Social Justice

White privilege is real, Black Lives Matter founders tell Loyola crowd

By Rebekah Frumkin and Carlos D. Williamson

It’s wrong for people to say all lives matter when certain races clearly have an advantage, said Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza during a celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday at Loyola University.

“What we’re trying to shift here is a paradigm, where the experiences of white folks are used to control how everybody else should live,” Garza said.
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Immigrant mother of deceased veteran fights to keep family together

By Hannah Rank

Olivia Segura remembers it in bits and pieces. The before and after. Everything before hearing the news is clear and chronological. Everything after is hazy and nightmarish.

[Listen to Olivia Segura tell her story below.]

“They asked me if I had any sickness, if my heart was okay,” she recalls. “I knew that something had happened but I never expected that she was going to be dead.”

It was Veterans’ Day in 2007 when Segura heard the news that her daughter, Ashley Sietsema, had died while on active duty in Kuwait. She and her husband Alberto had the day off and were unpacking groceries when the doorbell rang and a military officer was at the door.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Segura says. “I almost passed out.”

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Chicago festival celebrates hip-hop arts’ positive impact

By Marisa Endicott

Some might claim that “hip-hop is dead,” but the 7th Annual Winter Block Party for Chicago’s Hip Hop Arts this Saturday suggested otherwise.

“If you go to the spaces, if you go to the open mics, it is alive and well,” said Damon Williams, a performer and activist emceeing for the event. “Hip-hop is a culture that is inherent in people’s spirits.”

Nonprofit Young Chicago Authors and public radio stations WBEZ and Vocalo hosted the all-day showcase that took place at the Metro concert hall in Wrigleyville. The festivities culminated in a mixtape release concert featuring young up-and-coming spoken word poets, singers and rappers from Louder than a Bomb, a Chicago youth poetry festival.
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Recruiting minorities is not the solution to police reform, say community groups

By Meggie Morris

Community-based organizations demanding police reform say recruiting more minorities to better reflect Chicago’s demographics is not enough to improve police-community relations.

The recruitment campaign, which is to end this week, will be ineffective unless the city first addresses the policing system as a whole, the groups say.

“It certainly is a prerequisite for improving police relations,” said Ted Pearson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “However, until the community has control of the police it really doesn’t matter who they hire.”

When the Chicago Police Department announced late last year that it was hiring officers for the first time since 2013, the city said the recruitment drive’s most important objective was to increase the force’s ethnic diversity.

“This effort will not only help ensure our department remains fully staffed as we work to fight gun violence,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said then in a written statement. “But will also help ensure that the makeup of the force better reflects the makeup of our city.”

The ethnic makeup of the Chicago Police Department as of January 2016

According to the Chicago Police Department, white police employees account for more than half the police department. (Meggie Morris/MEDILL)

According to Camesha Jones of Black Youth Project 100, encouraging individuals to join the CPD to initiate reform from the inside will never be feasible.

“Our stance is pretty much that the system of policing is flawed,” she said. “We’re against the system of policing, it doesn’t matter… if it’s a black or a white person.”

Recruitment is just one of the initiatives that surfaced in 2015 as part of the city’s response to the issue of police accountability. In May, the City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. In August, the CPD agreed to an independent evaluation of investigatory stops, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois published a report questioning the constitutionality of “stop and frisk” procedures.

And in November, three weeks before the city released dash cam video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the recruitment campaign was announced.

For community advocacy groups, replacing cops is not the solution. A civilian-elected board that not only monitors policing, but has authority over how communities are policed, however, is.

A coalition of organizations supports the establishment of the Civilian Police Accountability Council. According to legislation they drafted more than two years ago, 25 elected civilians representing each of the city’s districts would be authorized to select the police superintendent and investigate misconduct complaints and all police shootings. The board would also have the power to discipline officers and determine police procedures, rules, and use of force guidelines.

“An independent police account board would be a more fair and just solution to dealing with police misconduct and harm reduction,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, which is part of the growing coalition.

Some members of the communities these organizations represent are not waiting for the city’s approval of the Civilian Police Accountability Council to begin the process of police reform. Instead, they are applying to join the CPD as police officers, optimistic that in time they can make a difference.

Danielle Wright, who is hoping to help her city with the tools she learned as an Aviation Ordnanceman in the U.S. Navy, said improving attitudes in Chicago towards police and within the CPD towards the communities depends on shared responsibility.

“We can play a part as individuals, but it takes more than one person to change anything,” she said. “You can stand here and say ‘I want change, I want better, I want peace’, but if you just standing alone, it’s going to be a difficult task to overcome by yourself. It has to be everybody – one sound, one team – everybody in for the same cause.”

Southside native Katina Hewitt agreed, but said in order to make that happen, the police need to start the process themselves.

“The youth are not going to agree with trying to join the police when they’re shooting the youth, when they’re killing youth,” the 22-year-old said. “This needs to be a slow process, but both sides gotta put in the work.”

Photo at top: The Chicago Police Department puts on a show at a recruitment event Jan. 9, 2015. (Meggie Morris/MEDILL)

Little Village residents welcome diversity, fear rising rents

By Harry Huggins

Residents of Chicago’s largely Hispanic Little Village neighborhood are excited to greet their increasingly diverse neighbors, but the area’s popularity comes at the expense of long-time tenants who grew up in a community with more affordable housing.

Jesus Zamudio was born and raised in Little Village, which is just west of Pilsen on the city’s Southwest Side.

“I noticed that little by little, Asians, African-Americans and white people have been joining our community,” Zamudio said. “I like that, because I don’t want to be a part of only Mexicans, but I want to see other cultures around here.”
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The making of a heroin addict

By Jack Adams

Gary, who chose to hide his identity to protect his business, said some people get a headache when they take Advil. But for Gary, “Heroin was my Advil.”

When Gary was 19, he was offered the painkiller Oxycontin by a friend’s brother. But it wasn’t Oxycontin. It was heroin. Gary didn’t like it very much because it made him feel sick, so he tried what he still believed was Oxycontin two months later, and he was hooked. By the time he learned that what he was taking was heroin, he didn’t care.

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ADA at 25: Chicago sees uptick in arts and cultural accessibility for people with disabilities

By Rebekah Frumkin

Jonathan Sondergeld pauses in front of Andy Warhol’s “Twelve Jackies” in The Art Institute’s modern and contemporary art gallery so his tour group can catch up with him. After a quick conversation in American Sign Language (ASL) with his fellow tour guide, he turns to the assembled.

“Can everyone see me?” he signs.

Some nod, others sign back, “Yes.”
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Fighting Domestic Violence with Perpetrator Intervention

By Elyse Samuels

Ten adults sit around a long rectangular table in a comfortable conference room with t-shirts adorning the walls proclaiming statement such as, “hands are for helping, healing, holding, not for hitting” or “everyone deserves a happy home, everyone deserves to smile.”

For 20 hours over the course of three days this group and these statements of domestic violence filled the South Suburban Family Shelter as part of the abuser intervention facilitator training.

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An art piece is worth “34,000 Pillows”

By Vishakha Darbha

Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera watched over the makeshift sewing studio at Soul Asylum, an art exhibition focusing on immigrant stories of struggle.

Perera is one half of an artist duo, with Cara Megan Lewis. Together, they call themselves Diaz Lewis. At Soul Asylum, their interactive artwork is titled “34,000 Pillows,” inspired by the 2007 congressional mandate that states that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) must maintain a quota of 34,000 detained immigrants per day in 250 centers around the country. “34,000 Pillows” is an on-going project, made by old clothes often donated by former detainees. The studio at Soul Asylum also allows visitors to contribute to the pillow-making process.

The exhibition opened on January 22 and will continue until March 26. It is being held at Weinberg/Newton gallery, previously known as David Weinberg Photography, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch. Other artists in the exhibit include The Albany Park Theatre Project, Jenny Polak and Tania Bruguera.

Artist Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera, in collaboration with Cara Megan Lewis, explains the inspiration behind his interactive artwork “34,000 Pillows” (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)
Photo on Top: Artist Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera stitches a pillow, part of his on-going project “34,000 Pillows.” (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

Unmasked: A platform for cultural expressions for Muslim youth (Video)

By Nikita Mandhani

Amarah Alghaban clutched the mic as she recited a verse from one of her favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, about the plight of Palestinians.

“And these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile ‘not exotic,’
‘not terrorist.’”

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