Social Justice

Naomi Oreskes urges scientists to take a stand against attempts to ‘silence facts’

By Janice Cantieri

Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes urged hundreds of scientists to step beyond the objectivity of their data and embrace the riskier role as “sentinels” for scientific facts.

“We do need to speak for the facts because the facts don’t speak for themselves,” Oreskes said to an overflowing auditorium at the Boston conference of he American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We live in a world where many people are trying to silence facts,” said the author of “Merchants of Doubt.”

The book and documentary based on it show how the tobacco and sugar industries and climate change deniers cast doubt on scientific facts without ever needing to refute them.
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Climate extremes can ignite violence and more intolerant societies

By Janice Cantieri

Rising extremes of droughts, floods or food shortages can reduce a country’s political stability and cultural tolerance, warned scientists at the American Association for the Advancements of Science conference in Boston this weekend.

As global temperatures continue to rise, these and other environmental threats are expected to increase.

“What you have here is a model where different forms of ecological threat are producing stronger cultural institutions,” but stronger in the sense of more regimented, said Joshua Conrad Jackson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “That could carry over into intergenerational changes in cultural institutions.”

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Historic Bronzeville hardware store and jazz archive set to close

By Pat Nabong

Meyers Ace Hardware has two kinds of customers: those who buy paint for their walls and those who “listen to the walls.” For decades, hundreds of tourists and curious souls in search of jazz relics have been visiting the neighborhood store in Bronzeville. It has preserved remnants of what it used to be—the Sunset Café, a famous jazz club in the 1920s to ’40s.

Driven out of business by changes in the neighborhood, loyal customers and jazz aficionados are now mourning as the hardware is preparing to close for good in February.

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Marquette Park 4’s exoneration marks milestone for Illinois

By Kara Voght

Theresa Johnson knew there was no way her son, Charles, committed the robbery and murder he’d been convicted of. Convincing others of his innocence, however, was another matter.

“Everybody would just close the door practically in my face,” Johnson said of her repeated attempts to obtain legal help for Charles, who, along with three other men, spent over 20 years in prison for a 1995 double murder and armed robbery they did not commit.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx rewarded Johnson’s decades of persistence Wednesday morning when she dismissed all charges against Charles Johnson, Larod Styles, Lashawn Ezell and Troshawn McCoy after fingerprint evidence conclusively proved their innocence.  McCoy, sentenced to 55 years in prison, is awaiting his release from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The “Marquette Park 4,” as their attorneys call them, entered prison as teenagers and spent a collective 70 years behind bars.

On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson, Styles and Ezell appeared in a press conference at Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s Chicago office, alongside their legal teams and nearly two dozen family members, to discuss their cases.

Theresa Johnson embraces her son, Charles, at Wednesday's press conference to discuss Johnson and three other men's exoneration. (Kara Voght/MEDILL)
Theresa Johnson embraces her son, Charles, at Wednesday’s press conference to discuss Johnson and three other men’s exoneration. (Kara Voght/MEDILL)

The Marquette Park 4’s journey to exoneration began in 2008, when Steven Drizin of the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law received a letter from Charles Johnson. Johnson described giving a false confession to detective James Cassidy, a story that matched many other letters Drizin had received from inmates across the state.

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Disability Intersects Muslim Identity for Chicagoans

By Peter Jones

Aziza Nassar and Muhammed S. Ullah are two American Muslims living with disabilities. Although President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees and travelers from seven mainly Muslim countries has left Muslims in the U.S. feeling marginalized, Muslims with disabilities are feeling even more isolated.

The U.S. Religion Census estimated that the Muslim population of Illinois was 35,000 in 2010. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, approximately 10.7 percent of people in the state are living with a disability. That means an estimated 3,700 Muslims with disabilities live in Illinois. Despite their sizeable population, Muslims with disabilities often avoid attending mosques because they are not accessible to the disabled.

Aziza Nassar has not had such an easy time merging her faith with a disability. After losing her father and starting to use a wheelchair at age 15, Nassar and her family turned to their local mosque for support. But accessing that mosque proved difficult.

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Midwest residents travel to Washington for Women’s March Saturday.

By Alexis Wainwright

Marching in downtown Chicago for the Women’s March this weekend might have seemed vital for many, but others thought it was far more crucial to march in the nation’s capital.

Thousands of Midwesterners traveled to Washington Saturday joining an estimated 500,000 protesters on the National Mall. Women and their families throughout the states of Illinois and Michigan prepared all of last week for these trips.

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Protests break out at O’Hare after Trump’s executive order on refugees

By Alexis Wainwright

Thousands of protesters descended on airports across the United States — including Chicago’s O’Hare — last weekend after scores of international travelers were detained following President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and citizens from several countries.

The executive order signed on Friday barred Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. for an indefinite period and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The order, called “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” is intended to keep what Trump calls “radical Islamic terrorists” out the country.

The order temporarily restricts entry to the U.S. from citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. On Saturday, thousands of protesters filled Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, shutting down all traffic to the international terminal. The protests erupted again on Sunday.

On Saturday night, Federal judge Ann Donnelly in New York, where there were large protests at JFK Airport, temporarily barred deporting new arrivals, stating that refugees and others being detained should not be sent out of the country. In Chicago, protesters at O’Hare continued until the detainees were released. For some of the protestors, Trump’s order affected them personally.

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Christians join Women’s March in Washington

By Christen Gall

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — Her protest started with a plane ticket.

Verity Ramirez, a 26-year-old medical resident at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, is a Christian who attended the Women’s March on Washington last month. She came to rally for women’s rights and for refugee and immigrant communities she felt were attacked by President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign season.

As a physician, Ramirez often works with newly arrived refugees as their primary care doctor. She represents a minority of Christian voters who did not support Donald Trump’s as a presidential candidate.

“This is the time to stand by the vulnerable and the marginalized — these people are my neighbors,” says Ramirez, referring to the biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself from the New Testament book of Mark.

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Undocumented and exposed under a Trump presidency

By Alexa Mencia

[A version of the story was originally published in The American Prospect.]

Operating room nurse Jose Aguiluz knew that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was only a Band-Aid for his immigration problem. It wasn’t a pathway to citizenship. The benefits it offered were limited, temporary.

But critically to Aguiluz, it was a way out of the shadows. For the first time since he fled Honduras to the U.S. in 2005, he found himself not having to tell white lies to his friends and peers. With a Maryland driver’s license, Aguiluz didn’t have to pretend that he had environmental reasons for not driving a car. With a work permit and a Social Security number, he worried less about having a run-in with the police. He didn’t have to think about how any and every action he took might lead to his deportation. Aguiluz was even able to visit Honduras without fearing that he would be denied re-entry into the United States.

But the DACA benefits that made Aguiluz feel more secure under President Obama could make him suddenly vulnerable when Donald Trump becomes president. Aguiluz and thousands of DACA recipients trusted the Obama administration with their personal identifying information in a trade-off that gained them short-term security. But in the turnover to Trump’s administration, that same identifying information could now be used against them. It’s one of the many unknowns now burdening DACA recipients, who have no idea how long their work permits might be valid, and who fear transgressions as petty as jay walking might get them deported. Efforts to protect such immigrants, moreover, face practical and legal barriers

With DACA…With Trump

Trump has pledged to end DACA and to deport between 2-3 million “criminal” aliens. Many DACA recipients now wonder whether they even have a future in the United States—in most cases, the only home they have ever known. With no clear sense of how the Trump administration will define criminality, DACA recipients can only speculate over who might be targeted for deportation. To date, the incoming administration has provided no information or clear direction as to what might happen to DACA recipients’ work permits, which have given them access to higher-paying jobs, health insurance and steadier work.

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Package of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline stories

 Standing Rock

These stories on Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline have been supported in part by SJNN and the McCormick Foundation. They have been co-published by SJNN.

One of the security personnel, who is in charge of checking people who leave and enter the Oceti Sakowin Camp, stands beside a flag that was painted with the battle cry of Standing Rock: "Water is life.” (Photo by Pat Nabong/MEDILL)
One of the security personnel, who is in charge of checking people who leave and enter the Oceti Sakowin Camp, stands beside a flag that was painted with the battle cry of Standing Rock: “Water is life.” (Photo by Pat Nabong/MEDILL)

When Cloee Cooper, June Leffler and Pat Nabong proposed in late Sept. 2016 to go from Chicago to North Dakota to report on the ongoing movement by Native American tribes to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being completed near the Standing Rock reservation, some news organizations had covered the story, a few were invested in continuing to report, but it was still an under-reported, off the beaten track story, with friction developing between protesters and law enforcement authorities and between protesters and journalists.

Cooper, Leffler and Nabong anticipated a number of scenarios that might arise that would be worth elaboration. They needed to be there, develop trusted sources and return to Chicago to continue reporting on the story. They could not have predicted that the DAPL controversy, involving a pipeline that was already 90 percent completed, would result in the halting of the pipeline; the characterization of the movement as a potential model for cross-cultural protest; the election of Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of oil pipelines, and the re-invigoration of the controversy as a focal point for what the new administration will do.

They stayed with the story and put out a package of stories that captured nuances that inject the story with iconic and historical resonance – about the import of political, law enforcement and labor alliances, the modest influence of Native Americans in electoral politics; the presence of tribal rivalries; the dignity of the Native American cause; and the role of climate conditions. In the package of stories, Cooper, Leffler and Nabong have teed up a challenge for journalism: How will journalism cover Native American affairs and its convergence with other agendas; environmental, political and intersectional?

NoDAPL supporters chant ‘Mni wiconi’ and it’s not just about water, By Pat Nabong and June Leffler, Dec. 7, 2016

Illinois’ pipeline construction proceeds with reservations but no rancor, By Cloee Cooper, Nov. 29, 2016

Trump’s ascendancy intensifies #NoDAPL movement, By Pat Nabong, Nov. 23, 2016

Native Americans seek visibility in their vote, By Pat Nabong, Nov. 8, 2016

Native Americans put aside differences at Standing Rock to fight pipeline construction, By Cloee Cooper, Oct. 28, 2016

Bitter consequences: Pipeline protesters batten down the hatches for North Dakota winter, By Pat Nabong and June Leffler, Oct. 19, 2016

All-points call for more deputies to police Standing Rock protest draws critics,  By June Leffler and Cloee Cooper, Oct. 19, 2016

Can Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day co-exist? By June Leffler, Oct. 6, 2016

Siding with Standing Rock at the Naperville Powwow, By June Leffler, Sept. 29, 2016