The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chicago media personality made an awful Freddie Gray joke and the Internet let him have it

These are the Chicago White Sox’s all-gray uniforms. (Gail Burton/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

Let’s try an exercise. What are the questions you should ask yourself before posting an off-color joke on social media?

Is it offensive? Racist? Does it take liberty with a man who suffered injury while in police custody and later died? Is it about a man emblematic of tensions in our country between police officers and African Americans? About a man representing a city mired in racial turmoil? A cognitively diminished man who was taken advantage of by a morally bankrupt factoring industry that preys on beneficiaries of structured settlements?

Yes, that is a very specific test. But not a hard one to pass, right?

Bruce Wolf, a self-described “Chicago radio-TV legend,” failed it Friday night when he posted the following tweet:

That is Wolf, who in a 20-plus-year career has worked at a number of Chicago media outlets, making a joke (presumably) about Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man whose death was ruled a homicide by the city’s medical examiner following critical injuries sustained while in police custody.

People were not amused.

For what it’s worth, this is not his first controversial episode involving race. In a Chicago media blog written by Robert Feder, traffic reporter Kelli Walker, a former colleague of Wolf’s, describes events leading up to an on-air confrontation with Wolf that led to her “being forced out” of her job at WLS 890 in January 2015:

What Walker called the “big brouhaha” wasn’t her first fight with Wolf. “Bruce and I had many on-air ‘differences,’ if you will,” she said, “everything from slave jokes to fried chicken jokes, to saying black women were a protected class and that’s the only reason Felicia Middlebrooks has her job over at CBS. These were all things he said on the air. When the conversation that erupted a few weeks back happened, it was merely a culmination of everything I had been dealing with.” When Walker complained to her bosses, she said: “They told me you can’t argue like that on the air anymore.”
Nevertheless, Walker said, her firing came as a shock. “Right now it just looks like they got rid of the African American who was giving Bruce Wolf a hard time,” she said.

Whether the above episode is true or not, Wolf’s tweet seems insensitive at best. Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the “Empty Park” game last year when the Orioles were forced to play the White Sox in front of, well, nobody.

At Camden Yards, a sense of empty curiosity for Orioles, White Sox

Unrest in the city, and directly outside of Camden Yards the day prior, forced officials to postpone two games with the third in the series against Chicago to be played without fans due to a city-wide curfew that would have been violated because of the game’s start time.

A year later, Baltimore residents are still dealing with the aftermath of the incident, including an on-going trial set to resume May 10, and the last thing the city needs is someone making tasteless jokes.

Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly described the structured settlement industry as morally bankrupt. That description was intended to describe predatory factoring companies.