Police responding to citizens’ mental health episodes without the benefit of a trained professional will soon be just an afterthought when the city launches a pilot program next month. In 13 Chicago neighborhoods, certified mental health specialists will accompany police responding to calls regarding someone undergoing a crisis. Mental health workers and even some police officers have long maintained law enforcement isn’t always equipped to handle someone going through a mental lapse, regardless of the severity. The pilot program will send teams consisting of a paramedic, police officer and mental health crisis intervention professional and is set to begin in August. Communities on the West Side, North Side and South Side have been identified.
The program, Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE), was announced in June at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Violence Prevention and Reduction committee meeting. The targeted communities include; Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, East Garfield Park, Gage Park, Humboldt Park, Lakeview, North Center, Uptown, West Garfield Park, West Elsdon, West Englewood and West Lawn.
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.
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.
Several cities across the nation received federal discretionary dollars last year to help cover COVID-19 related costs. The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) payments could be used for public health and safety response efforts, testing sites and economic support initiatives, as long as the costs were “necessary expenditures” incurred due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Out of the $470 million Chicago received, the city directed $281.5 million to the Chicago Police Department between March 1 and May 15, according to a budget briefing provided to Chicago aldermen in February. This move was met by criticism, including from Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who said the money spent on the police department could have been used to directly help Chicagoans struggling from the pandemic. It also came after activist made calls to defund the police amid protests against police brutality in the summer.
For more than a half century government offices in Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois have been required to follow anti-patronage hiring practices under federal court rulings known as Shakman Decrees. The rulings came after a lawsuit by Chicago activist attorney Michael Shakman. who wanted to end the political hiring and related corruption that was said to be the norm at all levels of government. While Illinois still ranks as one of the most corrupt and compromised states every year, few would argue the changes that have been made under Shakman have been a significant improvement. But disputes over exactly how to comply with Shakman continue to this day and along with some confusion and frustration comes another problem: A big compliance bill for taxpayers to foot.
Sometimes, Deonta could hear inmates sick with COVID-19 screaming for help from his cell, said his loved one Chrisoula Drivas.
“The officers would kind of disregard people, so he said it was crazy to hear that people were desperate and no one cared,” she said. Since the onset of the pandemic, advocates like Drivas have raised concerns about inadequate cleaning supplies, unsanitary conditions and a lack of consistent COVID-19 protocols in Illinois Department of Corrections facilities. These are challenges Deonta faced firsthand, she said. In November, one of Deonta’s three cellmates at Dixon Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19. Though this man was moved to another area to quarantine, the other three were not immediately tested, she said.
Chicago eviction rates significantly decreased in 2020 due to the statewide eviction ban, but it has not mitigated the risk of evictions for residents, particularly on the South and West sides. Thirty percent or more of renter households are predicted to face the risk of eviction this year, according to an Aspen Institute report. For Chicago, that would mean more than 20,000 evictions, according to a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing and Loyola University Chicago. LCBH reported that “majority Black areas continue to have eviction filing rates substantially higher than in other parts of the city. “The new data shows that majority Black areas had eviction filing rates five times higher than majority white areas, while rates in Latinx neighborhoods were twice as high as those in white areas,” as stated in an LCBH news release on Dec.
For Ernestine Jackson, 80, getting the polio vaccine along with her two young sons and husband was a no-brainer.
“I had no apprehension of [us or] our children getting it,” she said. This was for a personal reason: her father had struggled with the disease, which had given him a short leg and made it difficult for him to find work. “It was hard, especially if [polio’s effect] was really visible,” said Mrs. Jackson. “I was just happy about the fact that my children wouldn’t have to go through what my father … went through.”
Her family took the vaccine in the 1960s, after a church service in Peoria, IL; the vaccine they took was in its sugar cube form, which was the second type of polio vaccine created in 1961 by scientist Albert Sabin. Violet Petty, 79, remembers being similarly unconcerned about taking the polio vaccine. She was vaccinated at her school in Mississippi in the 1950s; in the early ’50s, America had seen a second large-scale polio outbreak and in 1955, the year that the polio vaccine was invented by scientist Jonas Salk, recorded over 28,000 cases of polio and 1,043 deaths.