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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Invisible Institute launches expanded police misconduct database

Posted By on 08.16.18 at 06:00 AM

The new and improved Citizens Police Data Project is an even more powerful tool for tracking Chicago police misconduct - INVISIBLE INSTITUTE
  • Invisible Institute
  • The new and improved Citizens Police Data Project is an even more powerful tool for tracking Chicago police misconduct
An expansive new version of the Citizens Police Data Project has been unveiled by south-side journalism production company the Invisible Institute. The database, created by independent journalist Jamie Kalven, was already the largest public repository of Chicago police misconduct records. Now it's quadrupled in size to include more than 240,000 misconduct complaints made against more than 22,000 CPD officers going back to the late 1960s. The database has also been enhanced by the addition of Chicago Police Department use-of-force reports and officer commendation records.

Researchers at the institute are rolling out the new version of the database together with their own analysis of the data. They found that about one-fifth of the officers employed by CPD for a year or more between 2000 and 2016 had ten or more complaints against them, ranging from minor operational violations such as not wearing a seat belt while driving a squad car to accusations of severe beatings and shootings. Officers with ten or more complaints account for two-thirds of the records in CPDP's new database.

As has long been reported, very few complaints against officers are sustained, and even fewer result in any sort of discipline. Institute researchers found that of the nearly 112,000 complaints filed against officers between 2000 and 2016, just over 2 percent were sustained and just over 1 percent ended in an officer being suspended or fired. Complaints were sustained 20 times more frequently when filed by other cops than when filed by civilians. And white civilians' complaints were three times more likely to be sustained than black civilians' complaints.

The majority of complaints originate on the south and west sides—something the previous version of the database already demonstrated. But now it's possible to see the racial and socioeconomic context of the neighborhoods and police districts where allegations against officers are made. It's also possible to see the department's own records about officers' use of force. Though CPDP aggregates tens of thousands of these records, data analyst Andrew Fan (who, full disclosure, assisted with data analysis for one Reader story last year) cautions that this "isn't the last word" on officers' use of force. Institute staff believe that both officers and the department as a whole underreport use-of-force incidents.

Fan's analysis of the use-of-force reports showed that despite the steep decline in the city's black population since 2000, black people have steadily remained about three-quarters of the subjects of officers' use of force. Even in heavily white areas of town, black people are still disproportionately on the receiving end of officers' use of force.  Fan cited Jefferson Park on the far northwest side as an example. There less than 1 percent of the population is black, yet 14 percent of the subjects in officers' use-of-force reports between 2013 and 2015 were black.

The graphics in the new database offer a chance to see where any particular officer falls in relation to the rest of the force when it comes to allegations by civilians, by fellow officers, and use-of-force reports. Officers who are frequently accused together can be analyzed as a group. It's also possible to scroll through an officer's entire career history and see his or her transfers between districts and department awards. Often, Fan notes, the same incident involving the same officer will result in a misconduct complaint from a civilian as well as a commendation from the department.

In its announcement of the database rollout the institute notes additional "alarming trends" gleaned from the database: More than 6 percent of officers were accused of incidents of "physical domestic abuse" between 2000 and 2016. The officers with such accusations on their records also had a 50 percent higher rate of use-of-force complaints than the rest of their peers.

"I think the motives of the Invisible Institute are perfectly transparent," said Chicago police union spokesman Martin Preib when asked for comment about the new database. Preib declined to elaborate on what he thinks those motives are. A Chicago Police Department spokesman didn't return a request for comment. 

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Alderman who joked about the ‘gangsters’ on the City Council to plead guilty to corruption charges

Posted By on 08.15.18 at 01:52 PM

Twentieth Ward alderman Willie Cochran - SANTIAGO COVARRUBIAS/SUN-TIMES
  • Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
  • Twentieth Ward alderman Willie Cochran

Alderman Willie Cochran said he was joking when he referred to the "gangsters" amont the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus earlier this month. But looking back, maybe he was serious after all. At least in reference to himself.

During a status hearing Wednesday, his lawyer Christopher Grohman said that the 20th Ward alderman intends to plead guilty to corruption charges rather than go to trial, according to the Tribune.

In 2016, the 65-year-old south-side alderman was indicted on charges of bribery and extortion after an investigation found that he had been involved in a pay-to-play scheme and had stolen cash from a charitable-donations fund intended for his ward to pay for his daughter’s college tuition, gambling trips to Indiana, and accessories for his Mercedes.

"We’ve been in negotiations with the government, and we’re hopeful we can resolve this short of trial," Grohman said in court, adding that Cochran won't seek reelection in February.

The statement comes less than a month after Cochran, a retired police officer, mocked a group of activists gathered at the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser at a Loop cocktail lounge.

When members of Black Lives Matter, BYP100, and other groups confronted the City Council members about their support of the Chicago Police Department following the release of body-camera footage of the June 6 police shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Granton Jr., Cochran told the crowd, which included Granton Jr.'s sisters: "They must not know we got gangsters in here."

When the Reader’s Maya Dukmasova asked Cochran about the line the next day, he said it was just a joke.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How this got made: the award-winning 2017 Best of Chicago issue cover

Posted By and on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Danielle A. Scruggs

The Chicago Reader won three awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia 2018 Awards two weeks ago. Among them was the honorable mention painters Shelby Rodeffer and Julian Baker at Finer Signs—together with former director of photography Danielle A. Scruggs and me, the paper's graphic designer—received for the cover design for our 2017 Best of Chicago issue. The cover depicted a mural on the wall of the Polish-Korean restaurant Kimski in Bridgeport, painted by the Finer Signs team and photographed by Danielle. The process began with a chance meeting. But it was brought to completion by our team.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

The golden age of democracy finally shows up—in the raft of former insiders turned mayoral candidates

Posted By on 08.13.18 at 06:00 AM

The mayor and some of his challengers: (top) Paul Vallas and Lori Lightfoot; (bottom) Dorothy Brown, Garry McCarthy, and Troy LaRaviere - CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Chicago Sun-Times
  • The mayor and some of his challengers: (top) Paul Vallas and Lori Lightfoot; (bottom) Dorothy Brown, Garry McCarthy, and Troy LaRaviere

In my endless search for the bright side of life in Chicago, I think I found some good news in the recent Sun-Times story about, of all things, Mayor Rahm's latest financing scheme.

It's an effort by the mayor to convince us he's discovered a wonderful new financial instrument called "pension fund stabilization bonds" that will magically pay our bills without raising taxes.

Rahm's proposing to borrow the money to meet pension obligations by selling bonds, which will then be repaid over time.

Not sure what's new, or magical, about postponing obligations by borrowing money—and the Sun-Times was rightly skeptical in its headline: "Emanuel exploring pension bonds to minimize the need for future tax hikes."

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Alec Klein, Northwestern professor accused of sexual misconduct, resigns

Posted By on 08.10.18 at 04:53 PM

  • Northwestern University
  • Alec Klein
Six months after a group of ten women first came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying, and harassment against Alec Klein, the Northwestern University journalism professor has resigned.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, a university spokesman confirmed Klein's departure and wrote that Klein will no longer "be present on Northwestern’s campus or attend any University events."

Continue reading »

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

R. Kelly’s Chicago studio and alleged ‘cult’ outpost for sale—with him in it

Posted By on 08.09.18 at 06:02 PM

The building in question, at 219 N. Justine - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • The building in question, at 219 N. Justine

R. Kelly's Chicago studio at 219 N. Justine is listed for sale for nearly $4.5 million by the current owner, Wisconsin-based Midwest Commercial Funding LLC. The West Loop studio space, outfitted with window bars and surveillance cameras, is also the place where the R&B star has allegedly kept an entourage of women (other reporting has used the words "cult" or "harem") confined during his stints in the city.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Workshop explores alternatives to calling cops during mental health crises

Posted By on 08.06.18 at 01:00 PM

Timmy Rose of the People's Response Team playacts a moment of distress at the  workshop on alternatives to calling police during mental health crises. - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • Timmy Rose of the People's Response Team playacts a moment of distress at the workshop on alternatives to calling police during mental health crises.

About two dozen people gathered in a community arts space in West Town on Saturday morning for a workshop titled "Alternatives to Calling Police During Mental Health Crises." The training was hosted by Make Yourself Useful—a group "committed to actively fortifying POC-led racial justice movements"—and led by abolitionist organizers from disability rights group Nothing About Us Without Us and the People's Response Team. Armed with statistics about the deadliness of police encounters for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, and a familiarity with the depth—or lack thereof—of police Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, the organizers introduced attendees to a variety of strategies for helping people experiencing a crisis to cope with it without dialing 911.

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Donald Trump is Bruce Rauner’s useful idiot—and vice versa

Posted By on 08.06.18 at 06:00 AM

Governor Bruce Rauner, Donald Trump - SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTOS
  • Sun-Times file photos
  • Governor Bruce Rauner, Donald Trump

If you want to know why Bruce Rauner doesn't know what to say about  Donald Trump, consider the fallout from the president's latest Twitter war juxtaposed with POTUS's proposed capital gains tax cut.

One of which got a ton of publicity, the other almost none at all.

The tweet storm has to do with LeBron James, superstar basketball player, and CNN news anchor Don Lemon.

For reasons unknown to rational human beings, Trump felt compelled to fire up his cell phone at roughly 10:30 PM Friday to tweet the following:

"Lebron [sic] James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike!"

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Mental health advocates are battling self-proclaimed ‘gangster’ alderman Willie Cochran over an empty lot

Posted By on 08.03.18 at 06:00 AM

Mental Health Movement organizer Ronald Jackson decried alderman Willie Cochran's plan to remove the "Healing Village" from an empty lot in Woodlawn. - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • Mental Health Movement organizer Ronald Jackson decried alderman Willie Cochran's plan to remove the "Healing Village" from an empty lot in Woodlawn.

A week after indicted 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran joked about being a "gangster" at an Aldermanic Black Caucus fund-raiser, constituents are pushing back against his plan to evict a pop-up mental health services project from a vacant lot in Woodlawn.

Advocates from Black Lives Matter Chicago, the #LetUsBreathe Collective, and Southside Together Organizing for Power's Mental Health Movement said at a press conference Thursday that earlier this year Cochran gave artist, art therapist, and SAIC instructor Leah Gipson permission to create an installation centered on mental health on a vacant stretch of city land along 63rd Street, between Woodlawn and Greenwood. Gipson (who is out of town and couldn't attend the press conference) was allowed to use the space between June and October, they told reporters.

Gipson organized community members to create the "Healing Village," where people could attend to their mental health. Yoga instructors, gardeners, social workers, and counselors have donated their skills and time to offer free classes and talk therapy sessions on the site since early July. Project Fielding—an organizations that teaches women and gender nonconforming people to use power tools and design structures—built a couple of plywood sheds for storage and meetings. Over the last several weeks the "village" took on the air of #LetUsBreathe Collective's Freedom Square encampment, which offered free food, social services, and activities for kids in the Lawndale community during the summer of 2016. The organizers of the Healing Village brought tents, provided food and water, pitched a small vegetable and herb garden. The vacant lot has become a friendly space to gather and process both personal and collective struggles.

But Cochran—who didn't return calls for comment—apparently doesn't approve of the project. At the press conference, Mental Health Movement organizer Amika Tendaji said the alderman was moving to evict the encampment if it's not gone by Sunday. She said that after driving by the Healing Village at its official launch in early July Cochran told Gipson the space would need to be cleared by August 5 at the latest and that she'd need a $1 million insurance policy for the structures in the meantime. Though organizers have raised enough money to buy insurance for the site, Cochran hasn't budged from his eviction plan, Tendaji said.

The "Healing Village" has become a rallying point for those who've lost loved ones to police and street violence - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • The "Healing Village" has become a rallying point for those who've lost loved ones to police and street violence

Nortasha Stingley, whose 19-year-old daughter Marissa Boyd-Stingley was shot and killed in 2013, said she'd been enjoying the empty lot as a place to pray and walk in the mornings since moving to Woodlawn in February. The arrival of the Healing Village made the lot even more important for her. "I feel that this lot should be for parents who have suffered loss to gun violence," she said. "We need a space where we can come, we can meditate, we can be creative and we can have peace . . . throughout the city, with so much violence going on, we need some type of comfort." 

Woodlawn's only public mental health clinic was among those shut down by the city in 2012. At the time, Mental Health Movement members and other organizers chained themselves to the doors of the clinic in protest; nearly two dozen were arrested.

"My point of view is he's trying to shut it down because there's no money involved in this for him," said Dorothy Holmes, whose son, Ronald "Ronnieman" Johnson III, was killed by Chicago police officer George Hernandez just eight days before officer Jason Van Dyke killed Laquan McDonald in 2014.

"The healing space takes a lot of stress off of me when I come here," Holmes continued. "We're not here trying to start no riot or no crime or anything like that." Immediately after its launch, the Healing Village served as a rallying point and decompression space for activists who clashed with police in the wake of the July 14 shooting of Harith Augustus in South Shore. There's a string of colorful triangular flags bearing the names of others killed by CPD officers that hangs between two trees on the lot

Though the organizers claim Cochran flip-flopped on his support of Gipson's work once he saw that she wasn't just painting a mural on the site, WBBM Radio has reported that Cochran—a retired police officer—denies ever approve of Gipson's use of the city land. He also claimed the encampment doesn't have community support and that the land—which has been vacant for more than a decade—is currently open for development proposals.
Organizers vowed to resist an impending eviction of the "Healing Village." - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • Organizers vowed to resist an impending eviction of the "Healing Village."
Ronald Jackson, a Mental Health Movement member and 14-year resident of Woodlawn, disputed this. "We have addressed many times . . . the need to open up and revitalize the mental health services that are so desperately needed in the 77 communities that make up this metropolis," he said. "[The Healing Village] is something that's good in the community, the community has thrived off of it, embraced it."

The organizers made it clear they wouldn't be forced out without a fight. "Probably Sunday we could expect bulldozers," Tendaji said, but they plan to stand their ground. "There will be a corps of us here who are determined to resist and stay...people will be here trying to hold the space."

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Urban Renewal Brewing’s cofounder says the controversial name ‘has nothing to do with urban redevelopment’ policies

Posted By on 08.01.18 at 06:00 AM

  • Urban Renewal Brewery

The cofounder of Urban Renewal Brewing says he hopes critics "can see the bright side" of the name of his new establishment.

On Monday, Block Club Chicago published a short feature about the brewery under the headline "Small But Mighty Urban Renewal Brewing Plans To Grow In Ravenswood." Some Chicagoans responded by taking to social media to express outrage about the "tone-deaf" name of the brewery and the name of its IPA—"Razed."
James Moriarty, the cofounder and head brewer of the seven-month-old Ravenswood facility (and not to be confused with Sherlock Holmes's fictional rival), says urban renewal wasn't meant to refer to the mid-20th-century public policy in which federal funds were used to raze neighborhoods for redevelopment. About 23,000 families in Chicago—disproportionately poor people and people of color—were displaced by urban renewal programs between 1950 and 1966 according to a study released by the University of Richmond earlier this year.

Moriarty says the term was instead meant to specifically refer to the renewal of the 4,500-square-foot facility at 5121 N. Ravenswood. (Metropolitan Brewing had previously operated out of the space for years before moving to Avondale in 2017.)

"There's the opportunity for the negative side of the term to come out, but people don't need to look at the bad side of our interpretation of [urban renewal]," says Moriarty. "It has nothing to with urban redevelopment, necessarily. Hopefully, people can see the bright side of what we're trying to do, and not harp on the past."  Moriarty, who says he's been living in Chicago full-time for about a year, claims he was unaware of any specific controversy about the name and also notes that the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce didn't have any problems with it. "Everyone knew the idea was supposed to be we were renewing this old brewing space and the community has been very supportive," he says.

He adds that picking a name was "a challenge" because so many names were already trademarked. His first choice, Wicked River, had been taken by a distillery in Tennesee. "With 6,600 breweries in the U.S., it was a challenge to come up with something." Urban Renewal was the last name on a list of 30 names he submitted for a DBA. "Once it came back clean, we committed to it," Moriarty says.

Urban Renewal Brewing isn't the only brewery whose name has generated controversy recently. Less than a week after a brewery in Lakeville, Indiana, announced it was naming its beers "Flint Michigan Tap Water," "Black Beer Matters," "Mass Graves," and "White Guilt," the Lakeville Brew Crew apologized and in a statement said, "the list of beer names has been wiped clean."

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