American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Guilty” on the South Side of Chicago

Chicago news, Chicago, USA News headlines, American news, US news, American police, US police, police officers, world news, latest news

Chicago, USA © welcomia

November 22, 2017 09:24 EDT

In the land of opportunity and law and order, poverty is in itself a proof of guilt.

Today’s 3D Definition: Guilty

As reported in Time magazine, “A Cook County judge on Thursday threw out the felony drug convictions of 15 black men who all say they were locked up for no other reason except that they refused to pay Ronald Watts.”

As a police officer, Watts and his colleagues were responsible for upholding the law and, in their enthusiasm, did so even when it wasn’t being violated. They perfectly understood the true meaning of the word guilty in the American urban landscape.

Here is its 3D definition:


Regional (orig. Chicago): Innocent but too poor to afford to pay off a police officer for the favor of not planting drugs on one’s person.

Contextual note

Watts was a police officer, holding a position of absolute authority over a population in which persistent poverty eats away at the border between the law-abiding scramble for survival and petty crime. The only thing more profitable than crime itself — in terms of net margin and return on investment — is to use one’s authority for the purpose of extortion. The aim is to get criminals to share with the police their ill-gotten gains, which some police officers see as an efficient way of keeping track of the criminal class and earning a little cash on the side. But, in some cases, the market for legitimate extortion, targeting identified criminals, proves insufficient for the enterprising officer’s personal needs, in which case the innovators create the crimes for which the criminals may be arrested if they fail to pay the price.

Historical note

The tradition of corruption is ancient, if not sacred, in Chicago, dating back beyond the days of Al Capone, whose reign over the Chicago mob was only possible because he could buy off City Hall and the police. The Chicago Tribune reported in December 2016 the case of Willie Cochran, a former Chicago police officer. Cochran, “who campaigned as something of a corruption buster, was himself indicted on federal corruption charges.”

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor and the former chief of staff at Barack Obama’s White House, has his own reputation for corruption that has been in the news recently. In the great Chicago tradition, that reputation goes well beyond police cover-ups and extends into the core of national party politics, with the potential of seriously compromising the image of the Democratic Party, which has already attained the nadir of its popularity.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: welcomia /

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member