Letters to the Editor

MTS responds to Laquan McDonald shooting

To the Editor: 

We the community of McCormick Theological Seminary, along with the rest of the city of Chicago and our nation, are saddened and dismayed by video footage documenting the fatal police shooting of 17-year old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

In January of this year, African American Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools issued a call to action in order to respond to the killing of African American men and women in the streets of cities across America. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presidents issued a statement of support and committed ourselves and our seminaries to respond faithfully. As a seminary and Christian community that believes in and works for the gospel values of liberation and justice, McCormick is called as theopen letter says, “to arise from the embers of silence to speak up and speak out as the prophet of old, ‘let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The release of this police video, documenting the shooting of Laquan McDonald, will send ripples of action and emotion throughout Chicago. The video and the delay of its release are testaments to the fact that our system of law enforcement is in dire need of reform. We cannot be silent, passive, or neutral as we continue to witness the violent relationships between law enforcement and community members, endangering the lives of especially young people of color. We see violence in our streets, and we see the need for justice. We want to be agents of change in the city, and so we will respond in ways that support affected communities, families, and individuals. We will seek justice for individuals and reform of systems that do harm to communities of color.

As affirmed by the ministry of our seminary’s Annual Theme, which seeks to equip transformational leaders to build peace, McCormick has committed itself to being a peace-maker in our city. We are committed to responding to our urban context, engaging in the social, political, and theological issues that affect our seminary community and our neighbors in Chicago. Additionally, we are humbled to participate in this work, in which we have attracted, nurtured, and formed leaders—students, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, and alums—who are advocates for social justice and God’s shalom. We are called to be change-agents in this city, our nation, and our world. It is this deep sense of God’s calling that compels us to affirm this identity and vocation in the days and weeks following the video’s release.

We stand in solidarity with the activists of our city, young and old, who are calling for justice and transformation. We stand with our alumni/ae, many of whom are faith leaders in Chicago, who are ministering to their communities in the wake of this video’s release.McCormick, the institution that nurtured them and helped them discern theircall, supports them in those efforts. We stand with those in our city who seek to build bridges, to bring justice and restore trust between communities ofcolor and law enforcement. We stand as a seminary community in a state of holy prayer and action, as we seek to respond to God’s call for justice and peace.

As a seminary in the world, McCormick is in a position to offer space to our community and neighborhoods in which positive action can arise. McCormick alumna, Minister Michelle Day, aleader who is working with the Restorative Justice Community, is organizingamong faith-based communities across Chicago to open their doors to all those who feel the need to lament, to process, and to act. Through Restorative Justice-led dialogues and circle conversations, Minister Day and other faith leaders are actively building community, healing relationships, and transforming the dynamics between residents and law enforcement. McCormick is joining with our neighboring churches on the South and West Sides by opening our doors, as well as our hearts, to provide sacred space for this peace-making initiative. Details of when and where these conversations will be held will be posted on our website.

In addition to providing safe space for dialogue and healing, McCormick continues to pray for our city and our nation, knowing that our action is also a form of prayer. We pray that the release of this video will result in reform of our law enforcement policies and procedures. We pray that the voices of the youth and the witness of experienced social justice advocates in Chicago will be heard and included in these efforts. We pray that the relationships between the police and the communities that they serve will be transformed into partnerships based on respect, trust, and compassion. We pray for continued guidance and courage to stand in the gap and live out our call to God’s justice and peace in our beloved city of Chicago.

Frank M. Yamada
President of McCormick Theological Seminary

Jay Travis to Christian Mitchell: Time for you to walk the walk

To the Editor: 

I’m not surprised that State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) can’t get his facts straight about my support for fair tax initiatives in Illinois. He is, after all, a politician who claims to be progressive — but who’s abandoned progressive positions when it really matters. He must have missed my call for a graduated income tax last April in the Hyde Park Herald. He certainly missed me protesting in Springfield on March 11 against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s inhuman budget cuts — and joining hundreds of residents like Alphonso Jones to demand fair tax reform. He didn’t join me in June with local leaders at the Grassroots Collaborative’s gathering, which focused on progressive revenue strategies — including a graduated income tax. And he missed me in July rallying at the State of Illinois building with over 500 people to demand a fair tax.

But Mitchell has often been missing in action — or voted dead wrong — on issues of critical concern to our residents.

He could have been an environmental hero like his colleagues State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18) and Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), who voted against fracking in Illinois in 2013 — but he wasn’t. He could have prioritized public school kids over his deep-pocketed pro-privatization donors and supported local school district control over charter-school applications in 2014 — but he didn’t. He could have resigned from a lobbying firm that has represented payday lenders and school privatization heavyweights after he was elected in 2012 — but he didn’t. He could have supported parents who want to opt their kids out of controversial and deeply flawed high-stakes tests in May 2015 — but he didn’t. He could have backed a bill for an elected Chicago school board — but instead opposed it — and only changed his tune during election season.

And he could have voted to protect our seniors’ retirement security — but he didn’t. Instead, he voted the agenda of his big-money donors, including “We Mean Business”, a group that promotes cutting pensions. That group, whose donors include billionaire hedge fund bosses Ken Griffin and Bruce Rauner, has given Mitchell more than $35,000 alone. Mitchell’s vote for SB1, the unconstitutional raid on seniors’ pension benefits, is not his only vote against retirement security. In 2013 alone, he also voted for House Bills 1154 (capping pensions), 1165 (to delay and cut cost-of-living increases) and 1166 (to increase retirement ages).

If that’s Mitchell’s idea of a state legislator who does “real work”, then we need a new kind of work ethic in Springfield. We need a work ethic that isn’t beholden to opportunistic corporate elites and their raids on critically needed programs for our seniors, students and working families. We need a work ethic — and a representative — who tells the truth and puts the needs of ordinary people first.

Jay Travis

Thank you from Indie City Writers

To the Editor:

We’d like to thank the Hyde Park Herald for a wonderful article about the Indie City Writers. You really captured the spirit of our unique writers’ group.

Indie City Writers is growing steadily and it’s nice to get the word out to the Hyde Park community about our readings, critiquing, prompt writing, expert author talks and workshops. We also have a reading coming up at 57th Street Books on Jan. 14. Any of your readers with questions about joining our group and our latest schedule can emailindiecitywriters@gmail.com.

And thanks for doing a great job each week. Your coverage helps makes the Hyde Park community stronger.

It’s time for a tax revolt

To the Editor:

I wrote earlier how dumbfounded I am with the reassessment of Hyde Park and Kenwood (a median increase of 25.22 percent with my own being over 36 percent). How did Joseph Berrios and his crew come up with those numbers?

I say that this is the right moment for our neighborhoods to lead a tax revolt or more accurately an assessment revolt. The Cook County tax assessment system is definitely opaque and clearly broken. But worse, it is a system of cronyism that verges on the corrupt. We could help the entire county if we helped clean it up.

Where else in the country is the assessment appeal process the rule instead of the exception? You are made to feel that you have been snookered if you don’t appeal. Aldermen run special sessions to help people appeal, and on and on. Then we are satisfied when it is knocked down a little bit without ever challenging the original assessment as arbitrary or willfully high.
When I talk to my neighbors about the sheer size of my increase, I am amazed by the number who say, “Don’t worry, Chuck. I have a connected lawyer. I can give you the name.” There is a reason that I get daily mailings from lawyers offering to appeal my assessment: they are making money from the system. The Herald should investigate which lawyers are making the most money and to which politicians they are contributing.

But to the revolt: I am asking people to appeal their assessments to the Cook County Board of Appeals based on the Assessor’s formula for the entire Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, not on consistency with surrounding buildings. I want transparency. Hopefully our Alderman and Alderwoman will support this effort. I hope that Berrios can explain and that it makes sense. I would be a much happier Chicago resident. And, happiness is good.

But we must act before Dec. 8 when the appeal process closes. We are having a discussion of this at ShoP, 1448 E. 57th St., on Sunday, November 29th at 5:30 p.m. We would love to hear ideas, strategies and action plans.

Chuck Thurow
(aka A hip but not hot Kenwood Resident)

Jay needs to do the real work for change

To the Editor:

I was happy to read in last week’s paper that Jay Travis strongly supports my bill to amend the constitution and institute a progressive income tax for the State of Illinois.

In that letter she called for real leadership on the issue. I find that perplexing, though, given that neither I nor my colleagues in the Capitol building have heard anything from Jay on this issue other than during election seasons.

I didn’t see her at the Fair Economy Illinois rally that I spoke at two weeks ago that showcased nearly 1,000 people calling for progressive revenue solutions. I haven’t seen her in Springfield meeting with other legislators. She wasn’t standing with me and the hundreds upon hundreds of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who marched at the Thompson Center last week calling for more funding. In fact, I haven’t seen her at any public events that are aimed at solving the state budget crisis. It begs the question – why is Jay just now talking about this issue? Waiting until it’s election season to simply write a letter to the editor about such an important issue is not “real leadership.” It’s opportunistic.

My team and I have spent months knocking on doors and speaking with constituents about the need for a progressive income tax. We organized mass phone banks and letter writing campaigns pleading the Gov. Bruce Rauner to support progressive revenue measures. We mobilized our neighbors to attend rallies with grassroots organizations from across the city. And I have personally been garnering support from legislators up and down the state for this measure – our last effort achieved dozens of co-sponsors, and included visits with editorial boards across the state.

While I welcome Jay’s support for my bill to create a progressive income tax, her letter to the editor was simply an attempt to prop up her own political campaign. The State of Illinois is facing an unprecedented crisis and now more than ever we should expect leaders to move beyond political posturing and actually roll up their sleeves and do the difficult work it takes to solve the state’s problems.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)

Mesa Construction is breaking a pledge

To the Editor:

At one of the TIF meetings held at Kenwood HS last year to present the plans for the new 53rd St. development opposite Nichols Park, audience members raised concerns about the impact of parking by construction workers on residential streets adjacent to the site. A pledge was then tendered to the community by the developer, Mesa Development Co., that construction personnel would not park on residential streets and that construction workers would be directed to alternative parking sites. The construction company, McHugh Construction, also confirmed the audience that all subcontractors were notified of this restriction. Alderman Burns, 4th Ward, and Jim Hennessey, U. of C., were present at the meeting, as well as representatives from other supporting agencies including the SECC and the HP Chamber of Commerce. The pledge presented to the assembly indicated that Mesa and McHugh would take full responsibility for ensuring that construction personnel did not park on adjacent residential streets.

However, as the construction progresses we find parking on our nearby streets increasingly occupied by cars belonging to construction personnel. Now that what we were told would not happen is happening, we would like to know to whom we should direct our reminders. Who is enforcing this pledge? A name and phone number would be extremely helpful. In addition, perhaps Mesa or McHugh would post our streets with “No Vue 53 Parking” signs. This will of course need to be left in place for the foreseeable future, since we were also assured that the new residents would have parking within the building and would not be parking on the adjacent streets.

I can be reached at 773-955-3622, or via email to Ira Abrams at att.net.

Stephanie Franklin for the McMobil Adjacents Delegation

Illinois needs fair, progressive revenue

To the Editor:

Illinois’ ongoing – and indefensible — ‘budget impasse’ has one principle architect: Governor Bruce Rauner, and his attempt to link anti-union reforms to the passage of a balanced state budget. This manufactured crisis highlights the need for a critical – and fundamental — remedy: the need for Illinois legislators to create stable, progressive revenue streams.

What hangs in the balance are vital services on which our seniors, working families, students and people with disabilities depend.

We must focus on long-term solutions that both improve Illinois’ fiscal health and enable our state to provide the public services that are vital to communities across Illinois. We can simply no longer avoid the decision to move Illinois away from a state in which all residents, regardless of their income, pay a ‘flat tax rate’. Illinois is an outlier in following this kind of taxing scheme; only seven states in the nation rely on a flat tax to fund public services. This fundamentally unfair and unsustainable revenue system taxes working and low-income families at a higher effective tax rate than wealthy individuals. At the same time, it allows corporations to exploit loopholes and corporate welfare schemes to dodge – or altogether avoid – paying their fair share of taxes to fund vital services.

Simply put, this unfair tax system has meant that for decades the state has failed to generate enough income to cover the costs of critical public services, relying instead on costly borrowing and public pension raids that actually exacerbate Illinois’ structural deficit. Our state legislators need to take bold, practical action, by moving to change Illinois’ constitution to implement a fair and progressive tax system in which wealthy individuals who reap the benefits of public infrastructure and taxpayer-funded services pay their fair share – instead of foisting the revenue burden on low-income and working families.

It’s time for real leadership on this critical issue. Our legislators must support a resolution to place a referendum on the ballot that allows residents to vote to amend the constitution by instituting a fair, graduated income tax. Two-thirds of legislators in both the Illinois House and Senate must approve this resolution to allow a vote on this common-sense reform.

Governor Rauner’s entrenched view of ‘reform’ relies on anti-worker strategies – by attacking collective bargaining rights, by pushing for ‘Right to Work’ for less policies that limit labor’s ability to fund union efforts, and by ultimately weakening the earning potential of working families. His effort to choke these regressive policies through the legislature relies on hijacking the budgetary process to get his way, intensifying the challenges that Illinois families face. Progressive revenue reform would end this fiscal banditry – and is long overdue.
The temporary tax increase that expired on January 1, 2015 blew a nearly three billion dollar hole in the state’s revenue stream – at precisely the same time that Governor Rauner accelerated his anti-labor austerity agenda. Rauner has used the resulting budget shortfall to his advantage – at the expense of Illinois’ families. As I have said before in the Hyde Park Herald, while implementing a fair tax system is critical to addressing Illinois’ long-term fiscal challenges, our legislators should not have allowed the temporary increase to expire before a fair tax system had been put in place. Big corporations reaped a 25% tax break when Illinois’ temporary tax increase expired — when they should instead be paying a higher and more fair tax rate. Yet in the short term, simply restoring the current tax rate to the 2014 level of 7% would generate nearly $770 million in revenue for critical public services.

The current budget impasse has derailed a sweeping range of crucial needs — including child care, services for senior citizens, financial aid support for students, and services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. That has got to end. We must instead seek long-term, progressive structural solutions. The time for a fair, progressive income tax is now!

Jay Travis

Lights at La Quinta dash its promise

To the Editor:

I am an owner/neighbor resident of an East Hyde Park/Kenwood condominium area along the lake shore otherwise known as the “Indian Village” (48th-51st Streets….The Powhatan, The Narragansett, The Barclay, 5000 East End and 5000 Cornell, to name a few). These historic and landmarked architectural jewels that we call home have seen their share of Chicago history, the good and bad.

We looked forward to welcoming the new ownership and renovation of our small neighborhood hotel,  (the former Hyde Park Hilton, former Ramada Inn, most recently The Lakeshore Hotel)  There have clearly been many improvements to the property,  and thus , our neighborhood.

Here is where my confusion/sadness/anger begins…..
Last week, at dusk I noticed 4 highly glaring rooftop lamps… not parking lot lights, not sconces attached to the side of the building, not downlighting…..4 huge blinding lamps attached to the rootop, thus sending high beams out and up immediately to our residential buildings!!  These lights are high intensity bulbs, these are not decorative fixtures! These are prison yard lights, high beam headlights, and that is exactly how it looks from our apartments all around the area!  These Lights have totally lit up my apartment, I need not turn on a lamp…! they are intensively intrusive!

After several calls to the manager, which were never returned, I needed to share this situation and hope that we may reclaim our lovely quiet, lakeside community, with beautiful views, which are now completely compromised…How can I see the downtown Skyline with Prison Yard lights glaring into my eyes.

It appears that the La “Squinta” Inn does not care whether they are good neighbors. If they felt that the neighborhood was unsafe and that they needed such extreme and distasteful lighting for security, they are clearly in the wrong area.  If they are hoping for a Helicopter rescue team or to be seen from Space, they have the right lights….but we who have appreciated our area for years and can no longer do just that… shame on La Quinta Inn.

To say the we are shocked and even feel like this is being forced upon us is an understatement.  How about installing some light poles in the parking lot, as all of our neighboring lots have done, it’s called “downlighting”……

La “Squinta” Inn, the new prison at the lakefront, ..and I had such high hopes..

Regina Volpi

Comey’s YouTube effect is a fiction

To the Editor:

At a recent event at the University of Chicago Law School (FBI head visits U. of C. campus, Oct. 28, 2015), UC Alum and FBI Director James Comey spoke to the audience regarding the “Ferguson” effect, in which police officers pull back from confronting some situations because they fear that they will be videoed by persons with cellphones and have it go viral on the Internet, negatively affecting both their careers and lives. I find this a curious label, especially since this is attributed to a situation that never happened. There is no videoed encounter between former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, and Ferguson resident Michael Brown. However, there is plenty of video (journalists would call it “footage”) afterward between protesters and the police, who were armed military-style. Those pictures and videos, along with the justice department’s investigation, in which Mr. Comey’s FBI was also a part of, found systemic abuse of Ferguson’s minority residents by law enforcement, municipal government and the court system. This led to wholesale changes (and a Justice Department takeover) of that city’s, and I might argue many other cities, approach to law enforcement of and police interaction with its minority population.

While he was speaking, I wished he had contrasted that effect with many of the local phenomena that do have evidence to back up assertions of police overreaction and overreach.

Let’s begin with the “Driving While Black” effect, which is a subset of the “Racial Profiling” effect. Had he bothered to reference the data (no video required), he would have seen that the University of Chicago Police Department’s officers stopped far more minority drivers in the recent past, and only when called out on it, they began practicing the “Pull Up Stakes and Go Home” effect, insinuating and promoting the “Whose Gonna Protect You Now” effect amongst the non-campus community.

This is backed up by a recent story concerning a theft in a retail outlet on property previously owned by the university. A call was made to UCPD to report the crime, in which the person was told that UC no longer owned the property, and UCPD officers would not take a police report for incidents on non-university property. This flies in the face of two theories advanced at a September community meeting by 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns and the Chicago Police Department, which I’ll call the “You Can Call Both CPD and UCPD” and the “Hyde Park/Kenwood Are Protected By Two Police Department” theorems. These theorems give way to the “UCPD Selective Policing” effect, one that the Campaign for Equitable Policing (CEP) has been protesting against for years.

In all fairness, First Resident, President Barack Obama, in a speech to the International Chiefs of Police, tried to soothe fears amongst the policing community by saying that a few viral videos of bad police conduct should not tarnish the policing community as a whole. But you can’t really argue that point without bringing up the “Racial Profiling” effect, which to his credit he did. But instead of producing the “Now You Know How It Feels” effect, it all too often produces the “We Can’t Properly Police Without Violating Someone’s Rights” effect, which goes to how we train our police. Until serious, structural changes are made, the “Us vs. Them” effect will continue to dominate policing and delay indefinitely the “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along” effect.

We must continue the push for police accountability, Freedom of Information access laws for private forces such as the UCPD, and proper policing staffing and training from the City of Chicago and CPD, amongst other things, so that we can produce more than labels, explanations and excuses, but positive and long-lasting “effects”.

As for Mr. Comey, maybe his next stop should be to South Carolina, which his FBI has been called to investigate yet another phone-recorded incident, a sheriff’s deputy dragging a high school student across the room from a chair. The Associated Press quotes Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, regarding the deputy he fired who was involved in this incident: “I can’t fix problems if I don’t know about it,” … “I would say that every citizen with a camera, if they see something that’s going on that disturbs them, they should film it. Our citizens should police us.”

This perfectly demonstrates the “This Is How It Should Work” effect.

Roderick Sawyer

University of Chicago threatens natural space

To the Editor:

Just as the U of C is riding roughshod over our city parks by insisting that the proposed Obama Library be built in a public park instead of by acquiring and improving private land for this worthy project, it now proposes to destroy its own beautiful natural space.

As a young child at the Lab School in the early ‘40s, Scammon Garden was a treasured part of my early education. The little gardens we tended there each day in the spring sprouted tasty carrots, radishes and lettuce, and offered precious opportunities to experience how, with our efforts, our food comes from the earth. While we studied how plants grow with legendary science teacher Bertha Morris Parker, what we did in Scammon Garden gave us the direct experiential learning that was at the core of educator John Dewey’s philosophies.

Now more than ever, as schools all over the country — to a great extent because of the leadership of Michelle Obama — are creating school gardens as a move back to healthful eating in response to the crisis of childhood obesity, and as we come more and more to realize the importance of natural spaces in our cities, it is simply tragic that the U of C would dismiss this treasure.

Scammon Garden serves two important purposes: to commemorate the name of community leader and also to provide a unique protected oasis of green space in the Grey City.

Joan Levin

Burns not supposed to decide for us all

To the Editor:

Ald. Will Burns stated in your Oct. 14 article “Burns Argues Against Charter School Moratorium” that he refused to put the resolution on the agenda because it “was not the best way of addressing the city’s current fiscal challenges.” Once again, the alderman misses the point: as chairman of the City Council Education Committee, it is not up to him to decide “the best way.” The resolution was signed by 42 aldermen and deserves a hearing. Residents all over the city should be outraged that as the mayor’s mouthpiece, Burns can declare what should and should not be heard. This is particularly shameful as the mayor’s handpicked CEO heads to prison underscoring their blatant lack of concern for public education. Once again, Ald. Burns has turned a deaf ear to his constituents and school children all around the city demonstrating that he does not believe in the democratic process. Shame on him.

Hannah Hayes

U. of C. has a duty to Scammon Gardens

To the Editor:

On October 21, in this publication, the University made its first public statement regarding the Scammon Garden issue. The community should not allow itself to be lulled by what they read. Until I saw Ms. Calmetta Coleman’s convenient language, I believed the University to be guilty only of 112 years of neglect. Today, I believe this administration has crossed the line into a deliberate and active attempt to attack history.

The University is now poised to do the same with Scammon Garden that they did with Scammon Court — let it fall into oblivion by their own neglect, on a claim of having fulfilled their strict legal obligations. This not only is untrue, it does nothing to address their moral obligations. I am asking all neighbors, faculty, alumni, and benefactors to urge others to sign the petition at j.mp/savescammon. The more I learn about the Scammon history, the more persuaded I am that this is a proper course of action.

The legal obligation remains that all of land to the south must “be known as Scammon Court.” Two small plaques have been insufficient to do this job on their own over 112 years. It appears from the deed that Mrs. Scammon may have been hoping that the University might name a building for her husband atop that land, but she died two days after donating the land to the University and the naming went to Anita McCormick Blaine, who paid for school construction in memory of her son.

The Blaine building sitting on the covenanted Scammon land encloses a small quadrangle; this fact, added to the University’s weak efforts to actively preserve the Scammon memory, made it inevitable that even this remaining enclosure would soon become known as “Blaine Courtyard.”

So much for legal obligations. Morally speaking, the University and Chicago actually owe the Scammon family far more than what is compelled under the loosely observed covenant. Not only have they refused action, they are now saying that they reserve the right to take what remains in a few years, sometime when our backs are turned.

I believe it is precisely due to the southern covenant’s practical shortcomings on the one hand, and the public veneration for the family on the other hand, that the Lab community has unconsciously, accidentally, and informally maintained the memory of the Scammon family in the northern garden — which happens to be where the family actually resided. Generations of right-minded staff and alumni thus unwittingly rescued the Scammon name from oblivion caused by the University’s distractions.

However, the University has never committed to formally recognizing Scammon Garden, and the recent statement makes it clear that they have no intention of doing so. Through Ms. Coleman’s comment, Mr. Zimmer is officially stating outright that some future board of trustees may well rename the land at some future date.

Confusing the past, and a blank check for the future. This should not be the University of Chicago way.

And so, we must compel the University to do the right thing. We are asking that the Board of Trustees resolve never to rename Scammon Garden; to publicly mark the site and list it as such on campus maps; to voluntarily memorialize the family on this 125th anniversary of Mr. Scammon’s death and the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which his early energies helped to secure; and for other suitable remedies. This is not a handout — the Scammon family has more than earned this from the University.

Peter Zelchenko
Lab School parent

Bennett fall from grace no surprise

To the Editor:

As a CPS parent and long-time community organizer, I am appalled by the actions of Barbara Byrd Bennett in stealing from Chicago’s children to feather her already robust nest. What is more appalling however, is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to isolate her actions as the corruption of an individual; and our acceptance of such nonsense. Corruption and discriminatory actions that disregard the voices of Black and Brown parents is central to the culture of the school privatization movement. While millions of dollars are pumped into selling the public on “school choice”, nationwide corporate education interventions have failed to improve the academic outcomes in Black and Brown communities, while a laundry list of “reformers” have been caught violating the public trust.

Barbara Byrd Bennett-A Spoke in a Wheel

Barbara Byrd Bennett was lauded as an accomplished educator, who had the ability to relate to the everyday parent and the skill to lead the nation’s 3rd largest school district. The spin from the Emanuel administration highlights improved graduation rates as proof of her competency. What is not mentioned are the schemes used to give the illusion of growth; the rapid increase of alternative schools, programs such as credit recovery and CPS outright falsifying the data on the graduation rate. This is smoke and mirrors, not improved education. This is the true legacy of Barbara Byrd Bennett in Chicago. What is also conveniently left out of the conversation is that in Detroit, she was an active participant in stripping the publicly elected school board of its authority, while dismantling an African-centered curriculum and focus that was dramatically improving student performance. In Cleveland, her expense account (provided by privatizers) was nearly as large as her annual salary, while the math performance of Black males plummeted on her watch. It is important to understand that Barbara Byrd Bennett is not the issue. Privatization produces the Barbara Byrd Bennett’s of the world, setting the tone for this type of behavior. She is a symptom, not the disease. Unfortunately, she has a lot of company. In Chicago, the former president of the Chicago Board of Education David Vitale approved 27 turnaround schools for the Academy of Urban School Leadership, where he used to be the board president. These were no-bid contracts. How are those schools doing? In Washington, DC Michelle Rhee was hailed as a “education warrior” who would lead the charge on bad teachers and failing schools; until it was revealed that she inflated her students’ scores and taped their mouths shut as a discipline measure. Geoffrey Canada from the Harlem Children’s Zone was celebrated as a visionary for connecting social services to his charter schools, creating a cradle to career system in Harlem, promoted as a national model; until we learned that he pushed out students from his first 3 classes to make the school look better than it really was. Similar to New Orleans, where they “cooked the books” to make the charter system look like a success, where, according to 2014 data, over 56% of the Recovery School District schools received D or F grade from the state board of education. Similar stories are told in Newark with the now deposed Cami Anderson, Detroit under the emergency manager system, Philadelphia where there were efforts to build 2 new prisons while closing 24 schools and Ohio, where there are efforts to advance privatization despite the fact that one of America’s greatest public education success stories is right around the corner in Cincinnati. Cincinnati, where since 2003 their model of Community Learning Centers has raised the graduation rate from 50% to over 80% and the opportunity gap between Black and White students has shrunk to 4% is being ignored, while failed corporate education interventions are promoted as “the new civil rights movement.”

This “new civil rights movement” is colonialism, plain and simple. The author Alice Walker once said, “No one is your friend who demands your silence and denies your right to grow.” In Chicago, New Orleans, Camden, Philadelphia, Newark, DC, Detroit and scores of other cities where the schools serve primarily children of color, a common denominator is that we don’t have voting rights. Our silence is demanded, while school boards in over 94% of America’s cities are elected. We have no direct way to hold officials accountable for the policies they set. Here is what we know; nationally, only 1 out of 5 charters outperform traditional public schools, but we see across this country the starving of neighborhood schools while charters and contract schools are expanded.

We have given the Chicago Board of Education viable solutions. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School engaged in a deliberate, respectful process of engaging parents, educators, students and neighborhood residents in Bronzeville and developed a world class plan for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School as the hub for a sustainable community school village. Education experts from across the country and CPS itself, acknowledged that it was the best plan for Bronzeville’s children. The mayor of this city and his education chair Alderman Will Burns blocked this plan because of politics. I was one of 12 people who reluctantly launched a 34 day hunger strike on August 17, 2015 not to run a charter school; or land contracts, but for CPS to finally value Black children in Bronzeville like they do children in Lincoln Park. What was burned on our memory was that on the 25th day of our hunger strike, Rahm Emanuel and Forest Claypool awarded Lincoln Elementary, a well-resourced school in Lincoln Park a $21 million dollar annex. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony while we starved in Washington Park. This lack of respect for our legitimate voices is the problem and Barbara Byrd Bennett is merely the fruit from a rotten tree.

This is why we are even more committed to winning an elected, representative school board and transforming Chicago to a Sustainable Community School district. To paraphrase the late, great organizer Ella Baker, “until the education of Black and Brown boys and girls, Black and Brown mother’s sons, is as important as the education of White boys and girls, White mother’s sons; we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

Jitu Brown, National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance and one of the Dyett Hunger Strikers

State should make budget top priority

Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25).

Dear Representative Currie:

I am writing to express my disgust at the current state of the state, primarily the lack of a budget. While I lay the blame for this squarely on Governor Rauner’s shoulders, the remainder of the legislature should also shoulder some blame for this inaction.

Due to the lack of a state budget, a friend of mine who works for a state supported planning agency has just received notice that he will be furloughed, as the federal transportation monies that pay his salary cannot be released to a state with no budget. I find it unconscionable that inaction in the legislature is creating more unemployment in the state and may drive talented people to seek opportunities elsewhere, harming those who remain, both through loss of talent and likely loss of equity in the homes we own.

I implore you to make the budget a focus rather than frivolous issues which can wait, such as private police force transparency, which will mean nothing once taxpayers and businesses have fled the state.

David Nitecki

Ald. Burns does not like democracy

To the Editor:

Speaking plainly, we should not be surprised that Alderman Burns blocked the discussion of a resolution sponsored by Alderman Rod Sawyer and signed by 42 of his colleagues, calling for a moratorium on charter expansion. He defends this lunacy by saying that he has always been for school choice. Regardless of his position, to deny discussion on issue that matters to people in at least 42 wards in this city is reprehensible, and antithetical to the basic principals democratic governance.

On Saturday, September 19th, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett ended our 34 day hunger strike out of a realization that the mayor of this city and Alderman Burns, his education chair would watch us waste away instead of respecting the voices of over 4800 Bronzeville residents. The Alderman hates the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to the point that he would deny Bronzeville’s children a world class plan for a K-12 system of education in our neighborhood. The president of the American Education Research Association and the president of the American Federation of Teachers declared that the plan for Walter Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School was “the best plan they had seen in their education career.” Alderman Burns has stooped so low as to use slander in order to justify his actions. Let’s be clear; KOCO has never received a dime from Dyett, as I sat on the local school council (LSC) for over a decade.

Now we will have to make this school work and we will; but because of Will Burns, children will not have a school that prepares them for the fastest growing industry in the United States. If our proposal was the best out of the three submitted, (and by all accounts it was) then the question is, what happened? Why not green technology? The answer is simple. Alderman Will Burns.

The summer of 2015 should be remembered as the time Alderman Will Burns showed Chicago who he really is. Alderman Burns has an ideology that trumps the needs of his constituents. The problem is, one of the fundamental duties of an alderman is constituent services; listening and responding with reasonable consistency to the needs of the people who live in your ward. In this area, he is demonstrating woeful incompetence and for the dream of democracy, he is kryptonite.

There are numerous examples of Alderman Burns unwillingness to hear the voices of his constituents. In 2010, there was significant pressure on Alderman Burns to stop the closure of the 21st district police station. This sentiment was expressed by his constituents in several community forums. Unfortunately, Alderman Burns voted to support the station’s closure and at one point, the homicides in the Kenwood Oakland skyrocketed by 300 percent. The 2nd police district is ill equipped to provide quality policing to such a large area and many of the relationships the community developed with the police; including a “Youth Caps” initiative and an effective working relationship with the former commander, were lost.
He ignored seniors who wanted relief from a politically connected slumlord. They just wanted their homes heated and his help getting rid of rodents and bed bugs. He ignored them.

He ignored Bronzeville residents who want permit parking in their community on 31st street. He has an ideological opposition to permit parking, but he is deaf to the people’s lived condition.

He can’t hear the voices of the public. He can’t hear the voices of his colleagues. Unfortunately, he hears the voices of Rahm Emanuel and Democrats for Education Reform, and the special interests groups that fund his political campaigns loud and clear. He is killing democracy in the 4th ward and therefore may be one of the worst aldermen ever in the city of Chicago. We deserve better.

Jitu Brown