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No celebration: Chicagoans protest police, schools

Two dovetailing protests will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in Chicago on Wednesday — a march on the Board of Education by a citywide coalition of community groups at 10 a.m., and a march on City Hall demanding accountability for police killings directly afterward.

Both protests emphasize how far we still have to go to address racial inequality, and both call for the creation of elected bodies to oversee local agencies — an elected school board and an elected civilian police accountability council.

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A dozen community organizations have called for a one-day school boycott and will march on the Board of Education at 10 a.m. demanding an end to the destabilization of neighborhood schools and recognition of the human right to a safe, quality education for every child.

They are calling for an elected school board and reallocation of TIF funds to stop budget cuts.

“Our schools are still very segregated and very unequal,” said Sarah Simmons of Parents For Teachers.  Suburban and selective enrollment schools have a full range of programs while students at Dyett High School in Washington Park are forced to take art and phys ed classes online, she said.

After heavy budget cuts, Kelly High School has two art teachers for 2,700 students and no library, said Israel Munoz, a recent Kelly grad who helped organize the new Chicago Students Union and is now headed to college.

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Detective Guevara takes the Fifth

The Sun-Times reports that former detective Reynaldo Guervara repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment in a hearing on a motion to overturn the murder convictions of two men.

A plaintiffs’ attorney told reporters Guevara has tainted several local cases — in terms of quantity, making disgraced police commander Jon Burge “look like small potatoes.”

There’s lots more to the Guevara story.

In June 2009, Newstips reported on a unique “patterns and practices” claim made in by lawyers representing Gabriel Solache, who was sentenced to life in prison following a 2000 murder conviction based on Guevara’s investigation.

While such claims — charging the Chicago Police Department with failing to rein in  police misconduct — are generally based on departmental patterns, this one was based solely on charges of misconduct against a single detective: Reynaldo Guevara.

Solache’s motion included trial testimony and depositions alleging 40 instances of misconduct by Guevara alone, including violence, threats of criminal charges, and threats to parents that their children would be taken by DCFS.  Solache’s case went to trial last month.

That post also cited an FBI report in which an informant charged that Guevara took money to fix murder cases.  Details here.

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More police in schools?

New federal funds for safe schools should go for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, and not more police in schools, several groups are arguing.

Students and parents from across the city will hold a press conference Monday, January 21, 2 p.m. at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark to make their case.

Participating are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, POWER-PAC, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

President Obama has proposed spending $150 million on police “school resource officers,” counselors and psychologists.

“We have ten full-time school security guards and two full-time armed school police, but we don’t even have one school psychologist,” said VOYCE student leader Ahkeem Wright in a release.

A CTU study last year found CPS was staffed far below recommended levels for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

CPS’s approach “has led to record-public spending, stark racial disparities and the overuse of school-based arrests for misdemeanor offenses – even as homicide and gun violence in the surrounding communities skyrocket,” the groups maintain.

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Police accountability — and politics

The First District of the Illinois Court of Appeals is set to rule in a police accountability case which has had some twists that can only be called bizarre – and, according to Jamie Kalven in Huffington Post, raise the question of whether the court has been influenced by political pressure.

In December, the appeals court issued a strong ruling granting an FOIA request by Kilroy Watkins, who’s serving a 55-year sentence for murder and armed robbery.  Watkins had requested the civilian complaint files for two Chicago detectives who were working under Commander Jon Burge when they arrested Watkins in 1992 and, as he’s maintained since then, coerced a confession out of him.

The City of Chicago has maintained that complaint records are personnel matters that are exempt from public disclosure requirements.  As Kalven explains, the appeals court relied on a 2009 state court ruling that established that civilian allegations of official wrongdoing are public business, and police departments can’t just hide them from the public by placing them in personnel files.

But a week after the ruling was issued it was withdrawn on grounds Kalven calls “hyper-technical,” having to do (as best I can figure) with whether Watkins cited an oral ruling or a written decision.

Political pressure?

“Did the First District yield to political pressure?” Kalven asks. “The question must be asked, though it cannot be definitively answered, for the city has consistently sought in every possible way to resist the emerging judicial consensus that [civilian complaint files] are public information.”

Watkins petitioned the state supreme court, which laid aside the appeals court’s procedural objection and directed the court to decide the case on its merits.  That decision is expected shortly.

The “logical outcome” is for the appeals court to reinstate its original ruling, Kalven says.  If it doesn’t, he suggests, it will raise serious questions about its judicial independence.

Kalven himself has been pursuing civilian complaint files for five years.  In 2007, Judge Joan Lefkow granted his request for the release of complaint files for five Chicago officers charged with abuse in a federal civil rights case which the city had recently settled.  Two years later a federal appeals court overturned her decision, ruling that Kalven lacked standing – but suggesting that he could file a FOIA request under state law.

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Whose firebombs?

The Associated Press has the best report I’ve seen about the alleged firebombing conspiracy in Bridgeport, noting that defense lawyers say there were police infiltrators who stayed in the targeted apartments, and that they were the ones who brought the firebombs there.

(The Sun Times reports that undercover officers were present when the alleged firebombs were made, presenting that fact as evidence for the veracity of the charges.)

“Longtime observers of police tactics said the operation seemed similar to those conducted by authorities in other cities before similarly high-profile events,” according to the AP.

AP cites the RNC 8 – eight young people involved in planning protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008 who were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism under Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act.  When it was finally resolved, five accepted plea deals for misdemeanor conspiracy to damage property – one got 91 days, the others no jail time – and charges were dropped against the other three.

Kind of not such a big deal as the initial headlines would have indicated.

Chicago police have a long history of infiltrating peaceful protest groups and fomenting violence – it’s one reason the Red Squad was banned by a federal court order (later lifted at the request of Mayor Daley) – and infiltration of protest groups seems to be standard operating procedure for “national security events.”

And nationally since 9/11, an embarrassing proportion of “anti-terrorism” cases have involved plots proposed, planned, and enabled by police agents. That seems to have been the case – in just the past month — with the Wrigley bomber as well as the alleged bombing plot of a group of Cleveland anarchists who supposedly “discussed” disrupting the NATO summit. Sometimes you wonder whether such efforts are directed at keeping us safe or “putting points on the board” – or, when big protests are planned, generating scare headlines.

“This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear and to create this public perception that protests are violent,” said Michael Deutsch of the National Lawyers Guild.

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Call for special prosecutor in Koschman case

David Koschman’s mother has filed a petition calling for a special prosecutor to investigate her son’s death in a 2004 confrontation with Mayor Daley’s nephew and the possibility of a politically-motivated coverup of the case.

Nanci Koschman will discuss the petition at a press conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday, December 15, at Northwestern School of Law, 375 E. Chicago, 8th floor.  She’ll be joined by Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center and Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association.

The petition calls for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Daley’s nephew Robert Vanecko is criminally responsible for Koschman’s death, whether false reports were filed in the subsequent investigation, and whether police and prosecutors conspired to obstruct justice in order to protect the mayor’s relative.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez cannot conduct an impartial investivation, the complaint argues, because one of her assistants is a possible witness – and the possible subject of an investigation into official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

In addition, Alvarez closed a second investigation of the case which followed reports in the Chicago Sun Times earlier this year, claiming all witnesses agreed that Koschman was the aggressor in the incident. Several witnesses say that is not what they told authorities, the Sun Times has reported.

Alvarez has denied that political considerations played a role in the handling of the case.

“Petitioners believe that had Vanecko not been a member of the powerful Daley family, he would have been charged with the homicide,” according to the court filing.

An acquital – but not justice – for Tiawanda Moore

Tiawanda Moore’s acquittal Wednesday raises a range of issues:  about the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law; about the role of the State’s Attorney and the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division in protecting abusive officers; and about media treatment of female victims of sexual crimes, and especially of young African American women.

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NATO/G8 protestors assert free speech rights

With Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announcing preparations for “mass arrests” of protestors at NATO and G8 summits in Chicago next May, a group of peace, labor, and community activists are calling on Mayor Emanuel to guarantee the right to free speech.

Activists including Rudy Lozano, Kathy Kelly, and SEIU Local 73 president Christine Boardman will deliver a letter to Emanuel on Thursday morning calling on him to “guarantee civil liberties” and issue permits for rallies and marches during the summits. A press conference is planned for 11:30 a.m., Thursday, July 28, on the fifth floor of City Hall.

In a release, the NATO/G8 Working Group points to the city’s “dismal track record of suppressing peaceful protestors” including “a decade-long effort to thwart peace activists’ right to assemble and march to oppose U.S. wars.”

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