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Friday, July 13, 2018

Father Pfleger, top cop Johnson, and a tinge of hope for the city’s future

Posted By on 07.13.18 at 12:00 PM

Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday. - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, I must say the sight of Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson and Father Michael Pfleger walking arm in arm down the Dan Ryan at last weekend's protest march left me with a tinge of hope about the future of Chicago.

Oh God, I feel really naive just writing that.

Yes, I realize Johnson was at the march only at Rahm's permission.

And of course, I understand that Father Pfleger has generally been an ally to Emanuel, as he was to Mayor Daley—despite the major roles both have played in perpetuating the economic inequities Pfleger denounces.

But as long as Johnson and Pfleger are united in demanding that something must change to lessen the inequities in this town, I'm eager to join the chorus.

So allow me to direct them to the giant cookie jar the mayor doesn't want any of us to know even exists.

It's called the tax increment financing program, and each year upwards of $500 million or so of property tax dollars pours into it. Last year, the take was $566 million. The county has'nt itemized this year's TIF take yet.

Basically, state law allows the mayor to slap a surcharge on the property tax we pay for things we want—like schools and cops. And then that money gets diverted into bank accounts controlled by the mayor, who's pretty much free to spend it on things we might not want.

One of the worst parts of the TIF scam is that the money is not evenly distributed ward by ward. Instead, most of the money goes to gentrifying communities, even though the program was intended to eradicate blight in low-income communities.

For example, there's the North Branch South TIF district near North Avenue and the Chicago River—in one of the hottest areas of town, where Jeff Bezos is thinking of moving his second Amazon headquarters.

Since it was created in 1998, it's gathered about $89 million in property tax money.

In contrast, there's the 79th Street Corridor TIF, which was also created in 1998. Pfleger's church, Saint Sabina, happens to be located in that TIF district. It's gathered about $12.7 million.

So let's get this straight. In the same 20 years, the booming north-side community has collected $89 million and the struggling south-side neighborhood has collected $12.7 million in TIF dollars.

In what universe is that fair, just, or right?

Pfleger's community isn't the only victim of the TIF scam. TIF dollars are diverted from all Chicago's schools, parks, libraries, and police.

I tend to focus on how schools have been shortchanged by the TIF program. But the police department could also use some of that money.

Wednesday's Sun-Times had a somber story by Fran Spielman about Brandon Krueger, a 36-year-old police officer who committed suicide last Sunday while sitting in his squad car in the parking lot of the Calumet District station.

"Officers have very high rates of exposure to trauma similar to the communities in which they serve," Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Sun-Times. "You wear your vest. You carry your weapon. You make sure you go home at the end of the night. We do everything to mitigate physical injury to our law enforcement. We have to do the same for their mental wellness."

And yet, according to the Sun-Times, the CPD's "employee assistance program has only three full-time counselors to provide mental health services to 13,500 employees and their families."

You could hire a whole lot of police counselors with just a little of the TIF cash that flows into the one north-side district.

Just to remind you, Mayor Rahm infamously closed mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas as part of his infamous budget, unanimously approved by the City Council in 2011.

There wasn't enough money to keep the clinics open, the mayor said.

Apparently, black people have more in common with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods than anyone realized.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The life and death of Laverne Williams

Posted By on 04.26.18 at 06:00 AM

A family in West Garfield Park in 1983 - BOB BLACK
  • Bob Black
  • A family in West Garfield Park in 1983

Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Laverne Williams would have turned 50 years old this year. But she was killed by a fire in her West Garfield Park apartment on January 27, 1988, when she was just 19. Before she died, she managed to pass her two younger children through the window to her brother, who was standing outside in the alley. They were badly burned, but they survived.

At the funeral, mourners talked about how devoted Laverne had been to her kids. "Laverne, she always watched her kids," said her mother, Gloria. "If she didn't have nobody to watch 'em and she goin' somewhere, she'd take 'em with. The ones who go off and leave 'em, ain't nothin' happen to them."

Steve Bogira's story about Laverne's death, "A Fire in the Family," was ostensibly about the high incidence of fires in West Garfield Park: many apartment buildings were old and uncared-for, and residents had to resort to portable heaters and leaving ovens and stoves on to stay warm in the winter. It was, in fact, a kerosene heater that had caused the fire that killed Laverne Williams. But the story very quickly expanded into something much more.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Akira Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den is the most beautiful movie in town this week

Posted By on 02.02.18 at 11:47 AM

  • Dodes'ka-den
Dodes'ka-den (1970), which screens from 35-millimeter this Sunday at 7 PM at Doc Films, might be described as Akira Kurosawa’s most Italian film. The exuberant, if grimy, depiction of lower-class life sometimes recalls Pier Paolo Pasolini, while the episodic structure, broad humor, and sentimentality evoke the films of Federico Fellini. And for some of the exterior shots, Kurosawa and crew members painted their physical surroundings so that they would appear especially colorful, a technique that Michelangelo Antonioni had tried out in Red Desert (1964). Yet for all these commonalities, Dodes'ka-den remains intensely personal; its central theme of finding refuge in dreams reflects the joy Kurosawa experienced in making movies. It’s not a perfect work—some of the episodes feel simplistic or overly sentimental—but it contains enough splendorous moments to make it worth seeing, especially on celluloid.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New report spotlights debt afflicting women in low-income black and Latino communities

Posted By on 01.31.18 at 10:20 AM

  • COFI/POWER-PAC Illinois

A new report conducted by Parents Organized to Win, Educate and Renew-Policy Action Council (POWER-PAC Illinois) focuses on the kinds of debt crippling parents face in very low-income communities in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. The report, called "Stopping the Debt Spiral," is based on surveys conducted by POWER-PAC members—themselves mostly low-income women of color—throughout 2016, and includes policy recommendations and information on campaigns already in the works to resolve some of the inequities discovered in the surveys.

Nearly 80 percent of 304 people surveyed were women. Nearly 60 percent said they lived on a household income of less than $15,000 per year, and two-thirds said they had no savings. Most respondents were between the ages of 31 and 60; half were single, 53 percent were black, and 37 percent were Latino. Almost 60 percent were Chicagoans, but POWER-PAC also surveyed parents in East Saint Louis, Elgin, and other communities. Most respondents felt trapped by credit card debt, car payments, and student loans, but those with the lowest incomes were also significantly burdened by past-due utility bills and city tickets.

Rosazlia Grillier a POWER-PAC member for more than ten years, says it was important that the survey was conducted by people who were themselves familiar with the problems it was trying to quantify. "Families that we work with and are part of our organization were being negatively impacted the most," she says. "We hosted a number of forums where we went through the actual survey with folks. We also took it to the street, we knocked on doors in our own community to build those relationships, so [respondents] could feel comfortable with giving honest answers." POWER-PAC emerged out of Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a nonprofit that trains low-income parents for civic and political participation and community organizing.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

How The Florida Project works wonders with cinematic time

Posted By on 10.20.17 at 01:50 PM

The Florida Project
  • The Florida Project
A pivotal scene in Sean Baker's The Florida Project comes near the end of the film. Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is eating breakfast at an Orlando hotel near the one where she lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite). Baker presents the little girl in close-up as she samples each item she took from the dining-room buffet and makes some cute comment about it, and he uses jump cuts to skip from one sampling to the next. The scene is subtly jarring, as jump cuts and close-ups haven't been crucial to the movie's visual grammar up until this point. With the conclusion only minutes away, it seems a little late for Baker to be introducing new visual ideas into his filmmaking. Yet the sense of starting over feels just right—throughout its duration, The Florida Project seems to be discovering itself, figuring out its structure as it goes along. That Baker would suggest that the picture's only beginning just when it's about to end is consistent with his aesthetic project.

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How Chicago’s Section 8 voucher voting bloc could sway local elections

Posted By on 10.20.17 at 10:56 AM

John Stevens ran for alderman of the 42nd Ward (which included Cabrini-Green) in 1969. But the Democratic machine held a tight grip on the projects and he lost to a white candidate who didn't bother campaigning. - SUN-TIMES PRINT COLLECTION
  • John Stevens ran for alderman of the 42nd Ward (which included Cabrini-Green) in 1969. But the Democratic machine held a tight grip on the projects and he lost to a white candidate who didn't bother campaigning.

In this week's cover story, I reported about "the Chicago Housing authority's sleeping giant"—the 47,000 households participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program (also known as Section 8)—and attempts of those residents to organize a representative group.

One thing that became clear during the reporting of the story is that this population is a significant (and significantly overlooked) voting bloc in Chicago. These households share interests, grievances, and experiences as surely as other demographic groups like women or homeowners or young professionals. If organized and mobilized to turn out to the polls as a bloc, voucher holders could hold significant sway over not just the government agencies shaping their lives, but over the broader political landscape of the city.

Of course many voucher holders are already voting, but I began wondering about the potential of their collective power. What would happen if candidates spoke to them as voucher holders the way they speak to union households? By analyzing Chicago Board of Elections data and voucher distribution data first reported by the the Sun-Times and BGA last year, I found that ten wards have a high enough voucher population to have decided their 2015 aldermanic races.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

This Mother’s Day, groups rally to support incarcerated moms

Posted By on 05.12.17 at 11:57 AM

  • Alexis Mansfield / Facebook

Ahead of Mother's Day this Sunday, a coalition of local groups has organized a variety of ways to bring immediate support to incarcerated moms and bring attention to the impact that imprisoning the primary caregivers of minor children has on families and communities.

On Friday, demonstrators will gather at noon at the Thompson Center for a rally in solidarity with incarcerated mothers. On Saturday at noon, a vigil and toiletry drive will be help in front of the Cook County Jail. Then, on Saturday May 20, two busloads of children and their caregivers will be taken to visit their moms at Logan and Decatur prisons in downstate Illinois, where more than 80 percent of the some 2,000 inmates are mothers of minor children.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Catch the magic-in-crimeland tale Sleight before it disappears from theaters

Posted By on 05.02.17 at 04:21 PM

  • Sleight

—which opened in wide release last Friday to little fanfare—is a minor film with major virtues: tenderness, imagination, and a strong grasp of character and setting. It takes place in working-poor Los Angeles, and one of its strengths is how it grounds the story in a palpable sense of economic desperation. The story features a young hustler who winds up in over his head—a conflict familiar from classic film noir—yet J.D. Dillard (directing a script he wrote with Alex Theurer) makes the archetypal premise feel fresh. The hustler is not an ordinary grifter, but a street magician, and his magic skills prove useful in getting him out of sticky situations. Moreover, his magic tricks are cool to watch—Dillard uses them to punctuate the story much like song-and-dance numbers punctuate a musical.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

South Shore is Chicago’s eviction capital

Posted By on 04.17.17 at 10:59 AM

A Cook County sheriff's deputy strolls outside a south-side building with a battering ram, which deputies use to enter units if tenants being evicted aren't home and the landlord doesn't have a key. - MAYA DUKMASOVA
  • Maya Dukmasova
  • A Cook County sheriff's deputy strolls outside a south-side building with a battering ram, which deputies use to enter units if tenants being evicted aren't home and the landlord doesn't have a key.

Of the dozen evictions one four-deputy squad from the Cook County sheriff's office set out to enforce on the south side last Friday, none ended in a screaming match, armed showdown, or hail of cockroaches from a broken-down doorjamb. No disgruntled tenant tried to punch a landlord, no dead bodies were found, nor any bathtubs full of weed—all things they say they've seen in the past. None of the deputies had to get deloused or throw out clothes contaminated with bedbugs; they didn't even need to rub Vicks under their noses before entering any of the units. It was a calm day by the deputies' standards—just a handful of muted tragedies.

Tenants who were home were escorted out in quiet resignation. At a Chicago Housing Authority building, a teenage girl and boy home alone were taken to a sergeant's car to wait for their mom while the maintenance man changed the lock behind them. At the team's last stop, deputy Christopher Kolosa stared down at a disco ball on the floor of a child's bedroom. "It's an eviction," he said. "It's an eviction," echoed deputy Marvin Marin with a shrug. They stuck a large neon-green "No Trespassing" sign on the front door, and marked the job as complete.

Some 30 members of the sheriff's eviction team fan out across Cook County every day to enforce anywhere from 40 to 80 eviction orders. The deputies' busiest and most unpredictable days take place in an area of the south side that includes South Shore—Cook County's eviction capital.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New study finds segregation costs Chicago billions in income, tens of thousands of college degrees, and hundreds of lives each year

Posted By on 03.28.17 at 12:01 AM

The remaining rowhouses of the Cabrini-Green public housing development stand empty as a new upscale apartment building is erected nearby. - RICH HEIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Rich Hein/Sun-Times
  • The remaining rowhouses of the Cabrini-Green public housing development stand empty as a new upscale apartment building is erected nearby.

A new study released Tuesday by the Metropolitan Planning Council found that Chicago-area segregation is costing the regional economy more than $4 billion in lost income, 83,000 college degrees, and hundreds of lives lost to homicides each year. The nonprofit urban planning and development group hopes to stimulate new policy solutions by demonstrating how racial and economic segregation leaves everyone in Chicagoland worse off, not just the people living in segregated areas.

The study was undertaken together with researchers from the Urban Institute and analyzed U.S. Census data going back to 1990 as well as economic indicators. It found that among the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas, Chicagoland is the tenth-most segregated region for African-Americans, the ninth-most segregated for Latinos, and the 20th-most economically segregated metro area. The authors also found that Chicagoland lags far behind metropolitan areas with comparable demographics in its rate of desegregation. Though white-black segregation in the area is declining by about 10 percent every 20 years, at the current rate it would take us until 2070 to reach today's national median levels.

"With lost income, lives, and potential on the line, we don't have that kind of time," the report states. "We need more deliberate interventions to accelerate our progress."

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