break down exactly what the cities residents face. Just a guess, but I don't think Mr. Hannity or Ms. Coulter have that queued up on their Netflix.

Rather than talk about the issues behind Mr. Zimmerman's trial, about what makes an angry vigilante chase down a teenage boy get into a fight with him and kill him, or about the thousands of people who donate to said vigilante knowing just the bare facts of the case, it's easier to talk about Chicago. For 90 percent of the pundits who've mentioned Chicago in the past week, it's an abstract case. They will never visit the parts of the city that need the most help. They are in favor of devastating economic cuts that will make things even bleaker.

Why address the problem when you can just change the subject?