The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Friday, August 17, 2018

ThoughtPoet is on a mission to capture the beauty in black Chicago

Posted By today at 01.00 PM

ThoughtPoet self portrait - CHRIS THOUGHTPOET
  • Chris ThoughtPoet
  • ThoughtPoet self portrait

"I like to describe myself as a creative rather than a photographer," says Christopher "ThoughtPoet" Brown. "Sometimes I feel like the label is limiting. I write, I act, and I try to do more with my photos than just capture moments."

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Queen Key at Summer Smash and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By today at 06.00 AM

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There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Meg and Joe Piercy of MegMade give new life to old furniture

Posted By today at 06.00 AM

MegMade's new storefront in Bucktown - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • MegMade's new storefront in Bucktown

When life gives you a contractor who steals all your cash . . . renovate a hand-me-down dresser for your newborn, impress your friends, and make a successful business out of it! That's basically the story of Meg and Joe Piercy of MegMade, a five-year-old furniture shop that has recently relocated to Bucktown.

Meg Piercy  in the storage room at the new facility - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • Meg Piercy in the storage room at the new facility

"We were broke and pregnant," says Meg. "Now my husband and I work full-time together for MegMade and are definitely out of the rough patch"—she's even carrying a third child. In a way the handy couple still continue in the renovation business, selling their refinished furniture on an almost industrial scale: they currently employ 15 people (many of whom come from the ailing automotive industry) and ship their items across the country to more than 36 states.

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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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Getting dizzy at Ravinia when the CSO plays Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score

Posted By on 08.15.18 at 12:03 PM

COURTESY OF RAVINIA FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy of Ravinia Festival

OK, film fans: What does Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock's hypnotic 1958 psychodrama and the current holder of the "Best Film Ever" title in the prestigious British Film Institute's critics' ranking, have in common with the flick it replaced at the top of that list, Citizen Kane?

Composer Bernard Herrmann.

Herrmann wrote the scores for both those films, and for a raft of other classics, including Psycho and Taxi Driver.

How much of a role did his music play in their success?

Herrmann could make even long takes of the 20th-century's iconic movie nice guy, Jimmy Stewart, cruising behind the wheel of a 1950s DeSoto, into menacing nail-biters. Tonight's program at the Ravinia Festival will  pull the curtain back and let you judge for yourself about this least recognized but arguably most important factor in film impact: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play Herrmann's spell-casting Vertigo score as the film runs, both in the pavilion and on a giant lawn screen.

And Stewart's costar, the archetypal Hitchcock ice blond, Kim Novak (who survived both Hitch and—after her 2014 Oscars appearance—an infamous Trump tweet), is slated to be on hand to introduce the film.

It promises to be the best kind of audiovisual overload.

CSO: Vertigo Wed 8/15, 8 PM (park opens 5 PM), Ravinia, 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park, 847-266-5100, ravinia.org, $25-$90, $25 lawn. 

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A psychedelic migraine on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 08.15.18 at 06:00 AM

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ARTIST: Bill Connors
SHOW: Glyders, Flamingo Rodeo, Ruins, and Dehd Hed DJz at the Empty Bottle on Mon 8/27
MORE INFO: instagram.com/billconnors

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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
  • 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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The scrappy pre-Code years of William A. Wellman — FilmStruck's director of the week

Posted By on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM

William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
  • William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
Even though William A. Wellman directed more than 80 films between 1920 and 1958—including the first Oscar-winner, Wings—he's still best known for the iconic 1931 James Cagney gangster film The Public Enemy. Streaming channel FilmStruck features Wellman as their "director of the week" and we've picked five of his 1930s pre-Code films, when he was at his best.

The Public Enemy
Time hasn't been terribly kind to this 1931 gangster drama, which suffers more than it should from the glitches of early sound. But James Cagney's portrayal of a bootlegging runt is truly electrifying (he'd already made three films, but this one made him a star), and Jean Harlow makes the tartiest tart imaginable. The famous grapefruit-in-the-kisser scene (the recipient is Mae Clarke) is only one of the fiercely misogynistic moments that stud the career of director William Wellman. With Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, and Donald Cook. 84 min. —Dave Kehr

Night Nurse
A William Wellman curiosity done for Warners in 1931, this gritty thriller, a favorite of film critic Manny Farber, is of principal interest today for its juicy early performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. Hard as nails, with lots of spunk. 72 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Safe in Hell
William Wellman directed this racy precode tale of a saucy prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill in a terrific performance) who unintentionally kills one of her clients and flees to a tropical island that serves as a haven for criminals. Awaiting the arrival of her true love (Donald Cook), she fends off lecherous advances from a motley assortment of international rogues, including the island's nefarious chief of law enforcement. Wellman's splendid direction animates an otherwise static script, deftly blending comedic moments with surprisingly dark undertones. This 1931 drama may lack the punch of Wellman's The Public Enemy, released the same year, but it's still a fine display of his talents. 73 min. —Reece Pendleton

Heroes for Sale
This scrappy, cynical pre-Code drama (1933) comes from the most fruitful period of William A. Wellman's career, when the director was turning out a half-dozen programmers like this on a yearly basis. Richard Barthelmess stars as a soldier who gets snubbed for decoration in World War I after a buddy takes credit for the act of heroism he performed in battle. The protagonist develops a morphine addiction while recovering from his wounds but pulls himself back up, only to descend and ascend the social ladder several more times. Wellman crams an astonishing amount of narrative incident into the short running time, with more developments every ten minutes than most contemporary Hollywood productions cover in their entirety. This is also bracingly egalitarian, attacking the hypocrisy of communists and capitalists alike. 71 min. —Ben Sachs

Wild Boys of the Road
The underrated William A. Wellman made many neglected classics during the Depression, and this 1933 feature is one of the very best—a Warners social drama with Frankie Darro as a boy who leaves his parents to save them the burden of his support and joins up with a gang of similarly disenfranchised kids who wind up riding the rails. Pungent stuff. 68 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Folksinger Kristin Lems has been a favorite of the women’s movement—and of Dr. Demento

Posted By on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM


Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who've been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place. Older strips are archived here.

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August 17
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