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Sneak Preview: ‘The Interrupters’

There’s lots of buzz for “The Interruptors,” which premiered in January at the Sundance Festival and has already won a slew of awards.  It opens nationwide this summer starting in New York on Friday, and the press is invited to cover a private, invitation-only “friends and family” VIP Preview on Wednesday, July 27 at 6 p.m. at ICE Theater Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th.

The film will open at the Siskel Film Center on August 12 and at ICE theaters in Chatham and Lawndale on August 26.  It tells the story of three “violence interrupters” who work for CeaseFire, following them as they defuse tense situations and showing us their own personal stories and the relationships they develop in the course of their work.

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Youth call for jobs program to curb violence

While young people at loose ends roam Chicago’s streets, some of them causing trouble, elected officials continue to do little about crisis-level youth unemployment.

Nearly 100 Chicago area youth calling for funding for a summer jobs program were turned away today after they announced plans for a 24-hour sit-in at the Thompson Center to demand an emergency meeting with Governor Quinn.

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Chicago police: a history of encouraging violence

A video captured and released by WBEZ may present evidence of what’s long been considered a common practice by Chicago police – picking kids up, taking them to a dangerous neighborhood, and dropping them off to fend for themselves.

The incident captured in the video is not an isolated event.  On 848 today, WBEZ’s Samuel Vega and Robert Wildeboer said that in less than an hour of talking with Humboldt Park residents, they came up with two individuals with stories of being picked up by police – for no reason, because of how they look, presumably – and dropped off in dangerous territory.

The practice has a long pedigree, and at least once before it  came to widespread attention — more than 20 years ago.  Here’s part of an old article, written by Barbara Ferry and myself and published in the (U.S. weekly) Guardian on November 8, 1989 under the headline “Racism, police brutality escalate in Daley’s Chicago”:

Calvin McLin and Joseph Weaver, both 14 years old, both short and slight and wearing suits and ties, led a march of 1500 African Americans through Bridgeport, the neighborhood of Mayor Richard Daley, on October 21.  At one corner the marchers, who had been chanting and singing civil rights anthems, waited silently as a group of ministers knelt and prayed.

It was the corner where, two months earlier, two Chicago police officers had dropped the boys off into the hands of a white gang, which chased them down and beat McLin unconscious….

The abduction and abandonment of Weaver and McLin was one of a series of recent incidents that have brought the issue of police brutality to the fore here.  Following another such incident – the September 10 police killing of an unarmed black man [Leonard Bannister] – the City Council’s police and fire committee held four days of hearings.  The hearings brought to light numerous cases of racism and brutality by police and highlighted the police department’s failure to discipline officers accused of such abuse.

Appearing before the committee, Daley stated his opposition to police brutality but insisted it was a minor problem and not connected to race.

McLin and Weaver testified on the first day of hearings that they were picked up by two white police officers for curfew violations as they left a White Sox game.  They were struck by one of the officers as they were let out in Bridgeport, an area with a long history of racist attacks on blacks.  A gang of white youths chased them, and when McLin fell they beat him unconscious. The two officers and several young white residents have been indicted in the case.

Here, from an old file, is what Mary Powers of Citizens Alert testified to at the 1989 City Council hearing:

Although dumping suspected gang members in another gang’s turf has been a Chicago police tactic for many years, this recent incident has as its victim two innocent boys on their way home from a White Sox game.

In April 1991 two police officers, James Serio and Kathleen Moore, went on trial in the McLin-Weaver case.  They claimed they’d been at dinner and at the district station at the time of the incident; the prosecution said they were the only male-female team assigned to a cage car in the district that night.

The two victims identified Moore, who they said struck McLin before releasing the two in front a group of hostile white youths; she was also identified by two women who witnessed the incident.  None could identify the driver of the squad car.

McLin testified he heard the driver tell his partner, “We`ll take them over to 45th (Street) because it`s kind of rough over there.“

The two officers were acquitted in a bench trial; Judge Ralph Reyna rejected the identifications by the victims and witnesses as unconvincing.

The Task Force to Confront Police Violence noted the “spiritless prosecution” of Serio and Moore, saying the police department “once against evaded responsibility for the crimes of ethnic intimidation and police brutality” and adding, “There is little likelihood that the Chicago Police crimefighters in the 9th District will ever take the initiative to solve this crime.”

In 1992 the Police Board fired Serio and Moore.  The People’s Law Office filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of McLin and Weaver, charging a departmental failure to control abusive practices, which the city settled for a significant sum.

It does not seem like anything was done to end the practice, however.

It’s not clear from the video recovered by WBEZ whether any crimes have been committed by police in this instance, though what the cops are doing here is clearly inappropriate (the police department called it “unbecoming conduct” in a statement to WBEZ).  It should be easy to identify the officers and the victim in this case, and a full investigation seems unavoidable.

But is it possible that the longstanding, common practice by Chicago police of encouraging gang violence – which calls to mind the first Mayor Daley’s famous, arguably accurate statement that the department’s mission is not to create disorder but to preserve disorder – which, indeed, calls into question the department’s commitment to reducing the murder rate – is it possible that practice can be called to account?  Is it possible that it can be ended?

The city’s political and police department leadership may or may not have the will.  But sustained public attention and outrage would go a long way to checking this practice.

Domestic violence victims being deported

Victims of domestic violence are being detained and deported when they contact local law enforcement to report abuses, according to a new report released here by the Latino Union of Chicago.

It’s happening under the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which coordinates local police agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE claims the program targets individuals convicted of violent crimes, but critics have charged that many others are caught up in it.  According to the report from Latino Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, women are being fingerprinted and detained when they go to police to report crimes.

“Secure Communities is a direct attack on immigrant women, families, and victims of domestic violence,” said Gladys Zarate, a founder of Weaving Dreams, a domestic workers collective.

“As we honor contributions of the women’s movement on International Women’s Day, we demand that Illinois take immediate steps to protect women and families by opting out of this voluntary program,” she said.

Mayoral candidates on CPS suspension rates

Two mayoral candidates and several state legislators will endorse the High Hopes Campaign’s goal of reducing suspensions in CPS at a community forum tomorrow.

All the mayoral candidates have been invited to the forum, Saturday, January 29, 10:30 a.m. at Southlawn United Methodist Church, 8605 S. Cregier.

City Clerk Miguel del Valle has confirmed his attendance – he’s previously endorsed the campaign and spoken repeatedly in favor of its goals – and Carol Moseley Braun is sending a representative to announce her support, organizers said.

State legislators from the South Side, including members of legislative committees on education, will also announce their support, they said.

With 43,000 suspensions and 600 expulsions last year, CPS leads the nation’s school systems in both measures, and African American students are twice as likely to be suspended and even more likely to be expelled, according to a Catalyst report which inspired the campaign (see previous post for more).

Research shows that suspensions increase the risk of failure, dropouts, and incarceration.


High Hopes aims at “collapsing the walls of this cradle-to-prison pipeline” and countering “disproportionate levels of incarceration and unemployment in the African-American community,” said Rev. Paul Ford of Avalon Park UCC, in a release.  The church is part of Community Renewal Society’s Civic Action Network, which is spearheading the coalition.

The campaign wants CPS to implement the restorative justice approach which it adopted in 2007, replacing a punitive “zero tolerance” policy.  Restorative justice uses peer juries and peace circles to hold offenders accountable and build community.  But CPS has yet to implement the approach system-wide.

Organizers say that where used, restorative justice has reduced suspensions and conflict.

At Fenger High School, where longtime restorative justice advocate Robert Spicer joined the staff last year following the beating death of Derrion Albert, peace circles have prevented 268 days of suspension over a recent six-week period, Spicer reports in a blog post.  The circles have also helped resolve conflicts that could have ended up in physical fights, he said.

“This is what should be on the front page of our newspapers,” he comments.

In 2009, peer juries averted 2,000 days of suspension, according to Andrew Tonachel of Alternatives.


But some administrators have been reluctant to adopt the new approach.  At Orr High School, peer juries handled numerous cases that would have otherwise resulted in suspensions, but the principal has been slow to refer cases, said Ana Mercado of Blocks Together, a coalition member which works with Humboldt Park youth and parents.

The Chicago Area Project’s restorative justice program was hugely successful at Dyett High School, says Edith Crigler – she tells of post-suspension reentry circles with a large group of girls who “realized they all faced the same challenges” and decided to become the Dyett Peacemakers – and in one year, in-school arrests went from 60 to 6.  But when a new principal came in, the program “fell off the cliff.”

At other schools where CPS sent CAP, principals were too busy to meet with them, and nothing got off the ground, she said.

“You need adult buy-in in the school for it to have a chance,” said Tonachel. Alternatives trained peer juries in 20 CPS high schools this fall – down from about 40 over the past several years, after a federal funding stream was cancelled.

In Chicago, restorative justice is “very much school-driven as opposed to the central office mandating it and providing resources,” he said.  “There’s not a system-wide interest.”

In neighborhoods with “a lot of violence, kids getting shot and dying,” restorative justice “gives young people a way to have their voices heard in a safe environment, to process some of the trauma going on in their lives.  These kids are coming to school with so much trauma and it makes it so hard to learn.   CPS could help them find a way to deal with all this.”

Youth win on CPS guards, grievance process

In a victory for two youth organizing drives, CPS has agreed to establish a grievance procedure for students experiencing violence, harassment or discrimination, and to pilot a program training security guards to use principles of restorative justice in their work.

Both campaigns promote the restorative justice approach – emphasizing accountability as an alternative to zero tolerance and punitive discipline – as a more effective approach to reducing violence, said Sam Finkelstein of GenderJust, an LGTB student group that protested at CPS headquarters and at CPS chief Ron Huberman’s home to demand a grievance procedure.

GenderJust announced last month that CPS had agreed to establish a process for students to file grievances on paper, by phone, or via a website.  Complaints may be investigated by the district’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Office. A student oversight committee will monitor the process.

“It’s important that students’ voices are heard when bad things are done to them,” said Nelleli Luna of GenderJust, a sophomore at Little Village Lawndale High.

Last week, Blocks Together Youth Council announced an agreement with CPS to pilot restorative justice training for security guards in five or more high schools.  The West Humboldt Park youth group has organized for years against security guard misconduct and policies that criminalize youth.

The two groups supported each other and worked together at various points over the past year.  Southwest Youth Collaborative also worked on the security guard issue.

Both groups have their work cut out for them: GenderJust is working up a publicity drive to inform students about the grievance procedure, including a citywide Queer Student Orientation at the beginning of the school year.  BTYC is identifying schools to participate and working with restorative justice practitioners to create a curriculum.

The agreement with CPS security director Michael Shields includes a commitment to facilitate discussions with the administration at Orr High School, where many BTYC members are students, said Ana Mercado.  Though the school has peer juries based on restorative justice, they aren’t widely used, she said.  “The administration doesn’t really understand it, and doesn’t put its weight behind it,” Mercado said.

One goal for the coming year is to talk about what full implementation of a restorative justice policy would look like for CPS, Finkelstein said.  The approach is now used in scattered ways with limited support (and other groups have worked to promote it over the years; see Newstips from 2005.)

System-wide implementation would be the best way to reduce violence and promote a “culture of calm,” Finkelstein said.

“A lot of people in CPS don’t know what [restorative justice] means,” he said.  “We think students should be the ones defining it.”

For background: Newstips on GenderJust’s Safe and Affirming Education campaign; Newstips on Blocks Together Youth Council’s security guard campaign.

Stopping dog fights; adopting kittens

Martial arts champion (and animal lover) Andre “The Pit Bull” Arlovski will speak to Englewood students tomorrow – and the Humane Society‘s Pit Bull Training Team will give a performance – as  part of a growing campaign against violence and dog fighting.

The presentations take place at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, June 10) at Team Englewood High School, 6201 S. Stewart, according to the Anti-Cruelty Society, which is cosponsoring the event.

The pit bull team gives weekly trainings at sites in Austin and Englewood for dogs and their owners, including individuals and pets who have been involved in dog fighting.  Some graduates become anti-dogfighting advocates who recruit students, give presentations in schools, and break up fights.

The goal is “to completely change the culture of pit bull ownership in this community,” says trainer Jeff Jenkins in a short Humane Society video.  (And in another short video, watch 13-year-old Terrence Murphy, with his dog Elmo, talk about the program.)

The Humane Society estimates that 250,000 dogs die in dog fights each year in the United States.

For more on the pit bull training team, see reports in Time Out Chicago and the Chicago Defender, and Jenkins’ blog on last summer’s training.


In other ACS news, it’s “kitten season,” with an annual warm-weather increase in kitten litters and in kittens left at the society’s shelter at 157 W. Grand.  Through August 31, people adopting two cats will have the adoption fee for one of them waived.  It’s not limited to a single home – two friends can each adopt and split one fee.

Humboldt Park: Walk for peace – and a new flag

Hundreds of residents will march against violence in Humboldt Park tomorrow – and a new flag will be raised over Paseo Boricua.

In addition to the giant steel Puerto Rican flags that mark Division Street at Western and California as the Paseo, the community has become the first outside Puerto Rico to be granted an official municipal flag by the commonwealth.

The March for Peace, sponsored by the Alliance of Local Service Organizations, begins at 10 a.m. (Saturday, June 5) at Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western, and concludes with performances and speakers at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division.  The flag raising is expected to take place around noon.

Along the route educators, police officials, anti-violence workers and survivors of violence will give short talks about different types of violence, including domestic violence, street violence, and violence in schools.

Over 60 organizations are participating in the event.

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