Public Affairs

Midterm elections see increase in pro-choice members of Congress from Illinois

By AnnMarie Hilton
Medill Reports

Illinois provides greater access to abortion than many other Midwestern states, and the midterm election saw two pro-life congressman ousted by proponents of safe, legal abortions.

Democrat Lauren Underwood won the seat for Illinois’ fourteenth district removing Republican Randy Hultgren, who sponsored multiple pieces of pro-life legislation. The race for the sixth district paralleled that of Democrat Sean Casten winning over Republican incumbent Peter Roskam. Both districts cover  swathes of the northern, northwestern and western suburbs.

“They call us [Illinois] the abortion oasis of the Midwest,” said Mary Kate Knorr, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, an educational program. “I find that laughable.” Continue reading

Northwestern University students take a leap into civic engagement

By Xiaoyi Liu
Medill Reports

“I already voted, can I take a sticker?”

“Take a doughnut, take a sticker. That’s really fine, go ahead.”

It was Election Day and these were the cheerful conversations at the Northwestern University’s student center. Students visited the table set up by the university’s Center for Civic Engagement and collected  “I Voted” stickers, laptop stickers, doughnuts and other souvenirs.

Sitting at the table was Hailey Cox, a Northwestern junior studying Human Development and Psychological Services.

“I’ve definitely been a part of that engagement aspect, like just convincing people to go vote, showing people how easy it is to vote, answer any questions people have about voting,” Cox said.

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Affordable housing tensions boil over in Logan Square

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

Ashley Galvan Ramos brought the most impassioned voice to a march by Logan Square residents against housing inequity, the latest in a string of riffs between activists and the city as rents skyrocket in their gentrifying neighborhood.

Galvan Ramos, the 20-year-old youth representative for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said she and her family found themselves displaced early this year after their landlord sold their apartment building without warning.
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In Chicago suburb, candidates’ environment message easy on climate change

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — Calling for a stronger focus on renewable energy and protection of the Great Lakes, the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club hosted a day of action on a recent Saturday in support of two pro-environment Democrats campaigning for the state legislature.

The Democrats – Sen. Julie Morrison and House hopeful Bob Morgan – spoke of specific ways to safeguard the environment in the Midwest, where temperatures are forecast to increase as a result of climate change. But, facing a polarized electorate, they avoided invoking the issue of climate change.

“Unfortunately, I think the phrase ‘climate change’ has been politicized too much by the right,” said Anthony Vega, a Sierra Club Illinois organizer. “What we’ve seen is candidates from across Lake County and the state of Illinois say that they are 100 percent for clean energy or sustainable transportation. It’s talking about climate change in another way, so it doesn’t trigger the partisan clique.”
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“Native American” costumes harm indigenous communities, activists say

By Katie Rice
Medill Reports

Lingerie company Yandy made headlines this fall for releasing, and later pulling, a sexy “Handmaid’s Tale”-inspired costume from its online store. But the company sends a different message with its continued defense of its “Sexy Native American” line, activists say.

Activists took to Twitter with the hashtag #CancelYandy to decry the company’s appropriation of traditional American Indian regalia and disregard for the unique identities of distinct tribal groups in the line of risqué costumes. The conflict crops up every Halloween season. But this year, the presentation of a petition signed by thousands of people resulted in a protest and threats of arrest Wednesday at Yandy headquarters in Phoenix, said Amanda Blackhorse, a Diné activist from Phoenix.

“When you have so many Native American voices telling you, ‘This is wrong, we don’t feel appreciated by this, we don’t feel honored by this, we feel insulted (and) our community is hurting because of these costumes, I don’t see how anyone wearing them can say that they support us,” said Zoe Dejecacion, the creator of the petition and a makeup artist from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

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Ten Chicago area stores sold 3,389 guns tied to Chicago crimes

By Ashley Hackett
Medill Reports

Ten Chicago area gun shops and sporting goods stores sold the most guns that were involved in Chicago crimes during the years 2013-2016, according to a report from the Chicago Police Department and the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chuck’s Gun Shop, located in Riverdale, sold nearly 1,000 of the 3,389 guns tied to the crimes and traced to the 10 stories during that three-year span, according to the 2017 report.

More than 393 million civilian-owned firearms are in circulation in the United States—enough for every American man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over, according to the global Small Arms Survey.

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“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)

Chicago museum aims to increase representation of American Muslims

By Aqilah Allaudeen
Medill Reports

Religious freedom as a First Amendment right is something that many American Muslims who immigrated from countries such as Albania, will never take for granted. The country had a communist government that declared atheism as the country’s official religion until 1990.

“If you were to wear a cross around your neck, you’d either be killed or go to jail. [If you] have a Quranic verse on your wall and you were found out, same thing,” said Hysni Selenica, an American Muslim whose family came from Albania, in an audio recording. “So I understand what I have, and I am going to practice my religion to the best of my ability.”

The recording is part of a growing archive initiated by the Chicago History Museum. The museum held a rough cut “listening party” Monday featuring audio stories of American Muslims from the city and suburbs. The audio party was a sneak peek into an exhibition that the museum plans to launch in Oct 2019 that will focus on the stories of American Muslims residing in the Chicago area. The exhibition will also include artifacts from American Muslims but its main focus will be on the oral histories of those interviewed for the recordings.

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Evanston native builds breast cancer survivor community

By Xiaoyi Liu
Medill Reports

Lauren Carfang remembers the shock when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34.

“I think you are in disbelief a little bit, shock, anger, sadness, confusion,” said Carfang. “These are a lot of emotions that hit you, as you trying to make sense of what happened.”

Carfang underwent chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and hormone therapies after the diagnosis of breast cancer in September 2016. Now in remission, Carfang founded SurvivingBreastCancer.org as a platform to support survivors, their families and caregivers by navigating their uncertainty and the strong desire for connection, support, and resources.

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Chicago lacks some basic disability resources, national report finds

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

Though Chicago offers a walkable, wheelchair accessible city, people with disabilities struggle to find affordable housing and 30 percent of those with a disability live in poverty here, a national report finds.

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