The lessons from local media’s softball treatment of the Ken Griffin CPD donation story | Bleader

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The lessons from local media’s softball treatment of the Ken Griffin CPD donation story

Posted By on 04.12.18 at 06:00 AM

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click to enlarge Ken Griffin's $10 million is expanding Chicago's Minority Report-like predictive policing program.
  • Ken Griffin's $10 million is expanding Chicago's Minority Report-like predictive policing program.

It's instructive to observe how most local news outlets covered Ken Griffin's $10 million handout to Chicago law enforcement.

Let's start at the top: Nearly half of all of the headlines written in the last 24 hours about the Citadel hedge fund founder's announcement is some minor variation of the same theme. WGN's coverage starts with "Illinois' Richest Man to Donate $10M to Fight Chicago Violence," while Fox 32's report leads with "Billionaire Donates $10 million to Fight Chicago Crime." Don't forget CBS Chicago, whose headline is: "Billionaire Ken Griffin Donates $10M To Help Fight Chicago Crime."

These lines alone imply a positive outcome thanks to Griffin's effort—hey, crime is bad, Chicago has a lot of it, and we all want to fight it, right? And now here's some rich guy just giving away a lot of his hard-earned cash toward that cause? Wow! The Sun-Times headline ("Billionaire Ken Griffin takes on Chicago crime with $10M to prevent violence") even makes it sound possible that Griffin is a crime fighter himself. He's taking on crime? God bless him, he's like Bruce Wayne without the whole bat-costume thing!

Those readers who get past the bold font at the top of these stories (not a sure thing in attention-span-deprived 2018) get to learn where all of Griffin's cash is actually flowing to. Turns out all of the $10 million is going in some shape or form to Chicago law enforcement—most of it to fund the expansion of "strategic decision support centers." That's a bloodless term for $1.5 million high-tech rooms inside police stations in which officers and University of Chicago analysts use newfangled crime software to predict where shootings in the city will happen and employ gunshot detection systems that are supposed to improve CPD deployment to the scenes of crime.

CPD officials partly credit a recent decline in gun violence to the support centers (through March, the number of homicides in Chicago was down 17 percent) but the truth is no one knows for sure why Chicago's homicide rate spiked two years ago and has dropped to pre-2016 levels in the past year.
click to enlarge Notice a pattern here?
  • Notice a pattern here?
The real substantive evidence that predictive crime software reduces crime is inconclusive at best, and at worst, critics argue, it perpetuates racial discrimination in policing by shrouding it in the legitimacy accorded by science. After six years, the city of New Orleans just ditched its secret predictive policing program, and the company that ran the software—Palantir Technologies, Peter Thiel's Silicon Valley tech firm, which also came close to selling CPD on the program in 2014, the Verge reported.

The rest of the grant from Griffin is reportedly funding stress management and mental health treatment—not for those at risk in high-crime areas, but for police officers themselves.

Do the math and you'll find that of the $10 million designated to "fight crime" exactly zero dollars are going toward stricter gun control efforts or existing community anti-violence programs, or will go toward underserved south- and west-side neighborhoods, or fund failing Chicago schools, or address the dearth of economic opportunities in those same poverty-stricken neighborhoods, or the lack of mental health treatment available to those in high-crime areas.

Call it what it is—another questionable top-down technocratic solution to solving the city's problem with gun violence that involves handing more power and resources to a police force that a 2017 U.S. Justice Department investigation found to have been engaging in a pattern of civil rights violations.

But no other local media outlet I could find mentioned any of this. Nor did they recap the other notable news story that Griffin was involved with this week—that he temporarily halted construction of a football field-size house on his $230 million oceanfront property south of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. Chicago media were busy instead describing Griffin, who also donated $20 million to Bruce Rauner's reelection campaign—as a "philanthropist" who also gave $125 million to the University of Chicago's economics department and $12 million for walking and bicycle paths along the Lakefront Trail.

Let's face it, this is par for the course for so-called "neutral" news outlets. Too often these stories read like press releases or recaps of what the elites in government and business say and call it a day.

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