Public Affairs

Fighting the war against phosphorous

Almost a year after the settlement between environmental groups and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, progress is inching forward in reducing dangerous levels of phosphorous in the Chicago River.

By Morgan Levey
Medill Reports

It’s common knowledge amongst environmentalists that phosphorus is a harmful nutrient in bodies of water, making them uninhabitable for marine life by spurring algae growth and choking oxygen levels. It’s particularly destructive in waterways that flow out of cities, where highly polluted effluent spreads downstream, contaminating tributaries and entering larger bodies of water.

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Chicago sits nearly 800 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, yet phosphorus from the Chicago River has a damaging reach and historically has been the single largest contributor to what scientists call the “dead zone,” an area in the Gulf roughly the size of New Jersey where fish can’t survive. And closer to home, phosphorous has been detrimental to the water quality of the lower Des Plaines and Illinois rivers.

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Jews have been the target of most hate crimes this year, Chicago police data shows

By Caroline Tanner
Medill Reports

There have been 50 reported hate crimes in Chicago during the first nine months of 2017, according to data released by the Chicago Police Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

This follows a 20 percent rise in hate crimes in Chicago from 2015 to 2016, from 60 to 72 reported incidents, aligning with a national increase in hate crimes across the country. Many attribute rising hate crimes to the heated rhetoric of President Donald Trump and an increasingly polarized political climate.

In this year’s data, religion and race each account for 42 percent of total reported hate crimes in Chicago.
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NU climate change symposium stresses urgency and solutions

By Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

Excuses that exonerate business-as-usual emission scenarios are not a luxury we can afford as climate change heats up the globe, said Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director of Project Drawdown, a climate change mitigation project envisioned by renowned environmentalist Paul Hawken.

But do not despair, since opportunities and optimism can convert all of us into agents of change, said Frischmann, a plenary speaker at Northwestern University’s two-day climate change symposium this November.

Frischmann laid out several economically viable solutions for a packed audience in a talk based on the New York Times bestseller – “Drawdown – The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The book lists 100 solutions based on maximum and immediate impact. As expected, investing in wind turbines and solar farms fall within the top 10 solutions. Some simple, common sense approaches included reducing food waste.

“I can’t believe we already produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet,” said Frischmann, lamenting the fact that nearly a billion people on the planet go hungry while one-third of food raised or prepared is wasted – contributing to 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent or nearly 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. He highlighted these areas where technology could make a significant difference.

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Immigration courts remain backlogged in big cities as judges are sent to the border

By Mariana Alfaro
Medill Reports

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent 25 immigration judges to detention centers near the border and promised to add 125 new judges to the bench in the next two years, all part of the Administration’s plan to “fight against criminal aliens.” This plan was criticized by immigrant communities and advocates as a way to expedite deportations without due process, delaying more than 20,000 cases in immigration courts across the country.

As judges headed to detention facilities on the border, immigration courts across the country continued to struggle with a backlog of cases that, though dating back to the Obama-era, has grown under President Donald Trump’s administration.

According to Politico, in January there were around 540,000 cases caught in the immigration court backlog. By August 2017, the number had grown to 632,261, with nearly 50 percent of these cases in California, New York and Texas — states that account for nearly half of the country’s immigrant population, according to the Pew Research Center. Judges sent to the border told Politico that their dockets were nearly empty in their newly assigned courts, with some likening the temporary uproot to a vacation.

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Without supervision, recycling goes rogue

By Kristine Sherred
Medill Reports

The city imposed a strict recycling ordinance last summer but forgot about enforcing it.

Chicago has struggled to be green since 1995, when new rules first required businesses and large apartment buildings to begin a modest recycling effort through private haulers. In 2017, the city expects these same buildings to recycle full-stop.

The problem: no one is checking.

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Growing Home produces a bountiful harvest for Englewood residents

By Eunice Wang and Natalya Carrico
Medill Reports

Growing Home came to the South Side of Chicago in 2006 under the Englewood Quality of Life Plan. The organization offers a paid, 14-week job training program for adults with varying employment barriers. Approximately 30 percent of the program participants come from the greater Englewood neighborhood.

The farm stand at 5814 S. Wood is open Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through October 26.

Photo at top: Water drop on a chard leaf in the Growing Home garden. (Eunice Wang/MEDILL)

For Minimum Wage Workers, Affordable Housing is Further Out of Reach, New Study Shows

By Sydney Boles
Medill Reports

A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that affordable housing is further out of reach for minimum wage workers in Chicago than it was in 2015.

Someone working at the Chicago minimum wage would have to work 1.6 full-time jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment, up from 1.3 in 2015. In other words, if a minimum wage worker had only one full-time job, they could reasonably afford just $572 in rent, slightly more than half the cost of the average Chicago apartment.

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More Than 1,000 Eligible DACA Recipients in Illinois Miss Renewal Deadline, USCIS Reveals

By Griselda Flores
Medill Reports

More than 1,000 eligible DACA recipients in Illinois did not meet the Oct. 5 deadline to renew their temporary legal status application, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

By the renewal deadline, 6,670 individuals out of 8,650 eligible submitted their DACA renewals in Illinois, which means that 1,980 had not filed their application by the cutoff date set by President Donald Trump’s administration.

While the percentage of those who didn’t meet the deadline seems relatively low, the number in Illinois is significant given its large population of DACA recipients.

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Chicago police to roll out body cameras ahead of schedule

By Em Steck
Medill Reports

The Chicago Police Department says it will roll out its body camera program across all districts before the end of the year as part of the city’s promise for greater police accountability.

A total of 8,157 “body worn cameras” will be deployed to patrol officers in Chicago by Dec. 4 across all 25 districts, one year ahead of the city’s plan to bring more transparency to the police force.

“This is a very aggressive rollout. When we’re done, by the end of this year, every patrol officer in every district that works in the field will be equipped with a body worn camera,” Chief Technology Officer Jonathan H. Lewin said in a press conference.

The body cameras are part of the department’s larger mission to build better community relations with civilians after a string of scandals and controversies, including the death of Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.
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From high school senior to politician, Josh Lafazan continues his political quest

By Caroline Tanner
Medill Reports

SYOSSET, N.Y.— On most days, at just 23 years old, Democratic Nassau County Legislative candidate Josh Lafazan is the youngest one in the room. It’s something that Lafazan is used to by now, since becoming one of the youngest elected officials in the history of New York State. In 2012, at 18, Lafazan was elected to the Syosset Central School Board of Education in Long Island, winning 82 percent of the vote.

Syosset, New York

Now he’s running for the 18th district legislative seat against Republican incumbent Donald N. MacKenzie, 39.

Take a look around his campaign headquarters in Syosset and you might call him a kid among kids. Though he’s certainly not the tallest one in the room, standing a few inches under 6 feet, he may be the oldest. On his campaign team, some interns are as young as 14, marking what is perhaps the most unique part of Lafazan’s campaign and his candidacy — the youth of it all. His campaign team consists of his 25-year-old campaign manager, Rob Silverstein, and about 40 interns, ranging in age from 14 to 21.
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