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If Spike Lee's Chi-Raq is Not Chicago's True Story, What is?

Thu, 2015-12-10 10:48

On the December 4, the date Spike Lee's Chi-Raq was due to be released, Chance The Rapper took to Twitter to voice his lack of support for the film.

And as a young, popular artist who has received accolades from the city for his work with inner-city Chicago youth, his voice rings loudly. He went on to post follow up tweets expressing reasons he is not in support of the movie and what gives him the authority to have such an opinion.

Whether the general public is in support of Chance The Rapper's comments, one aspect that shines through in his comments is that he has been affected by Chicago's gun violence and that there is a strong desire to have Chicago's "true story" come to light--a point that many assert when discrediting the content.

And my question is what is that?

As Spike Lee exposes in a trailer before the release date, he chose to approach the film using satire, "a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, and humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, and society," according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.

Even those who disagree with Spike Lee's approach confirm the film's satirical qualities, but it seems that the exaggerations make people uncomfortable. Historically, satire has done such. However, critics of the film yearn for a true representation of Chicago--a picture much more real than Chi-Raq's approach. But is the real representation going to be any easier to digest?

In reality, as of December 9, 2015, there have been 2804 gunshot victims in Chicago, protests are erupting against the shooting of Laquan McDonald, babies are being targeted and killed, women like aspiring model, Kalyn Pryor are being gunned down as innocent bystanders, and Chicago Public Schools have been in the news for corruption.

No one can argue that Chicago offers diverse experiences and one fictional representation is not enough to capture the complexities of the city. Perhaps, even if the film is not a hit among the general public, the discussion sparked from it will ignite further action and effort in those that love Chicago.

It is understandable why an artist like Chicago's Chance The Rapper voiced concerns about a movie based in his hometown, but when outrage over a fictional movie outweighs outrage over the horrific gun violence happening all too often in Chicago, the question is, what are we really angry about? Is there a mixture of jumbled up frustrations all being misdirected at Spike Lee, or is this really all about Lee's lack of Chicago "street cred" and inability to capture a true Chicago experience in a fictional film? What is this truth critics of Chi-Raq speak of?

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Highlights From Michael Madigan's Rare Speech at City Club of Chicago

Thu, 2015-12-10 10:27
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan warned Wednesday that Gov. Bruce Rauner's borrowing to fund state government operations is "terribly significant" because it adds to the fiscal burden of a state he described as "awash in debt."

Addressing the City Club of Chicago, Madigan largely stuck to the theme he has sounded since May as he and Gov. Bruce Rauner have deadlocked over the state's budget: Rauner is attempting to bring "non-budget issues" like workers' compensation and collective bargaining into the budget talks; Madigan won't accede to Rauner on those issues because he believes they will diminish the standard of living for the middle class.

Asked how high taxes would have to go to repair the state's finances, Madigan hinted that restoring the 5 percent personal income tax rate that fell to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1 might be a starting point in the discussion.

"OK, let me avoid creating a headline for tomorrow's newspaper," Madigan said. "A good place to begin would be the level we were at before the income tax (increase) expired. You start there, you can go in whatever direction you want to go."

The speech had sold out within minutes of its announcement several weeks ago. Aside from regular press conferences held almost weekly throughout the summer and fall at the Capitol, Wednesday's City Club speech was Madigan's first extended commentary on the budget impasse all year. State government has been operating without a budget since the 2016 fiscal year began on July 1. Because of court orders and other procedures, most state government spending has continued.

Without a budget to either cut spending or generate more revenue, state government is on pace to spend around $5 billion more through June 30, 2016, than it will bring in.

While much of what Madigan said was familiar to those who have followed the budget battle, Madigan used the speech to articulate more clearly than ever the sharp difference in government philosophies between him and Rauner.

Here is Madigan's answer to an audience question about Madigan's oft-repeated pledge that he opposes Rauner's agenda because Madigan is protecting the middle class.

This goes right to the heart of the difference of opinion between myself and the governor. .. The history of the American government prior to 1933 was pretty much to remain out of the business of managing the economy. The beginning of 1933 with the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, there was a dedicated effort by the federal government to in effect manage the economy and to work always to create jobs, to raise wages, to raise the standard of living. That has obtained through both Democrat and Republican administrations. ... That's been the policy of this country for all of these years and that's where I say I don't think any government should be in the business of lowering wages and the standard of living. The responsibility upon the government is to move in the opposite direction. To do what the government can do and do well - raise wages on a continuing basis and maintain a good standard of living for everybody in the country.

Another audience member wondered when, exactly, state government would run out of money due to the budget problem. Madigan's answered implied a fundamental distrust of the Rauner administration:

A solid question that I put to the governor in one of our meetings, Mr. Governor, would you go back to your people and ask them if they would estimate when do they think we will not be able to make a school aid payment. We make school aid payments 10 months a year, twice a month. They're big payments. It's a big movement of money out of the treasury to school districts all over the state. Gov. Rauner, you know, was a very successful salesman, and you know salespeople are always upbeat about things. And he came back and said, 'We don't have any probems. We'll work our way all the way through it.' I said, OK, I don't believe you.

Asked whether the state can be considered to be in a budget "crisis" when most of state government is conducting business as usual, Madigan said he does not equate crisis status with the current situation. He believes the crisis refers to what comes when a budget eventually is worked out:

Yes, much of what the government does is happening but much remains to be done. There's about $6 billion of spending, $6 billion of spending, that the state of Illinois traditionally has done. This goes into the social services area, not-for-profits to provide services to the state. Those people are not being funded today. And the danger to the recipients of those services is they get left out when there is a final settlement between the governor and the Legislature. That's the crisis. And it goes directly to my view of what the government should do, the governor's view of what the government should do. He and I at this point have some basic differences.

I feel that the government should do what we put into the May spending plan that we sent to the governor. And there's about $6 billion of activity that's not accounted for today.

In case you missed it, you can watch Madigan's speech at the City Club of Chicago here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders hopeful after meeting, but still disagree on core issues

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Fleeing War, a Syrian Family Makes a New Home in Illinois

Thu, 2015-12-10 10:18
Mayada Turkmani and her sister-in-law Nada Alfsh prepare dinner in the kitchen a little after five in the evening. Nada rinses the dry rice thoroughly to remove any surface starch, while Mayada chops some fasoolyeh, or green beans.

Seventeen-year-old Zainab Elaly, Mayada's eldest daughter of six, sets the table and chases her younger siblings to tell them to come and eat. They gather and wait until I sit at the table. Their uncle, Sobhe, 59, comforts me, "Don't be shy," he says.

"This is your home," as he gestures me to the table.

Sobhe sits and asks his wife, Nada, to bring him his medicine. She brings him a bag that is adorned with Arabic calligraphy. It appears to have fled with them from Syria. He takes out his pills thinks to himself out loud, "This is for my high blood pressure. This I'm supposed to take before dinner. This one I took at ... I think at 1 in the afternoon," he says in Arabic.

Shahd, 7, unsatisfied with my empty plate, takes her spoon and begins to scoop rice onto my plate.

"Eat," she said. "Stop being shy!"

Mayada scoops rice onto the plates of her children and we all begin to eat.

"This is good," says Shahd, showing off her broken English. "Do you like this?" she asks her sister Shaema, 4.

The family laughs and Zakarya, 11, teases her, "Do you think you are a professional English speaker now?" They continued to laugh.

"Yallah, enough talking and finish your food!" his mother, Mayada, calls out, urging them along, to finish eating so they can finish their homework before bed.

This was one of my first encounters with the family from back in April.

The family has been in Illinois for nearly nine months, after moving from Tripoli, Lebanon, where they had taken refuge in 2012 from the war in Syria. The Syrian war has overwhelming left more than four million refugees

Upon arrival, Mayada and her six children, her brother Sobhe and his wife Nada lived in a three-bedroom bungalow in Evanston. Communication with extended families has been unachievable, and many of the families have been scattered.

Mayada lost her husband four years ago, when the war was just beginning to erupt.

With very few memories of her father, Shahd holds on to her last phone call she had with him.

"I asked him to bring me cake," she recalls in Arabic. "And he told me I can't right now."

I said, "Please Baba, bring me cake..." Her voice begins to tremble and she finishes her sentence, "...when you come home."

She pauses.

Mayada joins the conversation, "And later in that evening, he was killed."

He was coming home from work and was waiting to cross the street. And as he was crossing, a bullet pierced his head.

I see Zainab trying to hold in her tears, she recalls some memories of her father earlier that week.

"He was watching TV two days ago... and he saw someone die as a martyr and said, 'Insha'Allah, I will die like him one day,'" she stopped to grasp some air and then continued, "His dream came true... he died as a martyr."

As the war in Syria escalated, the conditions only worsened in Deir Balbah, a town outside of Homs.

Suddenly, their town became abandoned and people came to their homes to them to leave town.

"Get out of your homes," they yelled. "No one stay," Mayda recollected.

So she took her children and sought refuge.

"We did not expect this to happen," her sister-in-law said, "We left our homes and said maybe a couple of days. And we will go back."

But days turned to weeks. And more and more families followed suit and fled their city. Every time they moved, new refugees would warn them that the regime had took over the city and they were coming here next.

They moved again and eventually fled to the city of Damascus, where they weren't expecting to see the worse.

It was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. A few minutes before the adh'an, call to prayer, for Fajir was recited, their neighborhood was getting bombed to dust.

"I heard my mom yelling, " 'Wake up! They're bombing us. They're bombing!' " the eldest, Zeid, 18, recalls.

"There was a loud sound and red, red if there was a fire in the house," Mayda says. "Less than five minutes later, there was smoke everywhere and I couldn't see a thing."

Zakarya and Shahd managed to escape before the bombing hit their home, but the others were injured.

Their sister Wadad, 13, remained inside the house.

"We went to go and get Wadad from inside but I couldn't go get her," Mayada tells the story as tears run down her face.

She grabs a tissue and wipes her tears.

"No one would dare to go inside because they were scared another bomb would hit," she said.

People from the town gathered and came to hel, but Mayada said she refused to leave without her daughter.

"Either me and her die together, or me and her live together," she told them.

Tears continued falling endlessly down her face.

Zeid went back inside the house to look for Wadad. He found her laying under a chair and picker her up.

"When I picked up Wadad, she was dead. I thought she's dead," he said.

Wadad, Mayada, Zeid and the youngest Shaema were all injured and hospitalized.

Wadad was admitted to the hospital for three months where she underwent high-risk surgery. The rest were taken to a hospital located inside a home.

Secret hospitals are common in Syria because the regime does not want doctors to provide medical care to those who oppose the regime, according to Chicago-area critical care specialist Dr. Zaher Sahloul.

In addition to serving as a physician, he is the president of the Syrian American Medical Society and has risked his own life many times to provide medical care for civilians in Syria.

In an interview with NBC, Dr. Sahloul said, "The Syrian regime... they have no respect for ambulances or doctors."

A New Home In Chicago
After more than 12 months of interviews with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Resettlement Support Center and different federal agencies including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the family finally resettled here in the U.S.

The process was "exhaustive." The family was asked about everything from "What do they plan to do when they come to the U.S." to "If your neighbor is Jewish, what would you do?" Zeid said.

I asked Zeid what he thought about governors blocking Syrian refugees from coming to the States.

"I did not wait patiently for 1 year and 8 months to come to this country to be a terrorist," he said.

"I'm escaping death. I'm escaping pain. People will never understand the things we've seen."

When refugees arrive in the United States as legal residents, they are given many benefits including: Social Security and basic federal assistance like food stamps and Medicaid. The children can also enroll in public schools.

Refugees also receive a one-time grant from the federal government, between $950 and $1,200 per person. This financial assistance is meant to help them situate themselves for the first couple of months.

Refugees come to Illinois through a public-private partnership between the United States Department of State private agencies called voluntary agencies or, "volags." RefugeeOne is one of nine resettlement agencies that work with the State Department, which helped this family resettle in the States.

The resettlement agency helped pay the cost of their rent for the first three months in Evanston, which is $1,800 for the family. After three months, the family became responsible for paying half the rent. Many times families are responsible for rent and they are on their own without any savings, car and sometimes, without a job.

Last year, RefugeeOne helped 541 people become legal permanent residents and American citizens from 43 countries. These refugees are settled in certain locations because of family ties or simply because RefugeeOne has an office at that location where it is able to assist with jobs, schools and housing. It is local volunteers and community members who provide support to help the families adjust.

Suzanne Akhras and many other Syrian Americans who live in Chicago, have played this role for the family.

Akhras is the founder of Syrian Community Network, whose mission is "to empower Syrian refugees in achieving a seamless transition and relocation to the U.S. through connecting people to the right service and support networks."

Akhras is able to assist these Syrian refugees because at one time in her life she was in a similar situation.

"I feel it when I am looking at their faces, I feel like I'm looking at myself because I came here as child when I was ten years old and I can understand the struggles that they are going through," she said.

"The first time we met them at RefugeeOne they felt... they seemed a little bit lost,"
Akhras says. "The second time I saw them they were OK, but I think reality hit a little bit
that, 'Oh my gosh,' it's going to be very overwhelming just to learn the language and

The family was a part of RefugeeOne's English Language Training Program where they attended classes four days a week. Akhras and a volunteer from RefugeeOne also visit them at home to provide more one-on-one assistance.

Akhras says the refugee families rely a lot on donations. From these donations, the family was given a TV and computer.

"When we came here, it meant the world for us when we met a Syrian," said Sobhe about when he first met Suzanne. "To me, Suzanne, is my sister and she is me daughter and she is my mom and now, she is my family."

Start of a new life
In August, Sobhe and Nada moved to a studio. Because of medical conditions he is suffering from, Sobhe is unable to work. He is receiving governmental assistance.

Mayada and her family moved near her brother in a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago.

None of the children attended classes since the start of the Syrian war. And because of this, education is valued and appreciated very much to the family. The youngest children are all enrolled in public schools.

The children all have hopes to achieve their dreams and to obtain their degree. Their biggest motivation? Their father.

"My husband... he only dreamt of his children growing and getting an education," Mayada said. "His main concern was for all his children to get an education."

Zeid and Zainab were enrolled in GED courses at Truman College, however, as the eldest Zeid boy, he holds responsibility to support his family financially. He works for a Chicago Syrian delivering kitchenware to stores. But still, Zeid is making around $1500 a month, while rent costs $1300.

"I have to continue his dream and let my siblings... even if I don't finish school... to let my siblings get an education. This is how he wants his children to be. I have continue it, inshallah," Zeid said.

Zainab met the love of her life in August through mutual friends. Her wedding was held on November 23. She hopes to continue her education.

"Here, I want to make all my dreams that I wasn't able to accomplish a reality... to study... to achieve my dream that I couldn't work for in Syria. To start my own beauty salon," said Zainab.

The children believe that a life in America means, "so much can be achieved."

Nonetheless, going back to Syria one day is something they hope can happen soon.

"I would like to be a doctor so when I return to Syria to treat the children of my country," said Zakarya. "Syria is my country and it will always be valuable to me."

Family discussions are filled with laughter, but also filled with worries--worries of finances and having to pay for rent next month and onwards.

It is mid-November and Chicago is saying goodbye to double-digit temperatures. After a beautiful, hot summer for many there is excitement for the holiday season, but for the Elaly family they only have clothes that is donated, and wait for some more to be donated.

"I'll always miss Syria," Sobhe said. "But right now, I'm happy here."

RefugeeOne refused to comment or be interviewed

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Illinois Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Oust Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Wed, 2015-12-09 21:37

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's popularity spirals downward, two Illinois Democrats have introduced legislation that could lead to a recall of the embattled mayor.

Just hours after Emanuel made a rare apology for the city's handling of the fatal 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald, Illinois Reps. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) and Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) introduced a bill that would amend a 1941 state law and allow the City of Chicago to hold a recall election.

Currently, there is no city ordinance or state law that provides for a mayoral recall. As noted by the Better Government Association, "the state constitution does not address the issue of recalling locally elected officials."

Among the proposal's several provisions is one stating that a recall petition would need to collect valid signatures totaling at least 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent mayoral election. In the event of a successful recall, a separate election would choose a successor. 

Following Emanuel's Tuesday morning address to the Chicago City Council, thousands of protesters calling for his removal poured into the streets and marched from downtown around City Hall to the tony Gold Coast neighborhood about a mile north (where, incidentally, Emanuel had many supporters in the last mayoral election). 

Calls for Emanuel's resignation have cropped up before, most notably in the wake of his handpicked school board's unpopular 2013 decision to close 50 public schools in mostly poor black and Latino neighborhoods. 

But the push to remove Emanuel -- who earlier this year was embarrassingly forced into a runoff election -- grew stronger after the city lost its battle to keep dash cam footage of the McDonald shooting under wraps. 

Emanuel denied his office tried to cover up the damning video, and resisted calls for his resignation.

Scrutiny continued to grow after the release of two more controversial videos -- one showing the shooting death of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III, and another showing the Tasing of Philip Coleman, who later died in police custody -- and a Justice Department probe into the city's police department. 

City Hall, Ford's office and Flowers' office did not immediately responded to requests for comment. 

Also on HuffPost:

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Protesters Take To Chicago Streets After Rahm Emanuel Apologizes For Police Scandal

Wed, 2015-12-09 16:20

CHICAGO (AP) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel, known for keeping vise-like control over Chicago and his own political image, finds himself in the weakest position of his long public career as he struggles to respond to a police scandal, claims of cover-ups at City Hall and calls for his resignation.

The former White House chief of staff on Wednesday used a special meeting of the Chicago City Council to try to calm the firestorm, apologizing for the fatal shooting of a black teen by a white officer and promising "complete and total" reform.

"I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. And if we're going to fix it, I want you to understand it's my responsibility with you," Emanuel said during a sometimes-emotional speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. "But if we're also going to begin the healing process, the first step in that journey is my step.

"And I'm sorry."


The remarks were Emanuel's lengthiest and seemingly most heartfelt since the public got its first look last month at the squad car video that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald veering away from officer Jason Van Dyke before he began shooting, hitting McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder.

Critics have repeatedly accused him of keeping the footage under wraps until after he won a tougher-than-expected spring election for a second term. The mayor has denied the claim and acknowledged Wednesday that he should have pressed for prosecutors to wrap up their investigation more quickly so the video could be made public.

But his contrition did little to ease the anger in the streets. Hours after the speech, protesters overflowed an intersection in front of City Hall, then marched through the financial district and blocked a major intersection for a short time as police directed traffic around them. Officers guarded the doors to the Chicago Board of Trade as demonstrators approached.

Outside City Hall, retired schoolteacher Audrey Davis carried a sign reading, "Mayor Emanuel is morally corrupt!"

Calling the speech "politically expedient," Davis said, "I don't want to hear anything from him except, 'I tender my resignation.'"

Davis, who is black, said she fears for her 25-year-old grandson when he comes home from college.

"Each time he comes home, my heart is in my throat in case he meets up with a racist cop," Davis said. "We shouldn't have to live like this."


Since the video emerged, Emanuel has scrambled to contain the crisis. He fired his police superintendent after days of insisting the chief had his support. He also reversed course on whether the Justice Department should launch a civil-rights investigation, saying he would welcome it only after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats endorsed the idea.

In news conferences, he has appeared worn down, fumbling answers to reporters' questions or avoiding them entirely by walking away, with cameras rolling.

"I don't think I've ever seen him grapple with anything quite like this," said longtime ally and adviser David Axelrod, who also served with Emanuel in the Obama White House.

Axelrod said Emanuel worked on the speech all weekend, with input from him and others. But he said the speech alone isn't what matters.

"You don't earn trust back with one speech," Axelrod said. "You earn trust back with actions."

Emanuel has repeatedly said he will not step down, and the next election — should he seek another term — isn't until 2019.

Chicago has no statute or process in place for a mayor to be recalled, and most of the cries for Emanuel to resign have come from grassroots activists and residents, not from the city's political powerbrokers.

The most likely impact will come in the form of pushback from aldermen, who have long been considered a rubber stamp for the mayor's initiatives, said political consultant Delmarie Cobb. She said the black community "has been awakened," and Emanuel can expect a tougher re-election if he tries again.

"He definitely won't run unopposed, and it will be a viable candidate," said Cobb, who is black.

The mayor won re-election in April by a healthy margin, but only after suffering the embarrassment of not getting a majority in a five-candidate February election, forcing the first mayoral runoff in decades.

At the time, he pledged to listen more and to "bridge the gaps between the things that divide us."

In the months that followed, his public schools CEO, who oversaw closings of about 50 schools that angered many residents, was indicted on corruption charges. Emanuel also pushed through the largest tax increase in city history to deal with a budget crisis.

His administration has warned of massive mid-year layoffs in the public schools, and is in the midst of rocky contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union. This week, union members are voting on whether to authorize a strike. They could hit the picket lines as early as March.

After the video was made public, other flashpoints kept coming. Footage was released of another police shooting — this one deemed justified by prosecutors — and of another man who died in police custody. A review by the city's quasi-independent police watchdog agency showed that of 409 shootings involving police since 2007, the agency found only two with credible allegations against an officer.

Police reports from the McDonald shooting included officer accounts that differed dramatically from the video.

In his speech, Emanuel noted the problems are ones that have plagued Chicago for decades, and that there are no simple solutions.

"We have to be honest with ourselves about this issue. Each time when we confronted it in the past, Chicago only went far enough to clear our consciences so we could move on," he said. "This time will and must be different."


Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

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Federal Probe Into Chicago P.D. Could Dismantle Old, Brutal Methods

Wed, 2015-12-09 16:00
The Chicago way.

The term comes up a lot in mob movies, history books and common conversation.

The Windy City, after all, got that moniker because of the bloviated speech of politicians - not because of the actual wind. The Chicago way insinuates shady dealings, throwing beloved friends under the proverbial bus, killing witnesses before they can testify and throwing money at people so they stay quiet.

But right now the city is in the midst of a storm that could possibly shed light - and perhaps dismantle - the Chicago way. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday that the Justice Department has decided to swoop in and investigate the Chicago Police Department on two fronts - concerning both the murder of Laquan McDonald and concerning the strong possibility of systemic civil rights violations. At the same time, the city's top cop and several other top officials have resigned just as the DOJ investigation was announced. And now the state's Black legislative officials are joining youth activists in calling for the DOJ to take things a step further and investigate the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, and the office of State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Activists are cautiously optimistic about the investigations but argue that citizens should temper their expectations.

"I wouldn't say this is victory," says Mariame Kaba, a Chicago-based activist with We Charge Genocide project and Project Nia, which works to eradicate youth incarceration. "I think this is another step in the direction of trying to transform police and policing in Chicago. It's one more tool that people are going to use in an attempt to do that."

Kaba cautions that this DOJ investigation could take an extremely long time. That's because unlike Ferguson, Mo., Chicago is a big city with a big police department of at least 13,000 officers who likely generate millions of emails, phone calls, pieces of paper and other records that investigators will have to sort through. Then, there's the issue of CPD seeking permission to destroy all police misconduct records that are at least four years old - a move that many in Chicago media have been fighting in court.

The other issue is that Lynch is an appointee of the current president and these investigations are being done on her watch. Once President Barack Obama leaves the White House, will the next president replace Lynch or keep her in place?

This is why activists are not going to stop their protests, said Kaba. In fact, a protest is planned for Wednesday, at the city's Daley Plaza. Organizers are asking everyone to leave work and school and meet at noon to ask for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alvarez. This renewed push comes on the back of two more Chicago police videos that have been released in recent days that show alleged abuse against Black men. (One of those tapes shows Philip Coleman in a cell being tased by a group of officers - many of whom are black - and then dragged out of his cell by his handcuffs. Coleman later died at a local hospital due to a rare drug interaction, according to the autopsy report. The 2012 tape was released with a statement from the mayor decrying the man's treatment).

"The organizers in Chicago on the ground have to guard very severely against having this process demobilize the fight on the ground," she adds. "You know who will declare victory and leave? The people who were on the periphery anyway. They'll say the government has it under control. Organizers who know better will say you shouldn't trust the government to investigate itself."

The DOJ investigation in Ferguson was relatively short and took a few months. It is unclear how long the Chicago investigation will take, but at some point the DOJ will release recommendations and if the right person is left in charge to monitor the situation, Kaba says, it could help to resolve the systemic issues. [A short recap here, for those that don't know: Chicago routinely pays out millions of dollars to victims' families and is still paying out cash to the Black men burned, electro-shocked and otherwise tortured in the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of ex-Police Commander Jon Burge. Independent analysis by the Chicago Reporter has also found that complaints made by Whites against the CPD are more likely to be upheld than complaints made by people of color. ]

Race does matter in Chicago, says Craig Futterman, law professor and director of the University of Chicago's Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project. He points out that the city has weathered numerous police scandals but none have grown to the fever pitch the city is currently experiencing. The young activists have pushed the envelope and for that reason, Futterman is optimistic about the DOJ's involvement.

"At the end of the day, after each crises, never in our history have Chicago's leaders had the political courage to address the underlying issues why police officers here have been allowed to abuse Black folks with near impunity," says Futterman. "I'm really proud of our young people, not just from Chicago but from around the nation who have organized, advocated and agitated so that none of us can deny the reality of the problem of unchecked police abuse in Black communities."

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer.

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Outdoor City: Engaging Urban Citizens to Lead to a Better and Cleaner World

Wed, 2015-12-09 13:06
More than 195 nations have convened in Paris to discuss climate change, and what steps we must take to roll back its effects. This group of world leaders hopes to slow climate change by substantially decreasing the overall carbon emission rate; codify the temperature rise limit to 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades; provide hundreds of billions in funding to poorer nations to adopt alternative energy; and foster a new green economy worldwide. But little discussed was the role of cities and urban inhabitants will need to play. Today, over 4 billion people across the world live in cities--and that figure will rise by 1.7% annually for the next 10 years, as the people young and old increasingly migrate to urban areas, drawn in for its diversity, innovation, opportunities, quality of life and convenience.

But there's a downside to city dwelling, one that could have a potentially devastating effect on our future: alienation from the natural world. How can we expect the next generation to value and preserve the outdoors if they are completely disconnected from it? It is critical that the outdoors become a part of the urban lexicon, parks and trails as much a part of daily life as streetlights and sidewalks. We must create opportunities for people to easily access the outdoors from cities and connect with nature within their urban habitat, fostering a generation of Outdoor Citizens united with the world around them and committed to the well being of our planet. To do so, we must commit to making every city an Outdoor City.

A World of Outdoor Cities
An Outdoor City provides its inhabitants with ways to both protect and connects with the natural world through robust outdoor-centric planning, programming, and engagement. Cities already lend themselves to greater conservation - including boasting an average carbon footprint that's 75% less than the suburbs. Decreased energy use; more walking and public transportation; and greater building density - meaning lower building energy use as well. Meanwhile, cities have been quick to embrace the sharing economy, seeing tremendous success with shared bikes, cars and urban food gardens.

Some cities are already leading the way, like San Francisco, which has introduced a number of alternative energy options over the years, like adding off-the-grid solar power stations for electric vehicles and green zoning incentives. Other cities are adopting energy-smart solutions that work within existing infrastructure. For instance, Current, powered by GE, is connecting street lights to the Industrial Internet by integrating software and sensors into LED fixtures. This solution, called Intelligent Cities, unlocks potential for data collection and monitoring, which can be used to help cities and their citizens make smarter energy decisions. From monitoring air quality, to improving traffic congestion--and thereby lowering idle emissions--intelligent solutions can help cities run cleaner and more efficiently.

"Cities are already upgrading lighting to LED for the significant energy savings, and adding intelligence to those lights offers huge potential to improve other areas of environmental impact," said Phil Mandry, General Manager - Sales, Intelligent Cities. "For instance, San Diego installed street light LEDs across the city in 2014, saving more than $250,000 in energy costs annually. The city is now piloting the Intelligent Cities solution to take that efficiency a step further."

But even in those places that have been slow to incorporate change in the way of urban planning, it is still possible to provide ways to connect with the natural world.

Educating Outdoor Citizens
Through the Youth Opportunities Program founded almost 50 years ago by the Appalachian Mountain Club, teachers and youth workers receive training in outdoor skills from map and compass reading to knot-tying to teaching others about the outdoors. Through experiential learning, participants develop a passion for the outdoors and conservation. For Miranda Rousamano, who grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, "being able to see beautiful places and have amazing experiences in them really contextualized protecting the environment for me. Now I am passionate about protecting those places and keeping them for other people to enjoy and recreate in," Miranda told me. Now pursuing a degree in outdoor education at Green Mountain College, "I can confidently say that if I didn't have access to that first trip I wouldn't be pursuing the career that I am."

Outdoor Access Through Technology
And with today's technology, urbanites no longer need to venture outside city limits to remain connected with the natural world. New technology makes it easier than ever to tap into best practices; the best in outdoor programming; engage and motivate outdoor citizens; measure impact and promote sustainability; and design, build and expand close-to-home recreational options. Like a new mobile app called Allgreenup that rewards you for your outdoor activity, recycling and energy savings. This Chilean start-up already has 12,000 users in their first 8 months. The Strava running and cycling app lets you keep track of your activity, see how you compare with friends on a leaderboard and integrates with other health app; Leafully is an app developed to help you keep track of your energy use and then converts that she into how many trees it takes to offset the carbon you produced. Who says technology and nature are mutually exclusive? One can continue to tap away on their digital devices while using them as a platform to conserve, learn, connect and share.

Embracing these and other opportunities moves us closer toward our goals of conservation stewardship and sustainability, enhances our quality of life, improves our health and for many of us, personally unlocks our own potential through outdoors-centric careers. Via Outdoor Cities, we must foster a new ethos of the outdoors and conservation in order to reduce our carbon consumption, pull back on the effects of climate change and collectively embrace fuller lives outdoors. Our world depends on it.

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Rahm Emanuel Offers Rare Apology After Laquan McDonald Shooting

Wed, 2015-12-09 12:59

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CHICAGO -- Citizens of Chicago on Wednesday morning heard Mayor Rahm Emanuel utter two words he rarely uses: "I'm sorry." 

The apology was an unscripted addition to lengthy remarks the mayor delivered before the Chicago City Council. Emanuel summoned the council members for a special session to talk about "justice, culture and community" in the wake of the high-profile release of a video showing a white police officer shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, 16 times in 2014. 

"The first step in that journey is my step," Emanuel said. "I’m sorry."

"Nothing, nothing can excuse what happened with Laquan McDonald," he added. "Laquan McDonald’s death was totally avoidable."

Emanuel made his public mea culpa days after he denied his office tried to cover up the damning video. The Department of Justice on Monday launched a civil rights probe into the city's police department. 

The mayor spoke for over 30 minutes, largely reiterating information he has discussed publicly over the past few days, including the creation of a police accountability task force, rededication to community policing efforts and a push to end the notorious "code of silence" that pervades the city's police department.  

Emanuel's voice rose to nearly a shout or cracked with emotion on several occasions, including when he said, in another ad-libbed remark, "No citizen is a second-class citizen in the city of Chicago." 

Laquan McDonald’s death was totally avoidable.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel

The mayor didn't address racial profiling and discriminatory policing head-on, but acknowledged the issue when he said, "Would the police ever treat me the way they treat [young black men]? And the simple answer is no. And that is wrong."  

The last time Emanuel issued the city a public apology was in 2013, when he acknowledged that police officers had tortured and falsely accused black men in the city between 1972 and 1991. 

The Nov. 24 release of the McDonald tape ignited a firestorm of criticism and calls for Emanuel and other officials to resign. The mayor has said he won't step down, and the city has no law or mechanism to recall him, the Better Government Association notes.

Emanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who he had hand-picked for the job, calling for "fresh eyes and new leadership." However, new reports suggest it was Emanuel's city attorney who blocked McCarthy from implementing various department reforms. 

Chicago made two other dashcam videos public this week. On Monday, just hours after the DOJ announced its investigation, it released footage showing the 2014 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III. The next day, the city released video from a 2012 incident showing Philip Coleman, who later died in police custody, being hit repeatedly with a Taser. 

City council meetings are typically open to the public. But on Wednesday, the main floor of the chambers was primarily reserved for the mayor's guests who were on a preapproved list. Most of the members of the general public who attended were sent to an overflow room on the second floor.

Meanwhile, on the 2nd floor of city hall a group of protesters chant:

— Aldertrack (@Aldertrack) December 9, 2015

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6 Cheats to Boost Your Credit Score

Wed, 2015-12-09 11:17

Your credit score impacts nearly every avenue of your life, from buying a car to getting a job.

To that end, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Citizenship Education Fund partnered with Chevrolet to launch the Financial Empowerment Series, a free event to teach money management best practices. The Financial Empowerment Series took place at Rainbow PUSH headquarters in Chicago over the weekend.

One of the speakers, William Cheeks, President, ABBA Associates Inc., says that he has a perfect credit score of 850 (850 is perfect credit; 500 and below is considered poor credit) because he worked at a credit monitoring agency for decades and he knows the system.

Mr. Cheeks offered these 6 Cheats to Boost Your Credit Score

1. Get a free copy of your credit report from or call 877-322-8228. Report any discrepancies immediately.

2. Establish credit and use it, sparingly. If you have a credit card that you've paid off in full and don't use, it's not helping your score at all. "Spend about $20 on your credit card and pay it off in full at the end of the month," Cheeks advises, if you want to boost your credit score.

3. Avoid store-issued credit cards. Don't apply for that store credit card to get the extra 20 percent off of your purchase, instead stick to general purpose credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express). "Don't your favorite stores accept MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express?" Cheeks asks. "Then why do you have the store cards?"

4. Pay bills on time, all the time. If you have a great credit score (775 and above) missing one payment can shave 90-110 points off your credit score. Also, entering into a debt-settlement plan can shave 45-65 points off your credit score.

5. Only spend 6-8% of the limit on your credit card. A low balance shows the credit reporting agency that you don't carry a lot of debt, and that will increase your credit score. Cheeks suggests that you charge a little, and then pay that off at the end of each billing cycle. "Do not be a revolver," Cheeks says. "When you make purchases on the credit card, pay the balance in full on a monthly basis."

6. Avoid applying for multiple credit cards. "A hard inquiry occurs when you apply for a line of credit, and that lowers your credit score, unless it is a mortgage or car purchase," Cheeks says. "When you're buying a house or car, the credit reporting agencies allow you 15-20 days to shop around, and they will lump those hard inquiries." Conversely, a soft inquiry occurs when a company looks at your credit report to pre-qualify you for an offer, and it does not lower your credit score.

Mr. Cheeks adds that no matter your current financial situation, with due diligence, you can reestablish your credit worthiness and end the frustrating cycle of paying more and getting less.

Photo: William Cheeks by Zondra Hughes

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Top 25 Illinois Public High Schools, as Ranked by Niche

Wed, 2015-12-09 10:28
As part of its newly released 2016 school rankings, the education ranking and review website Niche ranked the best public high schools in Illinois.

While 100 of the state's public high schools were ranked, we only have included the 25 best from Niche's list, along with individual grades for five of the indicators that were used to grade each school: academics, health and safety, teachers, resources and facilities, and extracurriculars and activities.

A full profile of each public high school can be viewed by clicking on the city in which the school is located. You can read more about Niche's methodology here.

Here are 10 of the high schools that Niche ranked as the state's best. You can see the rest here.

25. University High School | Normal

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: B

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

24. Naperville North High School | Naperville

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A-

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A-

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A

23. Glenbard West High School | Glen Ellyn

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: B+

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: B+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

22. Naperville Central High School | Naperville

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A

21. Barrington High School | Barrington

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

20. Lake Forest High School | Lake Forest

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A-

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

19. John Hersey High School | Arlington Heights

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

18. Evanston Township High School | Evanston

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A-

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

17. Jones College Prep High School | Chicago

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: B-

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: B

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A-

16. William Fremd High School | Palatine

  • Academics: A+

  • Health & Safety: A

  • Teachers: A+

  • Resources & Facilities: A+

  • Extracurriculars & Activities: A+

Here are the Top 15 public high schools in Illinois.

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Mike Madigan's Challenger Says Two Opponents Planted By Speaker's Camp

Wed, 2015-12-09 09:37
Jason Gonzales carefully waited until the last minutes of the candidate filing period for the 2016 primary to ensure that on March 15 he would face only one opponent: House Speaker Michael Madigan.

But Gonzales, 41, says Madigan allies observing candidate filings at the Illinois State Board of Elections just before the close of business on Nov. 30 acted swiftly when he filed his nominating petitions challenging Madigan for the Democratic nominations in the 22nd Illinois House District. Within minutes of Gonzales' filing, nominating petitions for two other candidates were filed.

As of today, the 44-year incumbent Madigan, who also is chairman of the Illinois Democratic party, will face three challengers: Gonzales, Joe G. Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez. Gonzales has filed objections against Barbosa and Rodriguez challenging the validity of their nominating petitions in hope of getting them removed from the ballot.

"I specifically timed it so I had a shot at just me and Speaker Madigan on the ballot. Evidently I didn't time it late enough. I didn't want to time it too close because I was afraid there might be a line or something could have gone wrong where I couldn't have filed. So I was waiting for the last minute and honestly they were not expecting me. I watched the whole thing go down," says Gonzales. "I filed and ... one of Mr. Madigan's lobbyists or assistants... saw me because they thought I wasn't running. There were rumors that I had dropped out of the race and I guess they had sort of staked their belief on that. When he saw me, he jumped up, grabbed a file box, went out into the hallway and I watched him pull two candidates' petitions out of the box. Another assistant prepared them and as soon as I filed, they walked in with other people and filed those candidates right behind me."

Gonzales believes Madigan's longtime campaign foot soldier Shaw Decremer engineered the last-minute filings...

You can read more about Gonzales' allegations here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois digital driver's license in the future, but maybe not the near future

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Support Black Lives Matter or Support Police? It's a False Choice

Tue, 2015-12-08 17:18
I don't know what I expected to see when I watched the video of Chicago police killing 17-year old Laquan McDonald, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw. In some of the videos of police killing suspects, the visuals can leave at least a little room for questions about context, perceptions of threat, and reasonable uses of force. But there is a moment in that dashcam video where the questions give way to silencing shock.

That moment is a single frame in which a puff of smoke, presumably from a bullet striking the pavement, billows up near Laquan's prone but still-twitching body as he lay in the middle of the street. Whatever threat he may have posed with the knife he wielded moments before is gone, yet the shots keep coming. And coming. And coming.

The day the video was finally released, Tuesday November 24, the Cook County state's attorney charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder, more than a year after the teenager was killed. "Why so long?" is certainly one question that needs answering. But that puff of smoke raises its own incredulous question for me: "What the fuck?!"

That question is echoing throughout my city of Chicago and the nation, as it should be, as more information emerges about Laquan's death and other similar homicides. What the fuck inspires a police officer to empty a clip into a twitching body? What the fuck took so long for charges to be filed?

Raising the question draws one into one of the most invidious and asinine debates about the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers in recent years. There is this sense that raising critical questions - sometimes with loud voices and disruptive action - is necessarily antagonistic toward police, as if we have a simplistic choice between supporting the slain and supporting police. "Black lives matter," for far too many of my fellow whites, is equivalent to professing hatred of police or for not "appreciating" the difficult situations they face. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The choice between support for police and support for Black Lives Matter is a false choice. The critical questions the movement raises are questions that must be addressed in the interest of us all. They are questions that must be asked, too, in the interest of the "good cops" trotted out in response to news reports about the bad ones. Law enforcement officers do have difficult jobs, but they aren't made any easier when there is a general lack of trust in police and courts to do what they are supposed to do: keep us all safe, indiscriminately.

Those police officers who have spent their careers serving their communities, building relationships with neighbors, and risking their lives for others deserve trust and respect. But they will never get it as long as the system they represent continues to devalue the lives it claims to protect. Their jobs become much more difficult when the community collectively expresses a lack of confidence in the system that employs them.

This is not a case of one bad cop among thousands of good ones. It is a case of a system that defends the death-dealing choices of people in power, even in the face of clear evidence of guilt. It is a system in which a police officer who pumps sixteen rounds into the body of a dying man can claim he was in fear for his life and thus avoid prosecution for over a year. As long as this system exists, no one is safe.

Better training, more surveillance of police, more extensive reviews - these are long-term responses and perhaps will help. Maybe firing Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy might bring about changes (though I doubt it.) I can't speak for the Black Lives Matter movement, but for me as a white Chicagoan, the most helpful statement police and prosecutors can make is, "What the fuck?!" The protests currently disrupting Chicago - and rightfully so, they should be disruptive - present the best chance we have at changing a broken system.

To join the protests is not necessarily to proclaim oneself "anti-cop" (though there may be some for whom this is true.) Rather, there is an opportunity now for us to reshape a system that will allow for trust and confidence in people in power. And there is an opportunity for law enforcement to become what it is supposed to be - a symbol of responsible use of power in service of all.

Perhaps there are some police and prosecutors watching the videos of Laquan McDonald and others with the same grief and incredulity expressed in protest. In fact, I am sure of it. But until we can hear them joining in the conversation with their own angry shouts of "What the fuck?!" and "No more!" their silence will only appear as complicity and continue to mire us in the false distinction between protesting a broken system and supporting police.

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Are The Simpsons​ from Illinois? Absolutely. Here Are 22 MORE Reasons to Prove It

Tue, 2015-12-08 16:41
After sharing my previous article, I received some flack from Twitter users and Facebook commenters, who are still in denial that The Simpsons are from Illinois. One of the main arguments from these dissenters is that the show's creator, Matt Groening, said in an interview with the Smithsonian that The Simpsons is set in Oregon. Those people failed to note what Matt Groening actually said in his interview with the Smithsonian, which was: "Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon." And despite my attempts to clarify this in my last article, they completely wrote it off and all of its totally convincing points. So, to reiterate my previous point: Groening went on to clarify his quote in the Smithsonian interview and said that his statements were misrepresented in a later interview with TV Guide:
"I never said Springfield was in Oregon."
There you have it, folks.

Now, not all of the responses to my article were negative; in fact, here's one of my favorites:

I was skeptical, but they make a good case. @TheSimpsons.

-- Hank Azaria (@HankAzaria) November 19, 2014
That's right, Hank-freaking-Azaria said I made a good case. For those of you who are wondering "Why do I care what the guy from The Birdcage has to say about The Simpsons?"

Well, because over 100 Simpsons characters are voiced by him, from Moe Szyslak to Chief Wiggum.


For those of you who still aren't convinced that the Simpsons live in Illinois, here are a few more reasons that'll hopefully persuade you.

1. Elected officials and candidates for public office who love to overpromise, and the end results are catastrophic.


2. It floods so much that you can take your boat out into the streets:

3. Our mayors like to get down and boogie:

4. Down-and-out salesman Gil Gunderson (affectionately known as "Ol' Gil) shows off the Saluki Strut* with Bart and Homer, and he's just 2 credits short from being a Southern Illinois University graduate:

*Note: SIU does not have a dance called the "Saluki strut," but the chief marketing and communications officer thinks maybe it should.


5. Emergency budget meetings where drastic cuts are needed? Check:


6. Sad Cubs fans? Check:


7. For those of you who still think the Simpsons live in Oregon, try this one on for size: Self-service gas stations are illegal in the state of Oregon, but not in Illinois:

8. Two-story outhouse? Check.

Two-story outhouse in Gays, Illinois

9. Where else can you find this many giant promotional statues?


Simpsons Treehouse of Horror IV: Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores

10. Hullabalooza sounds an awful lot like Lollapolooza...

Note: While Lollapolooza was originally a music festival that toured across the country, it became a weekend destination festival set in Grant Park, Chicago after its revival.

11. Teacher strikes? Check.


Photo: Atomazul /

12. Lots of corn fields? Check.


13. Same-sex marriage is legal? Check.

14. In Illinois, it's almost a right of passage to have worked at Dairy Queen at some point in your life:

Also, the first Dairy Queen was in Joliet, Ill.  

15. There is a Moe's Tavern in Illinois, and they serve the famous "Flaming Moe" drink:


16. Simpsons superhero, Radioactive Man, is a pretty close doppelganger for Superman, whose home is Metropolis, Illinois:

Radioactive Man's catchphrase: Up and atom! One of Superman's catchphrases: Up, up and away! 

17. Reputation for drinking? Check:

View post on

18. Shady school contracts? Check:

19. El Barto graffiti:

"Simpsons El Barto" vandal sought in Naperville. @TheSimpsons

— Geoff (@GeoffotoTrib) July 1, 2013

20. Illinois is in the heartland of America:

21. Unfair school funding determined by zip code:

22. Overall, our state's schools are underfunded:

NEXT ARTICLE: Are The Simpsons from Illinois? Yes, here are 20 reasons to prove it

  1. Take our "12 Ways You Know You're From Illinois" test and see if you make the native Illinoisan grade. 

  2.  But wait! We've got a second part of that quiz too. Click here and test your Illinois knowledge.

  3. How well do you know Illinois? Test your knowledge of Illinois history here!

  4. Travel these 10 creepy Illinois roads...If you dare!

  5. 8 abandoned Illinois sites that will  creep you out

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I'm Afraid of Americans and Their Guns

Tue, 2015-12-08 16:37

A few years ago I was working at Northwestern University when, one dull afternoon, everyone's phones, desk and cell, started ringing at the same time. I picked up my cell and heard an automated message that a gunman had been seen on campus and everybody was supposed to lock down.

Oh, I didn't realize it until now, but this is my worst nightmare, I thought to myself. I wonder if I'll die.

Eventually the lockdown got called off and I don't know what ever happened to the gunman -- it might have been a figment of someone's imagination, or maybe he just walked away. That wasn't, of course, the first time I ever contemplated how dying in a mass public shooting is a horrific way to lose your life (or, perhaps even worse, to hear that it happened to a loved one), but it was closer than the other ways I had experienced it, which was through the news.

Stories of public shootings in the States have always distressed me but since I've had children, I've become nearly obsessed, reading the stories and then going into the comments and tweets and Facebook threads because I live in disbelief that there are people -- many many people -- in this country who think that things are fine the way they are. If I'm being quite honest, it fills me with an ironic murderous rage, like, yes, if I could shoot the person who would cast the deciding vote against amending gun control so that things like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never happened again, I would. Good thing I don't own a gun.

So I do what I can, which is donate money to causes I believe in (which exist, for the record, to pass better gun control laws, not to take away existing guns), correspond with my congresspeople and try to speak my mind in a somewhat cogent way on social media, because I think ending a post with "idiot" does not do much to earn you credibility or new listeners.

However, I don't feel like I'm doing much, and that only stokes my fear. My fear used to be that I would be caught in some sort of public shooting, or, worse, that my children would be, but lately that fear has been replaced by a new type of terror:

I'm scared that people live in fear of terrorism but not enough to demand legislation that prevents potential terrorists from legally purchasing guns.

I'm scared that some people are against "big government" and then donate money to the NRA, which has control over what the CDC is allowed to study and report.

I'm scared that people feel comfortable advertising how lightly they take putting guns into the hands of their children despite the fact that things like this can and actually have happened.

I'm scared that many people thought it was, I don't know, brave or funny or kick-ass to fire rounds into a copy of a newspaper that reported the news that many people are frightened.

I'm scared that people have decided that when the founding fathers wrote the Second Amendment, it meant that it would be appropriate and patriotic to stalk around a place of worship with weapons visible.

I'm scared about how we repeatedly let ourselves get caught up in time-wasting semantics about whether another murder is terrorism or "merely" a mass shooting, making sure we know the killers' skin color and religion and political beliefs before we really pass judgment on the event, and whether it's disrespectful to suggest that actions and policy are more effective than thought and prayer, as if once we establish all that we can really get to the business at hand.

And I'm still scared to live in a country where 20 children -- children -- can be shot to death and nothing, and the government didn't change a single thing about it. (Compared to when, say, the Our Lady of Angels School fire killed 87 children in Chicago in 1958 and sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations were enacted nationwide to ensure it never happened again.) Sandy Hook could happen again tomorrow and every day this week and still many people would say, "Your dead kids don't trump my rights."

How can this possibly be? How can we all live in the same country and use the same currency and postal system and celebrate the same government holidays and watch the same sporting events and use the same social networks? I'm terrified that I live amongst these people.

I have come to realize that I can do a few tiny things but I can only do so much, take in so much, before I start to lose my mind and the gratitude and joy for the many things I have. It has happened a few times in the last few weeks where I was distracted from my healthy, beautiful, bright children because I was caught up in reading as many facts and comments as I could about shootings and gun control and gun rights, which is not a good use of my time. A trip to Target felt morbid last week as I contemplated how easy it would be to shoot up a place like that, how hollow and ridiculous all the Christmas decorations were when the country is like this. But at the same time, my boys don't know that. It's my job -- and my privilege -- to make this time special to them. But it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit though, I tell you.

Maybe in some respects the world was better before social media, when I merely lived in this country but wasn't so blatantly aware of exactly what my fellow citizens all think. It feels bizarre and purposefully ignorant to aspire to close myself off from the world, especially as a writer and a blogger, but now this is what I'm facing. I feel like if the world is this frightening, if I can't do anything about it beyond donating money and saying what I can say, at a certain point all I can do is try shut down and pull the covers above my head, at least sometimes. Maybe it's safe under there.

Originally published on

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<i>Beautiful - The Carole King Musical</i> at the Oriental Theatre

Tue, 2015-12-08 16:24
Jukebox musicals. Such a phrase makes those who love musical theatre shudder with a wave of disgust, as it exemplifies the devolution of the art form. Where the best musicals use carefully crafted music to advance the story and heighten the emotional moments, jukebox musicals simply jam familiar tunes into a threadbare plot to please the masses and make a buck.

But I'd heard Beautiful - The Carole King Musical was different. Even though the show celebrates her work and the work of her direct contemporaries,  it also explores the life of a woman whose talent and heart drove her forward, even if reluctantly so.

King never wanted to be a star -- she simply wanted to write music. No: she felt compelled to write it. And she also wanted a family. And, like most working mothers, King faced a constant struggle and negotiation to keep both sides moving forward. Luckily -- at least at the beginning -- King's songwriting partner was also her husband, Gerry Goffin. But while the couple penned many chart-topping hits, including "The Loco-Motion" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," Goffin's wondering eye and restless soul caused an end to the relationship -- both professionally and personally.

But the unraveling of their marriage ultimately empowered King to weave "Tapestry" -- her debut solo album which finally moved King into the spotlight and redirected the course of her career.

The show demands a lead performance that inspires empathy without becoming a victim, and envokes the essence of King without becoming an imitation. As Carole, Chicago's very own Abby Mueller does us proud. Those who follow such things may know that Abby's sister, Jessie Mueller, created the role in the original Broadway production, and went on to win the Tony Award for her performance. But in this first-rate tour, Abby makes it her own, masterfully walking the line of honoring King's integrity and resilience without impersonating her. It's a breakthrough performance for the hardworking actress. And as King's second half,  Liam Tobin perfectly captures Goffin's deep inner conflict and passion.

There's an interesting B storyline here as well. Powerhouse songwriting team (and real-life couple) Cynthia Weil and Berry Mann frequently crossed paths with King and Goffin -- and competed to get that elusive hit single recorded by the hot new group. The four also served as an internal support system, looking out for each other and helping make a professional connection when they felt the other team's writing style would pair more strongly with the artist. As the sassy Weil, Becky Gulsvig, who charmed in the First National Tour of Legally Blonde a few years ago, makes a strong impression. Ben Fankhauser also does well as her neurotic foil.

A nimble ensemble cast keeps the action moving forward, but not frantically so. What I most admire about this show is that it's not afraid to take time to explore a song. Where most musicals crafted around a writing team's origin story rapidly cut from song to song as if the playlist was crated by a teen with ADD (Jersey Boys, I'm looking at you), Beautiful often presents the full song, or a ample enough sampling, which allows you revel in the lyrics and melody.

Credit should be given to director Marc Bruni, who keeps the story human-level, focusing on the relationships that created the  music we so love. But ultimately, this is Carole's story -- and we root for her big time at the end.

"Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" plays through February 21 at the Oriental Theatre. More info here >

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Author Bill Natale on His New Book and Race Relations in Chicago

Tue, 2015-12-08 15:54
Is it possible to see people for who they are and not the color of their skin? Will we ever learn from our bloodied past of events like 1968 in Chicago, or are we destined to repeat our actions in ignorance? Can we truly accept other people and still speak our minds, or does open discourse have to end in resignation for everyone to feel valued? As we have painfully seen lately in cities, political debates and universities across America, we haven't made the progress in race relations and acceptance we had hoped for.

I discuss this and more with author Bill Natale on my podcast The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano on WGN Radio's WGN Plus. His new novel, 1968: A Story as Relevant Today as It was Then, based around the facts of the 1968 riots in Chicago, highlights race in America through a fictional story. Natale began penning the story three years before the Laquan McDonald video was released and it is a story that, sadly, is as timely as ever. Over charcuterie and seafood from Epic Restaurant, Bill and I dish on his new book and how-47 years after 1968-we are still a nation torn apart.

Enjoy this podcast and feel free to leave comments below to keep the discussion moving forward. For more information on Bill Natale, see below the podcast.

Bill Natale is an Emmy Award winning producer/director and an executive member of the Directors Guild of America, Midwest Council. In addition, he works as a freelance broadcast professional at radio stations around the nation.

Before penning his first adult novel, 1968: A Story as Relevant Today as It Was Then, Natale was the Executive Director for the Chicago Campus of the Illinois Center for Broadcasting, as well as the Executive Producer of Internet Streaming Corporation and the Executive Producer of

Natale has served as a member of the board of directors for the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences and as Chairman of the Broadcast Promotion & Marketing Executives Association. Natale continues to work as a consulting producer for the children's educational science program, The Moochie Kalala Detective Show, on PBS' WTTW and as a consulting producer for the latest Dreaming Tree Films feature, Traveling Without Moving, starring Steve Guttenberg and Harry Lennix.

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A Jubilee for a World in Need of Mercy

Tue, 2015-12-08 15:51
This week Catholics throughout the world begin the celebration of an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis declared this Jubilee to remind all Christians and men and women of good will about the boundless mercy and love of God. Since becoming pope in March 2013, Pope Francis' central message has been on the mercy of God, healing for the world and a call to Christians and all people of good will to heal the world of hatred, suffering, and injustice through a radical commitment to the poor and to those on the margins of society. This Jubilee began December 8, 2015 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican II Council. Vatican II signified the openness of the Catholic Church to the modern world and her openness to embracing the riches of cultural pluralism , while learning from the movement of the Spirit in history.

In declaring this Jubilee, Pope Francis indicated that he hopes the spiritual, pastoral, social and cultural activities and rituals of the year will reflect for the church and the world concrete signs to all people that everyone is beautiful unto God and that there is a place in God's heart for all people no matter the depth of sin and despair. As the popular saying goes every sinner has a future and every saint had a past. In drawing attention to the mercy of God in this Jubilee Year, Pope Francis invites all people throughout the world to embrace the virtues of mercy, forgiveness, care and compassion for one another and for the suffering earth. He had already given an extraordinary faculty to priests to offer God's forgiveness and healing to all those who come before God in sorrow after committing abortion. He is also sending out missionaries of mercy to all local catholic churches to administer the sacrament of reconciliation among God's people and help to heal the world and the church of conflicts and division. Catholics are encouraged this year and particularly those who are in pastoral ministries to welcome Catholics and all people who are far away from God. This Jubilee is also a year of penance and reconciliation, all Catholics particularly those separated from the church are invited to come back to the Father's house with tears for the loss of the life of grace and the joy of being a child of God which occurs when one is alienated from God. The world is in need of the message of mercy and forgiveness. Our world is currently held in bondage by violence, war, hatred, fear and insecurity. This jubilee could not have come at a better time.

Many non-Catholics might argue that this is another power grab by the Pope to turn a Catholic tradition into a global event. Others might wonder why mercy is proposed by the Pope as the main spiritual practices and the ethical template for the times. But when we look at present history what do we see around the world. How many people have been killed this year alone by gun violence, religiously induced violence, terrorism, and wars? How many people have been executed through the criminal justice in many countries of the world where capital punishments are still being carried out? How many people are languishing in jails in many countries because of the miscarriage of justice or because they are poor or because of the repressive and unhealthy penal systems in many countries of the world. At the personal and inter-subjective level, one can think of wounded memories, broken hearts, and breakdown in family structures, the rising incidents of divorces and marriage breakups and breakdown in family relations. Even though recent New York Times' Data Blog Upshot statistics is optimistic about a downward trend in divorce rate in America for example, it is only a downward trend from a rate of 40-50%. The truth is that this is not the best possible world for most people whether they are religious or not.

The hole in many hearts today is what Pope Francis says 'causes people to fall into despair" and is "a source of loneliness." These holes continue to expand as people witness insecurity, pain, anxiety, anger, brokenness, and cynicism in their lives and relationships. That hole is particularly painful for those on the margins of society. Pope Francis writes about this in these words: "How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich." He, therefore, calls on Catholics to embrace the corporal works of mercy, heal broken relationships and wounded memories, develop closeness to one another and live in peace with themselves, and their families and to embrace all people with love, respect and reverence. The invitation to embrace the mercy of God seems to me relevant for the deepest questions in many hearts today.

The emphasis on mercy is a key towards understanding how all the aspects of the jubilee come together in daily practices of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and stewardship of one another and of creation. There is an element of sacrifice in giving up our claims and allowing the pathos and pain of another even when they have negatively affected me to be redeemed through my gracious extension of forgiveness to the person. The Church particularly is challenged in this year to be a more merciful and less judgmental church following the example of Pope Francis. There are many Catholics who are hurting and who have disconnected from the church and from religion. There are many second and third generation Catholics who have left the church. There are many other folks out there who are searching for God and for meaning and who might consider becoming a part of our religious groups if our religious message speaks of God's love, acceptance and mercy, the possibility of beginning again and of hope for a world in despair. I think of divorced and separated and remarried Catholics, those who have been sanctioned in the Catholic Church or excommunicated, those who are suffering from clerical sexual abuse, LGBTQs and many others on the margins. Will they find a home again in our church? Pope Francis is saying through this extraordinary act that the door of the Church are open to all; and that the world should open its doors to love, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. This is a door which we all must enter through because we are all in need of mercy.

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DOJ's Chicago Probe Could Expose How We Fail To Punish Bad Cops

Tue, 2015-12-08 15:08

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WASHINGTON -- Justice Department officials hope the broad federal civil rights probe of the Chicago Police Department launched Monday will eventually serve as an example of how other troubled law enforcement agencies can fix problems with investigating and punishing police misconduct.

"There's a lot of places in this country where policing is bad and where intervention is necessary," said Jonathan M. Smith, who until earlier this year ran the small Justice Department unit that investigates civil rights violations by police. But the Civil Rights Division unit didn't -- and doesn't -- have the resources to investigate all the law enforcement agencies with problems. So it tries to pick targets that can serve as examples.

"It's important for the division, with limited resources, to make decisions that are strategic," Smith said. "Reading the tea leaves, my guess is the [Chicago] investigation will very much focus on accountability, which is a huge problem in a lot of jurisdictions."

The Chicago investigation follows the November release of a year-old video showing a police officer shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Cops' initial accounts of the incident conflicted with the evidence of the video. Those differences and the long delay between the October 2014 shooting and the November 2015 charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke -- paired with data showing widespread issues with how Chicago handles citizen complaints against police -- have raised questions about the mechanisms of accountability.

There's a surprising lack of information -- and no national standards -- on how internal affairs offices in law enforcement agencies across the U.S. handle citizen complaints. The Chicago investigation could produce the most comprehensive look at how one of those accountability systems works -- or doesn't.

Previous Justice Department investigations have highlighted problems like discriminatory policing aimed at minority communities, systemic failure to handle rape cases and patterns of troublesome pedestrian encounters. The recent investigation in Ferguson, Missouri, spotlighted profit-driven policing and an abusive municipal court system.

But like many other recent Justice Department investigations, the Ferguson probe also identified accountability failures, finding the city lacked "any meaningful system for holding officers accountable" for violating the law or department policy. In a Cleveland probe, internal investigators admitted that they conducted inquiries with the "goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible," while another federal report found that internal investigators in Newark, New Jersey, "routinely failed to probe officers' accounts or assess officer credibility."

There is little doubt that Chicago's disciplinary process will now come under Justice Department scrutiny. Recent data collected by the Chicago-based Invisible Institute showed that nearly 96 percent of civilian complaints against the city's police force were not sustained, and roughly 99 percent were not sustained when the complainant was black, though race was not identified in many cases. And Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has specifically asked the Justice Department to look at excessive force and "the lack of accountability for such abuse."

At a press conference Monday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that looking at "how a police department not only tracks but resolves and disciplines" for misuse of force is a "key element" in the type of pattern-or-practice investigation that her department is conducting.

There's a lot unknown. "The standards among internal affairs is just so variable that it's hard to get a handle on it," policing expert Geoffrey Alpert told The Huffington Post earlier this year. "There's some really good internal affairs departments around the country; then there's some really bad ones."

Policing expert Samuel Walker had similarly said there's a "terrible void" of information about how internal affairs units work and that internal affairs officers often have no specialized training and have been pushed into a role they didn't choose.

"Most officers don't want that job. They don't want to have to investigate their fellow officers," Walker told HuffPost. "So in some departments, they more or less get drafted. Now having someone there against his or her will is not a path to professionalism."

Accountability systems are "at the core" of understanding what's happening within a police department and fixing problems, said Smith, the former Justice official. The internal affairs process "should identify not just bad apples, but it should identify broken systems," he added.

"You're never going to have a perfect police department -- people are going to make mistakes. You're going to make mistakes in hiring; you're going to make mistakes in training. An officer is going to make a mistake on the street," Smith said. "The hallmark of a well-functioning institution is that those mistakes are identified and that there are measures taken to address whatever the problem was that led to the mistake."

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The 97 Percent Solution to Gun Violence in America

Tue, 2015-12-08 14:46
There is a solution to gun violence in America, though it's not what you might expect.

Question: of the total number of Americans killed by guns each year, what percentage is the result of mass shootings?

A: 4%

B: 14%

C: 40%

The correct answer is A: 4%

Of the 11,000+ Americans who are shot to death each year (excluding suicides), only about 450 are killed in mass shootings like last week's shooting in San Bernardino, or the previous week's mass shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, or the one that happened the same day at the restaurant in Sacramento, or the one the day before in Boston, or...

Next question: of the total number of gun-related homicides in America, what percentage is caused by rifles of any type, including assault rifles?

A: 4%

B: 25%

C: 57%

The correct answer is A: 4%. Handguns are the weapons of choice in 70%-80% of gun-related homicides

Last question
: what percentage of guns used to commit homicides are purchased by shooters at gun stores?

A: 3%

B: 42%

C: 89%

The correct answer is A. People who kill other people with guns in America acquire only 3% of their guns at gun stores. The other 97% are obtained through other means.

In a rare front page editorial, The New York Times wrote "Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership."

It's the right sentiment, though an impotent call to action. Whenever a mass shooting happens in America, we invariably focus on three things:

1. Mass shootings must stop - Yes, they must, but if they did stop, nearly 11,000 Americans would still be shot to death every year

2. Assault weapons must be banned - Yes, they should, though banning assault weapons wouldn't make a dent in the number of American gun homicides

3. Were the guns used in the shooting purchased legally? - This is the wrong question. The right question goes to the root of the problem of gun violence in America, as well as a solution.

All guns used to kill people in America were purchased legally at some time, though very few of those guns are in the possession of their original owners at the time they kill. The problem that dwarfs the issue of assault rifles is that all firearms may be transferred in America without detection or accountability.

Though the sale of an automobile in America requires an official transfer of title, the sale of a firearm does not. Many, if not most, guns used to kill people in America are acquired through straw purchases -- purchases made on behalf of another person. This is how the underage Columbine shooters obtained their weapons. The assault rifles used by Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook in the San Bernardino attack were also purchased by someone other than the shooters.

Guns used to commit crimes are also acquired through other undocumented sales and trades, as well as theft.

So what would happen if the owner of record of a firearm were held accountable for crimes committed with his or her gun? It's easy to envision several immediate positive changes:

1. Straw gun purchases would plummet. If gun owners were held accountable for the crimes committed with their guns, they would be much less likely to sell their guns without a valid title transfer

2. Gun thefts would drop. If gun owners were on the hook for stolen guns, they would have greater incentive to secure their guns

3. Gun owners would be far less likely to loan a gun to a friend or relative, or sell one without a title transfer.

The concept of a national gun registry is not new, and polling has consistently shown support. In a 2001 Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates poll, a majority of Americans (70%) mistakenly believed a national registry already existed. The fact that it doesn't exist is thanks to a 1986 federal law prohibiting such a registry.

Not surprisingly, the NRA and its congressional supporters are chilly on the notion of a national firearms database. The absence of a national registry not only diffuses responsibility for gun ownership, it also makes tracing weapons used in homicides extremely difficult. When crimes are committed with guns, the ATF relies on low-tech gun store records and interviews to trace gun possession history. The results of those traces may not be shared with anyone outside law enforcement, thanks to the Tiahrt Amendment. The Tiahrt Amendment makes it impossible to know the precise scope of the gun transfer problem. Estimates have been assembled through various studies. Several can be found here.

Anticipating some common counterarguments:

What if my gun is stolen? My recommendation is this: if you can demonstrate that thieves got your gun by blowing the hinges off your steel gun safe that was bolted to the foundation of your house, then you should get a pass. However, if your gun was taken out of a glove compartment or a glass display case, well, you're screwed. If that seems unfair, perhaps you can complain to the loved ones of the victim that was killed with your gun

What about the hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation? It will take time for those guns to be siphoned out of the population as crimes are committed with them and the guns are confiscated. That timeframe can and should be sharply accelerated with buy-back programs. The net result is that gun homicides in America will drop significantly

Big Brother is watching my gun. The Second Amendment may give you the right to own a gun, though it doesn't say anything about prohibiting the government from knowing that you own a gun. The government knows you own a car. It's ok if it knows you own a gun. If you're worried that the government is going to confiscate your gun, consider this: if congress can't block suspected terrorists from buying assault rifles, it's unlikely the government will be coming for your gun any time soon

What about the little old lady who misplaced her gun? I agree that it's sad that she might do some jail time or community service, but the consolation is that she'll probably be a little less sad than the family whose loved one was killed by her gun.

This requirement would do nothing to impair perceived Second Amendment rights. Those who feel the need to arm up for the impending invasion of Texas by federal troops would still be free to do so. You could buy all the guns you want, though if someone gets hurt with one of those guns, you would need to be held to account.

Accountability is something we accept in our society. Most gun owners handle and secure their guns with care and fully expect others to do the same. Though America would likely be better off without assault rifles, the facts show that we could save far more lives simply by requiring all Americans to be as responsible with their guns as they are with their cars.

Author's note: the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence provided generous assistance with research for this article regarding federal gun registration and transfer laws. The organization is dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting at 101 California Street, San Francisco, on July 1, 1993, and to their families. I encourage you to check out their website and consider making a donation to support their excellent work to make our citizens safer.

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Yup, Hit Musical 'Hamilton' Is Heading to Chicago

Tue, 2015-12-08 12:12

NEW YORK (AP) — The mega-hit Broadway show "Hamilton" is on the move — a production will open in Chicago next September.

Producers said Tuesday that performances will begin Sept. 27 at the newly named The PrivateBank Theatre. It's a coup for Chicago since the city has lured the hottest stage show in years and beaten a rival theater town where it might play well, too — Washington, D.C.

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical tells the true story of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the nation's first treasury secretary. It is told by a young African-American and Latino cast.

It's got a terrifically varied score, ranging from pop ballads to sexy R&B to rap battles, with lyrical nods to Gilbert and Sullivan, Jason Robert Brown, "South Pacific" and the Notorious B.I.G.

Group tickets for the Chicago run will go on sale Jan. 5. Single ticket sales will be announced at a later date.

The show is just the latest in a line of hit Broadway shows to take up residence in Chicago, including "Wicked," ''The Lion King" ''Jersey Boys" and "The Book of Mormon." The show "Kinky Boots" also had a well-received start in Chicago before jumping to Broadway and winning the Tony for best new musical in 2013.

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