CN Mar 9 2017

Can the development of television, and radio before it, teach us anything about what the next few years of digital communications will bring us?

In some ways, yes, says Walter J. Podrazik, co-author of Watching TV.

“This inherently is important because of how do you make money in this medium?” he asks. “And the answer is by being a gatekeeper. Now a gatekeeper has a lot of different definitions…In a more general sense it’s the corporation, the business entity, that owns the station, or owns the distribution service. And then, it’s how do you receive it? Who are the gatekeepers for your receiving it? So the gatekeeper one is to get on there. Gatekeeper two is to be the one that gets the signal to the potential audience.”

So in that sense, today’s world isn’t much different from radio’s peak years in the 30’s and 40’s, or television’s in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s a battle on to determine who can own the most content, and who can own the means of distribution.

Of course, with digital communications there’s vastly more content, and an almost infinite number of channels through which to distribute it. But the premium content – the stuff most people want – that content is quickly becoming the property of a few very large companies, just as with the radio and television companies before them. And we’re also starting to see consolidation of both the content-makers and the content distributors.

“So when you’re looking at how the players are lining up now, the moves when Comcast acquired NBC/Universal—so remember, you’ve got now one-stop shopping from a business point of view,” Podrazik explains.”So you’ve got— well, what’s the formula here? What’s going on? Well, who makes money? A lot of people make money in the media business…So you might have a creator of a sci-fi series that’s on the sci-fi network, which is distributed through Comcast, which you then tune in in your home. Well, boy, if you’re Comcast and you own the sci-fi network, and you own the production company, and you own the distribution—you’re covered pretty well…And so that’s why the ownership of the content becomes more and more important, because no one, including the businesses whizzes, know exactly what’s going to be the state of the industry in say, a dozen years. But you’re going to want content to put out there.”

Consolidation of content and distribution may just be the natural law of economics, and something we all have to live with. But so many observers have pointed out that the Internet’s strength is its diversity of topics, interests and views. That’s why the battle over internet neutrality has been so important, and why today it’s even more critical than ever.

“But the cudgel is not necessarily in place for these new generations of entrepreneurs and delivery systems,” asserts Podrazik,  “and that’s why the whole discussion of net neutrality—in fact the whole question of whether the FCC had jurisdiction over the discussion of how the over-the-air—the wireless—would be handled is very important, because in effect, once you remove someone coming up to you with teeth to enforce the regulations, once you remove that, then you’re saying, ‘So please, make sure you’re a good citizen. Do good. Do no harm.’ Maybe you will, maybe you absolutely will. But history has shown that you probably need to be reminded…”

Podrazik, the historian, reminds us that Edward R. Murrow, after the first broadcast satellite was turned on, called up on our TV screens two simultaneous live pictures – one of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay and the other of the State f Liberty. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Podrazik says Murrow’s enthusiasm for the technical feat was qualified.

“And to Murrow’s credit, he said, ‘This is very impressive.’ But he later said, ‘Now let’s see what we do with these tools.’ And that is probably the most important thing—lesson to take, from past history, which is, what do you do with the tools? And that’s the wild card factor here. And that’s where the changing of generations in attitude—not necessarily in age, but in attitude – because there could be new generation people who are 70 years old. But the willingness to say, ‘I don’t care how you used to do it. I don’t care how you usually do it. Here’s how I’m going to do it.'”

How those tools get used, and the degree to which the public will get to continually define for itself the shape and citizen-power of today’s digital infrastructure, these are still very much unanswered questions. “So that’s what’s playing out now is, people deciding where they want to put their time and their dollars,” Podrazik says. “And it comes back to content, which means, what will have the content that matters to me?”

And in an ironic positive conclusion, Podrazik says the gates are still at least partly open.

“And you guys haven’t figured out how to turn it off yet!”

We like to think that our TV show is also pretty good radio. Listen to the show in your earbuds on SoundCloud.

And read a full transcript of the show HERE.CN transcript March 9 2017





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CN Feb 24 2015

One Chicago police officer fired sixteen shots into Laquan McDonald. Another created a humiliating “hunting scene” photo, with an arrested man posed to look like prey— with deer antlers attached to his head, and eyes rolled back as if he were dead. A third officer emptied his service revolver into a car with unarmed teens.

Who defends these and other Chicago police officers when it’s time to go to court? The Chicago Reader’s Maya Dukmasova has profiled Dan Herbert, perhaps the busiest police defense lawyer in Chicago, and sh’e our guest on this week’s show.

Herbert tells Dukmasova he’s perplexed by the argument “that policing, as it currently exists, is institutionally or structurally racist.” He believes that African-Americans are disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system not because of their race “but because they come from neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty and therefore higher crime rates.” Black people have suffered, he says, from harmful policies like the closing of local schools and the tearing down of public housing. Police, he argues, are “unfairly taken to task for bias against African-Americans when the real discrimination is perpetrated by politicians and policy makers at other levels of the state.”

Maya Dukmasova talks with us about her provocative and detailed profile of Dan Herbert which stems from FOIA’s, shadowing him at court and a series of philosophical conversations that extended over a period of several months.

“He’s kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to serving police officers legal issues,’ she explains. “so people come to his firm with divorce cases, with personal injury cases, but the thing that really gets the spotlight on him are these kind of visible egregious misconduct cases in which officers shoot someone, kill someone, abuse someone and he’s the criminal defense attorney.

A few selected quotes from this show:

Herbert on the Police Accountbility Task Force:

Lori Lightfoot was the chair of the Police Board and was also heading up the Police Accountability Task Force last April when the report was released, and one of the things that was out there, one of the conclusions was that there is institutional racism in the Police Department. And Dan himself says that ‘to me that meant that Lori Lightfoot called my dad a racist,’ and this is how a lot of other policers took it.

Dukmasova on one of the defense Herbert will use for Van Dyke:

Herbert claims that the Cook County State’s Attorney did not properly instruct the grand jury in how they are supposed to consider the charges against Van Dyke, because they rushed to try to get the indictment, and basically as, he put it in court, to  sacrifice Jason Van Dyke to the angry mob outside.

Dukmasova on the likelihood that the City, absent a consent decree from the Justice Department, will write its own form of a binding agreement for CPD reform.

I don’t know how much change we could really expect from an agreement in which the people that are supposed to change are supposed to monitor themselves and hold themselves accountable. I don’t think there’s a lot of faith in the City that all of this could be accomplished, a meaningful police reform could be accomplished without meaningful outside supervision. But, with that being said, there’s a great deal of reform-oriented grassroots activism in the City and a lot of people on that scene never had any faith in the federal government’s really helping any kind of serious reform efforts.

Dukmasova on whether more stringent laws regarding the illegal possession of firearms, which the Mayor and Police Superintendent have been advocating for years, would be effective:

No, not while there are this many guns on the streets, because there’s going to be an endless number of people who those guns are going to fall into an endless number of hands, and the people involved in these shootings especially now are very very young kids, are very young people who we don’t even necessarily hear about because they might wind up in the juvenile justice system after involvement in some sort of shooting. So I think that harsher punishment for gun offenses is not…that’s like not going to fix the root cause of this problem. This is a poverty issue first and foremost, and so the conversation has to start with what to do about improving life circumstances in these neighborhoods.

You can read a full transcript of this discussion here: cn-transcript-feb-24-2017

And you can listen to the show with your earbuds on SoundCloud HERE.

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CN March 2 2017

Lead has been in our lives for almost as long as humans have been able to use tools. It’s heavy, so it’s great for “weaponizing”. It’s malleable and moldable, so you can make lots of stuff out of it. One of those things is pipe. Lead underground service pipes have been so durable that in cities around the world these pipes are still in the ground, having carried water for over a century.

But, as we now know, there is no safe level of lead in the human body. So we may never know how much damage lead has done to the brains of generations of people, worming its way in through the air (as a gasoline additive) through the mouth (kids eating eat paint chips) and through our water systems.

“Lead is more diffuse in the environment today,”  explains City Bureau reporter Nissa Rhee, “So we’re not just getting it from gasoline…like in the past. We’re getting it from a lot of different sources, and it’s the cumulative effect that’s really dangerous. And you know, while it’s much better than it was in the 60s, still 80,000 kids under 6 had lead poisoning last year in the United States, so that’s not a small number.”

“Chicago is something of a Ground Zero for lead pipes,” adds City Bureau’s Darryl Holliday. “The estimate was around 80% of lead pipes, or pipes in the City that go from the service line to homes with lead added up to about 400,000 potential lead service pipes. The city is not taking responsibility for those pipes, so that leaves it up to homeowners.

The water service pipes are a major focus of an extensive special issue of South Side Weekly, reported by City Bureau. It’s called Living With Lead. Rhee says that the lead service lines have become a serious concern in Chicago because of the City’s massive effort to replace 900 miles of water mains. When the lead service lines to peoples’ houses are disconnected from the old mains, they’re re-connected to the new one. But that process disturbs the lead in the walls of the pipe, and sends some amount of lead into the home’s water system. So should the little pipe be replaced at the same time as the big one? Not in Chicago, Rhee explains.

“In a lot of places the lead service line that connects the water mains and the person’s house is either partially owned by the City or completely owned by the City. But in Chicago it’s completely the homeowners’ responsibility. So even though we have an opportunity to, while they are digging up the water mains and replacing them, which is a much-needed service, you know they could go in there and replace the connecting pipes too. But they aren’t doing that because that’s not owned by the City.”

Although we’re all probably carrying around a bunch of lead in our bodies, Rhee says the really critical concern is with the youngest children.

“It’s really important,” she says, “especially if you have children, to think about where lead might be in the environment and to get tested. It’s very easy to go to your pediatrician, your primary care doctor, get a blood test, quickly get results back, and you know right away if you’re okay.”

If you’d like access to information about lead and how to get tested, City Bureau can help. just text the word “lead to 312-697-1791.

We asked whether the team’s research touched on the concern that high lead levels, ingested 15-20 years ago, might play a role in the violence being committed by young people who grew up in elevated lead environments. Holliday said that, yes, they considered it.

“We began on an assumption that violence and environmental health could be correlated. I think over time we’ve discarded that. Through the reporting we’ve dug deeper than just making a pure one to one association because there isn’t one, but we do know that lead causes IQ drops. It causes increased aggression. There are real mechanical practical things that happen when you’re exposed to lead.”

But, although there are definite ‘hot spots” in south and west side communities where buildings haven’t been remodeled to eliminate lead paint and other hazards, Rhee revealed something else.

“We talked to one researcher who said they were seeing a lot of lead issues coming up in gentrifying communities where you have people coming into these old bungalows, say, tearing things up without taking the proper precautions and creating a big mess of dust. And that’s a problem not only for the people who live there, but their neighbors when the dust travels.”

So, although our houses and apartments had great lead hazards in the old paint, removing it can be more dangerous if it isn’t done properly.

Finally, the situation in Flint, Michigan. How, if at all, does it relate to our lives in Chicago?

“everyone is concerned about Flint,’ Rhee explains, “but really the levels of lead in children that they were seeing in Flint we’ve been seeing in Chicago for years. So it’s just not getting the same attention, and it’s something that really we thought is deserving of the public’s attention and awareness.”

Read Living With Lead Here

We think our TV show’s pretty good radio, too. Listen on Sound Cloud

And read the full transcript of this show HERE:cn-transcript-feb-23-2015


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CN Feb 16 2016


“We have a crisis of the civil order in Chicago.”

That’s the terse assessment of one of Chicago’s most tenacious and respected journalists and writers. Jamie Kalven has been immersed in Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods for decades, but he’s still holding on to some fundamental optimism. “I think what’s hard to hold in focus,” he explains, ” is – on one hand, that’s a huge opportunity. An opportunity to achieve not just tweaks of institutions but real fundamental social change that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Whether we can rise to the occasion, whether we can sustain the political will, whether we can do it, is an open question. But we have the opportunity. At the same time, and for many of the same reasons arising out of the same circumstances, there are areas of the city that are like failed states. Not a reflection on the people who live there so much as the inability of our government to be effective.”

Kalven, who among many accomplishments founded the Invisible Institute and who is busily nurturing and mentoring young community journalists,  tells us he lives in Kenwood, where the police come when they’re called, and where the police and the residents have a degree of mutual respect.

“If that were the reality in Englewood, in Auburn-Gresham, in Lawndale, that would be transformative,” he asserts. “These are kind of bedrock issues for the city and the society, and they’re fundamentally issues about race.”

“…we know what to do, we know how to do it and we don’t do it,” he continues. “And I think that’s this blood-knot a the center of American life, where we have this ability to know and to not know at the same time. And I spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods where bodies have been falling, and earlier for many years in high-rise public housing before it was demolished. It’s kind of in plain sight. You have areas that have been abandoned by public and private institutions for generations, and then we ask, why the violence?”

Kalven recently authored a sweeping account of two police officers who attempted to blow the whistle on a massive police-run drug ring operating in Stateway Gardens and  Ickes Homes in the 1990’s. Their efforts were not rewarded. Instead, they were ostracized by their fellow officers and they both ended up out of CPD. Meanwhile, many of the implicated higher-ups quietly resigned and collected their pensions.  It’s a lengthy, but breath-taking read, and highly recommended. You can find it HERE.

Jamie Kalven was central to the legal proceedings that resulted in the release of the Laquan McDonald autopsy and later the infamous videos. Without those, the case against Jason Van Dyke would likely never have moved forward, and in fact Van Dyke and McDonald would probably not be names familiar to any of us. His research and pursuit of factual data has been the underpinning of some of Chicago’s most significant journalism in recent years. In the McDonald case, the repercussions from the video release are still being felt, and could result in massive changes in the way Chicago polices itself.

“If those bad actors – for the sake of argument we’ll say substantially less than 5% of the force – if they are allowed to act with impunity, then for whole areas of the City they become the face of civil authority,” he warns. But he’s concerned that the changing of the guard at the Department of Justice could mean a huge lost opportunity for change.”What we’re now hearing really loud and clear I think from Washington is that police accountability measures are impediments to effective law enforcement,” he asserts.

“They are saying that the only effective policing and effective policing of neighborhoods of color, the only effective policing is unconstitutional policing,” he continues. “That’s what the argument is, and that’s a critically  important argument to win. And to demonstrate that police accountability in the various forms it takes is a necessary condition for effective law enforcement, that the reason that there are where areas in the City where the people won’t cooperate with the police and won’t respond in any constructive way is closely related to a history of abuse and inability to get any redress of their grievances when they complain through various channels.”

Kalven draws a line from the public debate over torture and the calls for a more stringent kind of policing. “You know we lost that argument, so there’s a fundamental moral case about torture, but then there’s this other argument about the efficacy of torture, and both arguments are important. The moral revulsion, but then does it work, is it ever justified. And we’ve had a huge ongoing public discourse about that, and we fundamentally lost that argument and now torture is basically seen in our political life as a policy option.”

And how does that relate to urban policing? “It would be tragic at this moment, in this post-Ferguson Black Lives Matter moment if, and I don’t think this is an impossible outcome, if we have our ongoing public discourse about these issues, and where we end up is with the principle that only violating peoples’ rights is effective, and only in black neighborhoods, in only certain neighborhoods. So we need to win that argument, and I think Chicago, partly because of the place it’s now assumed in the national discourse, is a really critical, a sort of center stage for that.”

Jamie Kalven likes to quote a New York  City police official.

“In a democracy there’s nothing as good as a good police officer and there’s nothing as bad as a bad police officer.”

It was an honor to have this important leader at our table this week.

Meanwhile, you can watch the show at the link above, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

And you can  read a full transcript of the show HERE:  cn-transcript-feb-16-2017

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CN Feb 9 2017


Two great pieces of public art were unveiled almost simultaneously in Chicago fifty years ago. pretty much everyone knows about the Picasso in the Daley Center, but fewer know about the enduring Wall of Respect at 43rd and Langley.

Lee Bey hosts this week, and he welcomes Erin Harkey from the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Arts Group. They take us for a tour of fifty years of public art and a look ahead to some new exhibits and a few provocative questions, such as: when, if ever, is it appropriate to change or revise a long-established installation?


We like to think that our TV show is also a pretty good radio show. Put in the earbuds and listen to the show on Soundcloud.

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CN Feb 2 2017


Lori Lightfoot isn’t pleased that the 126 recommendations that her Police Accountability Task Force – the body Mayor Emanuel asked her to front last year – still remain largely words on paper instead of mayoral actions.

And the Department of Justice report, which landed three weeks ago, in many ways draws similar conclusions and calls for similar reforms.

“Sometime soon after the taskforce issued its report the Mayor said – ‘We’ve adopted one-third of the taskforce recommendations,’”  Lightfoot tells us. “There are 126 specific recommendations. They were purposely designed to be kind of a matrix that fits together. They were not designed to be one-off things. Now, there are clearly things that you can do on a one-off basis, but the point was to move forward in a strategic thoughtful way and that has not happened. I won’t get into the was it a third, was it not a third, but I’m going to tell you that the vast majority of the recommendations of the taskforce have not been picked up. They have not been implemented, and so there’s still a significant amount of work that needs to be done.”

“I think the Police Department is in dire need of change,” she continues. “What we found was a significant lack of investment in the Department. And really it’s most important asset, it’s primary asset is its people. We shouldn’t have the second largest police force in the country and have a state of affairs where after you graduate from the Police Academy you have no other annual mandatory training other than firearms qualification, which in and of itself is woefully inadequate, because it’s 30 bullets into a paper target. It doesn’t simulate any real-world circumstances, but that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the officers. It’s not fair to the taxpayers for whom we spend a significant amount of money in the recruitment and retention process for police officers equipping them with resources. It’s not fair to them. They shouldn’t be in a situation where they don’t have the most up-to-date tools, technology, thinking about local policing possible, and we have not made those kinds of investments. And if there’s a frustration we mapped that out in bold relief in April of 2016. We are now almost a year later and very little progress has been made.”

We suggest that, with the cover of two significant reports, a new and apparently eager police chief and a public acceptance that our police force is not operating optimally, this could be a time for bold and historic leadership.

“I think that’s absolutely right,” she asserts. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for leadership to really turn the page and articulate a vision of our City that is different and is better, and challenges and welcomes all of us to be a part of the solution…There’s so much low-hanging fruit on all these issues. Some of it’s difficult. Much of it will not be solved in a short period of time, but what’s the expression, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first steps.”

Expressing frustration that the Mayor appears to have let up the gas, she says it’s time to push forward on reforms. “And I’ll go back to what I said before, 2017 ought to be the year of leadership in Chicago.”

Lightfoot doesn’t just reserve her criticism for Mayor Emanuel, though. The State of Illinois, she says, plays a major role in Chicago’s crime problem.

“It’s no coincidence that the violence in our City started to spike in the spring of 2015 and went gradually up and then kind of off the charts in 2016,” she continues. “What else has been happening in our State? We have a budget impasse where the social service agencies that really provided important fiber and network in a lot of these communities by supporting young people, children, and families, they either don’t exist anymore, or the offerings that they have for people in need are substantially curtailed because they are not getting funding from Springfield.”

And, just in case you’re wondering what the Police Board Chair thinks about President Trump’s “offer” to send in the Feds to solve our crime problem, and possibly to visit here to meet with gang leaders, Lightfoot isn’t impressed.

“So there’s all this talk about sending the feds, do this, do that, but fundamentally the problems that we’re seeing, the challenges that we have in the City, both with police reform, accountability, community police relations, those questions as daunting as they are all have to be addressed and solved by what’s on the ground here in Chicago,” she insists.”I think what’s required now is real leadership. Real leadership to dig in and make the hard choices, face the hard truths and come up with a real plan of action.”


Here are some significant quotes from today’s conversation.


On Eddie Johnson, who was not one of the three finalists her Board selected for the Mayor’s  perusal. Despite all their vetting work, the Mayor went with Johnson

I didn’t know Eddie Johnson until he was selected by the Mayor to be the superintendent. He is a good man. He is someone who I think is really trying to do absolutely the best that he can. He is respectful. He is open. He’s receptive to feedback. I feel like we have a very open candid relationship where we can come to each other with a variety of issues. And one of my goals clearly is to support him because I think supporting him supports the Department and helps improve the quality of life for the City.


On the Superintendent’s Strategic Subjects List, a log of about 1,400 people considered to be most susceptible to committing or being the victim of street violence:

I think there’s still a lot of questions about that list. This is an algorithm that was created by a professor I believe at Illinois Tech. He controls the algorithm. He is fed data from the Chicago Police Department.

Ken:                Still today?

Lori:                Still today. They don’t own the technology.

Ken:                The Police Department doesn’t own it?

Lori:                They do not own the technology.


One of CPD’s gravest problems, Lightfoot has come to believe, is historic disinvestment. Like the impoverished neighborhoods it serves, CPD itself hasn’t shared in the wealth other parts of the City, and other City services, have enjoyed.

The Police Department in my view is one of the most important institutions in the City. Not just an institution of government, but one of the most important institutions in the City. People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel like officers are legitimate. That presents a potential for real chaos. Someone argued that we might have that level of chaos in certain crime-plagued neighborhoods, but I think the thing that we need to focus on is we’re trying to get back to a place where every citizen who has the need for policing services can get those services in a respectful and constitutional way that provides them with confidence that they are going to be protected when there’s a need. We’re not in that place yet and we need to get there.


Both reform reports identified training as one of the most urgent issues facing CPD. Lightfoot tells us about visiting the Training Academy during Taser training, being held in the hallway.

I watched this happen and thought to myself this is crazy. How can this be the most conducive environment for these men and women to learn about using non-lethal force to take it seriously, and to feel like their department is taking it seriously and investing in them. It was like running people through a conveyor belt, and it’s noted in the DOJ report that I talked to many officers who went through that training during that time and felt like they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do. They hadn’t retained any of the lessons that they were instructed on and using the taser. That’s crazy.


On engaging officers fully in the planning for that much-needed training

You train so that officers have the resources and tools that they need to be able to do their job effectively, but how do you know what that is? You talk to the officers. You survey them and get a sense for the kind of training that they need. You also think about what values do we want to instill in every single officer, whether it’s somebody wet behind the ears coming into the Academy for the first time, or a more veteran officer. That training is going to be different depending on what their responsibilities are. It’s going to be different depending on what neighborhoods and the different challenges there. But you would have to think strategically about that and not just reflexively because there’s a crisis that’s happened. There’s a flash point that’s now come in the news and so let’s throw some training at it and make it look like we’re doing something.


On providing differential training for officers being assigned to various neighborhoods. Chicago’s vastly different neighborhoods do require different kinds of training, she says.

If you approach it as I’m fearful and I’m going into this neighborhood and everybody there is out to get me, everybody there is a criminal, everybody there is a gun-toting gang member, on and on and on the narrative goes, you’re going to be woefully unsuccessful in doing your job. How do we combat that? We bring people in from those communities into the training for those officers. No officer should be going into a new neighborhood to police, into a new district without getting a full neighborhood orientation that includes bringing in people from those neighborhoods so they can demonstrate in real life that there are three-dimensional folks that live in these neighborhoods who want the same things for their kids and their families as those officers do, and that there’s a way to partner up in a respectful way with people in those communities to get the job done.


Chicago’s murder clearance rate is an embarrassment . Only about 20% of murders are ever solved by CPD, and that’s due in part to the fact that CPD doesn’t have enough detectives. The DOJ found that there hadn’t even been an exam for the position in years. And there was no shortage of police who wanted to test for those positions.

They did the first one , ironically they did it in May on a Saturday for 12 hours and I think like 4,000 people signed up for the test. About 1,200 people actually showed up, but there again you had 1,200 people off the streets for 12 hours on a summer weekend…

The clearance rates are so low that statistically, if you kill someone in Chicago, you probably won’t get caught.

You can get away with murder. You can literally get away with murder. If you shoot somebody and they actually happen to live, the clearance rate is 3%. That is a problem. But we have to call the question and ask is there a focus on that within the detective division? Is there accountability for the fact that those numbers are so low? And yes, obviously there need to be more folks, but you need to also have leadership saying this is not an acceptable number. We are going to work together and come up with a strategy so that our numbers get better. And of course, the easy reflexive thing to say is, ‘Well, we can’t solve these crimes because people won’t talk to us.’ Well, your job is to solve the crimes, so if that is an impediment for you to be able to be successful in your job, then let’s come up with some strategies to bridge that gap.


A policing tactic that’s since been stopped involved acquiring “contact cards.” Getting information  for the cards required stunning numbers of street stops. And the public howled about it at the Task Force meetings.

So as a consequence, and the numbers are there in the DOJ report and our report, you saw this out-sized increase in the number of investigatory stops, very minimal amount of contraband that accompanied that, and luckily very few arrests in comparison to the investigatory stops. But what you got was a lot of really pissed off people.

When we had our taskforce public hearings, and one in particular still sticks with me, we were down at the South Shore Country Club and the audience was predominantly black, but it was, outside of the race, very diverse. We had a lot of middle and upper middle-class professionals, men and women, old and young were there in that meeting, and when I heard women who were 60s and 70s, professional people, respectful people who had been in these neighborhoods for decades…Someone I totally could identify with, telling us in vivid detail the way in which they had been disrespected by police officers. The lightbulb went on in a very major way, because what I was hearing was the consequences of – go get contact cards – without thinking about the consequences for that. And that burned very significant bridges with people of color, particularly black folks in the City feel like they had no claim to the geography under their feet. That if they are walking outside their house, going down their street, going to the store, going to the library, going to church, they were going to be stopped and they were going to be stopped in a way that was not constitutional or respectful. And if those people don’t have a countervailing good experience with the police, that’s all they are going to know and remember. And that is going to come to define for them what policing means in Chicago.


We like to think that our TV show is also pretty interesting radio. Throw in your earbuds and Listen to this show on Soundcloud HERE.

And read a full transcript of this conversation


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CN Jan 26 2017


President Trump threatens, or he may say “offers,” to “Send in the Feds” to solve our hideous violence problem. And Chicagoans ask what that means. If he wanted to send help, he might consider sending along some money to help fund proven violence-suppression programs such as CeaseFire. But there’s probably no money for such programs. We have to step up our military spending, and that Mexican wall, we now know, is gonna cost us $15 billion.

But CeaseFire hangs on, drastically reduced in scope and now funded by some foundation money.

On today’s show, we hear from two violence Interrupters who, despite the danger, race to hospital trauma centers after someone’s been shot to begin the delicate task of lowering the temperature. During the “golden hour” right after the shooting, John  Hardy and Chico Tillmon try to convince family members and friends not to retaliate, because they see escalating violence as a public-health issue. Not unlike cholera or ebola, the victims transmit the disease with their contact and the transmission sequence must be “interrupted.”

Their data, collected over more than a decade, seems to indicate that where they have been deployed, they’ve succeeded in preventing violence escalation.

CeaseFire fell victim to the State budget fiasco, along with hundreds of other programs. Scores of  Interrupters were laid off. Now there are calls for Mayor Emanuel to find some money to reactivate the program, but despite some Aldermanic support, it seems unlikely.

CeaseFire has a long, sometimes rocky relationship with the Chicago Police, and at this time the two have no formal contractual arrangement. But Tillmon says it isn’t antagonistic. It’s just that they have different goals.

“We are not an anti-police program,” he explains. “We just have a different approach than police. We take a public health approach, where they take a criminal justice approach. We look at people as being ill or having a disease, where they are trying to solve a crime. We’re the same as practitioners. If a person gets shot and goes to the doctor, he’s not into the intricacies of  – who shot you, where you were at. He’s into – what can I do to try to heal you. And that’s our approach. We’re trying to heal individuals. We’re trying to heal communities…that’s where sometimes it can be complex, because we have two different objectives.”

We like to think that our TV show is also pretty good radio. plug in the earbuds and give us a listen on Soundcloud.  

And you can read awful transcript of the show HERE: cn-transcript-jan-26-2017

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CN January 19 2017


Our guest this week runs a mental health institution so vast that it’s been called the largest in the country.

He also runs a pretty significant job training operation, a substance abuse clinic, an anti-violence effort, and he’s a major health-care consultant, channeling tens of thousands of Chicagoans into the Affordable Care Act.

He’s the last resort when people must be removed from their apartments, and he keeps watch over 9,000 incarcerated people.

Tom Dart is the Cook County Sheriff, and he joins  us this week to talk about the Cook County Jail and the massive challenges facing his institution.

He’s especially proud of his electronic monitoring program, which, he says, is responsible for bringing down the jail’s census so dramatically that they were able to demolish some dormitories. “I went from having on average 500 people on the electronic monitoring to about 2,500, so do the math,” he explains. “That’s a 2,000-person difference, and when my population has been 8,200 most of the time, 8,200 plus 2,000 gets you to what, 10,200.”

A major reason why so many people are in Cook County Jail, Dart explains, is that the court system runs so slowly. “Why in God’s name is any stolen car case taking more than three months?” he asks. “He was in the car or wasn’t in the car? A drug case, it was possession. Either he had the drugs or didn’t have the drugs. People say well the lab takes a while, this and that and the other thing. The reality of it is there are certain cases, stolen car cases, burglaries, that should never be in the system for more than months, I mean literally three to four months.”

“And so the system just is not terribly thoughtful,” he continues, “And underlying it is loads of good people in the system, but it’s horribly inefficient and there’s very little pressure on anybody to move cases. And people will often say well the defendant has a speedy trial, right. That is virtually never used.”

Another complication adding to his high census is the fact that some inmates actually prefer to stay there.  I an individual is tried and sentenced to five years, for example, his attorneys may attempt to slow the inmate’s assignment to a downstate prison far from the individual’s Chicago-area family and friends. “We have 1,000 people a year who serve all their time with me. They get a sentence and they literally are driven down to Stateville. They fill out some paperwork and then they give them money for a bus to come back,” he explains.

Then there are the inmates whose trials are delayed so much that their eventual sentence is shorter than their time already served at CCJ. “People have gone beyond what the sentence would have been,” he tells us, “and you don’t get credit for that. It’s not like they give you a voucher for your next time you get involved with the criminal justice system. And those numbers are stunning too. I mean those are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of days beyond what they end up getting.

A major thrust for his administration has been what he calls “the criminalization of the mentally ill.” And there are a lot of them in Cook County Jail. “I can give you a pretty decent number. It’s right around between 23% and 30%, in that range. Where the fluctuation only occurs is whether or not they stay in my custody or whether they are released to the street.”

He said he initially tried to persuade judges that he needed help with this troubled population. “I felt that if I just enlightened people, that if the judges at bond court just knew that these people that they are seeing were mentally ill, and that was what the underlying reason that they are here is, not because of a criminal nature, I could change some of the outcomes. And mind you, that experiment was a miserable failure. The judiciary didn’t buy into any of the stuff I was doing.”

The mentally ill inmates with whom Dart has contact are not inherently criminals, he explains. They’re ill. Their anti-social behavior gets them into trouble, and begins their slide into the justice system. “They’re living at home,” he says. “Their family is trying, trying, trying. The families can’t do it anymore. There’s a domestic case at the house, they’re asked to leave. They have nowhere to go. They’re wandering the streets. They find a place to stay, they’re not supposed to be there, they get arrested. They are trying to find something to eat, they get arrested. It’s the most inhumane thoughtless system that you could devise, and in addition to put the cherry on top of it it’s the most expensive one.”

Dart tells us that the time a politician or government leader gets, to make a difference in people’s lives, is very short. Too short, he says, for passing time and for niceties. “Down in Springfield people get very collegial. It’s great to be collegial and have a decent relationship with people, but sometimes what happens is everybody is afraid to upset somebody, and so no one pushes an issue because this person isn’t comfortable and this one is not comfortable and so on. Well guess what, we don’t have the luxury of sitting there and taking our time. I always tell people we have about 200 people a day leave our jail, and if I’m not putting a plan together for them virtually no one else is. And I don’t have the luxury to sit back and say we’re going to get around to that, and you know all the mentally ill people that are being jumped in the jail and stuff we’re studying that. We’re having meetings, good meetings. I mean the doughnuts are great, the sandwiches are awesome, good meetings. It’s like you know what, I’m done with that stuff, and I tell people, I go, listen, we have these unique little windows where we can affect change to help real people, and it is the height of outrage to sit there and burn that time, because I just don’t want to upset anybody. I just want to be friends. I don’t want anybody not to like me and I want to run for this or that or this or that. I was like no, be happy with the job you have now and knock it out of the park, and don’t leave anything left on the table when you’re done to sit there and say I wish I took that issue on. I wish I took that issue. I wish I was more aggressive.”


Our TV show is also pretty good radio. Listen to it in your earbuds on Soundcloud.

You can also read a full transcript HERE:cn-transcript-jan-19-2017


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CN January 12 2017

When you want to talk about Chicago’s finances, or about its police/community relations, Mike Fourcher’s the go-to guy.  He publishes the Daily Line, Chicago’s on-line subscriber news service. He joins us this week to talk about the impeding Dep’t of Justice report on the Chicago Police, Tiger Woods and, yes, the bond markets – and their demand for more taxes from Chicagoans.

Chicago’s going out for a big bond buy this week, and Fourcher says its fate is more or less being determined by the ratings houses – and at least one of them considers Chicago Junk. But others don’t agree, and there’s some talk, for the fist time, that Chicago may be clawing its way back.

“Now the consequences for a city when they have a junk versus investment grade rating, for a lot of investment agency investment groups that triggers how they have to treat that money,” Fourcher explains. “And they have to require much much higher interest rates to be paid to them for the borrowing. It could be the difference between paying 4% and 8% for the City, the City paying an extra 4% on that money in order to be able to borrow, and that’s tens of millions of dollars just for this borrowing. And there’s going to be other borrowing that the City is going to do. So there is this intense pressure that’s coming from investors in the open market for Chicago to raise its base taxes much higher”

“Raise its base taxes even higher” isn’t something any mayor wants to hear. But that’s what the lenders are saying, according to Fourcher. “So, I think that there has been a real movement among investors that Chicago is not really paying enough and that they want to see Chicago paying more, and that’s what this fight is about with the bond issue that the City wants to do.”

The Department of Justice was about to release its highly-anticipated report on the Chicago Police just as we started this conversation, but despite not having seen it, certain things were easy to predict.

“Well,” Fourcher asserts, “we’re definitely going to see changes. I think there’s no question about it, and I think that from what I can see Superintendent Johnson is committed to making changes and improving things. He’s really done a lot of things that are unpleasant for a police superintendent, like putting pressure on police officers, like changing some of the culture about what happens to a police officer after a questionable shoot. You know those things are important. And I think that Mayor Emanuel has gotten the message that there needs to be reform. But, one of the things that you keep hearing, and we did in December an interview of about 50 or 60 neighborhood leaders throughout the City. One of the things that we kept hearing was that the Mayor is clearly working very hard. There’s no question about it. We’ve never met anybody that works as hard as he does, and he wants to do well. That’s very clear, but he is missing empathy and he is missing some understanding and warmth.”

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HEREcn-transcript-january-5-2017

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CN Jan 5 2017

2017 is gonna be a big, controversial, historic year.

Do we have the news media we need to help navigate these weird times?

That’s this week’s topic. The News Media.  So we called together  a news editor, a co-founder of a community news startup and a night-time AM talk-host to help figure it out.

Our guests: Robin Amer, News Editor at the Chicago Reader, Darryl Holliday, Co-founder of the Chicago Bureau and Justin Kaufmann of WGN-AM’s the Download.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation about social media, the obligations of news organizations, changing media habits and

Some selected quotes:

Amer on defining Truth:

I think one of the scariest things for me as a journalist to have witnessed over 2016 is the absolute break-down in the kind of consensus over what is truth and what are facts, and are my facts “the same as your facts.” And if we as the public can’t even agree on what truth is or what the facts are, how can we have a robust public policy debate about how we move forward as a country when we don’t even take the same facts for granted?…Okay, if I put it in the paper and it’s vetted and it’s fact-checked and it’s true and you should believe that it’s true, but that’s not the case anymore. Like, you can’t take for granted that readers will even believe you or that they aren’t reading something else that claims to be equally true that completely contradicts what you’ve reported. I think that to me this is  one of the great conundrums of our time.

Kaufmann on a gut-wrenching decision facing most newsrooms:

Do news organizations, newspapers, are they going to join in or be in a situation where they use Facebook and Google to be their platform, or are they going to compete against those platforms? And that’s what the news industry…That’s the news industries’ sort of issue with 2017. Do they put resources into building their platforms to be Chicago Tribune Facebook, Google? Or do they say, you know what, these are the platforms, we’ll make our money in other ways.

Amer on how the Reader is grappling with that very question:

Now we could go straight to Facebook, but at that point you are giving them all of your content and you are putting yourself in a very vulnerable situation, because the second that they change their algorithm, or the second that they change…their ad rates, or the second that they change their time about being a source of news or whatever, they’ve completely pulled out the rug from underneath you and you’ve cultivated an audience that isn’t used to consuming your content anywhere but there. And so we’ve been really reticent to do that.

It’s a wonderful conversation, and we humbly believe it’s worth your while to listen.

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HERE:cn-transcript-january-5-2017


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