The Bleader | Blog + Reader, Politics blog posts


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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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."

Continue reading »

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Monday, August 6, 2018

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!"

Continue reading »

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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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Friday, July 27, 2018

Black Caucus members eject protesters from fund-raiser, call themselves ‘gangsters’

Posted By on 07.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser. - @NOCOPACADEMY
  • @NoCopAcademy
  • Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser.

"Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don’t really care
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Always backs the mayor
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don't vote with us
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!"

So chanted a cluster of young people gathered outside the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser at a Loop cocktail lounge Wednesday evening. Just an hour before, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released body camera footage of the June 6 police shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Granton Jr. Inside the lounge, more activists from Black Lives Matter, BYP100, and other groups confronted black City Council members about their support of the Chicago Police Department. Ardamis Sims of GoodKidsMadCity and Assata's Daughters interrupted remarks by 34th Ward alderman Carrie Austin shouting "No cop academy! No cop academy!" in protest of the city's plan to build a $95 million, state of the art police training facility on the west side.

"Shut up," Austin bellowed in response. The fund-raiser attendees erupted in cheers of approval. "Goodbye!," she shouted as Sims was pushed out of the lounge by security. "We're here to have a good time; if you want to protest take it outside."

"They must not know we got gangsters in here," 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran chimed in, egging on the crowd. Last year Cochran—a retired police officer who's been indicted on fraud, bribery, and extortion charges—announced he wouldn't be running for reelection.

"If anybody else wanna protest you better take it outside," Austin said, laughing. "'Cause I guarantee you ain't seen no gangsters like this city's aldermen."

All of this was caught on video by other protesters inside the lounge. Watching in the crowd outside were also the sisters of Granton Jr.

Joanna Varnado, Granton Jr's 31-year-old sister, said she'd come to the protest that night in the hopes of hearing a response from aldermen about the killing of her brother. Since the incident, she said her family hadn't heard from any elected officials. "I just wanted some answers," she said. "Everybody knows my brother was murdered, and I wanna know how [the aldermen] feel."

Her impression, she said, was that "they didn't care. Some of them were drunk. They was in there partying, eating, dancing, laughing." It stung especially hard, she said, because these were black officials. "These are our people. When you see stuff like that it's like, Is there gonna be justice?"

Varnado said she appreciated the support of the youth protesting the event. "They showed us love and respect for my brother—it felt good," she said.

Sims, a 21-year-old from Washington Park, said he wanted to interrupt the gathering of aldermen because "they were talking about stuff that didn't relate to us, our people, our community." Sims remained at the protest, chanting, and helping with the die-in outside after being ejected. Watching the video of Austin and Cochran's comments later, he said he was hurt. For the aldermen to call themselves gangsters seemed particularly crude to him given the violence in the city. He says it was a reminder that young people need to be registered to vote and to be self-reliant: "Use your head, think, 'cause we all we got."

Austin didn't return calls for comment. Cochran, reached at his ward office Thursday, laughed when asked what he meant when he referred to the aldermen as "gangsters."

"It was a joke," he explained.

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Lake Shore Drive marchers: Here's the real lowdown on the city's budget

Posted By on 07.27.18 at 01:57 AM

Tio Hardiman, Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, and Eric Russell, organizers of the August 2 march intended to shut down Lake Shore Drive - SAM CHARLES/SUN-TIMES
  • Sam Charles/Sun-Times
  • Tio Hardiman, Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, and Eric Russell, organizers of the August 2 march intended to shut down Lake Shore Drive

With activists Tio Hardiman and other activists preparing to march on Lake Shore Drive toward Wrigley Field next Thursday, demanding more equity in city spending, I figure it's as good a time as ever to make sure west- and south-siders are wise to a little scam called the tax increment financing program.

Oh, yeah, I see eyes glazing over as I write this.

That typically happens when I mention tax increment financing. The sleepier you are, the less you're paying attention.

So, to your first question: What's "tax increment financing?," otherwise known as TIF(s)?

Boiled down to the basics, it's in effect a surcharge slapped on your property tax bills that generates well over $500 million a year.

Property-tax payers think the money's going to schools, parks, police, etc, but it really winds up in bank accounts largely controlled by the mayor. It's his favorite source of slush.

As I may have pointed out a few times over the years.

This year, the generous property-tax payers of Chicago have funneled about $660 million to the TIF bank accounts, according to the latest report by Cook County clerk David Orr.

That's up $99 million from the $561 million in TIF money we gave the mayor last year, and up nearly $200 million from the $461 million we gave him in 2016. All told, Mayor Rahm’s TIFs have scooped up about $1.68 billion in property taxes in the last three years, even as he was swearing up and down that there wasn't enough money for schools or mental health clinics.

Man, you can open a lot of mental health clinics with $1.68 billion.

So your next question is: How can the mayor get away with running a slush fund of such proportions? And the answer is that a powerful mayor can get away with just about anything so long as no one’s paying close attention.

And, well, in all due respect, south- and west-siders, when it comes to TIFs, you've done a lousy job of paying attention.

The TIF program is intended to subsidize development in poor, blighted communities that without the sweetener of TIF assistance would find it hard to get any development at all.

Alas, instead, as you can see in Orr’s latest report, most of the TIF money goes to more upscale and rapidly gentrifying communities in and around the Loop.

It's the poor communities TIFs are supposedly intended for—like Englewood, Roseland, Austin, and North Lawndale—that get the least amount of TIF money.

A point I recently made with regard to the 79th Street TIF, where Saint Sabina, the church of Father Michael Pfleger, is located.

How does the mayor get away with spending so much anti-poverty money in neighborhoods that aren't poor? Like I said, folks—it pays to pay attention.

As you can see, I can go on and on about TIFs. It’s one of my favorite subjects—I’ve been writing about them for more than 30 years. I have to admit I'm impressed by the utter audacity of this mayor—and the one who went before him—for even trying to pull off such a scam.

Of course, they have many enablers—like most members of the City Council. With a few exceptions—what's up, Alderman Scott Waguespack?—they'll let the mayor do anything he wants with TIFs, so long as every now and then he slices them a little piece of the pie.

Though if they're south- or west-side aldermen, it's more like a crumb.

Can anything be done to end this scam, or at least redirect more money to the truly needy?

I suppose. But, first—you have to be paying attention.

For instance, a few years ago a group of public school parents from the Raise Your Hand Coalition learned that the mayor planned to spend $55 million in TIF dollars building a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott in the south loop.

They raised a ruckus, demanding that he not spend money on DePaul while he was closing public schools.

In response the mayor took away the TIF money from DePaul and Marriott.

Of course, he largely replaced it with assistance from the state. And he wound up spending the $55 million on Navy Pier, which as I never tire of mentioning, is neither poor, blighted, nor a community.

Can he get away with doing that? Well, he did. The sad news, folks, is that the biggest municipal crimes in Chicago are the ones that are apparently legal.

A final word of warning . . .

If you raise a ruckus about TIFs, be prepared to hear a whole lot of gobbledygook from the mayor and his favorite aldermen—speaking of things I've written about one or two times.

They're betting that if they fill your ears with misinformation and doublespeak, you'll get confused and you'll just go away. So they can go back to taking money for the poor and giving it to the rich.

I don't blame them for thinking this way. They've been getting away with it for years.

But you organizers calling for the heads of Mayor Rahm and police chief Eddie Johnson can take a tip from me: Questions about TIFs are to Rahm as water is to the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

We need a citywide hearing for the Lincoln Yards project

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Sterling Bay's proposed $5 billion redevelopment of roughly 70 acres along the Chicago River between North and Webster - STERLING BAY
  • Sterling Bay
  • Sterling Bay's proposed $5 billion redevelopment of roughly 70 acres along the Chicago River between North and Webster

Before the city approves one dime for the massive Lincoln Yards redevelopment project, I propose we have at least one public hearing somewhere outside the north-side community where the project will go.

Ideally, the meeting would take place in a blighted, low-income west- or south-side community that could really use some of the millions that Mayor Rahm's getting ready to throw at Lincoln Yards.

Maybe it would feature speakers from Black Lives Matter, the Fraternal Order of Police, Karen Lewis, or mayoral challengers like Garry McCarthy, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, or Troy LaRaviere—or anyone who has the fortitude to ask questions the mayor doesn't want to answer.

As in—how much will this sucker cost, and what will we get in return?

Lincoln Yards is the glitzy $5 billion redevelopment project proposed by developer Sterling Bay for 70 or so acres of land between North and Webster on the North Branch of the Chicago River.

To say it's transformational is an understatement.

Sterling Bay is proposing to take a vast industrial land of factories, scrap yards, dumps, and warehouses,and turn it into an upscale community of high-rises, apartments, houses, condos, restaurants, bars, shops, a music arena run by Live Nation, and a 20,000-seat soccer stadium intended for a team owned by Tom Ricketts of the Cubs.

I'm telling you, everyone's getting in on this.

To facilitate the deal, Mayor Rahm already closed the garbage fleet facility across the street from my beloved Hideout—and moved it to Englewood on the south side.

Then he sold that vacant fleet facility land to Sterling Bay. Then he used some of the proceeds from that sale to buy land for police training center on the west side.

You got to learn to connect the dots, Chicago.

Continue reading »

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Study: Aldermanic prerogative is reinforcing Chicago’s segregation problem

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 06:00 AM

Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) at a 2017 City Council meeting. Napolitano recently invoked aldermanic prerogative to block an affordable housing proposal in his northwest-side ward.

A new study published by the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance claims that "aldermanic prerogative"—a customary practice that isn't articulated anywhere in city law—is being used to reinforce the boundaries of Chicago's historically segregated communities.

Aldermanic prerogative is a longstanding tradition: If a local alderman objects to a development in her ward, other aldermen will reject that development as well. The same is true when an alderman champions a particular development in his ward. According to the study, aldermen can use this power to make their ward unappealing for affordable housing development and ultimately reject inclusive housing proposals.

"It's not just influence, it's the power to kill a project." says Kate Walz, vice president of advocacy at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and a contributor to the study. "[Developers] said it wasn't even worth the effort in many wards because there's a high cost associated with planning and it can be quickly scuttled by the alderman."

The report also highlights aldermen's power to "downzone" in their wards. Downzoning occurs when an area is assigned a lower development density than previously permitted, meaning developers can only propose housing within that limit. Downzoning constrains the number of housing units that a property could bring to the ward, thereby "artificially [limiting] the supply of dwelling units, inflating both housing and land costs in a neighborhood and eliminating the financial feasibility of affordable housing on a broader basis," the study claims. Walz adds that once an area gets downzoned, "developers are put back into the aldermanic machine."

Local zoning committees created by aldermen and made up of homeowners in the ward can also limit and revise proposed plans for affordable housing, forcing developers to invest in new architectural plans and zoning requests. The study argues that aldermanic control over zoning policy has resulted in the disproportionate use of downzoning in predominantly white wards, citing that 55% of all downzonings since 1970 have happened in 14 majority-white wards.

"Since 1970, the average majority-white ward has downzoned or landmarked 0.46 square feet of space for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning in their wards," states the study, whereas "wards with a majority-black and/or Latinx population have downzoned 0.09 square feet for every remaining foot of multifamily zoning [in] their wards" over the same span of time. The use of downzoning in predominantly white and low-poverty wards has created a hostile environment for inclusive housing proposals—particularly affordable family housing—the study claims.

Developers who want to build it thus focus their attention on the few wards that are "safer bets—areas where affordable housing has previously been approved." In segregated Chicago, this means housing suitable for lower-income families is concentrated in lower-income black and Latinx wards.

"On its face, this does not seem problematic," says Patricia Fron, executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, "but when we look at it from a historical perspective, it is very clear that the prerogative has been used to restrict access to white communities out of anti-black racism."

The study claims that at the heart of aldermanic prerogative is political reputation. Whether it's dealing with developers, constituents, or even the mayor, aldermen must "navigate a clamor of interests . . . compelling many aldermen to do not what is best for the city of even their ward but what will least damage their . . . chances of reelection."

In a July 17 letter to the Chicago Tribune, Michael Sullivan seemed to confirm this point when he argued against the study's claims. He writes that aldermanic prerogative helps homeowners keep their alderman accountable. "No one should have any zoning authority in my neighborhood except my alderman," Sullivan writes, "Let my alderman wear the collar for the zoning decisions in my ward. Then I can reward or punish him at the ballot box."

The study also claims that the result of constituent influence over zoning and development through aldermanic prerogative is "a culture where aldermen in predominantly white and low-poverty areas erect barriers to affordable housing to preserve the status quo."

Meanwhile, other wards have to build more than their equitable share of affordable housing "because, if it is not built in their wards, it will not be built at all." Fron adds that this struggle to accommodate affordable housing means "the city is unable to fulfill its civil rights obligations."

"This is a matter of constituents controlling the look of the neighborhood, the racial makeup," says Walz. "There is a practice here of essentially not voting, of deferring to the vote of one alderman out of 50. It is depriving the city of Chicago of a fair and objective process. It is allowing one person, or someone under the influence of their constituents, to make that decision, and that appears to be an unlawful delegation of power over land use and zoning in the city of Chicago."  v

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Does the Second Amendment apply to black people?

Posted By on 07.20.18 at 07:17 AM

Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15. - COLIN BOYLE/SUN-TIMES
  • Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
  • Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15.

With all the attention focused on the police shooting of Harith Augustus in South Shore, the silence coming from the gun rights groups is deafening.

I mean, just about everyone else has weighed in, one way or the other, on the July 14 shooting, including Black Lives Matter activists, Mayor Rahm, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

But not a word from the normally loquacious spokespeople for the National Rifle Association like Dana Loesch, Oliver North, or Wayne LaPierre.

And it's weird, 'cause if ever there were a case tailor-made for the NRA to join—or even lead—it would be this one.

Consider what we know from the footage released by Chicago police.

It's Saturday evening. Augustus is standing on the sidewalk outside the barbershop where he works, on 71st Street near Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore.

Several police officers approach him. We don't what they're saying because there's no sound in the body camera footage released by the police department.

It looks as though one officer is asking Augustus for an ID. Augustus reaches for his wallet. Another police officer reaches for his arm, as if to handcuff him. Augustus breaks for the street. As he turns, his shirt lifts, revealing what looks to be a handgun holstered at his waist.

It's then that he's shot by a probationary officer, who hasn't been identified.

Defenders of the police say Augustus was reaching for his gun, so the cops had no choice but to shoot him before he shot them.

Putting that matter to the side, the great unknown is why the police approached Augustus in the first place.

I mean, he was doing no wrong. He was bothering no one.

He wasn't a known offender. He had no record apart from "three minor arrests" dating back years ago, as the Tribune put it.

The official police explanation, offered by spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, is that Augustus was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

But that's no crime—owning a gun. Augustus even had a firearm owners' identification card (FOID) for it. True, carrying a weapon on the public way without the appropriate permit is a crime—unlawful use of a weapon. But it's not hard to understand why he, a registered gun owner, would be. He's a barber—a cash-heavy business—in a relatively high-crime area.

It's at this point in the discussion where the NRA's voice is noticeably absent.

Because as Loesch, North, and LaPierre never tire of saying, there's nothing wrong with owning a gun.

Quite the contrary, as they see it, it's a fundamental right, enshrined by the founders in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which of course states: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I've heard NRA members invoke this sacred right every time anyone calls for gun control, even in the aftermath of horrific mass murders. Such as when . . .

Adam Lanza shot 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Or Dylann Roof shot nine people during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Or Stephen Paddock shot 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

And so on.

The right to bear arms is championed by all the leading Republicans in the land, including Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, the judge he's just nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, a few years ago, one Chicago police officer caused a stir when he allowed himself to be photographed holding an American flag and standing behind a sign that read: “I stand for the Anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the 2nd Amendment.”

And yet the police approached Augustus, as he stood on the sidewalk bothering no one, because they thought he was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

This case should boil the blood of any self-respecting Second Amendment advocate. Indeed, Loesch, North, and LaPierre should be marching with the Black Lives Matters activists in their demonstrations for justice.

But you know how it goes. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's anti-union Janus decision, it's obvious that Republicans think the First Amendment is only supposed to protect the speech of conservatives—certainly not football players, like Colin Kaepernick, who kneel during the National Anthem.

And apparently, the NRA thinks the Second Amendment only applies to white people.

Correction: This post has been emended to correctly reflect that carrying a gun without a firearms permit is a crime, whether or not one has a firearm owners' identification card.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Rauner showers praise on Mike Pence, leaving no doubt how he feels about gay marriage

Posted By on 07.16.18 at 06:00 AM

Governor Bruce Rauner and Vice President (and former Indiana governor) Mike Pence - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Governor Bruce Rauner and Vice President (and former Indiana governor) Mike Pence

It's been almost a week since Governor Rauner was outed for attending—maybe even officiating—the wedding of a gay friend.

And he still hasn't commented on it.

The Sun-Times ran a picture featuring Rauner reading something from his cell phone at a recent wedding ceremony—either the wedding oath or some sort of celebratory speech or poem.

Maybe he was reading "Funeral Blues," by W.H. Auden, always a favorite at gay weddings.

For all I know Four Weddings and a Funeral—where that poem plays a key role—is Rauner's favorite movie of the 90s.

Though if you asked him, I'm sure Rauner would probably say it was Goodfellas—you know, something more in line with his all-out effort to convince Trump-loving voters he's really one of them.

Obviously, the governor's hoping the whole gay marriage things blows over really fast so he can get back trying to woo the far-right vote he needs to defeat J. B. Pritzker in November's election.

Good luck with that, governor.

After the wedding story broke on the Illinois Review, a conservative website, Rauner's been blasted by right-wingers.

First he supports HB 40—the abortion rights bill—and now gay marriage! What's next, the abolition of ICE?

"It's clear that the governor has learned nothing from his near-loss in the Republican primary this year," the Illinois Family Institute's executive director, David E. Smith, told the Illinois Review. "He's not interested in attracting social conservatives to get out and vote Republican this fall."

Reading Smith's lament makes me realize yet another double standard of the right.

Conservatives love to mock liberals for their political correctness. But liberal PC is tame compared to the straitjacket that shackles Republicans like Rauner, who feels compelled to drop his g's, pose in working-class Carhartt gear, ride a Harley, and talk up his love for weaponry—anything to divert attention from the fact that he actually has a gay friend, much less that he attended that friend's gay wedding.

To drive home the point, Rauner made sure he was on hand at Friday's Republican fund-raiser in Rosemont, featuring Vice President Mike Pence, one of the most notorious homophobes in the Trump White House.

In 2015, when he was governor of Indiana, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an abominable attempt to legitimize discrimination against gays on the grounds that you can't compel someone to serve someone if it violates their religious convictions.

Jim Crow-loving racists all over the south much have been thinking—religious liberty? Dang, man, how come we didn't think of that?

Rauner opened the fund-raiser in Rosemont with the following ode to Pence . . .

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

Oh, wait—that's the Auden poem. My bad.

No, here's what Rauner actually had to say: "Mike Pence, along with President Trump, are doing it for every American right now. Let's hear it for them."

I guess desperate times require desperate measures. Rauner's always walked a tightrope around social conservatives and Trump. In 2014, he ran as though he were agnostic on social issues—said he had no social agenda—in the hopes of winning suburban moderates and social conservatives.

For the longest time he wouldn't mention Trump's name or even say who he voted for in 2016.

But now, down in the polls and worried about losing Republican voters to state senator Sam McCann, who's running as an independent, he's openly in the president's arms.

So he throws his friends under the bus to win the votes of bigots. Shame, shame on you, Bruce Rauner.

I realize that President Obama went through his own evolution on gay marriage.

At first, back in the 1990s, Obama was for it—when he was running for state senator from liberal Hyde Park.

Then he was against it, when he was running statewide for Senator in 2004.

And then, once he was safely reelected as president for his final term, he was for it again.

But I’ll give Obama this. He finessed the issue to try to get elected so he could do something noble, such as pass an universal—if watered down—national health-care plan.

Rauner's playing the role of a bigot in order to get reelected so he can go back to his main agenda of destroying public education and eradicating unions.

The governor's behavior is just one example of the way we’ve regressed as a civilization in the age of Trump.

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