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Welcome to the Chicago Newsroom home page and archive.

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The big idea behind Chicago Newsroom is that we assemble a small group of involved, knowledgeable people around the table and we yak about the week’s local news. Most often we tap journalists, but you’ll also find historians, political activists, academicians and newsmakers in the mix, too.

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And don’t forget – you can watch the show every Thursday night at 6:30 on CAN TV 19.

It’s repeated on Fridays at 1:30 PM on CAN TV 19, and again on Saturdays at 7 PM on CAN TV 21. CAN TV is available to all Chicago subscribers of Comcast, WOW and RCN.

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CN Feb.4, 2016

 

Here’s a quote from one of David Kidwell’s most recent Tribune stories about Chicago’s red-light camera saga.

For years, city officials have been unable to explain how camera locations were chosen when Bills was running the program.The trial portrayed a brazen scheme in which some of the most important camera placement meetings occurred over corned beef lunches at Manny’s deli, and often ended with a stack of $100 bills passed from bagman to Bills in a manila envelope.

The “Bills” mentioned here is John Bills, who was recently convicted on 20 counts of tax fraud, mail fraud, extortion, conspiracy and bribery.

If you’d like to better understand who John Bills is, and how he got to run the whole program that netted the City 6/10ths of a billion dollars in mailed-in traffic fines, please watch this show.

How did it work?

“He had a handler,” says Kidwell. “Redflex had hired a consultant friend of his in Chicago who was acting at the bagman. He was meeting with the CEO of the company and the top salesman of the company on a regular basis. They bought him a condominium in Arizona near their headquarters. Not only were they giving him cash bribes, they were sending him on vacations and paying for hotel rooms and golf outings and they bought him a car, they bought him a boat, they bought him a condominium in Arizona. All this time he is talking to them about how he was going to expand this and we were going to have speed cameras. We’re going to have more red light cameras. We’re going to have school bus cameras. The list went on and on and on.”

The program billed Chicagoans more than 600 million in fines, but remarkably there was never a study conducted on whether there was a rationale for a given intersection getting a camera. And over the years, thousands of fines were paid for tickets that shouln’t have been issued.

“We have been able to uncover,” Kidwell explains, that “almost every time you turn around there are literally tens of thousands of tickets that should have never been issued in both the Red Light Camera Program and the Speed Camera Program. It essentially illustrates how the people of the City of Chicago have been plugged into a cash machine and the City Hall has walked away in a lot of instances.”

In the course of our discussion we try to define the boundaries of where the press is entitled to have access to City documents, such as memos, emails, texts and phone logs.  Kidwell takes the position that any and all documents should be available for scrutiny, uness specifically exempted for legal reasons – and even those should be released after an appropriate period of time. That even includes documents created during the discussion, or deliberative phase of decision-making.

“What that does,” Kidwell insists, “Is it puts everybody at City Hall on notice. Look, when you say something don’t say something stupid or embarrassing and don’t be corrupt. But it also forces decisions and debate out into the open.”

Needless to say, the Mayor and his attorneys don’t agree. At several points in our discussion, Kidwell says the City’s attitude is “It’s none of your business.”

We ask Kidwell about the infamous interview he had just nine months into Rahm Emanuel’s first term. He was seeking documents, and the Mayor wasn’t being cooperative. It’s a remarkable exchange, and the Tribune later transcribed the full interview and posted it. You can find it HERE.

Also, read a full transcript of this interview HERE:CN transcript Feb 4 2016

 

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CN Jan 28, 2016

As we post this show we’re hearing that the CTU and CPS may have come to some sort of tentative agreement that could, among other things, avert a teachers’ strike.

On today’s show we talked with CPS finance expert Rod Estvan (Policy Director at Access Chicago) about the whole sweep of thirty years of schools financing. If you’ve ever wondered how we got where we are today, let Rod explain it.

“The first thing we have to accept as citizens of Chicago,” he asserts, “is, our property tax rate for schools is lower than anywhere else in Cook County. That’s a bitter pill.”

That’s been the case here, he says, since before Richard J. Daley.

“If you compare our rate to poor towns like Harvey, Illinois,” he continues, “It’s not even comparable. So we have a lot of money we could raise that way, but there’s real pressure not to raise those taxes – not even to discuss that issue.”

But if it were to happen, he explains, it might open the door for the grand compromise that could be on the horizon. Chicago gets the money it needs for its pension contribution, the poorer suburbs and towns finally get an equitable share of state revenues, and, as Governor Rauner insisted in his State of the State, no community is harmed, meaning wealthier municipalities get to keep their support for their own schools as contributions for poorer municipalities rise.

There are no details yet, but the CTU statement last night seems to indicate that the union might be willing to give up some portion of their “pension pickup” in exchange for job security measures and changes in the teacher evaluation regimen. If that is the case, it would affect teachers financially.

“Oh yeah,” Estvan says, “This would be a real cut to teachers if they take it. And it’s a decision that I think the members of the CTU have to make on how much this will help them keep their jobs.”

There’s been come speculation that both CPS and CTU may have been driven to an agreement because the threat from Governor Rauner to introduce legislation allowing the State to assume control of CPS presents a far more dire scenario.

“Well, the proposal in the Republican bills – there’s one in the House and one in the Senate – has no containment of what that entity that would take over CPS would do. And I think it’s unconstitutional and I’ll tell you why. The Constitution of Illinois requires our state to support public education. It’s in the Constitution. This bill specifically exempted liability from the State of Illinois once a takeover took place. So we have a takeover with no money, with no accountability,” Estvan explains.

We’ve often discussed the pension mess on Chicago Newsroom, and most of our guests have agreed that today’s massive deficits have their origins in the pension-payment “holidays” authorized in the 90’s and beyond. But Estvan, whose academic studies of the system go back much further, adds a different dimension. The Chicago teachers, he says, never merged their pensions with other systems.

“The reason that these teachers kept a separate pension fund, and Chicago was created in I think 1895 and the statewide pension fund for the rest of the state was 1933. And they had a chance at several points to merge, and they didn’t because they didn’t want their funding to be part of the political process,” he asserts.

By “political process,” Estvan is referring to the fact that the teachers’ pension fund had always been a separate line on Chicago tax bills. But that changed in the mid-nineties when Mayor Daley assumed control of the school system.

“Now Daley makes it part of the political process,” Estvan explains. “Everybody approves it. And the most cynical part of this whole thing is that it was a Republican governor and Republican members of the House and Senate that all supported this takeover and a changeover of the money.”

So is a grand compromise possible? Yes, Estvan says, but it’ll cost a lot of money.

“You have to have at least $400 to $500-million in additional revenue. And if you don’t have that there’s going to be losers. And so the question (Senate President) Cullerton asked yesterday after the speech is great if he wants to do this, but if you want to hold harmless all your districts in the State we’re talking a lot of money, and where’s he going to get the money from except from taxes?”

If you’d like a rich history lesson about pension holidays, the Schools Finance Authority, politicization of Chicago’s pension money and lots more, this show is for you.

You can read a full transcript of the discussion HERE: CN transcript Jan 28 2016

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CN Jan 21, 2015

Such a wonderful conversation today with Ethan Michaeli about his remarkable, sweeping history of the Chicago Defender (and of Chicago itself). It’s called, appropriately, The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper  Changed America.

It’s an hour long, without interruption, and there were still hours more to talk about.

The Defender started on Robert Abbott’s landlady’s dining room table in 1905. It grew and grew until it was a major force in the election of aldermen, mayors and even presidents. It tracked the growth of the modern civil rights movement from its very beginnings.  It was a major force in Chicago politics and culture, yet so much of its story was completely unknown in present-day Chicago. Until now.

Watch it now, or download the audio podcast and take an hour-long walk on a brisk winter day.

Also, here’s a full transcript of today’s show: CN transcript Jan 21 2016

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CN Jan 14, 2016

 

 

Our guest today is Donna More, the candidate for Cook County State’s Attorney.

She appeared on the program about an hour after the Cook County Democrats met to endorse her opponent, Kim Foxx.

She told us that she wasn’t exactly devastated that the party didn’t pick her.

“In fact, I think it’s actually good for my campaign,” she explained. “I have said from the beginning that of the three of us running I am independent, and my other two opponents are politically tied, in particular Kim Foxx to Toni Preckwinkle, and the proof is in the pudding this morning.”

More is withering in her criticism of both her opponents. Foxx, she says, owes her very campaign to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“Would Kim Foxx be able to run without Toni Preckwinkle pushing her out there?” she asks. “And the answer to that question is no. Kim Foxx was in the State’s Attorney’s Office but had a fairly undistinguished legal career, let her law license lapse when she left because she was going to work for the county in a non-legal job. So this was not really a passion of hers, because if it’s a passion to be State’s Attorney you don’t let your law license lapse.”

But Donna More holds Anita Alvarez more responsible for the Laqaun McDonald debacle than anyone else.

“In terms of how you handle the case, or how I would handle the case as State’s Attorney, the murder happened on August 20th, 2014. In Anita Alvarez’s own words, she had that videotape by early November 2014. And once you look at that videotape, remember it’s probable cause to indict, between the time of indictment and the time you actually go to trial where your burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there’s a lot that still happens with your case…And after you view the videotape, Anita has said this, this tape is horrific. Well it was horrific on day 20, and that’s why I think you could have indicted this case much more quickly and promptly and prevented people from needing to protest for justice in the streets. We would have been in a courtroom already.”

We point out that Anita Alvarez has steadfastly maintained that she was unable to move forward with an indictment because the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office was also investigating the case. More’s not buying it.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office does not indict on a state murder charge. IPRA, the Independent Police Review Agency has no power of indictment,” she explains. “They are looking at what I would say is administrative discipline for a police officer. And so we know that even though Ms. Alvarez said she had to wait for the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation, she did not…The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating civil rights violations, maybe some issues – again, corruption issues within the police department, but they weren’t investigating charging first degree murder. That was in the purview of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

And, in any case, More points out, Alvarez went ahead with her own indictment anyway, earlier in the same day the tapes were revealed to the public.

“Anita Alvarez has said publicly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not get involved, at the earliest I think, I’ve heard her say December of ’14,” More claims. “I’ve heard some people say March or April of ’15. Anita Alvarez should have indicted this case in November before there was any federal involvement, and she could have. There was nothing preventing her from doing it. And she hasn’t been transparent about what is happening. And, the fact that it comes out minutes before the tape comes out suggests to me that this was a cover-up.

More says she knows a way to overcome the inherent problem of an office that works regularly with police personnel, and over time can become too familiar with, and ultimately protective of, the police.

“Here’s how you solve the problem,” she asserts. “You know both of my opponents would have the feds come in, or special prosecutors come in that cost taxpayers’ money because they don’t trust themselves and the 900 lawyers that are in the office to prosecute a police shooting. I disagree, and I wrote an op ed on this about a month ago. What you need to do is you need to form a small unit of experienced felony prosecutors, but prosecutors who will not be in a trial court every day.”

“So, let’s have a special unit where all these prosecutors are going to do is focus on police shooting cases,” she continues, “and those prosecutors would report direct to me, because at the end of the day as State’s Attorney I’m the one that has to make the tough call…I enjoy and have always enjoyed good relationships with law enforcement. They are out there putting their lives on the line, but as I stated earlier, when you are State’s Attorney you have to be willing to prosecute crime no matter who commits it. If it’s a police officer, if it’s a lawyer, if it’s just a guy walking down the street.

And the other piece of the puzzle is more aggressive use of Grand Juries.

“And the way you break the code of silence,” she explains, is you have to aggressively use your grand jury, and that’s something that’s done much more so in the U.S. Attorney’s Office than in the State’s Attorney. And if an officer knows that within hours or days of witnessing a police shooting they are going to be put in a grand jury under oath it does two things, one is it gives them the ability to tell their fellow officer, ‘Hey… I can’t do this’. And it also then says I can’t tell something on a police report that’s not true. And by doing that you break the code of silence. You get witnesses, police officer or civilian, that are telling you the truth and the grand jury and you can compel testimony in the grand jury.”

The slating session this morning took about twenty minutes.

“…which is more than they took to do the payoff for Laquan McDonald, but not enough to fix the justice system,’ More concludes.  “We can’t throw up our hands and do nothing…We have got to try to fix this, and the voters have got to pay attention and vote for the person who isn’t beholden, because that’s the only way we’ll fix it.”

You can read a full transcript of today’s discussion here: CN transcript 01 14 16.

And you can view our earlier interview with Kim Foxx HERE.

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CN Jan. 7, 2016

Mick Dumke had the good fortune to be on duty at the Sun-Times when reporters had to show up to pick up copies of two of the biggest city “data-dumps” in recent history.

First, there was the very conveniently-timed batch of audio recordings from 911 dispatch covering the pre- and post-shooting traffic on the night of Laquan McDonald’s shooting. That was on Christmas Eve.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, the City made available a trove of many thousands of redacted emails from and among various Mayoral staffers and other officials. Mick got to stand in line for that CD-ROM, too.

Apart from the already well-reported revelation that the emails described an extraordinary level of coordination between the Mayor’s Office, the IPRA, the State’s Attorney’s Office and others, Dumke noticed something else very interesting. It was where he was directed to go for the materials.

“I had been bothering the police department for weeks for copies of those audio recordings,” he explains. “And they waited quite a while to tell me they don’t have them. They could have told me that the first day I sent in the request, but they waited at least two weeks, maybe more than two weeks, sent me over to the Office of Emergency Management Communications.”

More waiting ensued. Then came word that the audio would be available only for a few hours, but not at the OEMC.

“I got my butt downtown on Christmas Eve,” he tells us, “And basically we were told you can come over to the Law Department and pick up a CD-ROM with this information, which was news to me because as I’ve just spent time telling our audience, I had asked for this information from the police department, asked OEMC for it. Both of them hemming and hawing ‘we have it, don’t have it, look to somebody else,’ and then it’s the Law Department that coughs it up.

This may seem like a minor issue, but to a veteran reporter, it’s something of a red flag.

“A similar kind of thing happened on New Year’s Eve with the email dump,” says Dumke. “This time we were told please come pick it up between 9 AM and 1 PM on New Year’s Eve. That’s your window. Our window to be transparent is 4 hours.”

Dumke’s concern is that FOIA requests for these events appear to have been coordinated through the Corporation Counsel’s office rather than the departments themselves.

“I think something within the emails that was very clear,” Dumke explains, “Is that what we all suspected all along about City Hall’s obsession, the Mayor, and we presume the Mayor because by the way, there weren’t emails from the Mayor. In all those 3,000 pages of emails that were released, the Mayor was referenced a few times. There were a few blacked out things that could have been the Mayor, but there weren’t any emails from the Mayor. But what we learned from those emails was that what we suspected about their obsession with the way the City’s and the Mayor’s image is presented in public that is very much true and alive.”

And despite the careful redacting, the mails still portray a City Hall scrambling to get control of the message. “They clearly weren’t prepared for the buildup into the crisis that remains,” Dumke tells us, “And that is reflected in those emails, where they are really just tripping over each other to try to figure out how possibly to keep up, let alone to get ahead of it.”

And while coordinating the various spokespeople for each of the affected departments may soon like just good media strategy, Dumke says when the issue is independent oversight over  police personnel, it’s not quite that innocent.

“So they and the State’s Attorney who keep stressing over and over again how independent she is and she is conducting an investigation free of pressure and these sorts of things. So when you see evidence that they are having discussions about what to tell the media together I think that’s pretty damning.”

You can read a full transcript of our entire 55-minute discussion about police cameras, the State’s Attorney race, the move toward more Tasers at CPD, the need for money to perform effective police training and much more HERE: CN transcript Jan 7 2016

A few more quotes from Mick Dumke:

On police reaction to increased use of body cameras
What I’ve heard over and over again from cops I’ve talked with about this is yes, but we need to see and the public needs to see more examples of how it’s used other than charging somebody with murder for it. And you know a lot of officers, I think even officers who are really upset about what happened that night, a lot of them still kind of feel like well, what if I make a mistake, you have this on video and then I’m charged with murder next. I don’t think it’s going to go from here to here to here, but there are really I think a lot of very thoughtful police officers very concerned in this environment. The pendulum is shifting so far to the other side that things can be used against them. I hope that people increasingly as part of this very important conversation we’re having across the country about criminal justice, I hope people you know, really stop and think about what we ask police officers to deal with. We were just talking about a domestic situation, people who are mentally unstable, many of whom are actually dangerous or could be dangerous. We send police in to deal with all sorts of long festering social issues and say ‘well let’s send a cop in.’ By the time that happens we’re at the end of a long complicated difficult situation.

On police officers reacting to calls for more training 

But one of them, Ken, said to me that very thing; he said, “Look, I would love more training. I would love it if we had better equipment.” He said, “You don’t realize it, but our equipment is crap.” Now you know, cops just like journalists and I assume other professions they love to bitch and complain about their circumstances, but he said, “Look, we would love better equipment. We would love more training. It’s going to cost money, are you willing to pay for that?” So that’s the first question.

The second thing is what kind of police force do we want? And that’s what I was getting at with sort of the broader philosophical question, you know, 20-plus years ago when the City started to implement community policing, which they never fully implemented by the way. But once they started community policing the caps program there was a pushback from officers who said ‘I didn’t come here to be a social worker.’ So when you’re talking about mental health training and stuff, well you know they aren’t trained to be social workers. So maybe what we’re talking about is a new kind of responding officer, or within the force you have all sorts of different divisions within the police force. You have specialized divisions who just work on burglaries. You have a marine unit. Maybe you have a mental health unit in every police district.

On the changing role of first responders in our society, including the evolution of fire departments into multi-service medical intervention operations

And you know if someone is having a heroin overdose they (administer) the antidote for that and so forth and so on. The point is all this is evolving for first responders, and so I think… I’m hopeful that police officers and the leadership of the police department will help lead us into this discussion and hopefully resolution or at least an ongoing update of what the police department should be, what police officers should be, what they should expect to be responding to. So we’re not just sending guys out who are trained to respond to force with force. If that’s what they’re trained to do and we send them into these other situations what do you think is going to happen?

On calls for an investigation into the Department of Law after revelations that some attorneys may have withheld evidence from the Court

Yeah, it’s clearly troubling that City lawyers aren’t following court rules. This comes down to court rules about when there’s a discovery process in a case one side asks for certain evidence, the other side is assuming there’s judicial approval. It’s required to produce that evidence and if you say that you are producing the evidence and you’re not, I mean that is obviously a major problem. Our justice system is built on an honest recounting of the facts.

Now, with the five lawyers cited, we had the one this week who in a case where the judge just came out and did a real smack-down and ordered a new trial and called out the lawyer by name. And then I think the Tribune has come with or some others have come up with these other cases. My question about that is that sounds like a lot. Zero is the ideal number, but how often does this happen in private practice? How often does it happen? I mean what is the context here? We’re shining a spotlight on this and all of us are looking at this with wide eyes, but is this something that happens? How many of these are mistakes? How many of these are deliberate? Is there evidence where it was deliberate and were they playing games? I think those are all important questions.

On the upcoming super-heated race for State’s Attorney between Anita Alvarez, Kim Foxx and Donna More  

You have an incumbent in a very important and powerful position and you have two seemingly credible challengers. And so you know there’s been a lot of dissatisfaction with Anita Alvarez certainly over the last four years, but when the slating session was held by the Cook County Democratic Party last summer you know, despite a push by Toni Preckwinkle and others not to endorse Anita Alvarez, but that is almost just so everyone understands how the sausage is made politically, to not endorse an incumbent is almost unheard of. I mean we’ve endorsed people who have been under indictment.

So a living breathing active office-holder who also happens to be a Latina, a very powerful constituency, so it was a sign of trouble for the State’s Attorney when she did not get the endorsement, and so now to hear that Toni Preckwinkle is pushing for her former Chief of Staff to get the endorsement outright is definitely big political news, but I think as Natasha pointed out – she’s right on the money – I think this cuts both ways. The major criticism if you’re just talking politically about Kim Foxx is that she’s too close to Toni Preckwinkle and this office which we just took pains earlier on the show to discuss how that is supposed to be and should be independent, to have basically that be an aide or auxiliary potentially of the president’s offices is troubling to a lot of people.

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CN Dec. 17, 2015

Phillip Jackson is the founder of Black Star Project, a youth social services organization on Chicago’s south side.  He has a unique vantage point from which to observe the young people who’ve been organizing against police brutality since the Laquan McDonald videos have been revealed.

“Laquan McDonald, if he hadn’t been shot 16 times what would his life be like?” Jackson asks. “So we think the crime is, well, he was shot 16 times and then died. Is that the crime? Or is the crime that whether he was shot or not he really doesn’t have a life worth living…And so in a sense we’re the criminals. We’re the ones…who are responsible for Laquan, not his being shot down, but for him being in that position.

And Jackson views the protest movement that emerged after the video’s release as something extraordinary, possibly historic.

“Maybe we can compare what happened on North Michigan Avenue to the beginning of the bus boycott in Montgomery as a catalyst for a different kind of movement,” he asserts..

Some highlights from this week’s show are below, or you can read the complete transcript here:  CN transcript Dec 17 2015

On the youthful protesters on Michigan Avenue, Black Friday

Well, as a person who works with young people, who respects young people, I don’t think that these young people per se look at themselves as moving into the political space. Now the space that they’re moving in does actually impact politics, but they’re moving into a different space. They’re moving into a real human rights, civil rights “revolutionary space”, and yes, it will impact politics, but they are not right now making a conscious effort to go into the political space. However, their actions are now scaring a lot of politicians to stay up late at night and get up early in the morning to try to understand what these young people are doing.

They are also picking up on the late Dr. Martin Luther King in the purest sense of the word. I was so proud of those young people…I was so proud of those young people, the way that they actually executed the plan, executed the boycott, executed the marches. Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the few times that I can imagine, would be smiling down and saying, “That’s what I would have done.”

Now, it’s created some issues because there is an older leadership structure in the community [laughs] and they’ve been doing things the same way for 40-50-60-70 years and they want to continue doing things pretty much the same way. That’s not this new generation. This new generation, I mean they’re on something different. They may go left, they may go right, they may go up, they may go down.

On the future for Chicago’s black youth:

Nothing is going to change in Chicago when we say, well you know we want more black policemen. Well okay, we want more black policemen. But in Chicago only 7% of black boys read at a proficient level in the 8th grade. That means you’re not going to have black policemen. It means you’re not going to have a black middle class and so it’s wonderful to want it, but unless you start doing the things now that are going to impact this City 15-20-25-30 years from now there’s not going to be change.

On CPS plans to close the Betty Shabbaz/Barbara Sizemore Academy

Now the City as a whole, 7% of black boys read at a proficient level in the 8th grade. Well at this school that the Chicago public schools has decided to close 71% of the black boys… read at or above grade level. And so you know, as you and I well know over the past few years how many superintendents have we had, how many administrations have we had? But these people are making decisions about closing effective schools. And granted, Barbara Ann Sizemore is not perfect, but the black community, and I’m going to take the liberty today to speak for the black community, the black community would rather have 50 Barbara Ann Sizemores than many of these other schools that are in our community and it’s being closed. And so a question that we kind of talked about is can this Mayor create the kind of reforms that the City needs in order to move forward? And I believe that he’s getting bad advice from all the wrong advisors.

On the future of education for Chicago’s black children

What I am saying is that for the past 10-20-30-40-50-60 years what I’m saying is that education in Chicago, education in America has failed black children, so I am saying that, totally. Now, I’m saying well, what works? What works to educate black children? So I’m not sold on the charter model. I’m not sold on our current public education model. I’m not sold on the voucher model, but I don’t hear other people asking the question that I’m asking – what works to educate the children who are least educated in our City? What works to educate the children who if they are properly educated and successfully educated, they will add the most value to our City. No one is asking that question.

If we’ve got to close every school – charter, public, catholic, etc., in order to come up with a way to successfully educate black children I’m willing to do that as well, or I’m willing to work with whoever, whether it’s the teachers, the principals, the gangbangers, preachers. We will work with anyone who can help us create a viable education model, and let me tell you why. Nothing is going to change for black Chicago if education doesn’t change.

On family life

The family is the building block of society. If you don’t have strong families, you don’t have strong bricks in order to build your house. We do not have strong families in the black community, and I see almost no attention going to that.

On the role of gangs

The best mentors in the black community, it’s not the Boys and Girls Club, it’s not the Big Brothers Big Sisters, it’s not the churches. The best mentors in the black community are the street gangs. Gangster Disciples, black stones, four corner hustlers, vice lords, those are our best mentors. I mean those are the people who make the most commitment and most effort to bring young black boys into their organizations.

It’s not a thought, it’s a reality. And so until we can actually create a system that can defeat that system very little is going to change. Once again, I see lip service being paid to it. ‘Oh we should mentor our boys. Oh black boys need mentors.’ That’s lip service.

 

 

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CN Dec 10 2015

There’s a small cadre of reporters who regularly cover City Hall, and they deeply understand the goings-on at City Council, in the Mayor’s Office and the Departments.

Mike Fourcher is one of them. As publisher of Aldertrack, a daily subscription news service about All Things City Hall, he and his small crew cover daily committee meetings in great depth  and report on all fifty Aldermen.

Aldertrack’s been pretty busy these past few weeks, as you might imagine. Mike sat down with us today for a 45-minute discussion that wove together the police scandals, the impact of the McDonald shooting on minority communities and their Aldermen, the calls for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and the seemingly spontaneous protests – driven largely by a younger generation of Chicagoans –  that have been erupting in the streets of Chicago.

Mike has a fascinating take on all these topics, and his perspective is really worth watching.

And if you’d prefer to listen while you’re driving or going for a walk or working around the house, don’t forget our audio podcast. You can find it HERE.

Here are some Fourcher quotes pulled from the transcript, which you can read in full here: CN transcript 12 10 15

On increased citizen scrutiny:

In the past politicians in Chicago, not just Rahm Emanuel, had an ability to say, “Here’s my decision. Move on,” and then in a few days there was another crisis or another series of things that took everybody’s attention. There is a very large portion of the city which is now forcing a micro-focus on Rahm Emanuel and all of the city council, especially the black caucus and the Latino caucus.

On the new breed of protesters:

So when you talk to a lot of these organizers, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two weeks trying to get to know who some of these leaders are, they are young, usually in their 20s. They are incredibly intelligent, sharp, maybe not necessarily college educated, but they’ve spent a lot of time doing reading and understanding what the policies are, and so they have an acute awareness of what sort of choices are available to the Mayor and the city council.

The young organizers and media

I think that these organizers are very savvy about ways to communicate and find ways to connect and enlarge their group, but they are definitely very interested in traditional media and trying to find ways to connect with traditional media..when I was talking to protestors before Thanksgiving, organizers, I asked them what’s going to happen? And what I heard back was well we’re telling everybody who is not from Chicago don’t come here. We don’t want you. We’re going to take care of this ourselves. And the second was yeah, we’re going to protest forcefully but we’re going to do it peacefully, and I heard that again and again and again.

Mayor Emanuel and the black clergy

…the older generation has a series of things that they have invested in already. So if you take a look at black pastors and you talk to a lot of the reverends, one of the reasons why they’re so reluctant to get out in front and to start tearing down the Mayor is that a lot of their churches are running city programs.

…when Aldertrack reported the story about Mayor Emanuel threatening to take away jobs to pastors if there were violent protests on Black Friday, what those pastors heard was wow, these social service programs that are valuable to my church and my community could be taken away if I don’t satisfy what the Mayor needs. And that froze them in place, and in a lot of ways I think that there is a secondary problem for the Mayor, which is that this group of people which was a good conduit for him to communicate to the African American community is now frozen and in some ways made irrelevant, so this new youth generation is rising up.

Channel 5’s story about emails disproving Emanuel’s timeline

Carol Marin put out a report after the Mayor’s speech, after his attempt to turn a corner, she put out a report that said the Mayor’s press office knew about the Laquan McDonald video as early as February this year, so two months after the shooting, and had discussed whether or not the video should be made public…Marin’s story yesterday calls in question the veracity of Mayor Emanuel’s statement to minority members of the City Council. I was stunned when I saw it because first off – oh my gosh, Rahm Emanuel’s team put out a thing that said this is the timeline, and then Carol Marin has a story that’s documented that says no, actually that’s not true. But what’s even more incredible is that the way that Carol Marin got these documents is that she and Channel 5 had submitted a FOIA request for the documents. The Emanuel administration is extremely meticulous and pays close attention to FOIA requests, so his leadership should have known – I’m certain that they knew that this FOIA request was out there and Channel 5 had the documents, and yet they continued to move forward with their timeline story.

Black aldermen are being challenged for their vote on the $5m settlement

That is becoming the drumbeat in the African American community, which is $5-million Laquan McDonald blood money, and I think that every alderman… So this was voted on in the last meeting of the last City Council before the new term began. Every alderman that is not a freshman, every black alderman that’s not a freshman should expect a mail-piece in 2019 that says that they voted for Laquan McDonald blood money…I think that this really makes it difficult for a lot of African American alderman to survive re-election. I really truly believe that this is going to be a major change. And also probably for a number of Latino aldermen as well.

On the Black Caucus call for police to “stop shooting people in the back”

That’s pretty devastating, and I think that 7-point plan that the black caucus came up with is very thoughtful and there’s a lot of good things that are in there. For instance, suggesting that there needs to be a special prosecutor every time a police officer is involved in a shooting.

On Ald. Moore’s call for a City Council investigation of Emanuel

Tuesday night, at Tuesday night’s meeting at Liberty Baptist three different people during the question time…three different people stood up and said, “I want to see a show of hands for all the alderman here, of the 11 aldermen who is going to support David Moore’s resolution to investigate the Mayor’s office?” The aldermen there at the table were stony silent. They didn’t say a word. They didn’t answer it. And then yesterday morning, Wednesday, I asked the alderman what do you think? And they were like – oh, it’s never going to happen. But then by that afternoon there were 9 or 10 black aldermen who had signed onto David Moore’s resolution.

I talked to one alderman who switched and he said to me, “Look, you know, we’re in a pickle. People are looking at us and they want to see some sort of action and they don’t necessarily trust what’s going on here.” What he didn’t say is that voters don’t necessarily trust the aldermen.

Rahm Emanuel will not resign

…there is an enormous amount of talk about Rahm Emanuel should resign, Rahm Emanuel should be investigated, etc. I don’t think that Rahm Emanuel is going away. He’s going to stick to the end. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

And finally, the schools and the CTU.

It may not be until the fall, but they will strike. There are a series of other City structural problems that need to be addressed with the CHA, the Housing Authority and other things, and all of that requires some sort of consensus. Right now we have a city government that is incapable of consensus. So I’m not exactly sure how we move through those major significant things in the current state of affairs.

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CN Dec. 3, 2015

Glenn Reedus is a thoughtful, experienced guy. He’s written for The Chicago Defender, the Crusader, South Suburban News, and the Chicago Reporter. For a time, he was Executive Editor at the Defender. He’s currently an independent journalist, and he’s also with DePriest Voters’. Chronicles.

We thought his might be a valuable voice after this rather loud, chaotic week in Chicago.

Did Mayor Emanuel do the right thing dismissing Garry McCarthy, we ask? Will he regret the decision?

“I doubt he will regret that,” he responds. “There was such an uproar, a persistent uproar to get rid of McCarthy, because as most of us see it, the guy at the head makes things happen, and McCarthy wasn’t making things happen…I don’t see a high point in his time here with the Mayor.”

What about the Mayor? He’s facing a drumbeat of calls for his own resignation. Should he comply?

“No,” asserts Reedus. “You would have chaos.”

It would ignite a City Council battle like those we’ve seen before, he says, and the Aldermen who could be elevated to the position wouldn’t necessarily be better than the Mayor we have.

“And if you got a new mayor there’s so many problems to fix that this new person wasn’t in on, and that’s going to take 3 years in office, so at best we’re running in place with a new mayor.”

One of this week’s most persistent speculations revolves around the timing of the McDonald video release and the 2014 Mayoral elections. African Americans, so enraged by the video, would have switched to Chuy Garcia in large numbers, it’s said, electing Garcia. We ask whether another scenario might have played out in which disenchanted black voters simply stayed home, allowing Emanuel the victory anyway.

“I don’t think they would have sat out,” Reedus responds. “I think emotion would have taken over and you’ve got a black kid being gunned down by a white officer caught on tape, and Mr. Garcia stands up and says, “There’s no way in the world that would happen. I can’t control every cop, but there’s no way in the world that would happen under my administration.” And that’s the plan that Rahm always said that Mr. Garcia did not have. In my opinion that would have been enough to dissuade some of Rahm’s voters. You know there were a lot of people out there getting paid to be pro-Rahm too and he made promises that obviously haven’t been kept.”

And what about State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez?

“I think that she’s desperate,” he explains. “Anybody in her situation would be desperate, and if there wasn’t so much heat around this entire thing she might have taken the hit for the Mayor, but now she’s fighting for her job and she’s not going to let this guy get in the way of that.”

And, Reedus asserts, that’s why Alvarez told Politico’s Natasha Korecki that her office never asked the Emanuel administration to resist lawsuits demanding the release of the video. So will her aggressive defense save her effort at re-election in just a couple of months?

“Not that I can see,” Reedus tells us. “Not only does she have this attached to her, she has a very formidable – in my opinion very formidable – candidate in Kim Foxx who used to work for her. But I think that Kim is the sort of breath of fresh air that’s needed in that office, and Alvarez came in as a reformer and we haven’t seen that.”

(You can watch Kim Foxx talking about her candidacy on Chicago Newsroom Right HERE.)

Mike Fourcher at Aldertrack posted an explosive report this week about a meeting between the Mayor and a group of African-American ministers that, let’s just say, didn’t go well. Reedus describes it for us.

“I don’t know if he called them in to ask for advice or to give them what their advice ought to be. But I read Mike’s story and talked to him about it, and I think he had four people to corroborate the events and that the Mayor pretty much said… This was right before the Black Friday protests, this thing had better stay peaceful. If it isn’t peaceful I’m going to blame you guys and when I blame you that means don’t come to me for jobs, don’t come for anything in your community. And one of the people who was attending who wasn’t a minister told him that was pretty racist.”

We ask Reedus why mayors and civic leaders still think it’s necessary to call in the African-American ministers when things go wrong.

“It goes way back,” he explains. Years back, when many American blacks were uneducated, the clergy were often the most educated leaders in a community, he says. They were often the point of first contact for people outside that community trying to communicate with, or organize these populations.

“That reverence for ministers just continued over the decades,” he continues, “And some wise politician was able to make that connection that all those people in those pews do what this guy says. And it’s just continued…But as the community has become better educated and we have access to everything, the reliance on ministers to provide political guidance has diminished tremendously. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of those ministers have gotten that message.”

Reedus was quite impressed with the Black Friday protest on the Mag Mile. “It was beautiful,” he says.

He says everyone involved deserves credit, including the Police, acting under the orders of Garry McCarthy.

“If you don’t create that intimidating presence you won’t get a violent reaction,” he asserts.

But Reedus reserves his strongest praise for the youth at the protest. “The most impressive thing was the young people, the Millennials, organizing this,” he explains. “At least seven, eight different groups, saying this is what we’re gonna do, this is when we’re gonna do it, this is how we’re going to do it…they took the lead.

Reedus says that years ago Paul Robeson and Marcus Garvey were able to organize using the earliest iterations of the American black press, and they also took advantage of the number of black Americans who had purchased radios. For the first time, there was mass-media access to these audiences. And by the 1960’s, it was another new medium.

“Television made Dr. King a national voice, a national leader,” he tells us.  The SNCC, the Black Panthers, they all occupied a “separate lane”, but were all traveling in the same direction. Today, social media has provided another cohort an effective organizing tool.

“This time, the Millennials got in front of it, which has never happened. And they did an excellent job of getting the message across.”

“I think that there’s a huge generational shift,” says the journalist, “And the younger generation is sorting out how they’re going to proceed, and I’m hearing there are going to be other protests.”

 

And finally, Glenn Evans. He’s the Chicago Police Commander who may be on trial next week for a series of charges that he was abusive in his policing practices. Reedus wrote about it last month in the Chicago Reporter.

“He’s accused of seeing a guy at a bus stop,” Reedus explains. “And according to this man, Commander Evans was just staring at him- Evans was in the car – to the point that he got nervous and he ran. Evans chased him and caught him. According to Evans, the man had a gun. The man says he never had a gun. He said Evans put his service revolver in his mouth, put a taser against his genitals and kept shouting, where’s the gun? And so he sued, and this is a suit that stuck.”

But Glenn Evans has his supporters.

“There’s one camp that says, even though Evans runs rough-shod over people in the black community it’s OK because people want a safe community and they want the bad guys to know somebody’s gonna come down on them,” he tells us. “There’s another camp that says, whoa, the one you think’s a bad guy is my grandson, and maybe he’s hanging out with some people, but he’s not  a bad kid, and even the ones he’s hanging out with, they have civil rights, and we don’t want them violated.”

“Then you have the Chicago Police Department,” Reedus concludes, “who has received all these complaints against Evans, but they ignored them because he keeps getting promoted.”

For additional information about the Evans case, here’s WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell on Chicago Newsroom giving us some deep background.

 

Note: the show this week went overtime, and you can watch the entire 58-minute show here.

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CN Nov. 26, 2015

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving with a conversation about what it’s like to have spent a professional lifetime in local television news.

To camp out for three days at the site of a horrific plane crash or rush to a major rail crossing accident. The insanity of getting an assignment at 9:30 and knowing that in just a few hours you are to have raced to the scene or coerced people into being interviewed, often against their will,  gathered as many facts as you can and be prepared to report at 4, 4:30, 6 and 10, most likely live and each time with a new top on the story.

“And I’ve been asked – people say, I see you on the news at the end of the day, what do you do the rest of the day?” laments Channel 5’s Phil Rogers.

“Do you write your own stuff? Who writes that?”  adds Channel 7’s Paul Meinke.

They’re competitors, but good friends. “We call this the media conspiracy,” Rogers reveals.  “The much-talked- about Fox News Media Conspiracy? Well this is where it’s hatched.” They’ve been to so many stories together that we kid them that the cost-cutters at their stations could save money by sending them both in one truck.

They joke about how often their newscasts, begun every morning by completely different managers and crews end up creating remarkably similar shows. “It’s a cookie-cutter mentality,” Meinke kids. “I call him up and tell him what we’ve got, he calls me up…” And Rogers adds, “We get our marching orders from the Trilateral Commission, whoever they are…”

Meincke has just retired after 30 years of full-time reporting, but now works on a part-time basis. You may have seen him in the last couple of days working the Laquan McDonald story for Channel 7. Rogers still has a few years to go, but he’s worked 25 years at Channel 5.

They both worked at their stations during the heyday of the so-called “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy and have done their share of live-shots-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. “The emphasis was to do live. And then you’re standing at the scene of the cable guy who was shot in the alley six hours after it happened,” Meincke explains. “But for logistics and also because there may be an event forthcoming that’s gonna add a new top to the story,  you can’t not go. You have to be there.”

Both men cite examples of laws or policies that have been changed because of the vivid reporting of tragic events on television. Meincke says a gruesome plane crash he covered in Indiana was so badly mishandled by the airline that his and other TV reports resulted in the NTSB changing air crash protocols. “They have an emissary now. They have a whole division that deals with people, and the relatives. Because we were getting information before the families were, and that’s not right,” Meincke explains.

We talk about journalism.

“Journalism drives the middle,” asserts Rogers. “Journalism looks at the facts from both sides, presents them to the viewer, and says you make up your own mind. I’ve always believed my job is to sit in the back of the room, take notes, and then go back and write a story. My job is not to tell people what to think. Now, there is interpretive reporting. There is a responsibility to call nonsense on things. Mayor, I’m sorry, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s nonsense.”

But Meincke  says TV news needs to evolve from the traditional model, and perhaps do more of that interpretive reporting.

“We don’t do that internally enough. Because we don’t  have the ability to change the direction of the ship that’s sailing, whose mission is dictated quite often by what the weather is, or what’s being said on social media. A lot of what comes out on social media is fabulous. It now takes us in a direction we wouldn’t ordinarily have done. We’ve gotta get down off of our perch.”

(And one side note, Paul Meincke maintains a fascinating Facebook page covering a historical event for each day. It’s worth putting it on your list of daily check-ins. Here’s yesterday’s, which reminds some of us older folk of a very different time in Chicago.)Screenshot 2015-11-26 12.13.00

Also on this Thanksgiving day, we offer our sincere thanks to Allison, Carrie, Chris, Greg, Kenny, Luis and Rob  for all of their great work getting our show on the air and on-line every week. Thanks, CAN TV!

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Karen lewis speech at CTU rally

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Karen Lewis spoke to thousands of CTU members on Monday night, Nov. 23. Here’s a recording of her speech:

 

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