All posts by beckydernbach2019

Rent control campaign builds momentum in Rogers Park

By Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

Sandra imagined getting older as a peaceful time to retire and travel. She didn’t expect to be fighting to stay in her Rogers Park apartment as the rising rent takes up more and more of her fixed income on Social Security every year.

“I didn’t see my old age like this,” said Sandra, 73. “I’m just amazed they can raise the rent any amount they want.”

Sandra pays more than half her income in rent, and says she has seen it increase exponentially every year. This year her landlord presented her with an increase of more than $100, which Sandra is fighting to reduce.

On election day Nov. 6, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America made phone calls and talked to voters outside polling places in Rogers Park about lifting the state ban on rent control. The non-binding referendum — “Shall the State of Illinois lift the ban on rent control?” — received over 66 percent of the vote in the 49th Ward, where Rogers Park is located. It was on the ballot in three wards in Chicago that also include Logan Square and Uptown.

Continue reading Rent control campaign builds momentum in Rogers Park

“Torn apart by misconduct” — Chicago police brutality survivors call for strong consent decree

By Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

Emotional testimony from Chicagoans whose lives were changed by police brutality dominated the second and final day of the hearing for the Chicago police consent decree.

The overwhelming majority of speakers at Thursday’s fairness hearing at the Dirksen Federal Building testified in support of the consent decree, though many wanted it to go further. Speakers identified gender issues, police training on disabilities, and support for survivors of police violence as key areas for improvement. Police union representatives, however, expressed concern that the decree would interfere with their collective bargaining agreements.

The proposed consent decree to reform the Chicago Police Department represents the culmination of a three-year process. After the video of police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald was released in 2015, the Department of Justice began an investigation of the Chicago Police Department, ultimately producing a lengthy and scathing report with recommendations for reform in the final week of Barack Obama’s presidency. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery earlier this month.

After President Donald Trump made clear he would not continue the Obama administration’s push for police reform, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the City of Chicago to develop a police consent decree in federal court outside the purview of the DOJ.

As the proposed consent decree reached its final stages, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Dow Jr. scheduled a two-day fairness hearing to listen to feedback. Dow will ultimately decide what changes the decree needs and whether to adopt the decree.

The second day of testimony began with people whose loved ones were killed by Chicago police.

Cynthia Lane’s son Roshad McIntosh was 19 when a police officer fatally shot him in 2014. She described a difficult and expensive healing journey for her family.

“I see a psychiatrist and go to therapy on a weekly basis and none of this is paid for by Chicago police,” Lane said. The experience had also been traumatic for her other children, she said. Her daughter nearly didn’t complete high school because her depression, brought on by her brother’s death, made it difficult for her to get out of bed. Lane said the consent decree should have support for survivors.

Angelica Nieves said she was there on behalf of her brother Jose.  An off-duty police officer is accused of killing him  in 2017. “The pain that you suffer, the sleepless nights, the days that you go through crying will never be the same,” she said.

Eric Wilkins said his family was “torn apart by misconduct and the code of silence.” He said in 1991 his brother was arrested and tortured, ultimately spending 25 years in prison until he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2016.

Police reform is also important to him because of his experiences as a disabled black man, he said. He suffered a gunshot wound in 1999. When the police arrived, he said, they treated him roughly. He wound up paralyzed from the waist down. “I can’t help wondering if my injury wouldn’t have been so serious if I was treated properly and given the help that I needed,” he said.

Trina Townsend, 51, said she was speaking out on behalf of girls, women, and the LGBTQ community, for whom she said the decree needed to be strengthened. Townsend said a Chicago police officer raped her in the mid-1980s, and that she started to speak publicly about it earlier this year. But since coming forward, she has not heard from city officials, she said.

“It has made me feel that my issue is not important and that I don’t matter at all,” Townsend said. “This is why the consent decree is so very important to me…so children and women like me can once again feel safe.”

Kevin Graham, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, criticized the Illinois Attorney General’s office for “going after our collective bargaining agreements” in the consent decree. He also praised U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he said he “had the pleasure of speaking” and who last week filed a statement of interest opposing the consent decree.

“There’s a very delicate balance in collective bargaining,” Graham said. “The city gets something, we get something. The city hasn’t given us anything of substance.”

The proposed consent decree does not explicitly mandate any changes to the collective bargaining agreements. But, in an interview with Medill Reports Graham said, “Anytime [the consent decree] says discipline, they need to negotiate with us on that.”

Robert Bartlett, a 20-year police officer and representative of the FOP, spoke against the proposed decree’s requirement that officers document when they point their guns. He said he spent more than a decade on Chicago’s SWAT team and searched many poorly lit buildings using a flashlight attached to the weapon.

“My concern is that it’s out of context, that it will be viewed as the pointing of a gun when maybe it was the pointing of a flashlight,” Bartlett said. While most officers also have separate flashlights, he said, in some dangerous situations, it is important to have both tools available.

Dow will now take the matter under advisement and has not given a definitive timeline for a decision. In an Oct. 16 status hearing, he told attorneys from Madigan’s office and the city of Chicago that he would give them feedback after hearing from the community.

“If there’s going to be a consent decree entered, it’s the beginning not the end,” Dow told them. “I want to get this as right as I can and may take additional time to get it more right.”

Albert Mejias, an Albany Park resident, attended the hearing to share his story about the police pointing guns at him when he was visiting a friend. He said he hopes the consent decree will help Chicago “just be on the same page finally.”

“I feel like that’s something in Chicago we’ve been talking about for so long, what’s good for the city is good for everyone else,” Mejias said. “But no one’s really concerned with what’s going on with the people. We’re always talking about the taxpayers but it’s us, the small people of Chicago, we’re the reason the lights stay on.”

Photo at top: A protester holds a sign that says “The People United Will Stop Racist Police Terror” at a rally following the conviction of police officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 5. Van Dyke, a white police officer, was found guilty for second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the death of black teenager Laquan McDonald. (Jess Martinaitis / MEDILL)

“Everything changes after today” – Chicago moves forward after historic Van Dyke verdict

By Javanna Plummer and Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a “statement of interest” Friday opposing a consent decree to reform the Chicago Police Department, one week after the conviction of white police officer Jason Van Dyke for second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the 2014 death of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

As the Department of Justice announced its formal opposition to the consent decree, Van Dyke’s defense attorney, Daniel Herbert, said he planned to appeal the verdict. However, many Chicago residents and elected officials expressed hope that the guilty verdict could be the beginning of wider police reform after decades of scandals in the CPD.

The consent decree covers comprehensive reforms that include use of force and force reporting, accountability and transparency, training, and crisis intervention,

At the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, activists were stunned by the historic verdict and vowed further change. Continue reading

Van Dyke suggested shooting McDonald before arriving on scene

By Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

A defense witness revealed this week that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was talking about shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald before he ever saw him.

“Why don’t they shoot him if he’s attacking them?” Van Dyke asked when he first heard the radio reports that McDonald had popped a squad car’s tire with a knife. Still a block and a half from the scene, he said to his partner, “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”

Psychologist Laurence Miller, an expert witness in forensic and police psychology, confirmed these comments during cross examination. He testified that Van Dyke reported these reactions to him in an interview about the night of the fatal shooting, Oct. 20, 2014. Van Dyke confirmed the comments as well during cross-examination when he took the stand Tuesday in his own defense.

The prosecution in Van Dyke’s murder trial repeatedly stressed these comments in closing arguments Thursday before sending the officer’s case to the jury. The jury of 12, including just one black member, is now deliberating the fate of Van Dyke, the white police officer who shot black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct. The jury also has the option to consider charges of second-degree murder, an option offered during jury instructions by Judge Vincent Gaughan in Cook County criminal court. Continue reading