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John Wilson, Editor


Stranger In a Strange Land

Like many arguments, it began obliquely, in the lull after a good dinner. I was drying dishes and listening to my son, 19 years old and living in Chicago, recount an incident involving a friend who had been hit by a van while she was riding her bike, the point of the story being the callous and belligerent behavior of the policeman who arrived at the scene. My son is a good storyteller, and there was headshaking all around. But when he went on to issue a blanket indictment of Chicago cops, I, whose firsthand experience of their ministrations is zero, mildly dissented on principle.

In retrospect, that is when the argument started, though at the time we simply seemed to be talking. We moved to the subject of police brutality in general, and I waxed indignant over the way some groups had seized on a single recent incident in New York—vile, yes, but truly representative of the day-to-day conduct of the force?--to suggest that the much-ballyhooed reduction of crime under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had in fact been accomplished by widespread brutality and a systematic disregard for civil liberties. These critics, I said, warming to my theme, were the same crowd who raised an outcry over the city's campaign against the "squeegeemen," those window-washers whose unsolicited attention—and often intimidating tactics—many drivers in New York had come to loathe.

I said this with a tone that assumed consensus—assumed, that is, the evident intransigence, ideological beyond persuasion, of those who resisted even this modest gesture toward a renewal of civility.

But "those" people of whom I had spoken with a certain contempt turned out to include both my son and my older daughter, who is also living in Chicago. At the mention of the squeegeemen, they became icy and furious at the same time. It was a shame, they said sarcastically, that law-abiding citizens on their way to work had their equanimity disturbed by the presence of such riffraff. Too bad the city couldn't ...

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