The temperature drops faster than the setting sun on a Friday evening that feels more like Autumn than Spring. Car after car with members of the Ojala Foundation roll into the parking lot of Fairplay Foods on the Southwest Side for the weekly “Neighborly Deeds Initiative” of passing out food to the homeless. “As-salamu alaikum,” Arabic for “Peace be upon you” is followed by “Wa-alaikum As-salaam,” ”And peace be onto you” as volunteers greet one another. For some members of the Latino Muslim group, this will be their first time earning their hasanat, or reward for good deeds; others have been donating their time since the program began three years ago. Members of the Ojalá Foundation enjoy iftaar, the evening meal in the parking lot of FairPlay Foods, 2200 S. Western Ave.
After decades of institutionalized racism against people perceived to be Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim in the U.S., it is a great disappointment that the University of Illinois continues to categorize Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) students as racially white in data, surveys, and university records. These populations face significant levels of racism across the U.S., in the state of Illinois, and on college campuses. To fight racism and discrimination and quantify it, this group must have its own designation separate from white. Currently, these students are classified as white, even as they are targeted as distinctly different from and inferior to whites, portrayed and treated as potential terrorists, enemies of the U.S. nation, and too frequently attacked for belonging to what bigots crudely deem a misogynist and backwards culture and religion (Islam). This institutionalizes their invisibility — meaning although they face racial adversity, they are denied recognition as a racial/ethnic group that has the legitimacy to advocate for racial justice, resources, and rights or simply be recognized, known about, and understood as having a distinct experience of race/ethnicity in the U.S. Perhaps institutionalizing their invisibility is intentional.
Before Chicago Public Schools reopened its high schools, it sent a survey around its parents to see which students would opt for in-person learning. Janet Tapia, a parent of a junior at Back of the Yards College Prep, selected yes for her 16-year-old daughter so that they could have the option to learn in-person — once families have chosen to learn remotely for the quarter, they cannot switch to in-person (although they can do so the other way around), so the choice was a final one. “I was hoping she’d be vaccinated by now,” said Tapia, 36. “If CPS would’ve made [the vaccine] available a month ago, I think I would have sent her.” But Tapia’s daughter still isn’t vaccinated, so Tapia decided to keep her daughter home for the remainder of the school year. Returning to in-person school was the subject of ongoing conflict between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, both when elementary and middle schools returned to on-site learning in January, and more recently, shortly before the city’s public high schools went back on Monday.
Illinois is inching toward being the third state to revoke qualified immunity, coming after New York passed the Qualified Immunity Reform and New Mexico passed the Civil Rights Act earlier this year. In doing so, Illinois would no longer allow a legal principle that grants police officers performing discretionary functions immunity from civil suits. This would mean dissolving a history of barriers to justice, accountability and healing in communities where police officers have caused unconstitutional harm. House Bill 1727, introduced by Rep. Curtis J. Tarver, D-Chicago, has recently made it past the committee and is waiting to be voted on. The bill would create the Bad Apples in Law Enforcement Accountability Act, which aims to remove the Illinois court doctrine of qualified immunity for officers. It will open officers up to civil litigation if they participate in the deprivation of any individual’s rights guaranteed in the Illinois Constitution—which would also apply to officers who fail to intervene if they witness a deprivation occurring.
A steady stream of visitors came and went this weekend to an alley in “La Villita”, as the neighborhood of Little Village is affectionately known by its mostly Mexican, Mexican-American residents; to the site of the final moments of Adam Toledo’s life. Makeshift memorial and mural in Little Village
Many of the mourners at the makeshift memorial were parents with their children who paid their respects by leaving candles, flowers, and messages at the very spot where the 13-year old died. They prayed at the mural, a cutout of Adam with his hands up and angel wings memorializing the instant when he was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer. Their fixed stare lost in thought over the tragedy that happened there just weeks ago, and the violence many of them know all too well. “I don’t want my son growing up here”, said Erica Sanchez as she held her 3-year old son.
These are just a few of the terms used to describe a group of more dynamic people than the one-dimensional labels forced upon them, often by the U.S. government and academics.
On March 22, 2021, renowned Egyptian Arab feminist Nawal El Saadawi died of natural causes. A former comrade, she authored more than 50 books and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. It is no surprise that many corporate media obituaries have misrepresented her contributions, focusing only on aspects of her work that align with the sensationalized racist ideas that circulate across U.S. society about Arab and Muslim women. In the Washington Post, for example, the story goes like this: El Saadawi fought for women’s rights and against female genital mutilation (FGM), and received death threats for criticizing Islam. To be sure, El Saadawi fought for women’s rights, against FGM, and received death threats. Yet she fought through the framework of international socialist feminism, arguing that patriarchy is strengthened by international capitalism, not necessarily Islam.
Some West Side Chicago residents fear this year’s redistricting cycle could leave their communities without needed representation and resources. The fear isn’t new. But this year it comes amid a lack of transparency and public engagement, according to Valerie Leonard, a North Lawndale resident and the co-founder of the Lawndale Alliance, which addresses issues of concern through community organizing, advocacy and community outreach. And as legislators gear up to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries to reflect population changes documented by the U.S. Census Bureau, Leonard and members of Illinois African Americans for Equitable Redistricting, a coalition of community leaders and stakeholders, have also raised concerns about how their districts will be redrawn. Districts are redrawn every 10 years using population data provided by the Census Bureau.
A seminal experience in Carlil Pittman’s life came when a Chicago police officer pulled him out of class at Gage Park High School making vague accusations he didn’t understand, then began searching the 16-year-old boy, rummaging through his pockets and backpack. Just as classes were changing the officer took Pittman’s pants down – in front of all his classmates – as part of the continued and fruitless search. A childhood that made him all too familiar with the stop-and-frisk policy turned into a recent incident in which Chicago police officers approached his car, with his four children inside, flashlights shining in Pittman’s face and hands on their weapons after the family had seen “Power Rangers.’’
“That’s why it’s personal for me to see a real police reform and accountability ordinance,’’ said Pittman, 27, co-founder of GoodKidsMadCity, an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project, and a member of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability, GAPA. “We need reform that has real teeth and real accountability.’’
That reform would not only be real but a giant, progressive step with supporters calling it the most significant police reform in America if it passes in the City Council. It would be the fruit of a half decade of labor, community input, and involvement from more than 100 groups across the city.
L’A Capone’s song, Shooters, blasted as the walls of the small apartment shook. Thick smoke from marijuana-filled cigars called blunts hung over the heads of 15 to 20 young; Black males crammed into the living room. Their eyes barely open, jumping and hollering in unison:
“It’s some shooters on my squad
It’s some shooters on my squad
If he holding on that work
Then that pussy gettin’ robbed”
They never missed a word, never missed a beat as they recited the lyrics of the Drill rap song like a battlefield war cry. Their dread heads bobbed wildly up and down. Their guns flashed, pointed directly into the camera while they threw hand gestures that signified their gang affiliation.