Letters to the Editor

Police deserve our respect

To the Editor:

For 25 years, my father served as a police officer. His dedication to public service is one of the reasons why I chose public service as well. My father didn’t talk much about his work, except to point out how difficult it was, and potentially dangerous. I suspect that his reticence was based in a sense that as civilians we could not fully grasp what being a police officer is really like. Maybe he didn’t talk about his experiences because he didn’t want us to worry about his safety.

Whenever I meet a police officer I remember my father and it makes me appreciate the work they do.

As this neighborhood examines the relationship between police and the community, I think that we must take into consideration that most police officers are motivated to serve the public and that the handful who violate that trust are the exception and not the rule.

I am grateful to the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Police Department for responding to thousands of calls for service. Their responsiveness is critical to our public safety, and our community.

Ald. Will Burns (4th)

Another cost from oil addiction

To the Editor:

I often awaken at between 3 and 4 in the morning to hear rumbling in the distance. It turns out that rumbling is the wheels of railroad cars on the tracks. It goes on for hours.

The Chicago Tribune disclosed what is behind this foreboding noise. These BNSF Railway trains with 103 tank cars filled with Bakken shale crude oil are passing through the city and suburbs from North Dakota to East Coast refineries. This crude oil is hightly explosive.

Catastrophic explosions have already taken place in Quebec and close to Galena, Ill. The one in Canada resulted in enormous damage to structures as well as the death of 47 people. Can you imagine what would happen if there were an explosion on a roadway where the Metra tracks are? I live only a block and half away. Thousands are even closer.

For my money, the entire neighborhood is in danger of a catastrophe because of our continuous dependence on oil for our main source of energy. One of the immediate solutions is to reroute these trains out of the city and other populous areas. The longer term solution is to turn to other less destructive, lethal, earth and air polluting sources of energy.

Alfred Klinger

Housing project’s fundraising success

To the Editor:

The Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project’s (HPTHP) major annual fundraising event, the Taste of Hyde Park, was held on April 18 and was again a success, raising approximately $8,000 after expenses. A hundred friends of HPTHP enjoyed the opportunity to sample food from 23 area restaurants and other food and drink establishments, while socializing and being entertained by the piano artistry of Willie Pickens. The event was hosted by the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer.

Special thanks goes to the corporate sponsors of the event: Hyde Park Bank, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and the United Church of Hyde Park.

The restaurants donating food were identified at their serving stations so the guests would know where they could find more of what they enjoyed. The contributing establishments included in alphabetical order: Bar Louie, Bergstein’s NY Deli, Cedar’s Mediterranean Kitchen, Cholie’s Pizza, Clarke’s, De Rice, Fabiana’s Bakery, Hyde Park Produce Market, Jimmy John’s, Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, Maravillas, Medici on 57th, Mellow yellow, Nicky’s Chinese Food, Pho 55, Rajun Cajun, Red Snapper, Seven Ten Lanes, Siam Restaurant, The Snail, Thai 55, The Sit Down Cafe and Valois. The food was delicious and if you get a chance to visit any of these establishments you’ll enjoy them too.

Along with the great food and music, the Taste of Hyde Park included a silent auction on 30 items, mainly personal services, gift certificates and tickets donated by local businesses and artisans. We thank all those who donated items and congratulate those who won the items with the highest bid.

Finally, thanks are also due to the members of the HPTHP board who contributed their time and energies to make this event a success and to the numerous others whose volunteer work made the event run smoothly.

Jerry Gripshover
Chair, Taste of Hyde Park

Campus police bill dangerously flawed

To the Editor:

On April 24, the Illinois House unanimously passed a bill — HB 3932 — that would establish transparency standards under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for private campus police forces. Introduced by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and co-sponsored by state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26), the bill was drafted in response to community and student calls for greater transparency on the part of the University of Chicago Police Department. The Senate will now consider the bill.

The original purpose of this legislation was to establish the principle that a private entity performing a public function — in this case law enforcement — is subject to the same standards of transparency as the public agency from which it derives its powers. As originally drafted, HB 3932 would have accomplished that end. As amended, it does not. On the contrary, it would have the effect of shielding campus police from transparency standards that apply to all other police officers in the state.

There are several areas of concern:

(1) The bill exempts all disciplinary records from disclosure to the public, except in instances in which the records relate to a case in which a campus police officer was disciplined. It thus distinguishes between founded and unfounded complaints. That distinction has been explicitly and repeatedly rejected by Illinois courts. In Gekas v. Williamson, the Illinois Court of Appeals observed that citizens have a “duty” under FOIA to monitor public institutions to ensure they are “being conducted in the public interest.” In discharging that duty, the court wrote, citizens might want to see whether the police department is “performing fair and objective investigation of complaints” by assessing whether complaints “determined to be unfounded are really unfounded.” It went on to reject the argument that unfounded complaints are not public information:

“Obviously, citizens cannot perform this critique . . . if so-called ‘unfounded’ complaints are exempt from disclosure for the tautological reason that the public body decided they were unfounded. Such an exemption would throw a cloak over potential wrongdoing and insulate officials from political accountability.”

In light of the principle articulated by the Gekas court, what conceivable rationale is there for exempting campus police officers from the transparency standards applicable to all other police officers in the state?

(2) The essence of FOIA is the power to compel compliance. Yet HB 3932 is ambiguous regarding judicial review of FOIA denials. An earlier version of the bill contained strong, clear language to the effect that anyone who felt they had been wrongly denied access to public information by a campus police department “may file suit for injunctive or declaratory relief in the circuit court for the county where the campus police department is located.” It also provided for civil penalties in instances when a campus police department was found to have “willfully and intentionally failed to comply.” The current version of the bill lays out a process of review by the Public Access Counselor in the Office of the Attorney General. It is, however, largely silent about the right to judicial review. Speaking as one who has repeatedly found it necessary to sue the Chicago Police Department in order to access public information, that silence is unnerving. Why was the language about judicial review in the earlier version of the bill deleted?

(3) The bill provides that all “records relating to students and related disciplinary proceedings and actions” are exempt. While I recognize there may be instances in which such records might legitimately be withheld, it is also possible to imagine situations in which they would be of compelling public interest. Surely we can expect greater precision in legislative draftsmanship that this sweeping categorical exemption.

(4) Finally, the bill provides that all “records, tapes, and other digital media from campus security cameras” are exempt from disclosure. At a time when videotapes of various sorts figure centrally in public debate about police accountability, this language again sweeps too broadly. What is the rationale for withholding all such information from the public?

The legislation introduced by Reps. Currie and Mitchell continues to hold great promise, but only if the flaws described above are addressed. If they are not, HB 3932 will be a step backward rather than forward.

Jamie Kalven

We need proper lighting on 57th St.

To the Editor:

The article “More lighting, new signage on 57th Street approved by majority in new survey” failed to account for the opinions held by many of the residents near the proposed 57th Street improvements. At the public meeting it was in general agreement that the limited South East Chicago Commission funding would be welcomed for items like banners, landscaping and way-finding signs.
What was not in general agreement was more lighting. When the survey respondents indicated that they wanted more lighting, what they were actually looking for is higher quality lighting – that is, lighting designed to light the streets, sidewalks and viaduct without wasting light, energy and money up and sideways and into residents’ bedrooms. The limited options for pedestrian lighting presented failed to do so and lacked any good details about their implementation onto the very mixed-use street that is 57th Street.

What works in downtown Chicago and Harper Court will not work on blocks of residences and small businesses. While it is understandable that this funding is for improvements, it highlights deeper concerns of sidewalk maintenance, street surface, drainage and infrastructure that do not match the character of 57th Street and its connection between the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago. We look forward to improvements that are real improvements.

Dean W. Armstrong

Make sure Vue53 keeps parking promise

To the Editor:

It was not surprising to see that the city is taking care of MAC Property Management by providing two parking spaces on Kenwood Avenue for its use for valet parking during the construction of Vue53 (Herald, 4/15/2015). Isn’t it good to see that the parking impacts of Vue53 are being ameliorated for one of the project’s proponents?

One would hope that the city will similarly take care of the neighborhood by enforcing the parking promises made by the university and its developer, Mesa, in order to obtain the re-zoning that makes the project possible. In applying for the re-zoning, the university and Mesa submitted the report of their traffic consultant, KLOA. The KLOA report stated that Vue53 would provide more than the 200 parking spaces needed, under city zoning regulations, for the residential component of this project.

The university and Mesa should live up to their promise – made through their consultant – to provide at least 200 parking spaces for Vue53 residents. The city should be expected to monitor the compliance of the university and Mesa with their promise.

Marc Lipinski

Strive thanks Hyde Park for helping hand

To the Editor:

On behalf of Strive Tutoring, I offer my sincere appreciation for your support of Strive’s April 11 Spring Benefit. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Hyde Park Bank for their partnership and hospitality; and Hyatt Place Chicago-South/University Medical Center, Kenwood Liquors, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Pizza Capri, Piccolo Mondo, Uncle Joe’s, Hyde Park Produce and the other local businesses that donated in-kind goods to our event. Your support matters.

Friends and neighbors, please frequent the local businesses that help to sustain valuable community programs like Strive. It takes a village!

Angela Paranjape
Executive Director
Strive Tutoring

UCPD announcement a modest step

To the Editor:

Last week, I received an email from the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement (OCE) announcing that it would began publicizing the university’s policing information on its website. I was thoroughly underwhelmed. Then I began reading news accounts of praises from various community activists, journalists and professors as to what a watershed moment this was, and I was completely flabbergasted. I saw nothing in the email from OCE VP Derek Douglas or UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch that indicated any more openness or transparency than prior to the email. It was good PR, but very little else.

In fact, this announcement appears to be an attempt aimed at blunting proposed legislation to add a Freedom of Information component (HB 3932) to the Private College Campus Police Act (PCCPA – 110 ILCS 1020/1).

In the email, the university states that it “will streamline online access to law enforcement information that is already public.” In regards to traffic stop information, collection of such data by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is mandated by law (625 ILCS 5/11-212). All Illinois police departments, including university police forces, are required to record and report traffic stop information. Without the aid of a Freedom of Information request, I was able to compile data comparing UCPD to a university with a similarly structured police force, Northwestern University. The stops are listed by year and race, with totals (percentages):

University of Chicago PD:
2013 – White 2,268 (18.72 percent), Minority 9,846 (81.28 percent)
2012 – White 1,456 (17.73 percent), Minority 6,758 (82.27 percent)

Northwestern University PD:
2013 – White 380 (58.19 percent), Minority 273 (41.81 percent)
2012 – White 479 (55.76 percent), Minority 380 (44.24 percent)

U. of C.’s campus serves a little more than 16,000 students on 217 acres. Northwestern serves 21,000 on 240 acres. The difference in traffic stops, in both number and percentage of minority stops, are breathtakingly different. For a comparison, I also included the police departments of the cities in which both are located:

City of Chicago PD:
2013 – White 27,311 (27.13 percent), Minority 73,347 (72.87 percent)
2012 – White 32,851 (28.38 percent), Minority 82,908 (71.62 percent)

City of Evanston PD:
2013 – White 6,123 (55.19 percent), Minority 4,972 (44.81 percent)
2012 – White 7,454 (54.61 percent), Minority 6,196 (45.39 percent)

In 2013, the last year of available data, UCPD made more traffic stops than Northwestern and Evanston combined. The minority stop percentage is almost twice as large. In addition, UCPD’s minority stop total numbered more than 13 percent of the total stops Chicago reported, and its minority stop percentage was almost 10 points higher. Given that UCPD’s patrol jurisdiction is roughly half of Evanston’s, you have to wonder just what their primary police function is.

The email also states “the changes go beyond the requirements of Illinois law for police forces at private institutions.” PCCPA makes no mention of reporting of any kind. The mere existence of U. of C.’s website in any form, as it relates to UCPD, goes beyond Illinois law.

In a final point, “the University will provide and publicize additional background information related to current UCPD practices…” It’s hard to say that the university will provide any more information than what other private universities, such as Northwestern, Bradley, Illinois Benedictine and Milikin University, already provide on their websites. They all specifically refer to the PCCPA, and their powers derived from it. U. of C. would only be playing catch up.

The point of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the ability to request from an entity performing public function information that is not ordinarily or readily available to the public. What a FOIA also adds is an arbiter, the Illinois Attorney General, for when a request is refused.

The university can continue to work on its website while we continue our work on laws, like FOIA, that will make these police forces accountable and open. And the activists, professors and journalists need to hold their applause until these laws are in effect.

Roderick Sawyer

Improve 57th Street with all in mind

To the Editor:

It is so great to read in the Hyde Park Herald about the planning and possible changes for 57th Street. But please always remember that some of us cannot walk far because of age or injuries or because of the distance from our homes to 57th Street in order to use and support the businesses there.

Parking must be a priority in any area to be sure of the success of all the businesses in the area. The renovated 53rd Street is almost off-limits to me because of a lack of parking. Don’t let that happen to 57th Street.

Judy Allen

Herald leaves out suit details

To the Editor:

I am one of the attorneys for life long Hyde Park resident Lincoln Brown. I, too, am a life long resident of Hyde Park. The Herald’s article in “School News” (4/8/15) on Mr. Brown’s case was incomplete in a number of respects.

The Federal Court stated (at page 13 of its opinion): “Brown was not verbally abusing anyone or causing disruptive behavior in the classroom — he was attempting to diffuse a disruptive situation. In return, he was written up …” The Court went on to say: “That Brown may have been innocent of the charges does not mean that the charges were unconstitutionally vague.” The Court suggested that “the Board may have been “unwise” (p.15) and its conduct included “sloppiness” (p.14).

Along with my co-counsel, longtime Hyde Park resident Bill Spielberger, our appeal’s focus will be that the Board’s lack of wisdom and sloppiness, and Mr. Brown’s innocence — all as found by the Federal Court — are violations of constitutional dimension and unconstitutionally vague. It seems to me that the public’s focus should be on their city’s school system that appears to punish first-rate teaching. To properly inform that public, the Herald’s article would have benefited from even a cursory review of the opinion.

Terence E. Flynn

Thanks to Hairston for endorsement

To the Editor:

Money won the mayoral election — big money, $26 million of big money. Schools, community health care, public safety, ordinary neighborhoods, ordinary jobs, ordinary people — they all lost. The neo-liberal, Republicrat political machine now owns Chicago, and the special people are very happy. Where was Toni when we needed her to stand up for progressive government? Busy building her own political machine by passing campaign money around to favorites like her protege Will Burns.

But credit where credit is due. Leslie Hairston stood up. She bravely endorsed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor knowing Rhambo will try to punish her for it. Thank you, Leslie Hairston.

Jack Spicer

Neighbors, clean up after your dogs

To the Editor:

I live on 52nd Street and Kenwood Avenue and try to keep a nice garden for all to enjoy. While it is early for planting, it is clean up time. Today I have seen two dog walkers let their dogs use my garden and not picking up after them. I knocked on the window and they looked up and walked on. Come on people, my hands are in that dirt … be responsible. I love dogs but not when I have to clean up after your pets.

Judith A. Merritt

Getting to the South Side’s bedrock

To the Editor:

People who want to experience Chicago’s bedrock without getting their feet wet, as inevitably happens when exploring Morgan Shoal, should head a few blocks south to hike along the beach between LaRabida Hospital and 67th Street. This fascinating beach, believed by some to be paved with concrete, is in fact an emergence of Chicago’s Silurian bedrock deposited on the primeval ocean bottom between 375 and 400 million years ago. This rock is not concrete, nor is it limestone, which is almost pure calcium carbonate. It is, in fact, dolomite, a kind of limestone containing a high concentration of magnesium carbonate. Take a magnifying glass — you will be able to see fossils of primitive sea creatures, not corals because they hadn’t evolved yet, but trilobites, crinoids (relatives of sea stars) and simple mollusks all embedded for hundreds of millions of years in the fossilized slurry of the primitive marine environment.

This bedrock is relatively close to the surface in the South Shore neighborhood. In the late 19th century it was quarried by the gravel company of Dolese and Shepard for constructing buildings, roads and laying railroad track beds. A glass plate photograph in the Special Collections Department of the Harold Washington Library taken around 1890 shows two people standing on a wooden walkway above a quarry pit on South Exchange Avenue, then Railroad Avenue, between 74th and 75th streets. And they didn’t get their feet wet at all!

Frances S. Vandervoort

Hope in recent election results

To the Editor:

While Illinois families face tremendous challenges at both the state and municipal levels, the results of Chicago’s February 24, 2015 nonpartisan election offer inspiration, and accountability. In an unprecedented jolt to Chicago’s political establishment, Chicago voters forced a runoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. While this election has captured the nation’s attention as a referendum on establishment Democrats (whose campaigns are bankrolled by corporate interests) and progressives, it is also clearly a referendum on the policies championed by both Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner. A coalition of community organizers, labor unions and working families — who have worked for more than a decade to promote equitable education opportunities, oppose school closings and who have worked tirelessly for affordable housing and living wages — has unified to demand change at the highest level of city government. The demand for change has also gained momentum at the ward level, as there are 18 aldermanic runoff elections in which winners will have been decided on April 7 by the time this is published. Fed up with tone-deaf elected officials who are, in many cases, more concerned with the interests of their corporate backers or where they would like to ascend politically, Chicagoans are shifting the political landscape of our great city; and not a moment too soon.

As I stood with nearly 1,000 people to oppose Rauner’s proposed budget cuts in Springfield on March 11, I reflected on the challenges facing working families, and the significance of the current political moment. Rauner chose to make his first actions as governor an executive order to impose “right to work” rules on public employees (a move that has thus far been blocked by Attorney General Lisa Madigan) and budgets cuts that impact the state’s most vulnerable citizens. After taking no action to extend the temporary tax increase, the governor proposed inhumane cuts to programs impacting low-income families and senior citizens. (Note: While I believe that the real solution to the revenue challenges impacting the state budget requires amending the Illinois constitution to implement a graduated tax, I think that it was irresponsible to allow the temporary increase to expire before a long term solution was achieved.) While nearly 70 percent of voters indicated their support for an increase in the minimum wage during the November election, legislation has not been recently passed to actually raise the minimum wage in the state. Additionally, though voters in 37 wards overwhelmingly voted in support of an elected, representative school board for Chicago’s school district, legislation has not been passed to address this critical issue. Both Emanuel and Rauner oppose an elected school board for Chicago residents, despite the conflict of interests and failed policies imposed by the mayor’s appointed school board.

The legislative decisions that are made at both the municipal and state level profoundly impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods and should work in tandem to ensure that education, safety, housing and employment needs of families are effectively addressed. Instead of working collaboratively to improve the quality of life for residents, Emanuel and Rauner have supported legislation that slashed retirement benefits of elderly retirees, opposed democratic governance through their support of an appointed school board for CPS, and supported actions to reduce the ability of labor unions to organize.

Despite these challenges, I am not discouraged. We have sent a clear message. There are consequences for the devastating impacts of the mayor’s decisions to close a historic number of schools and mental health clinics while filling his campaign coffers with millions of dollars from politically-connected donors. I am inspired by the tenacity, enthusiasm and strategic actions that led to the runoff election. Regardless of the outcome of the mayoral race on April 7, or the numerous runoffs, Chicago voters have sent a clear message. We are prepared to organize for new political leadership — leadership that is responsive to the needs of working families.

Jay Travis

The Obama Library in a park? No!

To the Editor:

May I add my sharp opposition to the now seemingly inevitable placement of the Obama Presidential Library on a large slice of diverted public park space in either Washington or Jackson parks. The Park District is gravely remiss in its giveaway of dedicated public open land to this project, just as they were in their readiness to turn over a large chunk of Washington Park for the building of the huge Olympics stadium, fortunately never done.

Do readers realize that 20 acres is the equivalent of two full Chicago city blocks? That’s enough for a college campus! For what earthly reason does the library require such a generous space? The ideal proposal that the Herald and all concerned citizens should be demanding is the eleven available acres of private vacant land at the west edge of Washington Park near Garfield Boulevard, fully sufficient to meet library needs. It would be a great enhancement for the community both economically and aesthetically, and provide a beautiful “adjunct” of sorts to Washington Park. No parkland would be sacrificed. The two compatible facilities could be joined with a pedestrian bridge as was suggested in a recent letter. We must not allow dedicated public open land to be eroded by diversionary uses!

Charles G. Staples