What happens when words become tantamount to violence?
As Flemming Rose wrote in Tyranny of Silence, “For when words run out, violence begins. If we forbid offensive speech, individuals will resort to direct action.”
In Chicago, this became true this month. A 29-year-old man named named Ramiz Bajwa attacked a woman who went viral for a rant in which she called an arts and crafts store employee “an animal” after the store clerk suggested she buy a bigger bag. (Yes, this is exactly as stupid as it sounds.) Her ridiculous rant was caught on video and published by Chicago news organizations, national news organizations, and of course, blogs.
Bajwa, who has been charged with misdemeanor battery, allegedly entered the woman’s apartment and pushed her around while calling her a “racist-ass bitch whore,” according to the Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown blog.
Words beget violence when you treat words as violent.
This Michael’s incident should not have been covered by Chicago-area news organizations. To cover an argument or rant – even one I find abhorrent – as essentially a crime is to waste slim news resources and create an unnecessary target. Did showing her face, name, and rant video help reduce racism, especially after a contentious election? Or did it simply give one side of the issue a scapegoat for every racist insult they’ve received and galvanize the other in their opinions that we are an over-reactive society? I’d argue the latter.
What coverage is next? Are we going to start covering every street preacher who says “faggots should burn in hell”? What about heavily orthodox churches that consider women as lesser beings? How about bar conversations in Edison Park? On an average weekend, rants and raves in these bars are likely more racist than anything this lady spouted.
Racism in Chicago isn’t new. Just look at our nearly 200 years of history; race riots, segregation, redlining. Black people have been treated as our underclass essentially since Jean Baptiste Point du Sable founded the city. So why are we covering nasty words as if they’re violence, as if they’re worthy of coverage, as if they’re truly out of the ordinary?
I understand the emotion. If I was in the store when this rant took place, I’d be right there standing up for the Michael’s clerk. However, I can’t comprehend the coverage. In a city where a person is shot every two hours, I say there are more pressing uses of time for Chicago journalists.