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Creative Solutions to Information Access from Chicago's Chief Librarian

Sun, 2015-02-15 23:00
There is a lot more to check out at the Chicago Public Library than just books and periodicals.

For starters, the library system through its 80 locations and "Internet to Go" service is the largest provider of free online access to Chicago's 2.7 million residents. Students, small business owners and citizens of all walks of life who otherwise have no or limited connection to the information economy can now at least tap into this foundational infrastructure at any Chicago library. As digital innovations have advanced dramatically in the two decades since the debut of the World Wide Web, however, it is essential that citizens are provided with the tools to create and not just connect.

"Today, more people have more access to more information than at any other time in human history. But that access is not equal," said Brian Bannon, who for nearly three years has served as Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. Bannon's remarks came during a presentation to civic leaders at the City Club of Chicago. He added that "for Chicago to compete in this borderless economic frontier, we must ensure that Chicagoans are informed, creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative. It also means that our children must become lifelong learners who are able to absorb and utilize new information."

Prior to coming to Chicago, Bannon served as Chief Information Officer of the San Francisco Public Library. He possesses both a deep appreciation of a library's role in the public sphere, as well as an immense understanding of digital information delivery systems. These attributes make him the perfect advocate to showcase emerging technologies like 3D printing and multimedia production within educational settings that are available to anyone.

I've had the opportunity to have several conversations with Bannon over the last few months about how all Chicagoans can benefit from information innovations. Here are a few of the key points we discussed.

What is the role for a public library in a time when much of the world's recorded information is now literally available at our fingertips?

Brian Bannon: We recently surveyed 30,000 people and 95 percent of respondents said they had used their branch for books in the last year, and one in every four patrons have used the Library for programs. Of those who have used the Library, 79 percent said they were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with Chicago Public Library services. And 72 percent responded that the Library was very important in their lives. Chicago Public Library is adapting. With our expanded digital offerings -- like our new website with (periodical distributor) Zinio and movie and music distributor Hoopla -- and our Android and iPhone apps -- you can quite literally take the Library anywhere with you. We are a wonderful balance of both a community hub for Chicagoans, and something that is still accessible for people on the go in a digital world.

The Chicago Public Library's new three-year strategy launched earlier this year. Our timeless priorities are to provide access to materials, information ideas and knowledge to all, and to serve our patrons effectively by providing them books, programs and programmatic resources. This strategy will continue to respond to the current and evolving needs of patrons by focusing on three specific areas: nurturing learning for children, teens and adults; supporting economic advancement; and strengthening communities.

How can the library best serve individuals without reliable and regular home Internet access?

Brian Bannon: The Chicago Public Library is already the largest provider of free internet in the city of Chicago, offering computers and Wi-Fi access at 80 locations across the city. In 2015, we plan to go even further with our tech lending with our "Internet to Go" program thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation we received last year. Earlier in 2014 we submitted a proposal for Internet to Go to the Knight News Challenge and were one of the winners, receiving a $400,000 grant to pilot the project. The Internet to Go Program will lend out Wi-Fi hotspots to patrons for three weeks at a time.

While we aren't ready to announce the locations at this time, we can share that we plan to pilot this program in three targeted neighborhood locations where internet access is particularly low. If the first three locations go well, we will expand to three additional locations. After that, we can explore how to engage this lending city-wide.

Describe examples of how specialists with deep access to technology and learning tools can take advantage of library resources.

Brian Bannon: Our Maker Lab offers access to digital technology, 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters and even a robotic knitting machine. Some examples of people using the Maker Lab are:

  • A patron who comes in regularly uses the laser cutter to design jewelry to sell on Etsy. She draws the designs and then converts them to digital format and laser cuts them here.

  • A patron worked on a prototype for a dental hygiene instrument -- he used the 3D printer to print out these prototypes.

  • A patron came in to prototype some guitar hardware pieces. He has been printing them in 3D so he can then have molds produced in order to mass produce.

  • A patron from a volunteer organization came in to laser cut name tags for the volunteers in her organization.

  • A doctor from a teaching hospital is creating an image of a patient's skull in order to have a life-size model to see where the physical defects are in order to see how they will need to be repaired. It would cost many hundreds of dollars to have this done elsewhere.

Explain the motivation behind installing a Maker Lab within the Harold Washington Center.

Brian Bannon: The Maker Lab began as the first installation in a series of experimental offerings of our Innovation Lab. It's a hands-on, collaborative learning environment designed to expose Chicagoans to 21st century technology. Patrons come together to share knowledge, design and create. In its first nine months, our Maker Lab had 42,000 visitors and will be open through June 2015 thanks to a grant from the Motorola Mobility Foundation through Chicago Public Library Foundation. The Library's Maker Lab brings the latest in technology to patrons from all over the city -- in a free and welcoming environment where they can master the skills needed to join the maker community.

These skills are essential in the advanced manufacturing world and skills needed to imagine the future. Inventables (a Chicago-based retailer and promoter of 3D Printing equipment) donated 3D printers to our Maker Lab prior to opening. Inspired by our Maker Lab's success, Inventables will be donating 3D printers to other libraries across the United States.

Beyond providing access to knowledge and reading materials, libraries can serve as a place to foster social and collaborative learning. What is your approach to this, particularly for middle school and high school-aged students?

Brian Bannon: Opened in 2009, YOUmedia was the first space devoted to high school teens at the Chicago Public Library, occupying a 5,500-square-foot space on the ground floor of our central library, Harold Washington Library Center, in downtown Chicago. We now have expanded this program to 11 locations. The design of the space is based on the research of Professor Mizuko Ito and colleagues, Living and Learning with Digital Media (2008).

His ethnographic study of more than 700 youth found that young people participate with digital media in three ways: they "hang out" with friends in social spaces such as Facebook; they "mess around" or tinker with digital media, making simple videos, playing online games or posting pictures in Flickr; they "geek out" in online groups that facilitate exploration of their core interests.

We see the library as a node on a teen's pathway to lifelong learning, and we connect teens to other learning opportunities that will lead to skill-building as well as college and career development. YOUmedia connects teens to mentors, 21st century technology, and a space where their social skills and learning can be cultivated in a safe environment.

YOUmedia operates as a drop-in, out-of-school learning environment for teens to develop skills in digital media, STEM and making. We encourage participants to create rather than consume, and teens are encouraged to learn based on self-interest through intergenerational and peer collaborations. Teens learn how to code, record music and videos, create art through different mediums and are encouraged to explore 21st century technology.

Meet the Chicago Mayoral Candidates

Sun, 2015-02-15 20:41
Chicagoans across the city will have the chance to vote for their next mayor Feb. 24. If one candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote in February, that person will win the election. But if no one receives more than half of voters' support, there will be a runoff election in April. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face four challengers.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Ald. Robert Fioretti, South Side businessman Willie Wilson and community activist William "Dock" Walls are all bidding for the city's top office.

The latest Chicago Tribune poll shows Emanuel with 42 percent support among voters; Garcia trails the incumbent at 18 percent. While Emanuel leads by a comfortable margin, he'll need to win 50 percent-plus-one of total votes to avoid a dicey runoff election against the closest challenger.

Take a look at following infographics for some background information on all five Chicago mayor candidates.

Check out Reboot Illinois to see each candidate's education, experience and other personal information to help you decide for whom to cast your vote.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date with Illinois politics.

NEXT ARTICLE: State of the State video highlights: Rauner wants Dem help to take on unions, trial lawyers

Watch Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock And Many Others On The 'SNL 40' Monologue

Sun, 2015-02-15 20:12
Steven Martin didn't host "SNL 40," but he did start the show's monologue. Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks, Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, Melissa McCarthy, Peyton Manning, Billy Crystal, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney also joined Martin on the "SNL" stage. It was pretty great.

Poll: Gov. Bruce Rauner's Approval Rating Tumbles

Sun, 2015-02-15 09:09
In December, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner told voters "I ain't going to be Mr. Popularity for a little while."

That may be the first promise that he keeps.

A new poll of 908 Illinois voters taken by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry on February 11, after Rauner's first 30 days in office, shows the governor's approval rating at 43 percent.

The survey, commissioned by The Illinois Observer for its subscription e-newsletter, The Insider, reports that 29.7 percent of voters "strongly approve" and 13.4 percent "approve" of Rauner's handling of his job so far. Meanwhile, 28.2 percent of voters disapprove, with 16.2 percent "strongly" disapproving.

"Bruce Rauner has had a very busy and aggressive first 30 days in office," Ogden & Frey's Tom Swiss wrote in the polling memo. "Tensions are running high in Springfield as he has started revealing some of his yet undisclosed positions. While the politicians don't seem to like the change in status quo, 43% of voters either approve or strongly approve of his performance as Governor."

The survey, which had a +/- 3.32 percent margin of error, tested a random sampling of voters who voted in at least one of the last three elections. In a poll leading up to the November 2014 election, Ogden & Fry correctly predicted Rauner's five point win.

Given the low esteem in which the legislature and Congress are held, a 43 percent job approval is not bad.


Tensions may be running high outside of Springfield, too.

Rauner's 43% approval rating is down 9 points and disapproval up five points since a We Ask America January 14th poll that put Rauner's approval at 52 percent and his disapproval 23 percent.

What happened?

He pursued a confrontational approach rejected by voters.

A We Ask America January 15th poll of 1,026 registered voters, commissioned by Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, asked the following question:

"Do you think Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner should try to solve the state's problems by working to find common ground with the Democratic-controlled legislature, or should he take a more confrontational approach with the Democrats in trying to solve this state's many problems?"

The answer?

A whopping 67 percent urged Rauner to "find common ground," while just 22 percent backed confrontation.

The common ground approached was embraced across the ideological spectrum: 84% of Democrats; 63 percent of independents; and even 49 percent of Republicans said find common ground.

Instead, Rauner went confrontational.

In the days leading up to his state of the state speech, the governor rolled out his war against organized labor, core Democratic allies, in a series of speeches across the state, essentially laying the financial woes of Illinois and a culture of "corruption" at the unions' doorstep. He repeated those themes at his February 4 address before the joint gathering of lawmakers.

Even lead balloons have fallen to the ground slower.

Then on Monday the governor lowered the boom on AFSCME issuing an executive order freezing union dues of some 6,000 state employees who wish to opt out of the union. He also announced a federal lawsuit to scuttle the constitutionality of the "fair share" union fee arrangement. He charged that the unions were a "critical cog in the corrupt bargain" in Springfield. The moves grabbed national attention and not so favorable comparisons with Wisconsin's union-busting governor, Scott Walker.

The new Ogden & Fry survey could also be interpreted as a validation of House Speaker Michael Madigan's strategy of avoiding confrontation with Rauner, allowing the merits or demerits of the governor's actions to be judged by voters, not Democratic opposition.

Moreover, the poll may also confirm the angst that some GOP lawmakers are feeling about the governor's full-throated attack on the unions, fearing that slippage of Rauner's approval rating could hit their own numbers, particularly those labor-friendly Republican legislators who may be forced to vote for anti-labor initiatives.

All this before even the Fiscal Year 2016 budget pain is rolled out this week.

Oh, boy!

David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.

American Woman Confessed To Valentine's Day Massacre Plot In Halifax: Canada Police

Sat, 2015-02-14 15:01
TORONTO (AP) — Canadian police have foiled a plot by three suspects who were planning to go to a mall in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and kill as many people as they could before killing themselves on Valentine's Day, police said Saturday. One suspect fatally shot himself as police moved in to arrest him, and an American suspect confessed to the plot when she was arrested at the Halifax airport, a senior police official told The Associated Press.

Police and Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the plot was not related to terrorism. "This appeared to be a group of murderous misfits that were ... prepared to wreak havoc and mayhem on our community," MacKay said Saturday. "The attack does not appear to have been culturally motivated, therefore not linked to terrorism."

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said friends Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, 23, of Geneva, Illinois, and Randall Steven Shepherd, 20, of Nova Scotia, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer Brian Brennan said the suspects planned to go to the Halifax Shopping Center and kill as many people as they could on Saturday, Valentine's Day, before taking their own lives.

He told a news conference that police found three long-barreled rifles in the home of a third suspect, a 19-year-old who died before he could be arrested. He did not elaborate on how the suspect died.

But a senior police official told The Associated Press that the 19-year-old male fatally shot himself early Friday after police surrounded his home in the Halifax suburb of Timberlea.

The official said the American woman had prepared a number of pronouncements to be tweeted after her death. Shepard was also arrested early Friday at the airport where he went to meet his friend, police said.

The suspects used a chat stream and were apparently obsessed with death and had many photos of mass killings, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Police acted quickly after receiving information from the public on the Crime Stoppers tip line. The two suspects are due in court on Tuesday.

At the home of the male suspect, police saw two people leave the house who they determined were the 19-year-old's parents and pulled them over on a traffic check. They then called the suspect.

The man told police that he didn't have any guns but shot himself as he was on his way out of the house, the official told the AP.

A neighbor said the 19-year-old had not mixed with others in the neighborhood in recent years.

"He was one of those people who kept to himself, not a people person," said the neighbor, Steven Greenwood.

The official said police worked with Canadian border officials to find the female suspect on her flight as she was making her way from Chicago.

Police in Geneva, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Chicago, searched Souvannarath's home on Friday night and seized several items. Geneva Police Cmdr. Julie Nash refused to describe the items or their potential value as evidence, saying Canadian authorities had requested that such information not be made public.

A former neighbor, Eva Schooley, moved into the same cul-de-sac a few months after the Souvannaraths in 2000 and lived across from them for about a decade. She recalled them as "very nice people" and said they participated in frequent block parties, Easter egg hunts and Halloween parties.

"My granddaughters ran around with Lindsay," she said. "Lindsay was a little strange. I think at one point she went kind of gothic on us for a while. She liked to dress in black, the whole gothic style."

Police said Friday they first received information a day earlier about a potentially significant weapons-related threat.

Tensions remained high in normally calm Halifax. Police responded to reports of shots fired at the Halifax Shopping Center on Saturday night, but backed off when it was determined that seven kids were playing with slingshots. Police tweeted that seven youths were in custody and said there was no active shooter.


Associated Press reporter Jason Keyser in Chicago contributed to this story.

Jeb Bush Won't Talk About Wars His Brother Started

Sat, 2015-02-14 10:52
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has no interest in "re-litigating" the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which began under his brother's administration.

"I won't talk about the past," Bush said at a Friday press conference when asked how he would have handled the conflicts differently, according to The Washington Post. "I'll talk about the future. If I'm in the process of considering the possibility of running, it's not about re-litigating anything in the past. It's about trying to create a set of ideas and principles that will help us move forward."

The governor, who is almost certain to jump into the 2016 race, said that instead he would focus on a positive vision for the country that revolved around the future. He will elaborate on that vision when he delivers what his aides are describing as a major foreign policy address in Chicago next week.

It's unlikely Bush will be able to avoid the subject for long. Democrats are already pointing to his brother's legacy, which has left U.S. forces in the Middle East more than a decade after their initial deployment. Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars remain unpopular -- with a 2013 poll finding majorities that said the campaigns were not worth the tremendous sacrifice. Some Republicans, too, are likely to criticize Bush over the matter. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another would-be presidential candidate with libertarian leanings, has spoken out against false pretenses used to justify the war.

At his Friday press conference, Bush suggested that he would address current threats to America, such as the rise of the Islamic State, during his speech next week.

“We have some big, hairy, complicated things we need to fix and one of those is what the role of America is in the world to protect our safety and security, but also to promote security and peace around the world, and I think we can be a force for good," he said.

7 Valentine's Day Charts To Help You Break Down The Holiday

Sat, 2015-02-14 08:14
Whether you love it, hate it, or just find yourself totally over Valentine's Day, we've got the chart for you.

It's no secret that V-Day or Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.) is often one of the most disappointing holidays of the year, with grand romantic expectations being met with lackluster gestures and dates all too often.

Let these 7 charts help you get real about Cupid's day of obligatory courtship, whether you're celebrating or not.

2015's Trans 100 Event To Be Held In Chicago

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:44
Are you ready for the 2015 Trans 100?

The Trans 100 is an annual event in its 3rd year that honors some of the most influential voices leading the transgender movement. Co-directed by Rebecca Kling and Crispin Torres, this year's Trans 100 will take place on March 29 at Mayne Stage in Chicago and be hosted by Precious Davis and Myles Brady.

Not only that, but the event's keynote address will be delivered by by "The Matrix" and "Cloud Atlas" co-director Lana Wachowski and a performance given by Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace.

"Chicago is proud to host the Trans 100 Live Event for the third year in a row,” Torres said in a statement. “The list honors our trans community in a way that holds up each individual by their varied accomplishments, passion for change and their unique place in their local community. Trans 100 is great way to create visibility and further open the doors for progress for a group of people that are frequently sidelined in the mainstream media and policy change efforts, and I’m proud to help further its mission.”

The Trans 100 functions as an overview of the valuable work being done by individuals across the spectrum of transgender identity. Head here for more information about the Trans 100 and a list of previous nominees.

Playing Devil's Advocate: Will Legal Marijuana Ever Come to Illinois?

Fri, 2015-02-13 15:09
When it comes to legalizing marijuana in Illinois, there are as many opinions as there are Illinoisans. But one Illinoisan, known only as the Devil's Advocate, has some particularly strong ideas.

The Devil's Advocate writes:

If there's one thing we like where I come from, it's good intentions. We've got a road rolling right into my hometown that's paved with them.

But the old highway can always use a little resurfacing, which is why I was so delighted to follow the creation of the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Pilot Program.

Back home, we're counting on the good intentions from this one putting an overlay of gold on the old hometown highway.

Oh, not the good intentions of helping chronically sick people for whom marijuana represents the last hope for relief where pharmaceuticals have failed. Provided the state gets its act together -- and it looks like it finally did -- the program should work as intended.

No, we'll see nary a square foot of asphalt from those good intentions.

I'm talking about the good intentions that went into guarding against the medical marijuana program becoming something more than a means of helping very sick people. All those pages and pages of rules to make sure that only those suffering from specific chronic diseases are allowed access to Illinois-grown cannabis.

Your lawmakers sure twisted themselves into legalistic contortions to make sure the Illinois marijuana law didn't end up like California's, where a hangnail can earn you a cannabis card you can redeem at the friendly drive-thru up the street. Or heaven forbid (pardon the expression), Illinois might end up like Washington or Colorado, where there is no artifice of medical use forming a halo above the iconic herb.

None of that for Illinois. Your lawmakers wrote up reams of rules to make sure Illinois stayed on the side of the angels when it came to recognizing that there's some value in the devil's weed. (That is NOT a derogatory term here, by the way.)

Good intentions. The best. And in a few years I'll be cruising right over them on my daily commute. I've seen this happen before in Illinois...

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois to find out just how long the Devil's Advocate predicts it will take before legal recreational marijuana use comes to Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: State of the State video highlights: Rauner wants Dem help to take on unions, trial lawyers

Porchlight's <i>Sondheim on Sondheim</i> Explores the Art of Making Art

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:00
In the new musical revue, Sondheim on Sondheim, the chorus opens the second act with a self-deprecating number about how Stephen Sondheim is a "God." Though the purpose of this second act opener is tongue-in-cheek (Sondheim himself wrote it), I'd argue that most people in the opening night audience of Porchlight Music Theatre's incandescent production certainly felt like they were worshiping one of America's most gifted artists.

As any Sond-head knows, a handful of Sondheim revues, such as Putting it Together or Marry Me a Little, already exist. However, as smartly arranged as they are, they often feel like a crisp and hollow examination of Sondheim's canon. However, Sondheim on Sondheim, which was conceived by Sondheim's long-time collaborator James Lapine and premiered on Broadway in 2010, is the first revue that actually seems to have a firm point of view and an emotional core.

The cast of Porchlight's "Sondheim on Sondheim"

Sondheim on Sondheim's unique structure gives us the backstory behind each tune, as narrated by the master himself via video snippets of both new and archival footage (expert video design by Mike Tutaj). And, as anyone who's seen him speak in interviews, Sondheim is a relaxed and affable storyteller -- one who isn't afraid to speak pridefully of his work, but is also refreshingly frank in admitting when the work didn't hit the mark. The second act digs deeper, letting us peek into the famously reserved Sondheim's personal life, including matters of the heart and his harrowing relationship with his mother.

In short: We fall in love with Sondheim -- the man.

A risk with such a format is the actual performances can be overshadowed by the creator. Thankfully, director Nick Bowling has cast a richly talented and diverse cast of eight performers who more than match the material. Sure -- I've heard many of these songs performed more beautifully, but never with so much singularity and heart. Highlights include Porchlight stalwart Rebecca Finnegan's understated "In Buddy's Eyes," Stephen Rader's tightly wound "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," and a chilling "Something Just Broke" by the cast.

The surprising anchor of this production, however, is the mega-talented Austin Cook, who sets the music spinning through his deft accompaniment and charisma. Sporting a Sondheim-like beard, Cook represents the next generation of talent that "God" himself, I'm sure, would be proud of.

For anyone who finds fascination in the art of making art, Sondheim on Sondheim is a must-see.

"Sondheim on Sondheim" plays through March 15 at Stage 773. More info here >

Civic Federation says Illinois needs a higher income tax

Fri, 2015-02-13 12:25
The Civic Federation, the respected, Chicago-based fiscal watchdog, is hardly a bastion of tax-and-spend liberalism.

It was the leading voice in warning that the state's growing pension debt endangered all of state government. It has issued reams of reports over the years warning that the state was spending far more than it was taking in and needed to overhaul its budget approach. Last May, it ripped Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget as a formula for continued fiscal disaster. (That prediction, incidentally, has come true, as the state needs to find $1.5 billion to stay on budget through June 30.)

Yet for the second time in less than a year, the Civic Federation this week issued a warning that the state had put itself in serious financial danger when it allowed its personal and corporate income tax rates to fall by 25 percent on Jan. 1. It also recommends, again, that Illinois consider taxing retirement income and expanding its sales tax as it attempts to stabilize its finances and pay down a $6.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

As it recommended last year, the new Civic Federation report advises lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner to raise the personal state income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to 6 percent. On Jan. 1, a four-year temporary tax increase partially expired, dropping the personal income tax rate from 5 to 3.75 percent and the corporate rate from 7 to 5.25 percent. Letting the tax increase expire arguably was the biggest plank in Rauner's election platform, and he has continued to support the rollback - while occasionally dropping vague hints that the rate might be open to negotiation -- since taking office.

"The incomplete FY2015 budget resulted in a greater deterioration of Illinois' finances and made the necessary actions to fix this crisis even more painful," said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. "Illinois cannot afford such a steep rollback of its tax rates without eliminating entire areas of State services or completely restructuring the government."

In last year's "State of Illinois 2015 Fiscal Roadmap," the Civic Federation warned that allowing the 2011 income tax increase to expire would send state government over a "fiscal cliff." It recommended numerous changes in tax policy along with spending cuts.

Lawmakers ignored both the tax and spending advice, a fact noted in the newly released "State of Illinois 2016 Fiscal Roadmap."

"Largely as a result, State income tax revenues are expected to plummet by $5.2 billion from FY2014 to FY2016. Because no structural changes in revenues or spending were undertaken for FY2015, the current year's budget is estimated to have a shortfall of as much as $1.5 billion," the new report states.

Read the rest of the article at Reboot Illinois to see a chart explaining Illinois' tax revenues and a few frustrating facts about the state's finances, including its bill backlog pattern.

For many people, another frustrating part of living in Illinois is the state's transportation system. The Metropolitan Planning Council found that half of all Illinoisans are annoyed by their commutes every day and that Chicagoland drivers spend almost three days a year just sitting in traffic. So how do we ease the issue? Read the MPC's Peter Skosey's analysis at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Devils Advocate: When will legal marijuana come to Illinois?

Jason Robert Brown Is The Busiest Man On Broadway

Fri, 2015-02-13 12:21
Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown often finds himself with little time to write. With multiple projects in the air, his impressive body of work ensures endless revivals and adaptations, though he eagerly awaits downtime to pen something new. Leaping from stage to screen, "The Last Five Years," starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, marks a career milestone.

Conceived as a two-person musical with minimal set design, "The Last Five Years" examines an unraveling relationship between Cathy (Kendrick) and Jamie (Jordan). Shot on location throughout New York City, the film explores the couple's tender moments and unnerving heartbreak with a series of breathtaking solos -- hers tracing the romance in reverse chronology; his rocketing forward from the onset of the relationship. Unlikely to be a box-office smash, "The Last Five Years" will nonetheless resonate with fans of the short-lived though critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway musical.

The Huffington Post spoke with Brown to discuss what makes him tick and the tricks to balancing a successful career in the industry.

"The Last Five Years" premiered in 2001. Fourteen years later, as the movie is about to debut, what's changed?
Certainly, compared to any other show I've written, "Last Five Years" barely changed at all. But every time we revisit it, I have a different viewpoint. When I wrote it, in Chicago, it was very much still something I was in the middle of. I could feel all the wounds in my own marriage. By the time we opened in New York, a year and a half later, I was in another relationship and moving forward and feeling a little bit trapped by my old relationship. When we did the revival Off-Broadway [in 2013], I felt like [the characters'] uncle, like, "Oh, you silly kids! That's a rough deal you've got." And the movie came around shortly after that and I was ever farther away from it. Two young people in New York who don't know what they're getting into? As I get further away from the emotions that inspired the show in the first place, I look at it differently as a writer.

Was it easy for you to choose the leads for the film?
We never thought the movie would get made. But Anna [Kendrick] was a no-brainer. I got a call that she was interested, and she came to my house in Los Angeles and she sang about four notes, and I said, "We're good, we're great." Once she signed on, the movie started to gain some momentum, and it was suddenly imperative that we cast the guy, Jamie. And Jamie is always the hardest part to cast -- the singing is brutally difficult. We were looking for someone who really had the chops, and when Jeremy sent his audition tape, I thought, "What do you need other than that?" He was exactly what we needed. He embodied the character so completely, and could sing the living shit out of it. I said, "If you guys want to try to find an established movie star, keep looking, I guess, but if you want the right person, then that's Jeremy."

Both characters can be so beautiful and yet so flawed, and you're torn when it comes to taking sides.
That was always the intention: to paint neither as a villain. I've looked at the reviews over the years from all over the world, and people do take sides, but they're evenly divided. You'll read one that says, "He only wrote good songs for Jamie." Another says, "Thank God Cathy's got something, because Jamie's just dreadful and miserable." It doesn't fall along gender lines though. People come in with their own baggage and watches the story unfold through that prism.

With "The Last Five Years" filming, "Bridges of Madison Country" running on Broadway, "Honeymoon in Vegas" about to open on Broadway, and the "13" movie announcement, how do you recommend working in a multiple-project mindset?
I don't really. A lot of stuff got piled up on the runway and then cleared for takeoff at the same time. The movie of "The Last Five Years," we shot it a year and a half ago and it's been in the can for a long time. "Honeymoon in Vegas" I've been working on since 2003, and "Bridges of Madison County" started five years ago.

The downside has been that since I've been in continuous production for the last two years, I haven't been able to do much writing. And I'm looking forward to that. I've got this concert for "Parade" that I'm rehearsing now, and really once I get through that on Monday, I'm free and clear for the first time in two years. I have a month on my calendar blocked out, with nothing on it, so that all I can do is write, because I have an idea for a new show.

Of all of the songs you've written, which will you never tire of hearing, never tire of playing?
You know, I love my stuff -- you're not supposed to say that. But because I'm performer as well as a writer, I'm constantly interacting with my own work. I always get to find these little secrets that I left for myself, little notes -- I find them all over the scores.

I'm going to be playing a production of "The Last Five Years" in Alabama this weekend, and then I go to Germany to conduct "The Trumpet of the Swan," and all of that while talking about a revival of "Songs for a New World." So, I don't have to pick favorites because the work keeps crossing my keyboard. As it does, I get reacquainted with that guy who wrote that piece in 1998, or this guy who wrote this in 2005. And he inspires me to do something with a new thing I'm working on. It must be what bands with long catalogs, like U2 or Bruce Springsteen, feel -- constantly connecting one era of your work to another. Having said that, I don't ever need to hear "I'm Not Afraid of Anything" again.

Do you recognize any through-line in your artistic sensibilities?
I write about outsiders. I write about people who are outside and don't know quite how to get in because it's how I've always felt. On a musical level, I want to write music that is fun to play. There's something about the acoustic property of musicians playing together that's a key to the kind of writing that I do. I see both of those through-lines, which is one thing about being an outside and another about being a community of musicians, and I think those two ideas do talk to each other.

Anything running now in New York or Los Angeles that you've been recommending to friends?
See "Honeymoon in Vegas" as soon as possible, and bring your 40 closest friends.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

In Case You Forgot How Much You Want To 'Be Like Mike,' Here's Your Reminder

Fri, 2015-02-13 09:34
Yep, we still want to be like Mike.

Gatorade is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a digitally remastered "Be Like Mike" ad. The commercial originally aired in the summer of 1991, right after the Chicago Bulls won their first of six titles.

Reminisce by watching 29-year-old Michael Jordan shoot hoops and drink gatorade with your own special bottle of MJ's favorite flavor, Citrus Cooler. The drink will be available with a "retro" label at the end of March.

"In celebration of 50 years of fueling champions, Gatorade presents the iconic Be Like Mike commercial featuring the one, the only, Michael Jordan," the YouTube description of the commercial, which will air this weekend, reads.

According to ESPN, the Gatorade crew couldn't be more excited about the return of "Be Like Mike."

"The return of Gatorade's iconic 'Be Like Mike' commercial during NBA All-Star Weekend is the perfect complement to our brand's continued 50th anniversary celebration in 2015," Gatorade chief marketing officer Morgan Flatley reportedly said in a statement. "What better way to celebrate our first athlete spokesman, Michael Jordan; the NBA, one of Gatorade's longest tenured partners; and the national revival of one of MJ's favorite Gatorade flavors, Citrus Cooler.”

H/T For The Win

Jackie Robinson West Lawyer Investigating Whether Other Little League Teams Are Held To Same Standard

Fri, 2015-02-13 09:24
CHICAGO (AP) -- A day after Little League International stripped Chicago's Jackie Robinson West of its national championship, team officials announced they've hired a high-profile attorney to conduct an investigation they hope will end with the return of their title.

The sport's governing body announced Wednesday that team officials had violated regulations by including players who didn't qualify because they lived outside the team's boundaries, then scrambled to get adjacent leagues to go along with the scheme. But attorney Victor Henderson said Thursday he will try to determine not only whether the team broke any rules but whether - as supporters in Chicago have suggested - Little League International unfairly singled them out.

Henderson addresses the media during a press conference on Thursday

"I want to make sure that whatever rules and regulations are being applied to Jackie Robinson West are being applied to any other team," Henderson said during a news conference, flanked by members of the family that runs the league on the city's South Side and the team's manager, who has been suspended.

Henderson said it is too early to say if Jackie Robinson West will file a lawsuit against Little League International.

"Clearly, we have one more battle," said Bill Haley, the director of the team, whose father was the founder. "You were not wrong for sticking with our boys then (during the Little League World Series), and you are not wrong for sticking with our boys now."

The announcement that the title the team won at last summer's Little League World Series triggered an emotional response from parents and supporters in Chicago and around the country, some of whom suggested that the race of the all-black team may have been a factor in the stunning decision to remove the title. On Thursday, Henderson tried to tamp down those criticisms.

"We aren't raising the race card," he said. He also addressed threats made against the life of the suburban baseball league official whose allegations triggered the investigation.

"The Haley family, they want no part of that," he said.

The family members who attended the press conference and Darold Butler, the team's suspended manager, did not take questions. Henderson said he could not answer any questions until he receives paperwork from Little League International, which he said he will request.

In the meantime, he said he is telling the boys that, as far as he is concerned, they remain the national champions.

"I'm saying to them, `You do not give up your championship yet,'" he said.

Whether the investigation could prompt Little League International to reverse its decision remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the organization to ask that the title be given back to the team because the boys did nothing wrong.

But the president and CEO of Little League International, who on Wednesday said there was no indication the boys were complicit in the scheme of the adults, told the mayor that the decision was final.

Listen To This Couple Say 'I Love You' For The First Time After 8 Years Of Dating

Fri, 2015-02-13 08:55
Know how putting something off can make it harder and harder to do? Like doing the dishes after they've piled up in the sink, or making use of your gym membership. Or, maybe, telling someone you love them.

As part of a new video series produced by This American Life called Videos 4 U, filmmaker Bianca Giaever set out to find people who'd been having trouble putting something into words, and to help them express it. A callout for submissions on the podcast led Giaever to a Chicago woman named Maia.

Over goat cheese and hummus at her apartment, Maia explained the problem. In the eight years she'd been dating her boyfriend Alex, neither one had said "I love you." But Maia did, in fact, love her boyfriend of eight whole entire years -- as a "fluke," she just hadn't said it aloud. Not at any of the weddings the couple attended last summer, not in Paris, and not alone together at Olympic National Park. And so Giaever got to work helping her break the news with a video.

It was worth it, of course. "The more I said [I love you], the more comfortable I got with it," Maia reveals in the video. She even filmed Alex's reaction, which you can watch below. (Spoiler: It's a happy ending.)

Have something of your own to get out? Giaever and producers at M ss ng P eces are looking for volunteers -- send them an email at

Poll: Jeb Bush Trails Badly Among Illinois GOP Voters

Fri, 2015-02-13 06:48
Last week, Chicago Sun-Times' Washington political columnist Lynn Sweet gushed over ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush's strength in Illinois among the establishment, writing that Bush is "seizing the Illinois GOP establishment's big donor momentum."

Sweet claimed that Bush is on his way to vacuum up "at least $3 million for his new Right to Rise super PAC between events in Chicago and Lake Forest on Feb. 18..."

Whatever "momentum" Bush has among the moneyed crowd is offset by the commanding lead Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has among Illinois Republican primary voters, according to a new poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider.

A survey of 971 likely GOP primary voters on Thursday, February 5, reveals that Walker is grabbing 38.4% of the Illinois GOP presidential primary vote while Bush is trailing nearly 20 points behind Wisconsin's chief executive at 19.26%

Meanwhile, ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is nearly tied with Bush, grabbing 17.0% of GOP voters.

Bringing up the rear in distant fourth and fifth place showings are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and neighboring Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with 7.6% and 5.6% respectively.

In fact, Walker, who grabbed a narrow lead, 16%, in a recent Iowa poll after a rousing speech at a conservative summit sponsored by conservative U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in January, was in Peoria last Friday sounding like a presidential candidate.

"On Friday night I was at Eureka College to help celebrate President Ronald W. Reagan's birthday (104th)," State Senator Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) posted on his Facebook page. "The speaker at the celebration event was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. [...] I get the strong sense that Gov. Walker is gearing up to run for President in the 2016 election."

LaHood asked his followers to sound off on a Walker run.

"What are your thoughts on his chances of winning the Republican nomination?," LaHood asked.

Surprisingly, the reaction was mixed.

"I am all in for Scott Walker for President. What he did for Wisconsin he can do for our country. How fitting that he was speaking for Ronald Reagan's birthday. I think he's a Ronald Reagan type candidate who can save the USA!!," wrote Sheri Campbell Diekman.

"He has no chance, but I hope he's the nominee because Hillary will wipe the floor with him. Go ahead Repubs, run him," posted Barb Beitz.

We Ask America's Gregg Durham credits Walker's Illinois standing to "name recognition".

"Scott Walker's 34% mark is most likely attributable to name recognition from his very public battles in Wisconsin and recall election effort," Durham said.

Undoubtedly, Walker's political battles have drawn attention from his Illinois neighbors.

But if an early poll of GOP presidential contenders were only a game of "name recognition", then the son and brother of former presidents and a "moderate" ex-governor would be crushing the other candidates in "moderate" Illinois, no?

The Bush brand may have momentum fueled by the moneyed elite, but rank-and-file GOP voters, no strangers to the Bush family, have yet to get the Illinois establishment's memo.

Meanwhile, the new poll shows that U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is drawing thumbs up from 59% of GOP voters for his job performance while 20% disapprove and 21% are unsure.

Durham is encouraged by Kirk's latest numbers.

"Considering the electorate's general view of Congress, Sen. Kirk has a high approval rating of nearly 60 percent," said Durham. "His ratings in suburban Cook soar to nearly 67% in suburban Cook where he's best known."

Still, there are some clouds hovering over Kirk's GOP base.

In Downstate, he draws just 53.6% job approval from GOP voters while 17.8% disapprove and a hefty 28.4% are unsure. In fact, in the City of Chicago, Kirk has a slightly better job approval number, registering 55.2%.

Interestingly, Kirk, who is pro-choice, is doing slightly worse with Republican women than with men, who approve of his job performance 58.7% to 59.6%. Kirk's disapproval numbers among women fare better than among men, 15.6% to 25.0%, but 25.3% of GOP women are "unsure" about his job performance compared to just 15.3% of men.

Kirk has a solid base among GOP voters, but describing it as enthusiastic may be an adjective too far.

Stay tuned.

David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.

These 15 Black Women Were Killed During Police Encounters. Their Lives Matter, Too

Fri, 2015-02-13 06:30
Three months after Tanisha Anderson lost her life in an incident with Cleveland police officers, the community is still waiting for answers.

The 37-year-old died in November after her mother called 911 while Anderson was having a “mental health episode.” Officials say when officers tried to take Anderson to a treatment facility, she struggled and then went limp; her family says police slammed her to the ground and put a knee in her back. Her death was ruled a homicide.

In recent months, such deaths of unarmed black individuals -- and in some cases, the lack of indictments for officers involved -- have sparked protests in cities around the country, including Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police a week after Anderson's death as he carried a toy gun in a park. Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown have come to symbolize the Black Lives Matter movement focused on excessive force and racial disparities in policing.

But as thousands march for justice, the names of the women killed by police -- particularly women of color killed by police -- continue to be less known.

“We wanted to make sure [Anderson’s death] didn’t get swept under the rug,” Rachelle Smith told The Huffington Post. She and others protested at Cleveland's Justice Center this week over the lack of information in Anderson's case. “We hear a lot about Tamir Rice and Eric Garner … There’s no hierarchy in these tragedies, but she was unarmed, and the police were called to help her -- there’s this intersectionality of oppression there, and innocence.”

Some activists, like writer Dream Hampton, intentionally amplify the experiences of other black women. She told HuffPost she was encouraged the country was finally talking about police militarization after years of raising concerns in a “pro-policing culture,” but conversations need to be more inclusive.

“The reason why it’s important to center girls and women in this conversation is because the other narrative, and it’s not a competing narrative, but it’s just not a complete narrative, is that this only happens to black boys and men,” Hampton said. "We have always only framed this as a black male problem, and it is time to tell the entire truth about who police violence and terrorism happens to.”

The more complete narrative includes a small child shot while she was sleeping, as well as women killed while in violation of the law. While an important part of the latters' stories, it doesn’t somehow erase their deaths or mean the actions of police involved shouldn’t receive scrutiny. Below, see the stories of 15 black women and girls killed during police encounters over the last 15 years.

Tanisha Anderson
Died Nov. 13, 2014, age 37, Cleveland

Family Photo

As noted above, a medical examiner ruled Anderson’s death a homicide, the result of being “physically restrained in a prone position by Cleveland police." Her heart condition and bipolar disorder were also considered factors.

The police department hasn't finished an investigation into her death, though it will likely conclude by next week, a spokesman told The Huffington Post. The case will go to a grand jury as a matter of policy.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, Anderson's family alleges CPD Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers did not provide medical attention as Anderson lay on the ground unconscious.

Aldridge had previously been suspended for violating the department's use of force policies, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group, and was disciplined in 2012 for his role in the deaths of Malissa Williams (see below) and Timothy Russell. He is currently on desk duty.

In December, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force, including against people who are mentally ill, and don’t use appropriate techniques to account for mental illness.

Mauvion Green, Anderson’s daughter, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group she wanted to work for conscientious treatment of those with mental illnesses. "I'm fighting for my mother, but I'm fighting for everyone else, too," Green said.

Yvette Smith
Died Feb. 16, 2014, age 47, Bastrop, Texas

Family Photo

A year ago, Yvette Smith was fatally shot when Bastrop County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Willis responded to a 911 call about a fight between several men at a residence, according to KXAN. At the scene, authorities say, Willis ordered Smith to come out of the house then shot her twice when she stepped through the doorway. An original statement that claimed Smith was armed was retracted by police officials.

Willis was fired, and his previous record was questioned. An evaluation from a past employer stated he needed “more development in handling explosive situations" and "utilization of common sense."

He was indicted by a grand jury for murder in June. Smith’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August.

"A part of me is gone, you know, and I wish I could have that back, but I can't. I just want justice for her," Yvonne Williams, Smith’s twin sister, told KVUE.

Miriam Carey
Died Oct. 3, 2013, age 34, Washington, D.C.

Miriam Carey's mother, Idella Carey, and Charles Barron protest Carey's death on the West Front of the Capitol, October 3, 2014. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police officers fatally shot Miriam Carey in a car chase after she drove her car into a security checkpoint near the White House, refusing orders to stop. Officers fired multiple shots at Carey, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, hitting her five times.

Her 1-year-old daughter was in the car at the time and survived.

An autopsy found Carey was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, her family's attorney said, and no weapons were found in her car. She had previously been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.

Federal prosecutors said in July that they would not file charges against the officers; Carey’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The emphasis shouldn’t be on why [Miriam was in Washington, D.C.]," sister Valarie Carey told the Washington Post. "The emphasis should be what those officers did. Were their actions proper?”

Shelly Frey
Died Dec. 6, 2012, age 27, Houston


Shelly Frey was killed after she and two other women were allegedly caught stealing from a Walmart in 2012, the Houston Chronicle reports. Louis Campbell, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard, tried to detain them and then shot into a car in which Frey was a passenger. She was struck twice in the neck.

Campbell reportedly told investigators that he opened fire after the driver of the car tried to run him over. The other women and two children were in the car with Frey; they continued to drive away before stopping, and paramedics called to the scene were unable to revive her.

Frey had previously pleaded guilty to stealing shirts and meat from Walmart, according to Houston's KHOU, and was prohibited from entering the store.

Her family has sued Walmart for wrongful death. Campbell has not faced any charges.

Darnisha Harris
Died Dec. 2, 2012, age 16, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Darnisha Harris was 16 when Breaux Bridge Police Officer Travis Guillot fired two shots into the car she was driving. Guillot and two other officers were responding to a 911 call about an outdoor fight. According to the Advocate of Baton Rouge, they saw Harris driving erratically, hitting parked cars and a bystander before Guillot opened fire.

Harris was on probation for battery on a police officer and violating a court-ordered curfew when she died, according to the Advocate.

Guillot was previously accused of misconduct while working at three different law enforcement agencies, according to KATC of Lafayette, Louisiana. The incidents include shooting a dog while on patrol, allegedly fondling female inmates and alleged improper treatment of an inmate who died of cocaine intoxication while in custody. A lawsuit regarding the latter allegation was settled out of court.

A grand jury declined to indict Guillot.

Malissa Williams
Died Nov. 29, 2012, age 30, Cleveland

Cleveland Police Department/AP

Malissa Williams was a passenger in a car driven by a man named Timothy Russell when a police officer thought he heard shots fired from the vehicle and began following them, according to the Associated Press. A 25-minute chase through Cleveland ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds at the car, which was eventually cornered in a school parking lot. Twenty-three bullets struck Russell, and 24 hit Williams. They were both killed.

Williams and Russell, who both had criminal records, were unarmed.

Six officers were indicted in the car chase: Officer Michael Brelo was charged with manslaughter, and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty. Brelo, who allegedly fired 49 shots at the vehicle, 15 of them from atop the hood, goes to trial in April. The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $3 million.

"This shooting is one of the worst examples of police misconduct in American history,'' attorneys for Williams' and Russell's families said in a statement last year. "This settlement sends the clearest signal yet that real reform must be achieved inside the Cleveland Police Department."

Alesia Thomas
Died July 22, 2012, age 35, Los Angeles

Damian Dovarganes/AP

Alesia Thomas was arrested at her home on suspicion of child endangerment after she left her children at a police station because she couldn't care for them. A struggle with Los Angeles Police Officer Mary O'Callaghan and several other officers ensued; while putting a handcuffed Thomas in a squad car, prosecutors said O'Callaghan threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals and then did so seven times, hitting her in the groin, abdomen and thigh.

Thomas died shortly after at a hospital. An autopsy found that she had cocaine in her system. The cause of death was listed as undetermined.

O'Callaghan pleaded not guilty to an assault charge in Thomas' death in 2013. The trial is still pending.

Shantel Davis
Died June 14, 2012, age 23, New York City


Shantel Davis was fatally shot while driving a stolen car. Plainclothes NYPD officers approached her after she ran multiple red lights; when she tried to escape, Phil Atkins, a narcotics officer, allegedly tried to shift her car into park as it was moving, the New York Times reports. His gun fired once, striking Davis in the chest.

Davis had been arrested eight times previously and was due in court the day after her death for kidnapping and attempted murder charges, according to The New York Times. She was unarmed when she was shot.

Atkins had been sued seven times over the previous decade, with allegations including undue use of force, according to DNAinfo.

Rekia Boyd
Died March 22, 2012, age 22, Chicago


Rekia Boyd was unarmed when she was shot in the back of the head by Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin, who was off-duty at the time.

Servin was driving near his home late at night when he saw a group of four people walking outside. He had a brief conversation with them through his window, then turned the wrong way on a one-way street. According to the Chicago Tribune, he said he then looked over his shoulder and thought he saw a man from the group pull a gun from his pants and point it at him.

Servin fired five rounds over his left shoulder through his car window, striking the man in the hand and Boyd in the back of the head. The man who Servin believed had a gun was actually holding a cell phone.

Boyd was taken to a hospital and died the next day.

In 2013, Servin was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct. He has been stripped of his police powers, and the city awarded Boyd’s family $4.5 million as part of a wrongful death settlement.

My mother holds a lot inside but she’s hurting, especially when she hears about police violence," Martinez Sutton, Boyd’s brother, told the Chicago Citizen.

Shereese Francis
Died March 15, 2012, age 29, New York City


Shereese Francis was killed after family members called authorities seeking help because Francis, who had schizophrenia, had not been taking her medication and seemed like she needed medical attention. She refused to go to a hospital voluntarily.

The family’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges Francis, who was unarmed, was not aware arriving NYPD officers were police because of her mental illness. When she tried to leave the room against their orders, they allegedly pursued her, grabbed her and “tackled” her onto a bed. The suit claims four officers put their weight onto Francis’ back while trying to cuff her, and her sister believes she saw them hitting and using a Taser on Francis until Francis stopped moving.

Francis was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the incident. Her cause of death was "compression of trunk during agitated violent behavior (schizophrenia) while prone on bed and attempted restraint by police officers,” according to the Village Voice.

The lawsuit said the officers overwhelmingly violated NYPD policies on mental illness, in part because the department has failed to provide training.

The city settled with Francis’ family for $1.1 million.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones
Died May 16, 2010, age 7, Detroit

Charles Jones, the father of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, holds a photo of his daughter in attorney Geoffrey Fieger's office in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Carlos Osorio/AP

Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping on her couch with her grandmother when police conducted a "no knock" raid of their home. Officer Joseph Weekley was first through the door and after a flash-bang grenade went off, he fired his gun, killing Aiyana. Weekley testified the grandmother struck his weapon and caused him to fire, but she denies being near the gun.

Police said the raid was in search of a murder suspect who lived in the second floor unit of the home.

Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor charge, but the case was dismissed after two mistrials.

Tarika Wilson
Died Jan. 4, 2008, age 26, Lima, Ohio

Family Photo

Tarika Wilson was killed when a Lima Police SWAT team raided her rental home to arrest her boyfriend on drug charges, according to The New York Times. She had her youngest son, Sincere, in her arms when she was shot by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia. Sincere, who was 14 months old, was shot in the shoulder and hand but survived.

Chavalia was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. He testified that he felt his life was in danger when he shot Wilson, thinking he saw a shadow and heard gun shots nearby, when they actually came from officers downstairs, according to the Associated Press.

The city settled a wrongful death suit with Wilson’s family for $2.5 million in 2011.

Kathryn Johnston
Died Nov. 21, 2006, age 92, Atlanta

Family Photo/AP

Kathryn Johnston was 92 when she was killed in a botched "no knock" drug raid by Atlanta police that was revealed to be based on false information. Officers broke down her security gate and without warning entered her home.

As the door opened, Johnston fired the pistol she kept for self-defense, hitting no one. Officers fired back 39 times. Five or six bullets hit Johnston, and several others hit fellow police.

Officers later admitted to falsely claiming cocaine submitted into evidence had come from a drug deal at her house, and to planting marijuana at her house after the raid.

Officers Jason Smith, Greg Junnier and Arthur Tesler pleaded guilty to charges related to her death and the subsequent coverup. All three received prison time.

The city of Atlanta agreed to pay Johnston’s family $4.8 million as part of a settlement.

Alberta Spruill
Died May 16, 2003, age 57, New York City

Neighbors and friends of Alberta Spruill gather for a vigil. Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Alberta Spruill also died after police conducted a "no knock" raid at her home in error. Officers broke through her door and threw a concussion grenade while Spruill, a city employee, was getting ready for work. She was briefly handcuffed but released when officers realized they were in the wrong place and that the information they were given -- that guns and drugs were being stored in the apartment -- was incorrect. Spruill died of a heart attack at a nearby hospital less than two hours later.

The city of New York agreed to pay a $1.6 million settlement to Spruill’s family.

This case for them is not about money. It’s about changing procedure,” Johnnie Cochran, lawyer for Spruill’s sisters, said in 2003. “It’s about the fact that their sister should not have died in vain.”

Kendra James
Died May 5, 2003, age 21, Portland

Ten years after Kendra James was killed by a Portland police officer, Huey P. Martin Jr. holds a booklet from her funeral during a rally for police accountability, May 5, 2013. Alex Milan Tracy/Corbis

Portland Police Officer Scott McCollister fatally shot Kendra James during a traffic stop. When McCollister pulled over James and driver Terry Jackson, he took Jackson into custody after seeing he had an outstanding warrant. James moved behind the wheel of the car and tried to drive away, and McCollister tried to stop her by clambering partially into the car and pulling her hair and using pepper spray and a Taser. James put the car into drive and McCollister shot her, claiming he was stuck in the doorway and feared for his life.

A grand jury declined to prosecute. The officer was initially suspended, but the disciplinary action was overturned by an arbitrator.

“It’s been 10 years later, justice has still not served,” James’ mother, Shirley Isadore, said at a 2013 rally marking the anniversary of her daughter’s death.


Four of the above women were killed during police raids.

Three women had young children with them when they were killed.

Two were children when they were killed.

Two women with mental illnesses were killed after their family members called authorities for help.

Seven of the incidents resulted in charges. Only only one woman’s death has led to conviction. Several cases are still open.

There are many more women of color who have died in incidents involving police -- including all-too-frequent encounters with the mentally ill, like Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, or Margaret Mitchell. These women were armed and considered dangerous according to police, but their deaths point to failings in how police work with with mentally ill individuals.

"That's why it's necessary for this to be out there," George Francis told the Village Voice about the police’s role in his daughter Shereese’s death. "So that they put a new system in place to prevent this from happening to other people. They will be more careful when they know that they will be brought to account."

The Sociology of Dead Children

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:38
Experts have put urban violence under the microscope. You might call it the sociology of dead kids.

There's a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called "Tragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries." It's an attempt to create categories of likely future shooting victims in Chicago and thus determine who among us is most in danger. Well, sure, why not? But in the process the study, at least as it was reported a few days ago in the Chicago Sun-Times, utterly depersonalized the potential victims, along with the communities in which they lived, reducing them to components in a mathematical formula.

The researchers "sought to go beyond a racial explanation for nonfatal shootings," according to the Sun-Times. "They were trying to explain why a specific young African-American male in a high-crime neighborhood becomes a shooting victim, while another young black man in the same neighborhood doesn't, the study said."

It was all so cold and "scientific," so grandly removed from the hoo-hah of growing up in the big city -- of life, death, guns, gangs, poverty and the criminal justice system. As we go about the business of trying to create meaningful lives, it turns out that disinterested mega-forces, as impersonal as gravity, are colluding to determine our fate. Don't worry. Scientists are studying these forces. They'll get them figured out. Meanwhile, go shopping. Or whatever.

Yeah, that was it. What ground against my sensibilities wasn't the science itself but its transmutation, via the clueless media, into popular culture. The omnipresent assumption of the mainstream media is that you and I are "consumers" -- consumers, ultimately, of reality itself -- and live in our culture and our world as spectators rather than participants. This means the reality that's conveyed to us is simplistic and gawk-worthy rather than complex, multidimensional and evolving. Such news promotes and prolongs the status quo, including the troubles embedded therein, even when it purports to report on solutions to these troubles.

As Einstein said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

These words silently reverberated as I read on, about the sociology of taking a bullet in your chest: "If you and another person get arrested together in Chicago, you're both part of a loose network of people with a high risk of getting shot in the future. . .

"Only 6 percent of the people in Chicago between 2006 and 2012 were listed on arrest reports as co-offenders in crimes, the study says. But those people became the victims of 70 percent of the nonfatal shootings in the city over the same period."

OK. Guys who get arrested with other guys get shot more often than soccer moms and hedge fund managers (at least those with clean arrest records).

In two struggling Chicago neighborhoods, West Garfield and North Lawndale, "about 70 percent of the killings occurred in . . . a social network of only about 1,600 people -- out of a population of about 80,000 in those neighborhoods," the story informed us. "Inside that social network, the risk of being killed was 30 out of 1,000. For the others in those neighborhoods, the risk of getting murdered was less than one in 1,000."

Enter the Chicago Police Department, which, in accordance with the study, has come up with a list of names of people with a high likelihood of getting shot. And: "We're keeping track of them," a department spokesman said. "Arming our officers with more intelligence has helped us drive down crime."

I guess what I felt as I read this was the ache of same old, same old. An impersonal study postulates an impersonal way of looking at the shooting deaths of young male Chicagoans (of color, of course); and a large, impersonal governing force, the Police Department, "armed" with impersonal data, watches and manipulates human beings from a distance in the name of crime prevention. And the consumers of spectator culture, the American public, read about it and move on, slightly reassured, perhaps, that the experts are handling these matters.

This is our world, and it feels, increasingly, like a cul-de-sac without empathy. Shortly after I read about the sociology of dead children, I read about the death of 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman, who lived in Yemen. The boy was killed by a U.S. drone attack at the end of January. His death had news value because, a few weeks earlier, he had spoken to Western journalists, according to a story at Common Dreams, "about his pervasive fear of the U.S. drones flying overhead. . . .

"Mohammed's father and one of his brothers were killed by a U.S. drone in 2011, which sparked the young boy's fear of what he called the U.S. 'death machines.' Subsequently interviewed by the Guardian, and given a camera in order to document his life in war-torn Yemen, Mohammed spoke earnestly and openly about the dangers and fears that plagued his life."

The connection between the two stories is intuitive, but not random. The level of thinking in each is the same: impersonal control, maintenance of security from a distance. How long before the "manpower-strapped" Chicago Police Department begins employing drone technology to keep its eye on the city's scientifically determined at-risk young people?

Missing from the Sun-Times story was any mention of community, at least as something organic and protective. Also missing were words such as valuing, listening, respecting -- without which, my God, security for anyone is a travesty. Missing also was any mention of militarized police or our national obsession with war. These are the forces of dehumanization and they put all of us at risk.

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


When Life Changes, Create a Fun Calendar

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:28
Even 18 months later, a tear wells up as Mike Pisarcik mentions his little girl settling too far away to reach quickly. For Mike and his wife Paula, the summer of 2013 brought dramatic change. Their son married, locating 40 miles away in downtown Chicago. When their daughter married that same summer, she settled 1,000 miles away.

Pride, joy and absolute delight for their children came with a parental price. A close family, Mike knew the weddings sealed it. Dinners together would become even more rare. Shared laughter was destined to slip in frequency. Even the hugs, shoulder touches and other comforts of family life would fade.

A sense of mortality, long fought to a mental corner, moved to the center of Mike's thoughts. It would hurt, he knew, if he didn't do something about it. So he did.

Mike created the Fun Calendar.

Mike needed to know that life would deliver delights to replace the soul-enriching pleasures of daily family life now moving to his past. Always a diligent, detailed planner, organizing became Mike's outlet.

Mike pulled out torn sheets he'd made a habit of accumulating in his briefcase: a Downers Grove, Illinois concert schedule from one newspaper, event lists at Naperville's Ribfest and Last Fling festivals, student concert timetables at nearby North Central College, and other bits of paper containing details on interesting activities. He'd been collecting and occasionally using papers like these over the years, going through an infrequent cleaning ritual that brought too many reminders he'd forgotten many of the events he wished he and Paula would have attended.

With the current schedules in front of him, he dealt with family relationships standing forever changed. He created a Fun Calendar through the end of the year, buying tickets whenever tickets were required. He always had something ahead to anticipate enjoying with Paula.

If Mike is the planner, Paula is the communicator. She took Mike's Fun Calendar and shared it with close family and friends. That's when the real magic began.

Family and a few friends, some of the people Mike and Paula care about, began joining them at Fun Calendar events. When they attended Wednesday Woods and Wine events at the Morton Arboretum, other friends and family signed up too. Some friends joined them at student concerts, often sharing a meal before or after. Their son and his bride would make way to the suburbs to join in listening to a summer outdoor concert. On occasion, it was Mike and Paula alone, and that was wonderful. But when others joined in, it was even better.

As I sat with Mike at Al's Pizza, downing a few beers and a crisp, comfort-covered pizza with my former University of Chicago classmate, Mike's Fun Calendar made me think of how I respond when I feel sadness sinking me back toward depression.

Since the depths of my depression in high school, I've known that sunlight, losing weight, sleeping well and exercising all help me feel better. Each is easier said than done, of course, but at least I generally know some of the physical steps I can take to heal.

At times, between work and kids as our children grew, I couldn't find the time or energy to even focus on these basics. Instead, I found myself buying lottery tickets for every drawing. I spent a dollar or two at a time to buy a few days dreaming that my miseries--magnified by my unfortunate ability to dwell in each failure--could conceivably end. I knew I was deceiving myself with the idea I might win. I understood the odds. But I needed a bit of hope to help get through a day or a week.

Mike's Fun Calendar is far better than a lottery ticket. It leads to actual enjoyment, not just the hope of happiness that passes as soon as the lottery numbers are drawn.

The planning-to-be-happy concept struck a particular chord with me as we talked.

Since my wife moved to New York City to pursue her dream job last summer, I've made a concerted effort to continuously identify activities worth relishing. In addition to trips to see her, many of these are activities I can do alone, such as hiking up Humphrey's Peak on a trip to Arizona or visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the way home from New York. I also started consciously doing something Mike said he does in conjunction with the Fun Calendar: taking time to simply think about each pleasurable experience. Without this time, it's too easy to forget the moments that make life's struggles worth fighting through.

When Mike's first Fun Calendar ran out at the end of 2013, requests started coming in. When will we have the next fun calendar, family and friends asked?

Mike keeps creating them, usually three a year with the summer as the middle. Paula and Mike have enjoyment to anticipate. Family and friends keep joining them.

The calendar certainly has led to a great deal of fun.

But at an important time when life continues to change around Mike and Paula, the Fun Calendar delivers far more.

This Flip-Book Marriage Proposal Is Pretty Flippin' Cute

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:10
Elaborate proposals can be romantic and impressive, but there's something sweet about keeping things simple.

One Chicago boyfriend named Rodney Nelson popped the question to his girlfriend Alexa Wenning with a customized flip-book hand-drawn by an artist called The Flippist.

According to proposal website, Nelson proposed around the holidays at the Lincoln Park Zoo lights festival in Chicago. He told Wenning that he wanted to give her a Christmas gift and then presented her with the flip-book. After she got to the end, he pulled out the real ring (the one in the book was just for show) and placed it on her finger.

"Of course, I started bawling," she said. "I almost got frostbite afterwards because I refused to put my gloves back on!"

Watch the short-and-sweet video above.

H/T How He Asked

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