Train Tragedy and the Twitter Cruelty That Followed

On Monday night, December 17, two Chicago Police officers were struck and killed by a train while responding to a call of shots fired in the area around 103rd Street and Dauphin Avenue.  The officers were struck near 103rd and Cottage Grove.

According to the ABC7 News, “One of the officer’s bodycam videos shows the officers exit their patrol car, go up a hill to the Metra tracks at 103rd and Cottage Grove Avenue and talk about where the offender could have gone.”

“In the distance, the officers can see a train approaching heading north making noise. Police said it possibly masked the sound of another high-speed, Indiana-bound South Shore Line train full of commuters that was only feet behind them. The bodycam video then fades to black. Police said it happened fast and the officers died instantly.”  https://abc7chicago.com/body-camera-video-recovered-after-2-cpd-officers-fatally-struck-by-train/4921383/

Both officers were relatively new to the force.  Both were fathers and husbands.  Thirty-one year old, Conrad Gary had been a Chicago Police officer for eighteen months and leaves behind a wife and a six-month-old daughter.  Thirty-seven year old Eduardo Marmolejo, who’d been on the Department for two and half years, leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

Almost immediately, an outpouring of condolences and support flooded out from around the city and state.  Mayor Rham Emanuel (D) stated during a press conference, “This knocks you back on your heels… There are no words to express our grief, our sense of loss.”  https://abc7chicago.com/2-chicago-police-officers-hit-killed-by-train-while-chasing-suspected-gunman/4920789/

Outgoing Governor Bruce Rauner (R) said in a tweet, “Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic deaths of officers Conrad Gary and Eduardo Marmolejo. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and the entire @Chicago_PoliceDepartment.“

Similar sentiments came in from around the country.

flowers from the NY Yankees

Flower arrangements sent to each of the families from the NY Yankees

It seems that in these days of political vitriol and partisan divisiveness, there are at least a few fundamental things on which people across divides can agree.  That this was a tragic loss of life to be mourned is one of those fundamental things, or so, one would think.  That you don’t make cruel jokes as little children’s hearts are breaking and they face a scary and uncertain future, having had a Dad that afternoon, and then with sudden horror to find out he wasn’t coming home from work tonight.  He was never coming home from work, ever, lost in a split second in a tragic and violent accident. Their young world forever changed, a hole cut into young souls that can and will never be mended.  You don’t mock those deaths.  You don’t add your own little sprinkle of cruelty to those young broken hearts who are learning much too young just how cruel life can be.

But, of course, it’s not.  Even this. Even two men, one white, one Latino, protecting a community from a man firing a gun, are accidentally killed by a train, one week before Christmas, each with little ones at home, is not universally considered tragic.  Sadly even this.

The officers were struck and killed around 6:20-6:30 Monday evening.  Approximately an hour and a half later, Carl Nyberg, a politically active volunteer in several Aldermanic campaigns and a committee person for the progressive advocacy group Northside Democracy for America (DFA), tweeted the following at 7:49pm:  “Two people too stupid to avoid getting hit by a train were given firearms & the authority to kill people by the Chicago Police Department.”

carl nyberg tweet

He posted this in response to a news article by Block Club Chicago about the officers’ deaths.

In the days since this tragedy occurred, journalists, the Mayor, the Governor, the Superintendent of Police, all used to seeing people at their worst, used to tragedy, used to seeing the unthinkable, were all audibly and visually moved to tears and near tears while somewhere in Albany Park, bathed in the icy blue glow of a computer screen sat a little man, his soul twisted and dark and disfigured by hate, fighting windmills and patting himself on the back for what he must see as his heroic crusade.

But why?  What would drive someone to so coldly and callously disseminate such a thing to the world?  He had no personal history with either man.  Didn’t know them at all.  No past slights.  No past arguments or fights.  No encounter whatsoever.  And still he felt the need to mock their deaths the way a Sox fan might gloat about beating the Tigers.

He wasn’t standing up against injustice.  He wasn’t railing against abuse of power.  He was simply being mean for the sake of being mean.

And he wasn’t being mean to these two officers.  They’re gone.  They’ve passed beyond the reach of petty meanness.  So Mr. Nyberg’s post has zero impact on them.  Who isn’t beyond that reach of cruelty, are the ones those men left behind.  Mr. Nyberg was being intentionally mean and cruel to the widows and daughters and parents who just an hour and a half prior lost their loved one, and at the time of the post, were most likely just finding out.

Social media gives voice to everyone, and some of those will be extremists.  Some of those will purposely say inflammatory things to garner attention.  The idea of obscurity frightens them, I believe.  To think that their life is relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things inspires them to lash out with the most provocative and attention-grabbing statements they can think of in order to garner the attention they so desperately crave. But obscurity is in the cards for us all.

Name the top ten movie stars of the 1920’s, quick.  You can’t? Neither can I.  Even the famous are relegated to obscurity after a few decades. The nameless… they’re relegated to obscurity at birth.  Such is the case with Carl Nyberg.  Only he can’t seem to deal with that.  And so he purposely places himself in the spotlight as much as he can. Nonetheless, obscurity is his destiny.

Now in the days of social media when anyone and everyone can garner a large audience if what they say is extreme enough, it’s no surprise that an obscure attention-seeking inconsequential person would post a defamatory tweet in an attempt to prove to himself his own relevance.  It happens everyday, though rarely so heartlessly.

What is a surprise, is how long it’s taken and how reluctantly, those associated with Mr. Nyberg were to denounce his hate-speech.  Political survival alone should’ve been enough to motivate his friends to deald Raymond Lopez 15th ward reaction to Nybergnounce his hatred in a heartbeat.  But they didn’t.

Within two hours of Nyberg’s tweet, Alderman Raymond Lopez of the 15th Ward took to twitter to publicly denounce and challenge Mr. Nyberg’s post.  In comparison, it took almost two full days for Alderman John Arena, through a spokesperson, to do the same.  Nyberg has long been a supporter and campaign volunteer for Arena.  As of this writing, John Arena has yet to personally, directly, and publicly denounce the words of his long-time supporter, Carl Nyberg, on his social media pages despite a recent visit to the 16th Police District where he vowed support of the Chicago Police officers who patrol his 45thWard.

Arena with the 16th District police officers

It also took nearly two full days for the Northside DFA to sever ties with Nyberg and officially denounce his cruelty.  That is a curiously long time to decide how to react to something that is so clearly and unarguably wrong, hateful, and mean.

And so on a grey, lonely December morning on the south side of Chicago, a young widow stands flanked by two female Chicago police officers, one gripping her hand, the other cradling a six-month old girl who will never have the chance to get to know and love her Daddy.  Shock, sorrow, uncertainty, fear, and the wailing cry of bagpipes are all that fill the frigid air.  Today, the scene replays again.  Another grieving widow.  Three young daughters who’ve lost their Daddy a week before Christmas.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m brought to tears now at the thought as I have been a few times this week.  I’m not alone.

I will never be able to fully comprehend how a tragic event that has brought hardened politicians, cynical journalists, and strangers citywide and across all walks of life to tears can at the same time ignite such hatred and cruelty in the heart of Carl Nyberg and a slow cautious reaction to that cruelty from his political allies.

There is no understanding of it.  There are mean people in the world, which is exactly why we need people like Conrad Gary and Eduardo Marmolejo to stand up and combat that evil.

As far as Nyberg goes, all that’s left to say is shame on him.  May he scuttle back into the hole of obscurity to chase his windmills in the recesses of his darkened heart.

In the meantime, it’s going to be a very long time before this city forgets Eduardo Marmolejo and Conrad Gary.  Bravery and kindness always outlast cowardice and cruelty.

GoFundMe accounts have been set up for both Gary’s family and Marmolejo’s family. Police on Wednesday confirmed they are official accounts.

carl nyberg tweet

Wednesday afternoon, Edward Brown, 24, of Chicago, was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and reckless discharge of a firearm.

 

Repeated attempts to contact Alderman Arena’s office have gone unanswered.  His only comments were to the blockclubchicago.org

My request for comment by the Northside DFA was answered with the following press release:

NDFA PR 12-19-18

 

 

 

The Conspiracy of Chance: A Middle-Aged Man at Homecoming

I took a slow drive past the old Stevenson Arms dorm today. Homecoming weekend has been fun, but it’s almost time to head back into the present time. As Tom Petty says, ‘you can look back babe, but it’s best not to stare’. So before I jump in that time machine that brought me back here, I want to reflect a little on life and the time I spent here and the dash of time between then and now.

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Homecoming Football game 2011

The first feeling that struck me as I rolled past the backend of the dorm building (which by the way hasn’t changed at all from that perspective, sans the blue instead of maroon door) was what a short time in our lives it was. Though it was a constant stream of students, a teaming bubbling flow of life, it was also a constant shifting of individuals, To a casual observer looking in from outside, that river never changed, but for those of us riding that wave we saw changes.

For me, I was a part of that current for three years. And in that short amount of time, both the dorm and I changed immensely. It was not the same place I had first moved into in the fall of 1990, but I wasn’t the same person anymore either. It’s that time of life. Lots of changes, and they are big ones. In childhood, because you’re growing physically as well as mentally and emotionally, it’s easy to see and expect those big changes, but by seventeen, they kind of take you by surprise, sweep you up and carry you to a new place swiftly and not always smoothly, but almost imperceptibly.   I think that’s part of why this place is so dear to me. I did so much growing and learning and becoming who I am there. That’s where my adulthood started, though ‘adult’ might not be the most accurate word I can use to describe what I’ve become, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

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The part that is so difficult to grasp and completely understand is the randomness of chance and coincidence that conspired to bring me what has essentially turned out to be, simply put, my life. I hadn’t planned on attending S.I.U., but once it was decided (three weeks before school began), the dorms were all full. There was one dorm with room. Most years, this was one of the more difficult dorms to get into, freshman/sophomore approved, but off-campus and co-ed floors. Due to a computer malfunction that year, rooms that were normally booked were available. I got in.

I knew almost nobody in Carbondale. The one or two people I did know were older and lived in apartments and townhouses off campus and I really didn’t know them that well. Again chance stepped in and the lady who ran the dorm assigned me to room with the only other seventeen-year-old male in the building. He spent all of five months as my roommate and the last twenty-one years as one of my closest friends.

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The old Stevenson Arms 2014

That fall was the first year the University closed the campus and dorms for a week over Halloween and we were sent home. Mike was from Las Vegas, so I brought him to Chicago to stay with my family for the week. There he met his future bride and mother of his children and forged life-long friendships of his own in what I’m sure for him was a most unexpected place.

You see what I mean about the randomness of the whole thing. Fate, God, Luck, Chance, a random roll of the dice brought certain people to this one certain place in this one precise moment in time and set us on a path from which we could never again veer off. That is life, isn’t it? And because of those random chance encounters and unconscious decisions it is what I call ‘My Life’.

I think of the people I met here. Some friendships are the enduring kind, others are people I’ll probably never see again on this Earthly journey, but all of them are with me in that strange, hard-to-describe way. Avion with whom I was a student janitor for two or three months and with whom I went to the shooting range once is still vivid in my memory in a way in which I almost expect to run into him around campus one day when school resumes and neither of us will have changed. The mind plays tricks on you that way as the universe secretly steals time away from you.

Then there are the friends who I talk to every few years or so. Thanks to Facebook we can keep up more often without too much hassle. They are those kinds of friends who, even after ten years of not being in the same room together, after about five minutes it’s as if nothing has changed… as if life hasn’t moved much. Of course it has. It’s the connection, the shared experience of that crucial time in our lives that stays cemented and allows those friendships to pick up where they left off.

And then there are the others. The ones I haven’t seen or spoken to in the better part of sixteen years or more. They are here with me. A part of who I am. I know, it sounds like I’m talking about dead people, but I’m not… at least I hope I’m not. They’re here, somewhere on the Earth following their own path, living out their personal journey one moment to the next somewhere, but I imagine this invisible tether, one we cannot feel nor see. We came from different stations into this one hub for a short time and affected each other, and then like locomotives in the night each branched off in our own direction, each on a separate journey to that final destination that lies, with any luck, in the much distant future. But that tether is there. It’s in a song, a smell, a feeling on the breeze that takes you back for just a fleeting second to that shared place and those people who made it special to you.

And so, here I sit on the edge of Thompson Woods, twenty-one years and two months after I first ventured to this place. I’m waiting for the Student Center to open so I can use the washroom and get a Starbucks for my long ride. The woods here on campus was always a place of reflection for me… a calm, serene escape from homesickness, classroom stress, worry and longing for my girlfriend hundreds of miles away. A venture off the beaten path even if just for a few minutes walking from one class to the next, taking the wooded trail through Thompson instead of across the campus was a respite, a rejuvenation of mind and spirit between lecture halls and lab hours. Much needed because, of course, not all the time I spent here was good. I know I’m looking back at it more romantically than realistically, but isn’t that what the past should be… at least sometimes?

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From a more recent trip 2014

I’m grateful to have this place to visit. I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit this place with Mike again, and with his daughter and her friends. It’s kind of like being suspended between two places in time. But the thing about this journey we’re on is: the changes keep coming. They should keep coming. I feel I have just recently awoken from a decades long sleep… a fear induced walking comatose state. I’m awake now, and for the first time in a very, very long time I feel alive, and new, and ready to tackle those things I had previously allowed fear to keep from me. No more. So many lost moments and so many lost opportunities to become the ‘me’ I always wished I were. I feel a little like Dorothy coming to the realization that I had the power to get what I’ve wanted the entire time. Maybe I had to go through it all to get to this place, but I’m glad I’m finally here. So in a way, today as I leave S.I.U. again, I do so to face an uncertain but wide-open future of possibilities, but this time I’ll do it awake. And as I do, I take with me this place, this place that has given me enduring friendships, chance encounters that touched and changed my heart, and some of the most precious memories of my life… we are all tethered together by that force of nature that by chance brought us together and gave us this invisible link that lies within us and that force that set us on our way.

I thank God for that randomness of chance. It is the unplanned and unexpected moments of my life that have changed it and shaped it the most. Go ahead, keep making your plans, just don’t fight the current.

Starbucks is open. Time to hit the open road.

Brian Schnoor

Campus of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Carbondale, IL

October 16, 2011

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From my favorite Carbondale bar, Sidetracks

AND A CUP OF COFFEE FOR THE KID!

We wake up early, before the sun, and gather our gear for the day. There’s a chill in the early summer morning. My head is foggy from too little sleep and too much beer. There is a cure though. By the time we reach the boat and the first winks of daylight are stretching up from the horizon, our fishing poles and tackle boxes neatly stored below, I’ve got a greasy breakfast in my stomach and a steaming cup of coffee in my hand. The coffee jolts me awake, flipping the switch in my brain from dim to fully lit. The fog clears and I am ready to catch some walleye.

Dining complete. The glorious meal consumed. Wine bottle emptied. Plates cleared. A beautiful woman sitting across the table from me glowing by candlelight.   The waitress brings two cups of cappuccino, each flanked by a cookie, and paper straws of raw sugar.

Rushing out of the house to get to work. Grab a cup and race off.

Working late. The moon up and most others gone for the day. Burning the midnight oil they call it. A cup of Starbucks gives me the added oomph I need to finish the job and get the hell out of there.

Christmas morning. The presents are opened and wrapping paper is scattered around the front room. Two aromas fill the air: cigarette smoke and brewing coffee. Grandma is here.

Coffee. It is my drug of choice. I need it to wake up. To feel right. For that, I’m not picky. I can slam down swill in a Styrofoam cup from a gas station or whatever K-cups are handy in the house from the Keurig (instant coffee gratification, no-fuss, no-muss, no wait, not great, but quick and good enough). I’m not looking to savor the flavor, I just wanna gulp it and get it working. Hot and black and bitter and satisfying.

But, on a Sunday morning, the skillet breakfast downed and the morning paper spread out, I care. I care what it tastes like. I have expectations. I’ll use cream and sugar, not too much, just enough. I’ll sip it from a ceramic cup. At just the right temperature, a good cup of coffee can be among the best things I will taste in my life. Better than cookies, better that steak, better than beer, better than wine. It is wonderful. It stands alone as one of the best treats we can spoil ourselves with.

Coffee runs in the family. My maternal grandmother, Grandma Sis, made arguably the best coffee in all of Chicago. Though third-generation Irish, she made her coffee in a Swedish enamel pot decorated in Berggren art. No filters in the pot, you used a strainer to catch the grounds as you poured it into your cup.

There was always a pot of coffee on her stove. When visitors would stop by, she’d either have a pot already made, or she’d put on a fresh pot for her guests. I don’t know how much coffee she drank a day, but it was a lot.

When I was a little boy, I think about three years old, but whatever age, I was too young to walk down the stairs so I had to turn around and crawl butt-first from our upstairs apartment to her first-floor apartment. When I reached her door, I stood up and knocked. “Who is it?” she called in her grandma voice, as if expecting a puppy or a fawn or a little grandson. “Me,” I called back, as if there were only one ‘me’ in the world.

“Me who?” She opened the door and feigned surprise, “Oh, Brine!” (Her thick Goose Island accent made Brian sound like Brine.) “Come in.”

She escorted me as if I were an old friend from the neighborhood to her kitchen table and offered me a seat. Just as she did when her brother Tommy would come by, or when my Mom or one of her siblings would visit, Grandma Sis pulled two coffee cups, each with a matching saucer, down from the cupboard above the kitchen sink and poured, through the strainer, two steaming cups of fresh coffee. She left a lot of room for cream and sugar in mine though, then added a splash of half-and-half and a teaspoon of sugar and had me stir it. We sat there talking and drinking coffee together and I felt special. I wasn’t some little kid sipping root beer or milk from a sippy-cup. I was her special boy having a cup of coffee and talking like I was a real person, like I mattered.

A small, shy, uncoordinated kid with thick glasses and a crossed-eye, I rarely felt special and almost never felt as if I belonged. Throughout my life, whenever I would get down about feeling like an outcast, or tread toward the depths of self-loathing, deep inside, there was always a part of me that knew that no matter what the rest of the outside world thought, or what I myself thought of me, I was special to someone, and there would always be a fresh pot of coffee on the stove and time to let me know she loved me.

Now, even though I’ll gulp down a cup of Kuerig something in the car, or Starbucks while I write, or even sip a decent cup at a diner, the best coffee I have these days I make myself from an old recipe in an enamel coffee pot, no filter, decorated with Berggren art inscribed with the Swedish saying: Kaffetåren den bästa är av alla jordiska drycke, which means ‘Coffee the best of all earthly potions is’ — Ain’t that the truth.

You Can Have It When I’m Done With It

We are a possessive bunch aren’t we?  Think for a second of all the things that are yours.  Your car, your house, your keys, your shoes, your hat, your TV, your gum, your wallet, your underwear.  Those things are yours and yours alone.  You own them.

We do the same thing with places.  That’s my office, my neighborhood, my hometown, my school, my country.

And of course, we do it with people too.  I’d like to introduce you to my wife, my son, my daughter, my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my friend, my neighbor, my niece, my associate, my boss.  And where is my waiter?

Truth is, though, we really and truly own nothing.  No one thing, no one place, no one person.  Not even ourselves.  One day the body will give out and your body will no longer be your body because you will be no longer.  When that happens, your wallet is just a wallet.  Your car will be sold to someone else and become her car.  Your clothes will be given to the poor and become his clothes.  Your job will be given to someone else who will take your office and answer to your boss and work with your associates, who will now be his boss and his associates and he’ll hang a picture of his family in his new office.  Your keys will be passed around to the others who take possession of what was once your house, your car, your office, your locker, your storage room, and the other thirty keys you’d been carrying around for years with no idea what they go to will be dumped because the mystery of what they unlock will be someone else’s mystery and they won’t be able to figure it out either.  Hopefully your underwear will be thrown away.

Your wife will become a widow.  She’ll either stay a widow or become someone else’s wife.  Your neighbors will get new neighbors.  Your parents, kids, and blood family will still own you: “When my Dad was alive he used to….” but you’ll no longer own them.

Even the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat is temporary, all to be recycled and eventually used by someone else, at least for the moment.

The old saying, “You can’t take it with you” is true because you can’t take what isn’t yours, and nothing is yours.

So we spend all this time, energy, and money collecting things to call our own, but it’s a fool’s game because the reality is that that’s impossible.  Everything we think we own, we only rent.  We have it for a short time, and then it isn’t ours anymore.  It is left behind for someone else.  And so, we should give more thought to what we put our time and energies into, with the knowledge that what we’re collecting we are collecting to leave to others.

New people take over your house, and you are forgotten.  Strangers take over your neighborhood and you are forgotten.  The memory of you will, in a generation or two, be almost completely forgotten.  All that will last is the memories you leave for the people you shared the ride with, and when they’re gone, so too are those memories, and that’s about as permanent as it gets.

So cultivate good memories to leave behind for those few people who will carry them when you’re gone, and know that the rest of it is just someone else’s future garbage, then adjust your priorities accordingly.

And try to clean your underwear really well, just in case some asshole decides to make rags out of them instead of throwing them away.