Dark days in Chicago

The news: In July, a gunman opened fire at the premiere of the newest Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people.Behind the news: During the same week of the Aurora massacre, Chicago saw 69 shooting incidents, with nine people murdered as a result, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of Chicago Police Department records. The number of incidents, which was 30 percent higher than during the corresponding week in 2011, brought the city’s total shootings for the year—as of July 22—to 1,331.“What happened in one night in Colorado is a regular weekend occurrence here in Chicago,” said Mark Walsh, the director for the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.More than three-quarters of the 69 shootings occurred on the South and Southwest sides. The 7th Police District on the Southwest Side was the most dangerous with 11 shootings, followed closely by the 6th and 4th districts with nine shootings each.Meanwhile, there was only one shooting on the North Side, in the 24th District.During the past two years, the number of reported violent crimes throughout the city has declined, but gun violence is continuing to climb. As of July 22, shooting incidents are up 8 percent this year, compared with the same period last year.“Guns are not as simple as dealing with violence,” said Dennis Rosenbaum, a professor of criminology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Guns are part of our culture.”

More casinos, fewer treatment programs

The news: The Illinois General Assembly approved plans for a gambling expansion that would allow for five new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago.Behind the news: Studies have shown that new casinos bring an increase in gambling addiction, but Illinois has one of the lowest budgets for providing services for problem gamblers.Illinois spent $960,000 on hotlines and treatment programs for gamblers in 2010, the third-lowest amount of any state with land-based and riverboat casinos. Total spending was 7 cents per Illinois resident, far less than the national average of 36 cents, and only 0.2 percent of the tax income the state took in from casino gambling.Illinois now has 10 land-based and riverboat casinos, while Indiana, which has only one more, budgets $5.5 million for services, 12 times more per capita than Illinois.The proposed expansion would bring Illinois’s total to 15 casinos, the same number as Iowa, which budgets 17 times more per capita.“The state should spend significantly more money,” said Glen Cannon, a board member of the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling. “And not just for treatment but also for education and prevention.”Problem gambling, and the debt that accompanies it, strike minority populations significantly harder than their white counterparts, according to a study by trade publication CNS Spectrums, which analyzed a 2001-2002 survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It also tends to affect the poor, with 65 percent of black problem-gamblers earning less than $20,000 a year.Cannon fears the state’s plan would increase the rate of problem gambling and cautions that expansion has to go hand in hand with increased funding for treating and preventing gambling addiction.“Accessibility increases casualties,” he said. “It will increase the number of individuals who could develop problems.”

Black hiring likely stymied

The news: In April, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new guidelines surrounding the use of criminal records for employment.Behind the news: An unreasonable use of criminal records likely affects more black job applicants, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of Illinois Department of Corrections records. In 2010, the rate of imprisonment in Illinois among African Americans was 10 times higher than that of white people.Racial hiring discrimination is a particular problem in Illinois, according to the EEOC, which logged 1,997 related complaints in the state in 2011—the fifth-highest in the country.Devah Pager, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, found that many employers are not only loathe to hire black ex-offenders but actually view a criminal record as more serious in black applicants than their white counterparts.“White [people] with a criminal record are about half as likely to receive a callback for a job offer relative to white [people] with no criminal background,” she said. “Black [people] are only about a third as likely.”The EEOC acknowledges that criminal records do have some relevance to the quality of an applicant, but the goal of the new guidelines is to help employers understand the importance of looking at the severity of a crime and how long ago it was committed, instead of just immediately weeding out all applicants with questionable pasts.

Green cards for abused immigrants in jeopardy

The news: In May, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved conflicting versions of a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, leaving the final status of the law in question.Behind the news: The protections called into doubt by the stalemate have given legal status and rights to nearly 120,000 foreign-born victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and similar crimes since 2000.The Violence Against Women Act has allowed 67,053 abused men, women and children to file their own petitions and attain green cards since 2000—without involving the U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who abused them. Another 49,558 victims of criminal activities such as domestic violence have received temporary immigration benefits since 2009 by receiving what is known as a “U visa.”The law authorizing these protections expired in September, but Congress approved funding for the programs for 2012, leaving self- petitioning uninterrupted.Confidentiality has always been the primary concern of women self-petitioning for permanent residency, said Maria Pesqueira, executive director of Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a Chicago-based agency that provides services to Latina women. The abusive spouse finding out that his wife is seeking help can endanger her safety, and fear of discovery may discourage her from applying for her immigration status.“Victims of abuse and sexual assault, even if they’re undocumented, are victims of a crime,” Pesqueira said. “We shouldn’t stop them from coming forward.”The House’s concerns of fraud are built around the fact that the need for privacy limits the thoroughness with which immigration officials can investigate the applications. But immigration services have denied a third of the applications since 2011.“When people apply for this they go through vigorous review,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Rogue section

On May 17, 2005, officers from the Special Operations Section burst into Roberto Ontivero-Artal’s Southwest Side home. After an illegal search, they seized drugs and $30,000 in cash. They turned in the drugs and only $463 as evidence—the rest they split among themselves. Keith Herrera, a former member of the elite police task force, pleaded guilty to Ontivero-Artal’s charge and other similar allegations, stealing $40,000 from arrestees in 2005 alone. Other former members have also admitted to breaking into suspects’ homes and using coercion and false police reports to cover it up.

Holding down the fort

Abraham House-El’s day doesn’t always end when he leaves the office. Not when he has empty beds to fill. He gases up his van and makes a tour of the local homeless shelters, looking for the one type of person who he thinks should never have to be there: veterans. Chicago has an estimated 500 homeless veterans, so it’s never difficult for House-El to fill the 52 beds he offers at FORT II, a transitional housing facility for veterans who are looking for a safe and clean environment to live in while they seek employment, permanent housing and the counseling they need to adjust to civilian life. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that on one night in January 2011, 67,495 veterans were homeless nationwide, down nearly 11 percent since 2009.