Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Media Fear Mongering

As most people around Chicago probably already know, two bank robbers escaped yesterday from the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago*. The triangular building with narrow slits for windows** should be familiar to anyone who has visited the Skydeck observation level of the Sears/Willis Tower.

One of the robbers is likely to have over $500,000 stashed somewhere***, so the escapees are probably planning to use that cash. They were sighted in Tinley Park, a southwest suburb where the guy with the cash lived. Here's where the fear mongering starts:
In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Tinley Park officials notified local schools and dispatched police officers to school buildings closest to where the search was under way.
I know if I escaped from a prison and had $500K stashed somewhere, the first thing I'd do is go shoot up a school. Sometimes I think modern Americans are addicted to fear and paranoia. Anytime something bad happens, we remind ourselves of it over and over. It doesn't take a psychology degree to recognize how mentally unhealthy this is.

Truthfully, notifying the schools and sending officers there is probably a standard precautionary measure anyway. But if that is the case, the reporters had no business invoking "the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn." The two situations have nothing in common.

* The obvious question is Why would the feds put a prison right in the middle of the nation's biggest transportation hub? Logically it's for the feds' convenience when trying people at the federal courthouse, though it also houses inmates serving short sentences. At least it's hard to break out, this being the second successful escape since it opened in 1975.

** The Tribune reporters describe it as hulking, which is absolutely the wrong word for the building unless maybe you're standing in the middle of the block with your nose six inches from the wall. If I were architect Harry Weese and still alive, I'd sue the bastards for defaming my design.

*** The Tribune article misses the mark here as well. It says
Banks could have as much as $500,000 stashed away, according to testimony at his trial. He stole a combined $589,000 in two robberies, but only about $80,000 had been recovered or accounted for through Banks' purchases, prosecutors said. 
The FBI called Banks one of the most prolific bank robbers in Chicago history, saying at the time of his arrest in 2008 that he was suspected in about 20 heists. However, he was charged in only two bank robberies and two attempted holdups. A jury convicted him on all counts last week.
It sounds to me like Banks could have a whole lot more than $500K depending on whether he did any of the 18 other robberies. The reporters are assuming that just because he wasn't charged, he didn't commit any of them. I know reporters use "innocent until proven guilty" language, but I believe this is a different context.

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