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September 21, 2023

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Past massacre leaves mark on history

Take a northbound walk along the 2100 block of Clark St. on Chicago’s near-north side.

On your right are rows of two and three-story apartments and condos, some more than 100 years old. On your left, more rows of small businesses, condos and apartments of the same vintage adjoin one other.

You also notice a parking lot on your left, surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence, adjoining a modern nursing home. All along the street, the structures in good repair, the grass cut and trees trimmed.

Pause and try to picture this spot 85 years ago today.

On that cold and snowy Thursday morning at around 10:30, two men wearing Chicago police uniforms emerged from a 1927 Cadillac police sedan and entered the building that once occupied the site of today’s parking lot.

Two other men in civilian clothes remained in the car.

The building at 2122 North Clark St. bore the name “S-M-C Cartage Co.”

A front window, topped by a small awning, had been painted black on the inside. Upon entering, the policemen found seven men in the garage area and ordered them against the wall, palms on the bricks and their backs facing the officers. Presently, the two other men in topcoats entered the garage from the car. Unbuttoning their overcoats, each produced a Thompson machine gun.

What followed was pure slaughter. It became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Prior to Feb. 14, 1929, gangland killings on Chicago streets were hardly novel. But public revulsion against gangland killings began building after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The pendulum of public opinion had begun to change course.

The turn of public opinion is not new. We’ve seen this phenomenon on many occasions.

Prohibition itself began in the Midwest and garnered enough public support to enable ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Thirteen years later, partly due to the lawlessness that Prohibition had spawned, as well as the impact of the Great Depression, it was repealed. Some of its most vocal supporters had become its most vigorous critics.

The pendulum had swung back.

Not so long ago, drunken driving was regarded as tolerable so long as one wasn’t caught or caused an accident. Smoking in buildings was regarded as generally acceptable. Public opinion has since radically shifted regarding both behaviors; the pendulum has dramatically changed course.

Renewable energy was all the rage, especially in Europe.

But with the high energy prices that renewable energy commands [some German energy prices from renewable sources have tripled], rethinking the entire renewable energy model has begun to occur. The pendulum has begun to swing back to a more economical approach toward the cost and use of energy.

The Catholic Church has been regarded by some as authoritarian and rigid, possibly due to the perception of the personalities of some popes. Pope Francis has altered this view somewhat, due to his engaging personality and his concern for the poor. Although Church doctrine won’t change, Francis’ personality has caused the pendulum of opinion to reverse course somewhat.

Thomas Jefferson is reported to have stated, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock. In matters of style, swim with the current.”

The change in public opinion is, in many cases not only healthy, but also necessary. Equal attention needs to be paid to both standing firm for principles and knowing when the shift of public opinion is occurring. On many issues, the pendulum will reverse yet again.

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