Carjacking's residual victims

Opinion: Columns

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By ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson

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My truth is I am more terrified for black boys/men in the suburbs than victims of carjackings. It is dangerous for innocent black boys for white people to be afraid of unidentifiable black men:

Trevon Martin.

Tamir Rice.

Alton Sterling.

These are not murders that happened in a vacuum. They happened because "black boys/men scared me" is a justifiable reason to kill them.

And it is not just murdering that happens when people are faced with "black boys/men who scare them."

They also have to deal with:

Being falsely arrested. 

Being beaten by the police. 

Having people they thought were neighbors and friends call the police on them, and relationships are broken.

But one of the most difficult things that happens is that black boys and black men, who are residents of this community, are profiled and they have to take countermeasures to appear "unthreatening."

Which means that, currently, there are black boys who live in Oak Park that are being told not to go down dark alleys because their parents are afraid that someone might misjudge them as a criminal.

There are black boys who live in Oak Park that instead of walking home from school or practice when it is dark, are getting rides from their parents because their parents are afraid for their safety.

There are black men, who take the train every day for work, that are now trying hard to make it home before dark and/or figure out ways to distinguish themselves from "criminals" and make sure that they don't look or act like "the scary, dangerous black man."

Yes, there has been a rise in carjackings. Yes, there are black/brown men who are committing crimes and white people have to be safe. But everybody has to be safe. And black boys and men who live in this community need to also feel safe from racial profiling.

It breaks my heart to think of people being scared of my son, husband, nephew, brother, or my friends. Because all black men look the same in the dark and it is even worse for teenagers.

It is hard enough being a black man and trying to be "un-dangerous looking" but add to that bad lighting and a rash of crimes and it is a no-win situation.

My question to the community is this:

Can we take a public stance against racial profiling?

Can we support and protect black kids and youth in the community and allow them the same freedom to explore and be young as the white kids and youth in the community?

Can we offer a support group for young black and brown men on how best to navigate through the community at night as to not raise suspicion?

Can we offer support groups for those who have been the victims of racial profiling?

Is there a way to be vigilant against crime and also make sure not to profile black male residents?

The victims — of all races, ethnicities, and classes — who have been carjacked, aren't the only victims. A community's fear of "scary black men" has victimized many innocent black males, many of them just young boys, in the community too.

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson currently resides in the west suburbs of Chicago with her two school-aged girls and her husband, Brian. She writes a blog at

Reader Comments

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Jim Frenkel  

Posted: February 5th, 2018 3:01 PM

And btw, OP has a student population of 33.4% students of color, with 17.5% of them African American.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: February 5th, 2018 2:58 PM

Her departure from OP, her article above, and her self-admitted decision to send her girls to LESS diverse schools (with less than 10% students of color, unlike OP, which is much higher) because they had higher test scores overall brings to mind the saying from John Galsworthy: "Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem."

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: February 5th, 2018 2:52 PM

It appears that ShaRonda has a thing for OP. It also appears that she decided that it would be better to leave OP, which is trying, albeit imperfectly, to live its ideals and send her kids to a LESS diverse school with better test scores! See this article, which I believe was in the Journal earlier this year:

Alex Garcia  

Posted: February 5th, 2018 9:48 AM

ShaRonda: Let me explain this in very simple terms. Between November and January alone, Oak Park and River Forest experienced 15 carjackings, 55 car thefts, 29 residential burglaries, a couple of homicides, numerous retail robberies and other mayhem. THAT is the actual existential threat facing people here, not any of what you mention in an effort to deflect.

Anna Bramfeld from Oak Park  

Posted: February 3rd, 2018 3:23 PM

"But everybody has to be safe. And black boys and men who live in this community need to also feel safe from racial profiling." Very true!

Sarah Schriber  

Posted: February 3rd, 2018 2:32 PM

Thank you, ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 2nd, 2018 2:37 PM

Ms. ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson recalls to mind some of the old time anthropologists from an advanced and civilized society studying a primitive but unique and isolated culture and its peoples - with their strange mores and ways. Of course that advanced and civilized society is the "Chicago near west suburbs" and that primitive but unique and isolated culture and its peoples ?" with their strange mores and ways - is us, Oak Park. And like anthropologists of old, who brought to their studies their preconceived values and notions, so too, does Ms. Knott-Dawson. And of course the "natives" those anthropologists studied with their strange and unique customs where indeed judged inferior, but none the less, needed explaining to their readers "back home." The only difference being, is that with Ms. Knott-Dawson, it is the "natives" themselves - us - who need explaining to. And like the anthropologists of old, who were more often wrong than right, in their interpretation of native culture, so to is Ms. Knott-Dawson more wrong than right about Oak Park. I find it interesting that Ms. Knott-Dawson is such an authority on our unique community and its inhabitants, when she admittedly doesn't even live here. I wonder, in developing her thesis about Oak Park and its inhabitants, how much time has she spent living amongst us? At least the anthropologists of old spent considerable time living amongst the inhabitants they studied and described. Has she?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 7:51 PM

Bill Dwyer is no racist. He is blinded by the light of the quest for the truth. I guess you say he is a lightist ."There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and to hear foorsteps, then to turn around and see some white and feel relief" Oh, that racist Rev. Jesse Jackson, or maybe JJ read Dwyers work and found the light.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 5:12 PM

Overreact much, Andrew?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 4:44 PM

And now I'm a racist. Whatever, Andrew. And a "threat to, apparently, black boys. Careful there, A P, people may take your writing the wrong way. FWIW, your off the handle response is a good example of why there will likely never be a genuine, open dialogue on race in Oak Park- everyone's noses immediately get out of joint at any comment that offends them. People like you don't want a dialogue, you just want other people to sit quietly and listen to your monologue.

Andrew Pat from Oak Park  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 12:32 PM

Well Bill, if you weren't so quick to let your racism blind you, you'd know that whites are not the only victims who have their bike stolen, or are smacked down for no good reason while being robbed of their cell phones, etc. -- that happens to black people, too. The only difference is black people have to fear that AND being though of as dangerous criminals AND be afraid of people like you stoking fear and hatred of them. Your comment is itself evidence of the author's point and what so many innocent black boys and their families have to fear. You are the threat piled on top of the threat of being carjacked.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 10:19 AM

Have the police beaten someone up recently and we all missed it?

Alice Wellington  

Posted: January 31st, 2018 10:03 AM

The proactive policing is not the problem. The criminals are. "Last year in Chicago, 4,300 people were shot?"one person every two hours. Those victims were overwhelmingly black. If one white Chicagoan had been shot every two hours, there would be a national uproar; it is unthinkable. But because the victims were black and not shot by the police, the national media are indifferent. (The Chicago police shot 25 people last year, most of them armed or dangerous, amounting to 0.6 percent of all shooting victims in the city.)" Source:

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: January 30th, 2018 10:15 PM

If one looks at the mug shots of those recently arrested they have a certain "look" to them. Most wear their pants below their waist and don't care that the world knows what color underwear they have. Most have prominent tattoos on their face or neck that would most likely prevent any employer from taking a 2nd look at them. They rarely venture out alone for protection. When they interact with the general public, they are usually rude, don't follow basic social norms (say thank you, hold the door for someone, etc.) and are primarily concerned about themselves. If you are the parent of a young black man, please do not allow him to present himself in a manner where one would perceive him to be a gang member. It's unfortunate that good black youth have to pay the price for the bad behavior of others.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 30th, 2018 9:39 PM

Bill: In this case I agree with you 100%. To suggest a moral equivalence or resemblance between the Trayvon Martin case and recent events here in Oak Park is simply ludicrous.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: January 30th, 2018 12:56 PM

There are some good and fair points here that merit discussion. But I really take issue with the comment regarding "allow(ing black adolescents) the the same freedom to explore and be young as the white kids and youth in the community." Besides the fact that nothing even remotely like the Trayvon Martin/Tamir Rice/Alton Sterling incidents have happened in Oak Park or River Forest, the comment suggests that white kids all feel safe because they're white and and that their parents don't have reason to fear for their safety. That's absurd. Tell that to all the white victims of assault while having their bike stolen, or smacked down for no good reason while being robbed of their cell phones, etc. As for profiling, when police are looking for a black male of a certain height and weight, among other identifiers, and an innocent black kid who fits that description gets stopped by an officer, that's not "profiling," that's police doing their job and trying to catch the guys who victimized others.

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