Letters to the Editor

My record of FOIA defense stands

To the Editor:

Contrary to your Dec. 10 headline, I do not support secrecy in government. In fact, I was the sponsor of the original Illinois Freedom of Information Act and I have advanced additional improvements to the act over the years. I would never turn my back on our commitment to government transparency and accountability.
As a result of some recent court decisions, questions were raised in Springfield about the appropriate interpretation of some of the important changes to the act that were approved in 2009. We introduced language reflecting one of those interpretations in order to start the conversation.

Staff and I met with many interested parties to discuss the bill. It became quite clear — quite quickly — that the interpretation proposed didn’t match up with the recollections of other drafters, including those from the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Nor did it match the interpretation of advocates who also worked on the 2009 bill, advocates that included the Illinois Press Association and the ACLU.

We did the right thing: we dropped the bill. I refused to call the bill for a vote in Committee, and I will not reintroduce the bill during the next Illinois General Assembly. Should the measure reappear, I’ll do my best to defeat it.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)

The ins and outs of nature restoration

To the Editor:

Larry Wethington’s letter of Nov. 26 raises an important question. What is a native, he asks? Basically it is a plant or animal that was here at the time of settlement in the 17th and 18th centuries when the ecosystem was in balance.  Plants had evolved over thousands of years to survive the rigors of droughts, floods and prairie fires, and there was enough food to go around. Predator and prey co-existed. “Balance” is the key word here.

Human intervention took that away. An example of destructive human intervention is in the South where kudzu imported from Japan has run rampant and choked out beneficial plants — that is, plants that provide food for us or for the rest of the natural world. Because kudzu has no natural enemies in America, it can smother the plants on the land where it takes root. Monarch butterflies, for example, won’t find nourishment from kudzu leaves, but they will from native milkweed.

We don’t need to worry about kudzu in the Chicago region, but look at our deer problem. Two hundred years ago, there were wolves that kept the deer population in check. Now we have virtually eradicated wolves (not that we want them prowling through city streets) but the situation is no longer in balance.

Human intervention in functioning ecosystems has thrown many habitats out of whack. Why do we have declining numbers of songbirds? If we don’t grow the plants where they can find food and shelter, they won’t reproduce and they will disappear. Just because a tree or shrub is green doesn’t mean that it can provide food for a cardinal or a robin.

If we want to live in a world that contains robins and cardinals, plus butterflies, fish, pollinating insects and all of our native mammals, we need to provide the plants that will support them.  If we want to have food for ourselves, we need to provide plants for pollinating insects such as bees. Again, just because a flower is pretty doesn’t mean that it will feed a bee.

So that’s why they’re cutting down certain trees in Jackson Park. They’re trees that aren’t providing food for the wildlife that we both want and need. For more information, I recommend “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy. It’s full of well-documented examples of how native plants are necessary to our health and that of the planet.

 One interesting fact: The widely planted Bradford pear that we see blooming here every spring is not only an alien species; it is actually toxic to wildlife that tries to eat it, says Tallamy. Our various native oak trees, on the other hand, can support a grand total of more than 500 species of butterflies and moths. So if someone cuts down a Bradford pear and plants an oak in its stead, don’t cry. It’s not worth it.

Carolyn Ulrich, Editor

Chicagoland Gardening

Why is Currie advancing secrecy?

To the Editor:

Citizens of the 25th District probably disagree about state income taxes, the Illiana expressway, or ways to solve the state’s pension problems. However, most would oppose more secrecy in any branch of government. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie has a bill that would do just that as discussed in a Tribune editorial on last Wednesday. Her proposal would make it easier for state agencies to keep secret reasons for denying freedom of information requests. If citizens go to court to obtain documents and the agency produces records before the judge rules, the citizen will be stuck with court costs. Now, citizens can often recover court costs if a lawsuit is required to obtain documents. Altogether, this bill does nothing except  shield the actions of our legislators from public view.

I wrote Rep. Currie and telephoned her local office to urge her to withdraw this ill-advised legislation. Her office representative told me that she made the proposal at the request of Senate president John Cullerton. Is there any doubt that most of what happens in the Illinois legislature occurs at the behest or at least with the support of Speaker Mike Madigan and Cullerton, aided by Rep. Currie as majority leader? Instead of shielding Springfield’s actions more completely from the public, our legislators should be working with Gov.-elect Rauner to search for ways out of the state’s severe fiscal crisis. Let us lobby our representatives and senators to embrace transparency as we grapple with our financial challenges.

Alfred L. Baker, M. D.

Obama library should avoid park land fuss

To the Editor:

I have said in the past that ”the Obama library committee would never attempt to usurp park land. Their intention is to focus on the general area of Woodlawn, where there is vacant land.”

I’m sure that they are aware of the battle brewing against the Lucas Museum effort to locate on park land.

Actually, the University of Illinois at Chicago area would be ideal because of the plethora of vacant parcels, excellent transportation and central location.

The Great Lakes and our parks are our most precious resources.

Kathie Newhouse

Obama library at cultural center?

To the Editor:

The recommended Chicago site for the Obama Presidential Library must be the best that this city can offer — not just on the South Side. Chicago is a world class city. The site for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum must be the most aesthetically beautiful and the most historically and culturally significant. The site must show promise in its economic development impact and range of rich community opportunities. The 58-plus acre lakefront park, now known as the South Shore Cultural Center, provides the perfectly exquisite location to honor President Barack Obama and embody his community development philosophies.

The worn trope, “If you live in Chicago and can’t see Lake Michigan, you might as well live in Iowa,” is particularly apt in this case. The South Shore Cultural Center (SSCC) site, now owned by the Chicago Park District, is likely the most beautiful setting one could imagine. The downtown skyline is a magnificent backdrop because of the lake’s south side edge. The daytime light brings every roofline and skyscraper in focus, and at night the building lights only compete with the stars. Located on U.S. Route 41, the historic Lake Shore Drive gently curves past the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago, the 18-hole Jackson Park Golf Course and two South Shore marinas. At the boundary on 71st Street, SSCC gives way to lakeside single-family homes and vintage apartment buildings to the south, and the South Shore commercial corridor to the west.

This is such a Chicago story! The likes of Lawrence Heyworth, Marshall Field and A. Montgomery Ward contributed to purchase this unimproved land in 1906 — all members of the Commercial Club, an exclusive “city club” that sponsored the 1909 Plan of Chicago, co-authored by Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. It was not by accident that the most southern stretch of the largest 18-hole golf course in Jackson Park, a creation of the Burnham Plan stops at 67th street on the south side of South Shore Drive, and the front door to the South Shore Country Club was directly across the street at 67th Street.  This 58-acre lakefront property was never intended for “the people;” it was intended for very rich, white, Protestant Chicagoans. For decades, the South Shore Country Club was a playground for Chicago’s rich.

The exclusive Country Club sparked commercial development along 71st Street, with the Illinois Central (now Metra) passenger trains running down the center of the street. The Country Club historically excluded Blacks, Jews and Irish Catholics as members. Through the early 1950s, the people who lived in South Shore were all white, including Jews and Irish Catholics. But by the end of the ‘50s African Americans and Hispanics began to move into this desirable area. Chicago’s infamous residential “white flight” took hold and turned blocks from white to Black, from wealthy to blighted in a few short years. The exclusive South Shore Country Club was abandoned and soon fell into disrepair. The only potential buyer was The Nation of Islam, known as the Black Muslims in Chicago. They proposed to build a hospital that would extend the health care corridor with La Rabida to the north and the new hospital to the south.

The residents of the South Shore community rallied and actively advocated that the land be used for something and not just sink into further disrepair. The community advocates were most vocal about the beach — that it remains public with free access to the lakefront beach, and the restoration of the “Club House” now known as the Cultural Center. The city was generally opposed to the purchase of the land by the Nation of Islam, even though NOI proposed a hospital. The city then offered to purchase the land at the same price the NOI had offered. The land is now owned and managed by the Chicago Park District. And in their persistence, the South Shore community advocates won! In 1974, the Chicago Park District took control of the site. A year later, the “Club House” now the Cultural Center, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Open to the public, the South Shore Cultural Center is the pride of the community, the jewel in our neighborhood crown. Its preservation and future have been closely nurtured and guarded. Chicago Park District and the South Shore Advisory Council have, together, preserved and restored this magnificent building and managed this site and its programs. But here we are 40 years later with an increasingly disinvested neighborhood, little economic or commercial development, and a lovely 58-acre lakefront property that is vastly underused. The South Shore community has always known that this parcel has a higher purpose.

The Obama Presidential Library and Museum on Chicago’s South Side would, according to an economic study done for the University of Chicago, lure enough visitors for 30 restaurants and 11 retailers nearby, create demand for a new hotel near the site, bolster state and local tax revenues and spur other development and jobs.

From a jewel to a crown, from class and racial divisions to the extraordinary, this 58-plus-acre site could become a world symbol. A classic Chicago irony! I urge the Obama Presidential Library board members to choose the bid that recommends development of the South Shore Cultural Center site. I know that South Shore residents and community groups will galvanize whatever professional and local support required.

R. Susan Motley

Work misguided at Jackson Park

To the Editor:

I don’t get it.

Not long ago, workers and bulldozers destroyed dozens (hundreds?) of trees between the railroad tracks and LSD, leaving behind a sparsely wooded wasteland, ostensibly because the trees were not native. Now we’re beginning a project to kill dozens more trees and poison all of the fish in Jackson Park in order to replace them with native trees/fish.

Here’s my question: who decides what’s native? And why exactly is it that what the habitat has evolved to isn’t native? Things change. Things evolve. So what is so important about a once-native habitat that it justifies killing countless trees and wildlife?

Why are we willfully laying waste to beautiful park space? Why not spend those millions cleaning up a toxic waste dump instead? Let’s stop playing God by making arbitrary decrees regarding which trees we like or don’t like in a space and instead do something that benefits the environment.

Larry Wethington

We must defend against paternalism

To the Editor:

In his Nov. 5 letter about the University of Chicago Police Department, Michael Scott puts the emphasis where it needs to be: changing the laws. Nothing much will happen without that. Of course police engaged in community policing should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And we as citizens should think more critically about any law that enhances police power or restricts the rights of the people in the name of public safety.

For too long we have subscribed to what I call the Chicago doctrine of salvation: You can’t save yourself; only the authorities can save you; have faith in the authorities. Instead of insisting on the right to protect ourselves, we grant the police extraordinary powers, and then we act surprised when they exercise those powers.
We have allowed the police to become an armed elite standing over a disarmed and helpless citizenry. This is the “standing army” that the Founders warned us about.

Our elected officials, through misleading appeals to public safety, have maneuvered us into a position of inferiority relative to the police. Two recent Supreme Court decisions — Heller v. Washington D.C. and McDonald v. City of Chicago — have improved the legal status of the ordinary citizen, but if they are ever reversed (and they are one vote away from that), the legal dominos will begin to fall and we will soon be back where we started, unless we are willing to defend our rights at the state and local level.

The laws should recognize us as free, adult citizens, but that will only happen if we recognize it ourselves. Every citizen should make a personal declaration of independence, because citizens who are too dependent on the police are more willing to grant them sweeping, pre-emptive powers. It is depressing to see how many citizens — including prominent city officials from the Black community, such as City Treasurer Stephanie Neely in her March 1, 2013 op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune — support Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s call for random stop and frisk without probable cause.

The police are indispensable, but they should be our equal partners and fellow citizens. They should be our brothers, not our fathers. We should reject paternalism and “Daddy knows best.”

John L. Sutton Jr.

Voting process needs revisiting

To the Editor:

It’s the morning after Election Day, and my NPR station is dutifully telling me about the results — who won, who lost, in the “major” races — and what it will mean to have both houses of Congress under the control of the Republicans. There are also infrequent stories about the trouble voters faced in some places when they went to vote or the amount of money — a record sum — that was spent this year. Much the same was being said on CNN and MSNBC last night — the local TV stations did not change their schedule for the sake of their customers’ “democracy in action” gesture. I can’t say if any customer lodged a complaint about that neglect with the FTC.

There are, however, a few things that I did not hear mentioned either last night or this morning.

I voted early. It was an easy walk to the voting station in Jackson Park near where I live. A gentleman greeted me, told me to fill a short form, and then directed me to one of the chairs lined along the corridor. I sat down to wait, with about 10 people ahead of me. After 10 minutes or so the couple just ahead of me got up and left. The rest of us continued to wait. When I finally reached the final chair in the corridor I discovered that there was still another waiting area but with only four chairs. Not too bad. Soon I was asked to enter the room with the voting machines. Here another gentleman checked my ID, entered information into the computer with which he did not appear to be very familiar, and finally told me to stand behind six other voters, four of them seated on chairs and two standing. So there we were, six working voting machines, each with a voting citizen peering at it anxiously, two extra voting machines for any emergency, six — but soon eight — persons waiting to use the next free machine, two “officials” sitting at computers, one “official” watching the whole scene and herding people around, on table loaded with sugar-heavy “refreshments” for the staff and a stack of still folded voting machines for the big day. All in a quite small room.

After another round of shuffling from one chair to another it was finally my turn to get behind one of the machines. I did my stuff in about 10 or 12 minutes. However, when I finally left the room there were at least three persons who had started way ahead of me still dutifully peering and clicking. I checked my watch as I walked out of the station; it had taken me exactly one hour to fulfill my duty as a conscientious citizen. But then I live in retirement and can well afford the time.

The reports last night and this morning mentioned long lines and problems in registration rolls and such. They did not mention one big cause of delays on the day I voted: the size of the ballot. What is totally forgotten in all the talks about the elections is the fact that they are not just about the big pooh-bahs — the governors, the senators and so forth. The ballot I had to deal with was 17 pages long. That is why it took me 12 minutes but demanded much more time from my more conscientious and better-informed fellow citizens of Chicago, Ill. And I wouldn’t be wrong if I claimed that 95 percent of the people and issues I voted for or against did not find any mention in the reports I heard on CNN, MSNBC and NPR.

No doubt big money has totally corrupted our national politics, and something should urgently be done to curb its influence. But can we also do something about the ballot and the voting system itself? Did anyone make an estimate of the time needed for an ordinary voter to cast his vote on all the matters listed on the ballot? Should we double the number of voting stations and voting machines if the size of the ballot is twice that of the ballot in the previous election? Should we not increase the number of workers at the voting stations simultaneously?

My ballot was so long because it asked me to vote for judges and other state officials. Was I to any extent informed about them? Hardly. It was mostly a party-line vote that I cast, with some exceptions just for the heck of it. Ignoble as my behavior was I am sure I was not alone, either that day or yesterday.

It is about time some truly serious attention is paid to change the nitty-gritty of our elections. If I can be reasonably certain of security when purchasing something on the Internet, should it not be possible for me to somehow vote in a more leisurely — and much more informed — manner at home using my computer? While more and more money is being spent on election campaigns, and all the cleverness in the world is being invested in finding ways to seduce a voter, every year only a shameful number of people actually cast — or are able to cast — their votes. The media reports mention the winning and losing numbers but hardly ever mention the percentage of registered voters who actually cast their votes. The fact is that Americans spend more money and time on election campaigns than any people in the world, but get (or choose) to vote in far less numbers.

C. M. Naim

Is there a plan to protect Hyde Park’s shoreline?

To the Editor:

Today I walked the lakefront from 46th Street to 51st Street and found the damage from last Friday’s storm disturbing. The retaining wall at 48th Street is completely missing and the damage to the retaining wall at 51st Street by the overpass is very serious.

Ten years past, the Chicago Park District and the United States Army Corp of Engineers revealed plans to build a new retaining wall in this area. The Hyde Park Herald devoted several editions to this plan.

My questions follow:

Will this plan ever move forward?

If not, why?

Will we have to wait until another storm starts to threaten Lake Shore Drive or the overpass at 51st Street?

Michael W. Hoke

Progress on the policing front

To the Editor:

On Oct. 29, a broad cross section of the South Side gathered at the Experimental Station to share their concerns about the policies and practices of the University of Chicago Police.

In light of issues raised at this public forum, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), proposed that a committee be formed, under her authority, to research those issues and make recommendations.

The undersigned are members of this committee-in-formation: the Citizens Action Committee for Fair University of Chicago Policing.

The purpose of this statement is to set forth our understanding of the agenda that emerged from the community forum.

There was substantial consensus on two points. First, the UCPD is a welcome presence in the communities it covers. Second, there is widespread concern about its lack of transparency and skepticism about its procedures for holding the department and its officers accountable.

These broad issues of transparency and accountability played through various specific concerns raised by participants in the forum; among them, alleged racial profiling of Black youth, gratuitous traffic stops, mishandling of sexual assault cases, and uncivil behavior toward neighborhood residents.

The UCPD as it exists today — a substantial force policing areas far beyond the U. of C. campus — was not foreseen when the university first instituted a security force. Nor was it foreseen when enabling legislation was enacted at state and municipal levels.

The moment is thus at hand to engage some fundamental questions. By deploying its police force across a wide area of the South Side, the University of Chicago, a private institution, is performing a critical public function. What forms of transparency flow from this? What forms of accountability?

We will approach these questions both as matters of law and matters of policy. We will also address other issues raised at the forum, such as training and communication with residents.

We intend to report back to the community later this fall.

If you are interested in joining the Committee, go to “Contact” at uofcpolicing.com.

Jay Ammerman
Ava Benezra
Emma LaBounty
Timika Hoffman-Zoller
Leroy O’Shield
George Rumsey
Curtrice White Scott
Jack Spicer
Brianna Tong

Thanks to all who supported Dyett

To the Editor:

Three years ago the Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett High School by 2015.

I, along with many other Bronzeville residents and stakeholders, opposed that decision. We engaged in advocacy efforts at the time to stop the Dyett closure.
We were not successful in 2011. But I remained undaunted. I continued to argue with CPS officials and the mayor’s office that Dyett High School should be kept open.

The reasons are clear. Between the redevelopment efforts from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and me, we are reversing the decades-long hollowing out of Bronzeville. As we add more residents to Bronzeville and the Mid-South Side, it is clear that we need another high quality open enrollment high school.

Kenwood Academy, one of Chicago’s highest performing open-enrollment high schools, is overcrowded, demonstrating that there is a market for another high quality neighborhood option.

We were finally heard.

On Friday, Oct. 24, the Board of Education announced that it would seek proposals for a new Dyett High School to open in the fall of 2016. The RFP prohibits an alternative, charter or selective enrollment school at the site.

Friday’s announcement is an unprecedented victory for our community, and recognition of our steadfast efforts.

To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, victory has a hundred fathers and mothers. I thank all of the organizations and leaders who worked with me to keep Dyett High School open. I also thank CPS and Mayor Emanuel for listening to our community.

Ald. Will Burns (4th)

UCPD behavior is no mistake

To the Editor:

I have followed with interest recent conversations in the Herald and in online forums about the University of Chicago Police Department. I also attended the Oct. 29 forum at the Experimental Station, where I counted nearly 200 people in attendance. In my opinion, the main result of the forum was to make it clear that the UCPD does indeed regularly follow, stop, detain and handcuff members of our community, and that many but not all of these targeted community members are Black. This must be the starting point for any future discussion; the simple fact that the UCPD regularly acts in a way that most of us would call intimidation or harassment.

Nobody claimed that all UCPD officers behave badly, nor that the UCPD does more harm than good. Indeed, most speakers had praise for much of what UCPD accomplishes. I hope that we are now beyond the arguments that since some individuals personally have only had positive interactions with the UCPD there can’t be anything wrong. Something is wrong.

There is another key point that was less emphasized: the UCPD’s actions are a matter of university policy. There are a very few true decision-makers at the university, and none of them shows up to these community meetings. Rather, they send representatives from the Office of Community Engagement and from the South East Chicago Commission, representatives who have no power. If the people who do have power at the university wanted, they could stop all UCPD police officers from handcuffing teenagers as of tomorrow, or they could put an immediate end to all UCPD traffic stops. The UCPD acts the way it does because the university decision-makers want it to act that way. The faculty and students don’t want it to act that way, and some of them are vocal about it. Maybe the university representatives at these meetings don’t want it either, but they wouldn’t keep their jobs long if they said so in public.

Why does the university pursue this policy of policing which seems so abhorrent to so many of us in the community? I see similarities with the university’s development agenda. Let me be clear from the outset that I am much more outraged by the policing policies than by the development, and that I do not equate the loss of quality of life from a misguided real estate agenda with the dehumanization of members of our community by overly-aggressive policing. Nevertheless, I believe that the common root cause is that the decision-makers at the university have fundamental goals that I, and I believe most residents of our neighborhood, do not share. The university says it wants to compete with its peer institutions for top faculty and students, and they are not talking about the intellectual environment on campus. Their narrative sidesteps the word “gentrification,” but that is the goal: they are striving for a Hyde Park that is more attractive to well-to-do (generally white) people (that’s the plain English translation of “compete with its peer institutions”). In their narrative, an oversized development at the McMobil site is about “street life” and “retail,” and police actions on 53rd Street are about “safety,” because after all, who wouldn’t want more street life and retail and safety? Well, I don’t, if the price to be paid is out-of-scale development or police harassment of minorities. I chose to live in Hyde Park in part because I cherish the economic diversity; I haven’t been waiting for a more gentrified Hyde Park to drive away the bad elements. And while I might have a fruitful discussion with someone who would be willing to put up with a 165-foot-tall building across from Nichols Park if they believed it will support some shops they might like, I have no sympathy for someone who is willing to have the police hassle young Black males because they would prefer not to have them hanging out on 53rd Street.

And where do our elected officials enter this picture? The alderman must sign off on any zoning change, and Ald. Will Burns (4th) was only too eager to allow the university to rezone the McMobil site to more than triple the previously permitted height regardless of community input. Our state legislators are responsible for the law that gives the UCPD its police powers. If the university claims that the law exempts UCPD from obligations and oversight that bind public police forces, then they should act quickly to change the law. Both city and state officials can put private and public pressure on the university to act responsibly above and beyond the minimal legal requirements. When UCPD traffic stops came up at a TIF meeting earlier this year I heard Burns say that he intended to hold the university accountable and make sure he was satisfied that they were not engaged in racial profiling. He should follow through on this commitment and the other elected officials should join him.

The police actions that have outraged so many of us are a matter of university policy, and the university should change that policy. Our elected officials should do all they can to ensure this happens, both by changing laws that need to be changed and by direct engagement with the university. And we residents of the neighborhood need to continue to educate ourselves and hold all of them accountable.

Michael Scott

UCPD policing powers, pro and con

To the Editor:

In the past several months, much has been said regarding the policing of the community by the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). Passions are inflamed both pro and con regarding their policing powers and how they are used. The reasons on both sides are understandable.

There is a reasonable argument as to why the University of Chicago’s (U. of C.) police force should have the policing powers they now possess. Universities like the U. of C. bring large populations from different places into one concentrated area. In a small- to modest-sized city, campus safety issues could tax or overwhelm the police forces of a locale. Colleges and universities have to deal with student-on-student crime. Thefts, assaults and rapes occur on campus, as they do outside of a campus’ boundaries. There are also the very unfortunate incidents of mass shootings and killings of students by students, and threats of terrorism directed towards, or emanating from within, the university populace. Any university or college would be crippled in dealing with these issues without a police department with full authority to deal with crime.

However, aggressive traffic enforcement, alleged “stop-and-cuff” incidents involving young, Black, non-student males and other community policing efforts which have no clear connection to protecting a university’s populace and property are not among those compelling reasons mentioned above. In these cases, policing policy appears to be purely driven by reputation and economic interests, using the definition of “the public way” in a broad manner to achieve those objectives. The U. of C.’s location on the South Side of Chicago brings with it all of the negative attention of crime which is reported worldwide via the press. As the University of Chicago grapples with current and potential students and faculty wanting to know why should they come to an alleged war zone, it has to be able to convincingly address those concerns. As it is currently written, the Illinois Private College Campus Police Act provides many of the tools to adequately respond.

The U. of C. is not alone in this situation. The Illinois Institute of Technology, also a world-class institution in its own right, shares similar concerns. DePaul, another world-class institution, also has these concerns. Their ability to grow depends on being able to expand their academic and economic interests, and they may be compelled to police these new areas of interest, as the statue provides, for the “interests of the college or university.”

Given that, I’d like to present this scenario: With a new stadium being built for DePaul on 22nd Street (Cermak), the tearing down of CHA housing south of IIT, the current policing boundaries of the U. of C. and the possibility of the Obama Presidential Library being located in Washington Park, there is a potential for much of the South Side — from Cermak to the north, 67th Street to the south, the Dan Ryan to the west and the lakefront to the east — to be largely patrolled by private police forces. For those that think it’s a stretch, it’s already true between 37th and 64th streets, from Cottage Grove Avenue to the lake. All it would take are some more university-sponsored charter schools and economic development, and the area could become a virtual privatized police state. I am not suggesting this will happen, but while laws such as the Illinois Private College Campus Police Act are on the books, there is nothing to prevent it from happening. One thing we know for sure — development and expansion by all three of these private universities will continue and will penetrate substantially into their surrounding communities.

For some that think that being policed by UCPD is a good thing, given any myriad of reasons, such as the alleged lack of protection by the Chicago Police Department, please remember that these private forces have the authority to protect you, but not the obligation. There is nothing in either their charters, or the state statue, that compels them to become involved in a criminal matter on your behalf.

Consequently, reining in their power is not a matter of being soft on crime, it is being hard on rights, and as a citizen, you have the right to be protected by those whom you have elected.
This is the critical difference. This is the case against a private police force, one from any private college or university, possessing policing powers over its surrounding communities.

Roderick Sawyer

Taking a closer look at the University of Chicago Police

To the Editor:

I read with great interest the Hyde Park Herald article on Oct 2, “Violent Crime in Hyde Park is Steady Decline.” The reporter lists several statistics gathered from the Chicago Police Department. She also noted that while the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) was granted full policing powers, statistics regarding their activity were not made available because it is a privately funded force. As many community members have witnessed, some of it firsthand, UCPD officers have indeed stopped, detained and arrested persons whose alleged offenses appeared to have had nothing to do with serving and protecting the university community, or its property.

In mid-May, I witnessed a police undercover car stop and detain a Kenwood High School student. To my amazement, it was not Chicago, but University of Chicago, police officers. Since school was letting out, this clearly had nothing to do with university concerns. I was so disturbed by this that I went directly to state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie’s (D-25) office for an explanation. UCPD claimed many times prior their powers were granted by the state, so I wanted to know just what state statute gave them that authority.

Currie’s office eventually pointed me to the Private College Campus Police Act (110 ILCS 1020), which does indeed grant the UCPD, and every other private college and university police powers:

Members of the campus police department shall have the powers of municipal peace officers and county sheriffs, including the power to make arrests under the circumstances prescribed in Section 107-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963, as amended, for violations of state statutes or municipal or county ordinances, including the ability to regulate and control traffic on the public way contiguous to the college or university property, for the protection of students, employees, visitors and their property, and the property branches, and interests of the college or university, in the county where the college or university is located.

The University of Chicago Police Department and its officers are the real deal. The statute provides an explanation for the aggressive traffic enforcement witnessed by many community members. The phrase, “and the interests of the college or university,” can explain more ominous behavior, such as stories of racial profiling of members of the community. It is merely protecting the “interests of the college or university” as the statute allows.

One area not mentioned in the statute is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As a private entity, UCPD is not subject to FOIA, so neither the Herald’s reporter, nor the non-affiliated public subject to UCPD’s jurisdictional boundaries, is ever entitled to view their policing records.

So what business does a private police force such as UCPD have with this authority? To allow any private force the ability to arrest and detain, and especially with no independent oversight, is a grave and egregious failing of this statute. No private entity should ever have the authority to function as a public police force, and then be able to claim private privilege when asked to provide records of policing activity of the public.

UCPD will claim that the community is much safer due to its efforts than without them. Really? Based on their word? As a premier academic institution, the University of Chicago prides itself on groundbreaking research and discovery. In the academic journals where those works are published, never once are the means of how those accomplishments are achieved are accepted on a “trust us” basis. The work would be deemed academic chicanery and/or fraud. Any faculty member engaging in this kind of nonsense would be quickly dismissed. “Prove it” is expected in academic circles, and should be in policing matters. “Trust us” should never be a substitute for review and oversight.

This statute needs to be changed to limit the university’s policing powers to that which is clearly university business, and subject policing incidents involving both affiliated and non-affiliated populations to a FOIA requirement. There should also be a provision for independent oversight. If UCPD is going to act in a manner of a public police force, it should be subject to all the checks and balances of a public force.

Jamie Kalven, a reporter who successfully challenged the Chicago Police Department to release the names of officers with ten or more brutality complaints, will be moderating a community forum regarding UCPD policing practices. It will be held at the Experimental Station on 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. Please attend, especially if you have had an encounter with UCPD as a community member. We must begin to record these encounters until there are changes in the law regarding policing and access to policing records by private colleges and universities. It is imperative that we take back the right to be policed by entities accountable to the communities they serve.

Roderick Sawyer

Mixed messages on 53rd from U. of C.

To the Editor:

Herald readers who do not also follow Crain’s may have missed last week’s profile of the University of Chicago’s Jim Hennessy (Oct. 2, “Hyde Park’s real estate catalyst”). According to the article, Mr. Hennessy “believes the market still is too soft to support a lot (of residential housing)” and he admits that the condo tower that was to be the second phase of the TIF-subsidized Harper Court development “may never get built.” Yet the article closes by quoting Mr. Hennessy as saying, “we need to get … more new apartments and attract more people to live here.”

As plaintiffs in the lawsuit opposing the university’s oversized Vue53 development on the so-called McMobil lot (see our website at save53rdstreet.org), we would like to know what the real story is. The Harper Court development has already received $23 million in TIF subsidies, and now we are told that the next phase of that development is suddenly infeasible because the residential market is too soft to support it. At the same time just a few blocks away, the university is pushing a residential development that we think is far too large and claims it is infeasible to build anything smaller. Are these two developments not subject to the same market forces? Why is the university backing away from building Phase 2 of Harper Court as too large for the housing market while refusing to consider a more reasonably sized development on the McMobil site?

Michael Scott
James Des Jardins
Mark Graham
Lorraine Pettigrew