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On Laquan McDonald, Wisps of Smoke and Slivers of Change

Sun, 2015-11-29 07:24
Perhaps the most disturbing image from the Laquan McDonald dashcam video released Tuesday is the wisps of smoke.

They waft off the 17-year-old's body while he is crumpled in a heap after being shot multiples times, allegedly by indicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Whatever danger Van Dyke perceived when he fired the initial shots into McDonald, who was on drugs and had been behaving erratically, it's impossible to see what damage he could have done while on the ground.

The smoke that drifted in the October air came from a total of 16 bullets.

Hundreds of angry protesters chanted the number Tuesday night as they marched the streets of Chicago and issued calls for Police Chief Garry McCarthy's head. More protests are planned for the Thanksgiving weekend.

The topic of white police officers killing young black men has gripped the nation since last August, when Darren Wilson fatally shot Mike Brown in Ferguson.

The issue is not a new one.

In 2007 I investigated fatal police shootings in Chicago and the nation for The Chicago Reporter.

During the project we submitted multiple requests under Illinois' Freedom of Information Act asking for the reports the police compiled in their post-shooting procedure.

The process was shrouded in secrecy.

We fought for the information for more than a year, eventually receiving only a handful of heavily redacted reports.

Given the department's intransigence, we built a database of eight years of fatal shootings from area news sources like the Tribune and Sun-Times.

Along with a team of dedicated interns, we dug into hundreds, if not thousands, of court cases to determine if officers who had been the subject of wrongful death suits had been sued before.

We also looked at the department's internal discipline system.

The results were striking.

In Chicago and the nation's 10 largest cities, the victims were disproportionately black.

Close to half of Chicago officers sued in wrongful death suits had been sued before, and more than half of that group had been sued multiple times.

And of the more than six dozen fatal incidents that had taken place during the eight years, only one officer had faced internal discipline. That officer was later promoted by Phil Cline, the man who was superintendent at the time we did the project.

For the national part of the investigation we used data from the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report. The compilation of data submitted by individual police agencies, it has widely been criticized as inaccurate.

At the same time, Craig Futterman of the University of Chicago Law School and Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute were fighting to have records of alleged misconduct by police officers released to the public.

During the course of our investigation several young black men were shot and killed by the police.

Aaron Harrison, an 18-year-old African-American, was one of them.

His death led to protests but did not cause real political harm to then-Mayor Richard Daley, who had rolled to his sixth consecutive electoral victory earlier that year.

Daley created the Independent Police Review Authority in an effort, he said, to boost transparency and heighten accountability.

As horrifying as McDonald's death is, faint signs of progress are discernible in the circumstances surrounding the fact, release of and fallout from the video.

The video in which Van Dyke is alleged to have shot Laquan McDonald 16 times would not have existed eight years ago because police did not have those cameras on their dashboards.

The video's entering the public domain was the result of two Freedom of Information Act requests that Cook County Judge Frank Valderamma ordered the police department to honor.

The first-degree murder charge filed by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was the first such charge in 35 years, sources said.

News reports this morning pointed out that Van Dyke has been named in 20 misconduct complaints. Four are open and his actions have been deemed justified in the rest. The availability of this information is from a public records request in the Tribune and is part a result of Futterman and Kalven's victory in court in having those types of records introduced to the public.

British newspaper The Guardian has started an innovative project called The Counted in which the paper uses their reporting and verified crowdsourced information to get a more accurate count in real time of the number and demographics of people killed by police in the United States.

It's important not to overstate the good news.

As friend and former colleague Angela Caputo wrote in early 2014, the victims continue to be disproportionately African-American in Chicago. The IPRA's record of officer accountability remains spotty at best.

It would be naïve to think that the changes that have occurred have come voluntarily from the police or that the timing of Alvarez's indictment was not prompted by the release of the video which has been available for more than a year.

The criticism of Van Dyke's conduct by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and yesterday's firing by McCarthy of Dante Servin, the officer who killed Rekia Boyd after shooting over his shoulder, seem calculated and callous at best.

These slivers of change amidst substantial continuity illustrate the ongoing need to fight for a more just and open city whose streets far too often have been soaked with the blood of young black men, including one whose life literally went up in puffs of smoke.

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The Walmart Black Friday Protest Ain't What It Used To Be

Fri, 2015-11-27 13:59

WASHINGTON -- On the morning of Black Friday, a D.C. cop stood along the brick facade of a downtown Walmart and pulled leisurely on a cigarette. There was an anti-Walmart protest happening on the sidewalk in front of him, but he didn't have much work to do in the way of crowd control.

"Last year it was a lot bigger," the cop said of the demonstration. "And a lot more aggressive."

Indeed, last year, well over 100 protesters blocked traffic at the same street corner and had to be dispersed by police; workers and activists entered the store and sat in the aisles in silent protest. But this Friday, just a few dozen stood at Walmart's doors, chanting slogans about living wages and handing out flyers to customers leaving with bags of groceries. A store manager politely asked demonstrators to keep the doors clear.

The more subdued D.C. protest this year reflects changes at Walmart's longtime labor foe, the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Four years ago, the union launched OUR Walmart, a worker group agitating for higher pay and better working conditions at the world's largest retailer. The group went on to stage high-profile worker strikes that embarrassed Walmart and drew national headlines, creating a framework for the fast-food strikes that have fueled the minimum wage debate.

But the Walmart campaign started by UFCW has essentially split, with workers caught in the middle. The UFCW has scaled back its aggressive and expensive organizing at Walmart, instead turning its resources more toward advertising and public relations campaigns that call out problems with the retailer. In the runup to Black Friday, the union aired television ads and hosted food drives for Walmart employees in need. Meanwhile, a contingent of OUR Walmart has left, taking the name with it, as it seeks new funding. Operating independently, the group hosted protests in D.C., New York, Chicago and other cities on Friday. Workers affiliated with the group also took part in a 15-day fast leading up to the protests.

That means the D.C. protest happened without the formal backing of organized labor, and it showed. Fewer union members and activists showed up. And unlike in years past, there were no Walmart workers who had notified their employer they were on strike for the day. The sight of workers declaring a one-day walkout -- even if it was just one or a handful of them -- had lent the early Walmart protests much of their emotional power.

Only one Walmart employee spoke to the crowd -- Cindy Murray, a founding member of OUR Walmart, who was calling for $15 per hour and full-time hours for those who want them. Murray told The Huffington Post that she was grateful for the support from UFCW in the past, and said she was confident OUR Walmart would forge ahead independently and make gains for Walmart workers.

"We can't stop now. It's not time to stop," said Murray, a 16-year Walmart veteran and resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, who works at a different store in suburban Washington. "We're hoping they [UFCW] stand with us in the future, and we'll stand with them. Whatever they need, we'll be there."

Although UFCW played no role in Friday's protest, HuffPost encountered several former UFCW employees there, a sign of how dear the Walmart campaign is to those who worked on it. And there were other workers and organizers from like-minded campaigns, such as ROC United, a worker center seeking to raise the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers.

"We're out in solidarity," said Gaby Madriz, who directs the D.C. campaign of ROC United. "It's the same fight, just different sectors. It's not possible to live off the current minimum wage in D.C."

Although Walmart dismissed the protests as union-orchestrated stunts, the OUR Walmart strikes of recent years clearly rattled the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant. As recently chronicled in BusinessWeek, Walmart launched a counter-PR campaign aimed at minimizing the reputational damage of the protests. It even hired Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on activists. But without the UFCW pouring money into strikes and protests going forward, Walmart would appear to have much less to worry about on Black Friday.

That doesn't mean Walmart's communications team wasn't on the ground in D.C. on Friday. HuffPost was handed a statement from company spokesman Brian Nick, who said the company was "proud of the wages and benefits package we offer," including a matching 401(K) and quarterly cash bonuses. The company said D.C. employees earn $12.92 on average.

A company spokeswoman offered HuffPost the opportunity to speak with one of the employees on duty in the store, though she insisted she be able to sit in on the interview. The employee, Tracy Lewis, said there was a lot to like about Walmart, particularly the flexible hours. The schedule allows her to take classes online and work full-time, often with overtime, she said. She declined to say how much she's paid, but she said she feels she's compensated fairly.

"They opened a lot of doors and created a lot of jobs in D.C.," said Lewis, a 51-year-old Northeast D.C. resident.

As Lewis took her break, the protest outside was winding down. Less than an hour after it began, most of the D.C. cops had driven away on their motorcycles or in their cruisers, leaving behind just a police van. Officers did not appear to have made any arrests.

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Laquan McDonald Protests Shut Down Chicago's 'Magnificent Mile'

Fri, 2015-11-27 13:09

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Hundreds of protesters in Chicago shut down Michigan Avenue on Friday as part of a march along the city's "Magnificent Mile."

The demonstrators took to the streets to bring attention to the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whose death occurred under dramatically different circumstances than those described in official police accounts, video released last week shows. Jason Van Dyke, the officer involved in the shooting, has been charged with first-degree murder.

Police accounts of the shooting said the teenager was acting strangely and lunged at officers with a knife. While McDonald did have a small knife on him, the video shows he was walking away from officers when Van Dyke opened fire, emptying his entire ammunition clip into the teenager and then attempting to reload.

Video of the protest Friday captured demonstrators yelling "16 shots," a reference to the number of times Van Dyke shot McDonald, and "Stop the cover-up."

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Police accounts of the shooting reported the teenager was acting strangely and lunged at officers with a knife. While McDonald did have a small knife on him, the video shows he was walking away from officers when Van Dyke opened fire, emptying his entire ammunition clip into the teenager, then attempting to reload.

"This is something that has touched the conscience of our entire city," Reverend Marshall Hatch, one of the protesters, told ABC7. "We need to project just how the pain that we're feeling in neighborhoods now needs to be felt on Michigan Avenue."

Hatch also appealed for demonstrators to keep the march peaceful.

Protesters called for the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Chicago Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy.

THEY ALL MUST GO #resignRahm #LaquanMcDonald

— Thanks, Bastards (@MinkuAzad) November 27, 2015

See more photos and video of the march below:

Front line of Chicago #LaquanMcDonald #BlackoutBlackFriday march. intense crowd proceeding thru downtown traffic

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) November 27, 2015

maybe 200 protesters at kickoff of Mag Mile march #laquanmcdonald

— Dan Mihalopoulos (@dmihalopoulos) November 27, 2015

Third wave. Thousands here at Water Tower for #BlackFriday #LaquanMcDonald protest. "No shopping!"

— WBEZeducation (@WBEZeducation) November 27, 2015

For over an hour Chicago's main downtown shopping hub (the Magnificent Mile) has been shutdown for #LaquanMcDonald!

— agitator in chief (@soit_goes) November 27, 2015

"This is what democracy looks like" #LaquanMcDonald

— Grace Wong (@GraceWong630) November 27, 2015

#Chicago #LaquanMcDonald water tower place 11:55a

— shaz rasul (@shazrasul) November 27, 2015

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AG Lisa Madigan's Top Tips for a Safe Holiday Shopping Season

Fri, 2015-11-27 10:55
As Illinoisans gear up for the holiday season, Attorney General Lisa Madigan released her annual "Safe Shopping Guide" with a list of toys and products that have been recalled over the past year.

From toy cars to youth all-terrain vehicles, the guide has detailed descriptions and pictures of every product you'll want to avoid while holiday shopping.

And for the first time, this year's guide also offers Internet safety tips for parents who are considering buying smartphones, tablets and other connected devices for their kids.

"Today's kids are interested and skilled in the latest technology," Madigan said in a statement. "While there are many benefits to our kids using technology, there are pitfalls and dangers every parent should be aware of. Luckily, implementing a few rules and practices can promote safe and positive online experiences for our children."

Here are Madigan's Top 10 tips and also a copy of the "Safe Shopping Guide" with all the recalled products.

NEXT ARTICLE: We might live in Illinois, but we're still thankful for so much

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Claiming Power, Creating the Future

Thu, 2015-11-26 12:09
"Since the people are sovereign under our Constitution . . ."

Ralph Nader writes in a recent essay that we should demand acknowledgement of this fact from our presidential candidates and ask what they will do to restore this sovereignty to the American people, in their various manifestations as voters, taxpayers, workers and consumers.

"Regardless of their affiliation with either of the two dominant parties," he writes, "politicians are so used to people being spectators rather than participants in the run-up to Election Day that they have not thought much about participatory or initiatory democracy."

"Spectator," "participant" . . . these are trigger words for me. I deeply fear the reckless ascendance of that first word in our cultural and political structures, as world events are increasingly reduced to reality TV mélanges of celebrity and violence. Meanwhile, the second word shrivels. This is America the superpower, its management the province of a shadowy consensus of corporate militarists.

"It's hard to run for President as an opponent of the permanent U.S. security state," writes Jeffrey Sachs. "Being a card-carrying member of the U.S. security establishment is the mainstream media's definition of a 'serious' candidate."

Go Hillary!

". . . she and her advisors are good loyalists of the military-industrial-intelligence complex," Sachs notes. Her recent speech on ISIS to the Council on Foreign Relations "included an impressive number of tactical elements: who should do the bombing and who should be the foot soldiers. Yet all of this tactical precision is nothing more than business as usual. Would Clinton ever have the courage and vision to push back against the U.S. security establishment, as did JFK, and thereby restore global diplomacy and reverse the upward spiral of war and terror?"

I'm suddenly reminded of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and my confrontation with his spokesperson, whom I'd called after a Kerry fundraiser had hung up on me because I persisted in pressing him on where the candidate stood regarding the occupation of Iraq.

What's our mission in Iraq, I asked Kerry's spokesperson. "To create a stable democracy in Iraq," he said without hesitation. As I wrote at the time: "There's no quagmire, no covert agenda to control oil reserves and gain a strategic foothold, only Noble Purpose and Kerry's promise to be as profligate a spender of the lives of America's youth as Bush.

"And then our interview got worse. . . . How do you deal with terrorists? You crush 'em, he said, continually shutting down the conversation when I brought up the wimp concept of 'root causes.' There lay only danger and weakness, apparently. The least suggestion that injustice may be a cause of global insecurity 'is giving terrorists a cover.' . . .

"'The U.S. is there to help build a democracy and a peaceful future for Iraq,' he said. 'The folks who are fighting against the U.S. do not have the same goals.'"

Given that this little exchange took place more than 11 years ago and that "democracy and a peaceful future" still elude Iraq and much of the rest of the Middle East -- indeed, given that the situation across a huge swath of the world has hemorrhaged almost unimaginably since then, and terrorism has grown exponentially, all thanks to our efforts, while the military-industrial politicians of America still call for more of the same, more bombs, more drone strikes, more killing of insurgents -- some force has to emerge that can seriously challenge the war consensus. The world's most vulnerable people depend on it.

The concept of participatory democracy -- participatory public life -- needs to be reimagined from the bottom up. Of course, everyone hungers for participation. The crucial question is, what emotions drive our participation?

A few days ago, The Huffington Post ran an article called "A Running List of Shameful Islamophobic Acts since the Paris Attacks," tallying examples of the wrong kind of public participation. Perhaps the emotions behind the bulk of these acts -- fear morphing into a dehumanizing hatred -- was epitomized by one particular item, which occurred last week at a mosque in Pflugerville, Texas, a suburb of Austin:

"A member arrived at the center for morning prayer and found torn pages of the Quran outside, smeared with feces. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime."

This is public participation in the collective fear. This is the language of scapegoating. This is war.

And it's what we hear about endlessly, in the news and in our entertainment venues, as though social interaction is more about self-protection than connection; as though safety is more a matter of dominance and fortification than justice and healing; as though violence has no consequences; as though listening and understanding are not our first line of defense.

"Since the people are sovereign under our Constitution . . ."

Please write and tell me about how personal acts of compassion and connection have resolved conflicts and created understanding. I'll devote future columns to such stories. Tell me how sovereign people are changing the world -- not through hate but through the courage of love.

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Laquan McDonald's Shooting Is Just The Latest Episode In Chicago Police's Brutal History

Thu, 2015-11-26 08:24

The sight of a cop emptying 16 bullets into the body of a black teenager was one Chicago police likely hoped the public would never see. But after a year-long battle to get dashcam footage released, viewers around the world on Tuesday night watched video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald take his last steps before officer Jason Van Dyke buried him in a haze of bullets and gun smoke. 

Viewers struggled to understand why the 14-year veteran cop would repeatedly shoot a teenager who, though armed with a small knife, was walking away. Still more wondered why a cop would continue to shoot -- and try to reload -- well after the teen was motionless on the ground. 

Van Dyke's actions were an outlier on the scene. Of the eight police officers present, he was the only one who had fired his weapon. He did so because he "feared for his life," his lawyer said. 

Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy lamented the tragedy, they painted it as the actions of one bad apple. But for Chicago police, the department's reputation of being "rotten to the core" -- marked by conspiracy, corruption, torture and racism -- stretches back nearly a century.  

"The utter disregard for the fulfillment of their duties by the police department is appalling, and there is no question in the minds of the members of this jury that the police department is rotten to the core," Frank J. Loesch, founder of the Chicago Crime Commission and anti-corruption reformer, said of the Chicago police in 1928.

At that time in Chicago's history, there was a vanishing line between organized crime and corrupt politicians. The department was described in a 1929 Illinois Association for Criminal Justice study as a pawn for both. 

That same year, President Herbert Hoover's Wickersham Commission peered into the nation's law enforcement efforts and found that police torture and interrogation tactics dubbed the "third degree" were "thoroughly at home" in Chicago: adult and even juvenile suspects were worked over with everything from a rubber hose to the Chicago phone book. 

In the subsequent decades, the tactics would only get worse.

Chicago police treatment of not just suspects but everyday citizens made worldwide in headlines in 1968 when officers clashed with anti-Vietnam War protesters amid the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In one of the more egregious instances of brutality, police took off their badges and marched into crowds of chanting protesters to club them to the ground.

Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff called the police action "Gestapo tactics" in front of the entire convention as a furious Mayor Richard J. Daley looked on. 

Robert Maytag, the chairman of Colorado's delegation, at one point interrupted the convention proceedings to ask: "Is there any rule under which Mayor Daley can be compelled to suspend the police state terror perpetrated this minute on kids in front of the Conrad Hilton?" 

The following year, the Chicago Police Department reached another grim benchmark with the slaying of Fred Hampton.  

Hampton was singled out by the FBI as part of Director J. Edgar Hoover's 1960s-era Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) that targeted "subversive" protest groups like the Black Panther Party and the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The bureau secretly worked both the CPD and the Cook County State Attorney to carry out Hampton's assassination. 
“Fred was a very charismatic Black Panther leader in Chicago," according to Flint Taylor, a longtime Chicago attorney whose People's Law Office for decades has represented victims of police misconduct and torture. "And this was the height of Hoover's repression." 
The CPD obtained a search warrant and went to Hampton's house at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 4, 1969. They knocked on the door before firing as many as 99 bullets into the home, killing Hampton, 21, and Michael Clark, a 22-year-old Black Panther leader from Peoria, Illinois. 
“The FBI even had a floor plan of Hampton’s home to know where he was sleeping," Taylor said. 
A total of 14 Chicago police officers participated in the plan, which Taylor called one of the most notorious examples of the department colluding with the state attorney's office and government authorities.  

Perhaps the darkest era of the Chicago Police Department is one that still ripples into the lives of wrongfully accused men (and Chicago taxpayers) to this day: that of the notorious Area 2 Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his so-called Midnight Crew. 

Burge, who honed his torture techniques during Vietnam, oversaw the abuse of roughly 100 black men over three decades. Many of his victims were wrongfully convicted -- some to death row -- as a result of the interrogations that included beatings, suffocation and electric shocks to the genitals. 

The city has since paid more than half a billion dollars in Burge-related lawsuits, while Burge himself served 3 1/2 years after he was convicted of perjury in 2011. While many of his victims still fight for restitution, Burge now lives near Tampa, Florida, where he keeps a boat named "Vigilante" and is on a $4,000-a-month police pension. 

Burge's evasion of tougher punishment stands as a striking example of just how rare it is for police misconduct in Chicago to be punished. A recent report by the nonprofit journalism group Invisible Institute found that, in over 99 percent of citizen complaints against police, officers were not penalized. Even seemingly slam-dunk cases can end with officers walking. 

In 1980, three officers beat to death a 51-year-old former mental patient named Richard Ramey after he was arrested for smoking on a train. Officers Louis Klisz, Fred Earullo, and Fred Christiano were suspended from the department weeks later, but didn't go to trial for more than a year. 
Christiano's charges were quickly dropped once trial started for lack of witnesses. Klisz and Earullo ultimately received manslaughter convictions, despite damming photo evidence that Ramey's injuries were sustained in the interrogation room -- and not on the train where Earullo said he "feared for his life" as Ramey "stabbed" him with a pen.  

Anyone who has ever challenged the police's tactics risks encountering the "Code of Silence" that many advocates say pervades the department. Under the code, Chicago attorney Flint Taylor explained, officers close ranks around one another and provide alibis, corroborate one another's stories or simply stay quiet.
In 2012, a petite Chicago bartender named Karolina Obrycka tried to put that very code on trial. Five years earlier, she had refused to pour another drink for Anthony Abbate, an over-served off-duty cop who had come to her bar intoxicated before. 
Surveillance video captured the 250-pound cop throwing the 125-pound bartender against the wall, punching her in the face, kicking her and allegedly yelling, "nobody tells me what to do."
Abbate later claimed self-defense.
Obrycka alleged other officers covered up for Abbate, who was eventually convicted of a felony and fired. In her lawsuit, Obrycka alleged "that there is an attendant 'code of silence' that exists within the CPD, whereby officers conceal each other’s misconduct in contravention of their sworn duties."
In 2012, a judge sided with Obrycka -- despite protests from Emanuel.  

Unlike most of the 70 people fatally shot by Chicago police between 2010 and 2014, Rekia Boyd's name has been commemorated in chants, banners and songs, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The 22-year-old Boyd was shot to death by Dante Servin, an off-duty detective, as she was enjoying an unseasonably warm spring evening with friends on the South Side in March of 2012.

Servin got into a verbal altercation with Boyd's group over noise as they were standing in the park. He claimed he "feared for his life" after a man in Boyd's group pointed a gun at him. It later turned out to be a cell phone. Servin fired over his arm at the group, fatally hitting Boyd in the back of the head.

Boyd's family was awarded $4.5 million in a wrongful death suit against the city, but Servin himself escaped conviction. He was cleared of all charges of involuntary manslaughter without having to mount a defense. The judge made her ruling on a technicality, saying prosecutors could not prove Servin acted recklessly because his actions were clearly intentional. In other words, the cop walked because he was under-charged. 

Cook County State Prosecutor Anita Alvarez on Tuesday charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Alvarez said she was confident her office could meet its burden, citing video footage of the shooting as well as witness accounts. Alvarez didn't specify if the witnesses were motorists on the scene, or any of the seven police who were on the scene with Van Dyke.  

Taylor expressed skepticism that any of the officers on scene would break their supposed "code of silence."

"[Cops] go on record, they write reports, they testify before a grand jury. And if they’re proven wrong, they’re committing perjury," Taylor said. "They can’t turn back." 

For police that do break rank, Taylor said retribution is all but certain. He cited Detective Frank Laverty, who handed prosecutors evidence he gathered in 1982 which proved cops had fingered the wrong man for a crime. 

"Laverty, an experienced homicide detective, was reassigned to watch new recruits give urine samples," said Chicago attorney Flint Taylor, whose People's Law Officewas involved in the case. "In the station, we learned later that when Laverty walked through the room, [Cmdr. Jon] Burge would pull out his gun, put it to Laverty's back and go 'Pop! Pop!' in front of all the other cops in the room." 

Van Dyke's indictment was the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with murder. If convicted, he could serve 20 years to life in prison -- and would be the first Chicago cop in the modern era to be convicted of first-degree murder from an on-duty shooting. 

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Obama Sends Thanksgiving Message About Teen Shot By Chicago Cop

Wed, 2015-11-25 19:08

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he was "deeply disturbed" by police video showing a white Chicago cop fatally shooting a black teenager, but praised the "overwhelming majority" of officers for their service.

Obama, in his first public comments about the video showing Laquan McDonald, 17, being shot 16 times, said in a Facebook post that he was grateful for the peaceful way Chicago residents have protested police actions since Tuesday's release of the footage. 

Chicago officials released the video in response to a judge's order. Earlier on Tuesday, officials announced a first-degree murder charge against Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald. 

Police and union officials had claimed that Van Dyke fired in self-defense after McDonald lunged at officers with a knife. The video shows Van Dyke opened fire as McDonald backed away from officers. 

Hundreds of people marched around Chicago on Tuesday to protest the killing. The protests were largely peaceful, with police making five arrests for offenses that included resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. 

Also on HuffPost:

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How 2 Independent Journalists And A Lawyer Held Chicago Police Accountable For Teen's Death

Wed, 2015-11-25 18:25

The shocking police dashcam video that shows a Chicago teen gunned down by a city cop came to light because a couple of dogged independent journalists and a lawyer pried open government records.

Chicago's mainstream media barely flinched when police and union officials claimed Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot after lunging at officers with a knife. But journalists Jamie Kalven and Brandon Smith, and University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, dutifully dug in. For months, they looked for hard evidence about what happened the night of Oct. 20, 2014. 

Their efforts culminated Tuesday, when officials announced an unprecedented first-degree murder charge against Officer Jason Van Dyke, the first time an on-duty cop has been charged with the offense.

A now-discredited initial police version of events said Van Dyke opened fire after McDonald disobeyed orders to drop the knife and attempted to attack officers with the blade. McDonald was shot in the chest, according to the early accounts. 

To say the teen was shot in the chest is an understatement. Kalven, who runs the nonprofit Invisible Institute, obtained the autopsy report through a freedom of information request. That report revealed that two gunshots hit the teen in the chest, in addition to 14 bullet wounds to other body parts. 

"The autopsy raises questions not only about how he died, but about how the Chicago Police Department has handled the case since," Kalven wrote.

Further doubts about the police account emerged when Kalven found a witness, who said the teen was backing away from officers, rather than lunging at them. The witness also said an officer continued firing at McDonald after he had collapsed onto the street from the first bullets. 

That witness, we now know, saw what the police car dashcam video shows. 

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City officials withheld the explosive video from the public until Tuesday, a deadline set last week by a judge who ordered the video's release 

Kalven and Futterman jointly demanded that city release the dashcam footage almost a year ago. A whistleblower from inside the police force had tipped the journalists to the disturbing nature of the shooting. 

“Sources report that a police officer repeatedly fired into the boy’s body as he lay on the ground,” Futterman said in a statement at the time. “If they are correct, this isn’t a case of self-defense. It’s an execution. The video should reveal the truth."

The police department, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at various times declined to share the video, saying its release may hinder investigations into Van Dyke's actions.  

A development in April heightened the importance of the video. That's when the city offered $5 million to McDonald's family -- before relatives had even filed a lawsuit. The city lawyer cited the video as an "important part of the evidence" that led to the preemptive offer.

Smith took a larger role in the story in May, when he filed a freedom of information request for the video.

Chicago police asked for time extensions and blew deadlines, Smith said. They finally rejected Smith's request in August, as they did with similar requests filed by 15 others.

"But I'm not taking no for an answer," Smith wrote in the Chicago Reader

So Smith teamed up with Futterman, and they filed a lawsuit to get the contents of the dashcam video. In his article in the Chicago Reader, Smith credited Kalven's work on a previous case of police misconduct with making him believe he'd prevail in getting the video.

The tide turned against the police earlier this month. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked police last week to produce the video. She said it was "unsubstantiated" that making the contents public would impede the investigation or a fair trial. 

The decisive blow came on Nov. 19, when a Cook County judge issued the order for the video's release. 

The city complied Tuesday,  hours after it announced murder charges against Van Dyke. 

On Twitter, Smith basked in the victory. 

Guys. It's working. We're gathering around ideas that really matter. Like facts, sans spin, about police violence against people of color.

— Brandon Smith (@muckrakery) November 25, 2015

Still, Smith's battle with Chicago authorities wasn't over. He was blocked from attending the mayor's Tuesday press conference about the case because he lacked official media credentials.   

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Top 20 Colleges In Illinois, As Ranked By The Economist

Wed, 2015-11-25 16:32
The Economist has picked out its top colleges in the country for the first time ever- and the list of the best Illinois colleges may surprise you.

Using the U.S. Department of Education's college scorecard, the Economist created its rankings based on one basic idea:

(T)he economic value of a university is equal to the gap between how much money its students subsequently earn, and how much they might have made had they studied elsewhere.

The Economist analyzed the class of 2001's median income 10 years after graduation and looked at factors like sex, race, college size and how many students received Pell Grants for low-income families. The rankings also factored in what students were studying- an art school graduate probably will make less than an engineering graduate, even if the art school was a good choice economically.

But like any ranking, this list has its problems. The college scorecard only includes students who applied for federal financial aid, so some graduates might not have been counted. The data also only follows students for 10 years after they graduate, so that could leave out some potential high-earners, like doctors, who have been in graduate school.

Here are the top 20 Illinois colleges from the Economist's rankings.

NEXT ARTICLE: 5 things to know about the Laquan McDonald shooting video

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Reasons We Drink Heavily On Thanksgiving

Wed, 2015-11-25 16:06

  • If you're gonna eat all that food, you better get something in your stomach first.

  • So you can forget Dad's lengthy trip to the bathroom immediately before dessert.

  • Between you and your significant other, only one of you has to drive. It's a race to the bottom of the bottle.

  • Your grandma is surprisingly good at Quarters.

  • You decided to do a shot every time a relative wished an entire race of people would "stop complaining."

  • The bacteria in this undercooked turkey are going to have to earn their place in your body. This isn't Thanksgiving. This is Thunderdome.

  • Your sister's boyfriend has this opportunity for you to sell this Herbalife juice product that is definitely not a pyramid scheme. Anyway, it mixes well with vodka.

  • To avoid the weird advances from your second cousin.

  • Because the only thing that takes more courage than love is pretend love.

  • Your young, Republican cousin can't decide between Ben Carson and Donald Trump, just like you can't decide between scotch and bourbon. By the end of the night, he'll still be undecided. But you? You've chosen both.

  • Someone in your family is pregnant, so you're drinking for two now!

  • Your dad just took his high school championship football off the mantle and it's better if you're out of the way.

  • I mean, the liquor cabinet is right there.

  • Because you have a lot of crazy things to say and being drunk will be your only excuse in the coming days.

  • No reason for a holiday to get in the way of your normal Thursday routine.

  • You need something to wash out the smell of that Taco Bell you ate on the way.

  • Many polls still have Donald Trump leading the pack of Republican presidential nominees.

  • Because can we speed this whole thing along, please? Thanks.


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5 Foolproof Conversation Starters For Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Wed, 2015-11-25 15:48

Gravy is great, but the best sauce for Thanksgiving dinner (excluding wine, of course) is good conversation. Something edgy enough to maintain interest, yet tame enough to keep your crazy uncle seated for the entire meal.

Don't wing it unless you're willing to risk ruffling a few feathers; instead, here's a guide to some safe -- and substantive -- conversation starters.

1. Talk Turkey

Not the country. Focus on the bird instead, which has a surprisingly interesting history -- and nearly went extinct.

Native to North and Central America, the turkey spread to Europe, according to New Scientist. When colonizers returned to the Americas, they brought the turkey back with them, only to relentlessly hunt its wilder (and tastier) native cousin and cut down the birds' natural shelter, trees, for building materials.

New Scientist notes that by 1920, the turkey had disappeared from 18 of the 39 states it once occupied, down from an estimated pre-Columbus population of 10 million to between 30,000 and 200,000.

Wildlife managers struggled to rebuild populations until the middle of the 20th century, when they realized individual birds, bred in captivity, had no idea how to survive on their own. When whole flocks were relocated, however, they rebounded -- all the way to your table. (Read more on the turkey's history at New Scientist.)

Drop some dinner-table knowledge with a couple turkey facts:

- An adult wild turkey has between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers on its body.
- A turkey's beard (the dangly bit) is called a "wattle," while the flesh on their foreheads is called the "snood."
- Male turkeys (called "gobblers" or "toms") poop a different shape than females ("hens"). Gobblers produce J-shaped droppings, while hens make spirals and curlicues  .

2. Travel

There's no form of transit more universally decried at Thanksgiving than air travel, and if your relatives flew in for the holiday, this topic is a sure gimme.

Open with obligatory low-hanging fruit (e.g. "How was your flight?"), then branch into more interesting conversation about how airlines make us board the plane all wrong. According to Mythbusters, the standard "back to front" boarding technique is also the "slowest and least efficient."

Other patterns, like boarding window passengers first, then middle seats, then aisles, tend to be quicker. Interestingly, one of the fastest methods is actually no method at all -- a free-for-all without any seat assignments -- but it's also the least customer friendly, according to Mythbusters (sorry, Southwest!). 

If you really want to dive into the subject, read this explainer of a research study that examined airplane boarding methods in great depth.

3. The 'Mystery' Spots On Ceres

If you want to steer clear of troublesome terrestrial subjects altogether, consider instead the mysterious bright spots on Ceres, the dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

We first learned of the anomalous spots after the Hubble Telescope captured photos of Ceres in 2004, but only started getting higher-resolution images this summer when NASA's Dawn spacecraft dropped into orbit.

Here's what they look like close up. For perspective, "Occator Crater," which encircles the spots, is about 60 miles wide and two miles deep:

Conspiracy theorists rejoiced when scientists didn't have an immediate, definitive explanation for the spots' reflectivity. While NASA data indicates they're likely some sort of salt deposit -- and we should know more in the near future as Dawn gathers more information -- for the time being you can delight in Thanksgiving conversation about the mystery of the unknown.

Because maybe they're aliens. Very, very salty ones.

4. Question Everything -- And Listen

Sometimes it's better to ask a great question or two to get the ball rolling. Here are a few basics -- other than the classic "What are you thankful for?" -- from HuffPost bloggers Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker:

  • "What's the strangest thing about where you grew up?"

  • "What does your name mean?" (If they say, "I don't know," reply, "What would you like it to mean?")

  • "What are you looking forward to this week?"

  • "Who do you think is the luckiest person in this room?"

  • "If you could teleport by blinking your eyes, where would you go right now?"

Asking grandma and grandpa (or another loving couple) to tell the story of how they met is always a good option. Another good question to ask parents or grandparents: "How did you celebrate Thanksgiving when you were younger?" Or, get even more ideas from Colin and Baedeker

5. Sometimes There's No Avoiding Politics

If you absolutely must bring up the Syrian refugee crisis, here's our guide to keeping the conversation civil.

You may want to keep Adele handy, just in case things take a turn for the worse:

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Here's Evidence The Chicago PD Is Worse Than You Thought

Wed, 2015-11-25 15:20

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The release of a video showing the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald -- whom Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shot 16 times in October 2014, as the teen was walking away from him -- has made the city's police department an object of national scrutiny, with questions arising about its policies, its practices and its troubled history with the city's communities of color.

Here are some facts and statistics that highlight just how bad things are at the Chicago Police Department: 

Chicago tops big cities in fatal police shootings.

According to an analysis by the Better Government Association released in July, Chicago police fatally shot 70 people between 2010 and 2014, more than any other police department in a major U.S. city. When adjusted for population size, Chicago ranks fourth behind Phoenix, Philadelphia and Dallas for this grim statistic. (Phoenix police shot and killed 57 people during the years in question. Philadelphia police killed 54 people, and Dallas police killed 34.) The report also found that Chicago police shot a total of 240 people over that five-year period.

Chicago police did not respond to a request for comment on this and other statistics highlighted in this story.

Black people are killed disproportionately.

The Better Government Association study also found that of 46 of the 70 people fatally shot by Chicago police -- 66 percent -- were black. However, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, just one-third of Chicago's population is black.

There are tons of complaints, but police rarely get in trouble.

Data compiled by the Citizens Police Data Project shows that fewer than 2 percent of the 28,567 complaints filed against the department from March 2011 to September 2015 resulted in discipline. Most officers who do face discipline are suspended for a week or less.

Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, is listed on the CPDP website as having 20 complaints filed against him. None of those complaints have resulted in discipline.

White people are more likely to have their complaints validated.

The complaint data also shows that while black people accounted for 61 percent of the misconduct allegations filed against Chicago police, they accounted for only 25 percent of the sustained complaints. Meanwhile, complaints filed by white people made up 21 percent of the total allegations, but accounted for 58 percent of the sustained complaints.

City investigators aren't helping much.

According to WBEZ, the city's Independent Police Review Authority has reviewed more than 400 officer-involved shootings since 2007. As of July, it had found only one shooting unjustified.

IPRA is also known for taking a very long time -- in some cases, over five years -- to investigate shootings. As the Chicago Tribune reported in 2012, these extreme delays can lead to charges being dismissed due to the statute of limitations running out.

IPRA didn't respond to a request for comment.

The city fired an investigator who tried to hold cops accountable.

Lorenzo Davis, a former IPRA supervisor who investigated several police shooting cases, was fired by the city in July. Davis said he was asked to change his findings in three shooting cases where he found officers at fault. (IPRA has denied these claims.)

"The Independent Police Review Authority is being used to deflect protest and criticism from the police department,” Davis told The Huffington Post earlier this year. “What they’re concerned about is the careers of the police officers.”

Murder charges against cops are incredibly rare.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Van Dyke is the first Chicago officer in 35 years to be charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty incident. The last murder charges came in 1980, when three cops were indicted for beating a mentally ill man to death after he was arrested for smoking on a Chicago train. Two of the officers were found guilty of manslaughter, while charges against the third were dropped.

Read more on the case at Chicago Magazine.

The city has a major stop-and-frisk problem.

An American Civil Liberties Union report released earlier this year found that Chicago police are stopping and frisking a "shocking amount of people." In the summer of 2014 alone, police made 250,000 stops that did not lead to arrests. Police also disproportionately stopped African-Americans -- 72 percent of all people stopped were black, even though black people, again, make up just one-third of the city's population.

In the wake of the ACLU report, the Chicago Police Department has agreed to monitor how officers use the technique, and to further train officers to ensure people are not stopped because of their race or gender.

Chicago has paid out hundreds of millions for police misconduct.

According to a Wall Street Journal report published in July, Chicago police spent $249.7 million resolving police misconducted cases between 2010 and 2014. (Only New York City paid more, incurring over $600 million in costs related to misconduct.)

Meanwhile, according to the Better Government Association, the city spent over $500 million from 2004 to 2014 on settlements, legal fees and other costs related to complaints against police officers.

The police department is disproportionately white.

While Chicago is home to black, white and Hispanic people in roughly equal measure (each group accounts for about 32 percent of the city's residents), the police department as of 2010 was 55 percent white, 26 percent black and 18 percent Hispanic, according to data collected by The New York Times.

The city is still dealing with a decades-old police torture scandal.

Jon Burge, a former Chicago police commander, tortured more than 200 suspects into making confessions between 1972 and 1991. Burge was eventually tried and convicted, and was sentenced to prison in 2011.

The scandal, however, continues to loom large over the city. Chicago has paid millions in settlements to some of the individuals Burge tortured. And as NBC reported in August, many of Burge's victims -- most of them black -- still have not had their cases heard.

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Chicago Police Really Didn't Want To Release Video Of A Cop Shooting Laquan McDonald 16 Times

Wed, 2015-11-25 14:35

When Chicago city officials released the dashcam video of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on Tuesday, it marked the culmination of a months-long effort by journalists and other advocates to get the video released.

Officials had said that releasing the video would jeopardize an ongoing investigation into the incident and a fair trial for the officer. But after a judge last week determined those explanations to be bunk, the city was forced to release the video, which it did on Tuesday.

Here's how that process unfolded:

Oct. 20, 2014

Laquan McDonald is shot and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Police say after the incident that McDonald was behaving strangely and had lunged at officers with a knife when they opened fire. Initial reports don't mention how many times McDonald was shot. The Independent Police Review Authority Board begins to investigate.

Nov. 4, 2014

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez obtains the video and begins investigating the incident. Alvarez would later defend not releasing the video after having possession of it for so long, saying that she was conducting a "meticulous" investigation.

Dec. 8, 2014

Journalist Jamie Kalven and Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor, release a statement calling on Chicago police to release the dashcam video of the incident. Futterman and Kalven had been alerted to the video's existence by a whistleblower, who told them the video was horrific.

February 2015

Kalven obtains a copy of McDonald's final autopsy report, which says that McDonald was shot 16 times.

March 2015

The Chicago Tribune files three separate Freedom of Information Act requests to Chicago's law department, the police department and the Independent Police Review Authority Board. All three requests are denied.

April 2015

The Chicago City Council approves a $5 million settlement with McDonald's family before they even file a lawsuit. Aldermen are not shown the video of the incident before approving the settlement, even though city Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said the footage influenced the city's decision to settle before a lawsuit.

Officials also confirm that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois are conducting a criminal probe into Van Dyke.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) says that the police and FBI are withholding the video while they conduct an investigation, and city officials say releasing it would jeopardize a fair trial.

May 2015

A Burger King district manager tells NBC Chicago that he believes police deleted security footage from the restaurant that captured moments surrounding the incident, whichMcDonald's family attorney claims would have given some context for the shooting. In a statement at the time, the Independent Police Review Authority Board says it has no credible evidence to believe that police officers deleted footage. 

On May 26, freelance journalist Brandon Smith files a Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago Police Department requesting the video, and the department asks him for an extension on his request until late July.

August 2015

After Smith's Freedom of Information Act request is denied, he files a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department to force them to release the video, claiming that the department is simply refusing to do so for public relations reasons.

In a piece explaining why he's suing the city, Smith says that CPD told him they had denied at least 15 Freedom of Information Act requests for the footage.

Nov. 18, 2015

The office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) sends a letter to police saying that they cannot withhold the video, and saying that claims that releasing it would interfere with an ongoing investigation or jeopardize a fair trial are "unsubstantiated."

Nov. 19, 2015

Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama orders the city to release the video by Nov. 25 and denies the city's request for a stay. Chicago legal officials say that they won't appeal the decision.

Nov. 24, 2015

City officials release footage of McDonald's death, which shows him walking away from police when he is shot, contradicting initial police reports of the incident.

Emanuel and Chicago Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy hold a press conference to discuss McDonald's death, but Smith, the reporter who sued the police department, isn't allowed to enter.

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6 Answers to Illinois Credit Rating Questions

Wed, 2015-11-25 12:57
When Moody's Investors Service downgraded Illinois' credit rating in October, Illinois earned not only the distinction of having the lowest credit score of any state (it had had that for some time) but also became the first state to receive a rating below single-A.

But what does that mean and how can Illinois get out of last place? Can Illinois sink even lower on the credit scale, to a point that investors don't want to buy our bonds?

"There is no floor for U.S. state ratings, despite states' inherent credit strengths and typically very high ratings," Moody's VP-Senior Credit Officer Ted Hampton says. "The majority of states are rated either Aaa or Aa1, and this concentration at the top of our rating scale reflects states' powers - such as the ability to cut general spending - and positive features that include prudent governance practices, moderate debt burdens, and stable, diverse economies."

A month after dropping Illinois to a rating of Baa1 negative, Moody's has released an FAQ document that explains why Illinois fell into its bad credit situation and how it can rebound. Moody's succinctly spells out the causes of the state's credit decline: "governance weaknesses, bill payment deferrals, chronic structural budget gaps, and soaring unfunded pension liabilities."

Here are Moody's six FAQ summaries, followed by explanatory excerpts from the full document. Despite the current budget and fiscal clouds hovering over Illinois government, the news here isn't all bad (see Nos. 5 and 6).

NEXT ARTICLE: 48 GOP lawmakers break ranks with Rauner on public union case before U.S. Supreme Court

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Have You Ever Heard Inner-City Chicago Children Cry?

Wed, 2015-11-25 12:14
Have you ever watched a person die?

Bullet holes protruding through red glistened, black skin as if on a recon movie set in your own back yard.

Have you ever stood on blood spotted concrete, underneath the spotlight of the sun, in the prime of your innocence?

Watching one child cousin wipe another child cousin's tears underneath tones of "I don't want to die" coming from the ground, never to be harmonized with sirens to rescue such horror.

Have you ever been trained by family on what to do when gun shots interrupt the silent nights?

Illuminating television provides comfort, along with grandma's voice saying to stay on the floor until bullet rounds dissolve temporarily into the dark, cold night.

In your community, does small talk amongst children involve the latest gunshot victim in the neighborhood followed by games of Tag and Ding Dong Ditch?

Laughter and play intertwining with the very real possibility of a violent death, hanging like a shadow, towering over youthful heights.

Is breaking a generational curse one of your biggest unknown accomplishments or goals?

Cycles of violence, poverty, and drug abuse are the norm spanning across your family's generations, grabbing hold of you like the shackles they once wore pre-emancipation.

Were you born sinking--with only those closest to you having the ability to teach sinking, knowing very little about swimming?

Neighborhoods adorned with liquor store signs, blue camera lights, corner illegal bread-winners, vacant lots and buildings, and schools sub par to those born to privilege.

Have I ever?

As a child, I often cried in unison with other young children on the Westside of Chicago.

Have you ever heard Chicago children cry?

I've long been hearing the voices of Chicago's children cry.

No matter how or why, it is hard to justify the continuous cries with blame and criticisms of their ties to an ongoing plight that has lead to the demise of countless lives for way too much time.

Would you ever ignore your child's cry?

Why do we ignore our inner-city Chicago children's cry?

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The Execution of Laquan McDonald

Wed, 2015-11-25 11:27

There was no reason at all for Police Officer Jason Van Dyke to cross the line and shoot Laquan McDonald sixteen times. This particular shooting represents an execution style murder for hire. What was this officer thinking as he fired his weapon several times on this young African American male? Did he feel threaten? Or was he thinking about the culture of violence that exist amongst some police officers nationwide?

Close to one thousand people have been killed by police this year and the numbers continue to rise. The leaders within the police department have to do a better job in training its officers to respond with lethal force, which is used only if there is an imminent threat. This is the 21st Century and with all of the media attention surrounding police killings nationwide, this particular police officer decided to cross the line anyway. Is there a shoot and ask questions later policy within the Chicago Police Department? Superintendent Gary McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel viewed this tape before the judge ordered it to be released to the public.

One would think that the superintendent would have fired this officer immediately, however no one acted at all. This officer was placed on desk duty. What does this tell you about police leadership in Chicago? Several police officers were at the scene and not one officer told Police Officer Jason Van Dyke to stop. Now he is facing murder charges.

The police want to improve relations with the community, but fail to improve relations within the department. If you take a closer look at the majority of police shootings, you will find that the people were killed. This article is not intended to bash the police because most of the officers are doing their best to serve and protect. However, we need to address the issue of police brutality. If we don't, then we are setting the police departments up for failure. There needs to be a serious dialogue right now to help move this issue forward in order to prevent another person from being murdered by the hands of a rogue police officer. Additionally, there is no evidence to support the police officer's decision to use lethal force in this situation.

There's no time for politically correct speeches or trying to pacify the people. We want action now! The Department of Justice needs to provide direct orders to address the issue of excessive force within the police departments nationwide. If this order is ignored, then they can enhance charges on some officers to the level of hate crimes, if proven by the law. Keep in mind that Laquan McDonald was clearly executed for no apparent reason and there are probably hundreds of Laquan's throughout the United States that get no justice. Mayor Rahm Emanuel should have dealt with this incident last year instead of waiting on a judge to order the release of the police video. This says a lot about the current administration.

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Here's How The Laquan McDonald Shooting Differs From What Police Said Happened

Wed, 2015-11-25 09:56

Dashcam footage released on Tuesday of a white police officer shooting a black Chicago teen 16 times has called police officers' version of events into question.

After the October 2014 killing, Pat Camden, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Chicago Tribune that 17-year-old Laquan McDonald had lunged at the officers with a knife, prompting one of them to open fire. He also said that the officers had asked McDonald to drop the knife and were waiting for other officers with stun guns to arrive on the scene.

Camden said McDonald had a "crazed" look when he approached officers with a knife. NBC Chicago said police described the incident as "a clear-cut case of self defense."

“The officers are responding to somebody with a knife in a crazed condition, who stabs out tires on a vehicle and tires on a squad car. You obviously aren’t going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with them,” Camden told CBS Chicago after the incident. “He is a very serious threat to the officers, and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.”

The dashcam video released on Tuesday shows McDonald tugging his pants up and walking in the middle of the street after some patrol cars have already arrived on the scene. He is walking away from the officers, not lunging, when one of them, Jason Van Dyke, opens fire. McDonald spins, falls to the ground and lays there for several more seconds while Van Dyke continues to shoot him.

The Tribune reported that McDonald had been "shot in the chest and taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:42 p.m." After obtaining McDonald's autopsy report, reporter Jamie Kalven found he had actually been shot 16 times. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder.

The police narrative of the killing may have gone unchallenged, were it not for Kalven, freelance journalist Brandon Smith, and Smith's attorney, Craig Futterman, who pushed for the release of the video after a whistleblower alerted them it existed.

Smith sued for the video's release under the Freedom of Information Act in August. After a judge ruled in his favor, city officials released the video on Tuesday.

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Will Rideshare Apps Change Springfield's Drunk Driving Culture?

Wed, 2015-11-25 08:48
I recently met someone moving from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois who said he was given a tip about his new town. "Once you get to know locals," he was told "you'll meet more than a few people who don't drive because they have a DUI."

It's true. Springfield has a drunk driving problem. The city was third in the state for DUI arrests in 2014. Although they make fewer arrests than Chicago police, the Springfield DUI arrest rate per officer is much higher.

No doubt there are many reasons for the problem but one of them is Springfield's limited transportation options compared to Chicago. The city treats it's limited mass transit as a social welfare program, not as a service to be used by car owners. The few limited night bus routes don't continue running anywhere near bar closing time. Even bike lanes are treated as a strange, foreign intrusion onto city roads. Drunk driving is partly a consequence of city planners deciding that driving a car should be the only convenient way to get around town.

The limited number of taxis don't meet demand during the late night rush when people are ready to go home from a night on the town. If someone is left waiting for a taxi outside a bar at closing time in winter temperatures, their perception of how drunk they are may quickly change. There simply aren't enough cabs in Springfield to get the job done at closing time.

And it's not just locals. A saying I've heard from multiple people in the crowd of lobbyists, politicians and hangers-on during sessions of the Illinois General Assembly is that police are unlikely to pull you over for DUI if you stay "on campus." Campus refers to the area of downtown Springfield were the session crowd works and frequents local bars. I don't know why this rumor persists but every few years there's a news item about a prominent political figure being arrested for drunk driving downtown during the legislative session.

Of course, there's no good excuse. To solve the problem it's important to challenge the social norms that tolerate drunk driving and also address the lack of transportation alternatives.

Ridesharing services are stepping in. Uber is currently the only rideshare company active in Springfield. Lyft is growing in popularity in Chicago and elsewhere but hasn't entered smaller towns like Springfield.

I took my turn driving with Uber in Springfield and heard story after story of people being left to wait for a taxi that came hours later or not at all. Many Springfield residents are thrilled to have an alternative.

Both Uber and Lyft continue to attract new riders. Lyft is now approved to pick up and drop off passengers at both Chicago airports. Uber expects to be picking up at airports soon.

Writing tickets without providing a convenient alternative hasn't solved Springfield's drunk driving problem. Maybe ridesharing will.

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City Releases 'Chilling' Video Of Cop Shooting Chicago Teen 16 Times

Tue, 2015-11-24 17:29

Note: This video is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.

Chicago officials on Tuesday evening released dash cam video from the 2014 incident in which a police officer shot teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez described the video footage as "chilling" during a news conference hours before the footage was released. 

“I have no doubt this video will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans,” Alvarez said.  

In the video, McDonald is carrying with a small knife and walking away from officers, Alvarez said. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke opens fire as he stands about 10 feet away, and keeps shooting for roughly 13 to 15 seconds even after the teen falls to the ground.

Shortly after police released the video Tuesday, the site hosting it crashed. 

Tuesday morning, Alvarez's office brought a first-degree murder charge against Van Dyke, who could face 20 years to life in prison if convicted. 

Alvarez said her office is confident it can make its case against the officer. 

“Our investigation determined Officer Van Dyke was on the scene less than 30 seconds before shooting.” 

“Every day in this city, you see thousands of officers performing admirably,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a press conference for the video’s release. “The officer in this case took a young man’s life, and he’s going to have to account for his actions.”

For more than a year, community members have urged officials to release video of the shooting that ended the 17-year-old's life. The city was forced to act after a judge issued a court order to release the video before 3 p.m. Wednesday. 

McDonald's family, which received a $5 million settlement from the city, did not want the video released, but said they understood the decision.

"We deeply appreciated the outpouring of love and support for Laquan," the family said in a statement through their attorneys. "While we would prefer the video not be released, we understand a court has ordered otherwise." 

They family has also appealed for calm, urging that those who view the video "don't resort to violence in Laquan's name."

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A Buoyant Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Tue, 2015-11-24 13:26
Ooh-la-la! As John Oliver mentioned in response to the recent attacks on France's capital, Paris will endure - largely due to its rich culture and passionate people. And the delightful comic operetta by Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, The Merry Widow, celebrates the very best of Paris.

This production, which debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 2014, brings along its original star (and Lyric Opera of Chicago "creative consultant") Renée Fleming (through December 3 only - soprano Nicole Cabell takes over the lead Dec 9-13), the design team (including the decadent gowns by celebrated Broadway stalwart William Ivey Long) and Tony award-winning director/choreographer Susan Stroman.

While the plot is slight, the music is sumptuous. Fleming floats across the stage as the desired millionaire widow, Hanna Glawari. Men throw themselves at her feet for obvious reasons. But she's not having it - Hanna's eyes are set on Count Danilo Danilovitsch (the matinee-idol charming Thomas Hampson), her former lover. However, while Danilo shows interest in Hanna's advances, he harbors hesitations in re-kindling the romance of someone with such deep pockets.

Meanwhile, two young lovers, Valencienne (a crackling Heidi Stober) and Camille (Michael Spyres) tryst in the background as Valendienne's husband (Patrick Carfizzi) blindly focuses his efforts in ensuring Hanna's love interests remain within the confines of their poverty stricken town - thereby ensuring her vast fortune remains local. Great comedic work by an ensemble steeped in Chicago theatre talent.

By act three, the can-can dancers arrive (razzle-dazzelingly choreographed by Stroman) and things whirl into a hilarious and colorful series of antics and prat falls. Stober gains a delightful scene-stealing moment as she lets loose amongst the high-kicking can-can ladies. But rest assured, the lovers who were meant to be, are. Pop the champagne!

This was my first time seeing Fleming in person. I've admired her vocal work through her Grammy-winning albums, and have deeply appreciated all the good work she's done to make opera accessible to a new generation. Truly important and inspiring stuff. I just wish her efforts in this production made such an impression. Fleming's no doubt a glowing figure on a stage, but here, she oddly fades into the background, perhaps due to the score settling uncomfortably in her lower range. However, the biggest surprise is Fleming's resistance in tapping into Hanna's sparkling wryness -- an attitude I'd assumed she'd revel in. Rather, Fleming's Hannah comes across a grounded, leaden creature, who only comes to life in a few brief and thrilling moments (including a stunning "Vilja" in the second act).

That said, the evening still maintained its buoyancy, and the crowd left the Lyric on a high note.

"The Merry Widow" plays through December 13 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. More info here >

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