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McDonald’s CEO Tries Victim-Blaming Parents of Slain Chicago Kids. Bad Idea

Rex Huppke, Tribune Content Agency on

The CEO of McDonald’s is rightfully getting his McNuggets deep fried over a text message he sent to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The text, sent in April, was in response to the separate shooting deaths of two Chicago children earlier this year. It parroted an oft-spewed bit of victim-blaming: “With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say.”

First off, if there’s “something you can’t say,” the best course of action is to not say it. If instead of saying it, you write it in a text while also acknowledging you shouldn’t be saying it, then you deserve to get your McMuffin burned.

But the larger point here is CEO Chris Kempczinski’s offensive finger pointing. People who don’t understand Chicago violence and the myriad factors that lead to acts of violence love to blame the city’s problems on “bad parenting” or “broken homes.” They seem to think the city’s economically devastated neighborhoods would be safe, happy havens if only the parents living there met some mythical nuclear-family standard set by those who don’t live in economically devastated neighborhoods.

It’s an ignorant and compassionless claim, rooted in a derogatory and often racist view of Chicagoans who happen to live in neighborhoods plagued by violence. I hear it ad nauseam every time I write about crime or violence. It’s as unhelpful as it is inaccurate.

Sometimes parents are to blame for the bad things their kids do or the bad things that are done to their kids — that’s true in every community in America. But most of the time when there’s an act of violence, a whole heap of other factors are at play. Hollering “It’s the parents’ fault!” leaves zero room for nuance, which is handy for the dipstick doing the hollering but harmful for everyone else.

 

So having the CEO of a major Chicago-based corporation take the death of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams in a West Side McDonald’s drive-thru and the police shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village and blame both tragedies on parental failure is quite gross. It elevates a stupid and offensive line of thinking, and Kempczinski deserves every bit of criticism he’s receiving.

But there is something in this mess worth considering.

In a note to McDonald’s employees throughout the country, Kempczinski acknowledged his own ignorance: “When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally. But I have not walked in the shoes of Adam’s or Jaslyn’s family and so many others who are facing a very different reality. Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”

I’m not naive. I know this response was carefully crafted and likely run through multiple public relations or crisis management people. Kempczinski could say to my face that he personally penned his statement in a quiet moment of deep reflection and I still wouldn’t believe him.

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