COVID-19 Relief Draws Criticism

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.

Does Shakman Decree Hamper County Government Effectiveness?

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.

Prisons Lagging in COVID-19 Response

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.

Power and Politics in Chicago’s Struggle to Reduce Violence

In 2021, Chicago is on pace to have an even more violent year than in 2020, which saw a 50% jump in homicides. If this uncontrolled violence persists, it could cost the Mayor the next election. To its credit, the City has come up with a solid plan to combat gun violence. It prioritizes police reform and the expansion of social services. Yet, it comes up short of putting a price tag on what it would actually cost to put the plan into action.

The Community Can Deliver A Better COVID-19 Message Than Health Officials

The missteps in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution were predictable. How could anyone expect better from a broken health care system riddled with barriers for people of color due to deeply rooted structural racism and bias? For nearly a year, it’s been widely reported how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown communities across the country. Although Hispanics-Latinos make up a small fraction of the U.S. population, they account for an unfairly large proportion of COVID-19 cases and deaths. In Chicago, the Hispanic-Latino community is being affected by COVID-19 more than any other group, with more than 85,000 confirmed cases and in excess of 1,600 deaths.

South and West Sides Maintain Higher Eviction Rates Despite Statewide Eviction Ban

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.

Blatant Racism Against Muslims is Still With Us

Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden reversed former President’s Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban, stating those actions are a stain on our national conscience.” This stance aligns with that of the tens of thousands of protesters who, at the time the first Muslim Travel Ban was enacted in January 2017, took to the streets and to airports across the country with slogans such as, “We are all Immigrants,” “Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia,” and “Stop Hatred against Muslims.” To be sure, the Muslim Travel Ban is a racist policy. It seeks to keep out or deport people perceived to be Muslim based upon the racist assumption that “they” are violent potential terrorist enemies of the U.S. nation. The ban was an executive order that prevented individuals from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from many African countries, from entering the United States. Yet ending the Muslim Ban only scratches the surface of a much larger problem. If progressives really want to end anti-Muslim racism, we are going to need a more radical approach, that requires, as Angela Davis reminds us, “grasping things at the root.” The root cause of the Muslim Ban is anti-Muslim racism, which has many roots.

COVID-19 Vaccines Stir Memories of Half a Century Ago

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.

HBCUs and Black Doctors Address COVID-19

As the deadly Spanish Influenza killed 675,000 Americans between 1917 and 1920, that era’s Black healthcare practitioners took the initiative to help African-Americans avoid and recover from that flu because they saw that the public health system would not or could not do so. 

Now, as America steps up its 2021 COVID19 vaccination phase, Black doctors and their HBCU (historically Black college and university) colleagues are again filling a void born of the same variants of systemic and structural racism their great grandparents experienced a little over 100 years ago. One example of the parallel is that in 1918, according to a study published in Public Health Reports, Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell, the Black medical director of Philadelphia’s 75-bed Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, established a 40-bed emergency annex at St. Peter Claver, a Black parochial school when his hospital beds were quickly exhausted by the Spanish Flu.   Mossell got no funding for this from Philadelphia’s Board of Health, although the city had opened many emergency clinics for sick whites.   

In early 2020, in response to the current COVID19 pandemic, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and chief executive officer of Meharry Medical College, and other HBCU leaders sought and received $25 million in diagnostic and testing equipment from Thermo Fisher Scientific, which they initially used for COVID19 testing for  students and faculty on their campuses, testing that was slow coming from other sources for these students and the communities they came from. “We’ll be having discussions on how to do this for the wider community,” Hildreth said.  “We see an opportunity for the wider community to be enhanced.  We’ve asked the Ways and Means committee of Congress for $5 million to allow medical schools to set up a consortium for a national testing approach.”

Hildreth also envisions a role for HBCU’s in making vaccinations more efficient for communities of color. “The solution is we must take the vaccinations to their communities, to meet the people where they are,” Hildreth said.   “With the right training and coordination schools, churches and other community organizations could develop model field hospitals for testing and vaccinations, and once we have an easy to transport vaccine, we can use a mobile approach—medical vans that will extend the reach of vaccines and testing.” 

Other Black doctors share Hildreth’s view that Black people and other people of color suffered a big spike in infections and deaths early in 2020 because they were never surveyed or tested properly early on.  Health officials, they asserted,, simply surveyed and tested areas and locations where Black folks do not congregate so they got missed, and studies support their conclusion

In December 2020, a study of public health departments was published in the Journal of the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security in conjunction with NCCU (North Carolina Central University), an HCBU in Durham, North Carolina. 

This study outlined troubling details about the readiness of public health departments across the country in terms of dealing with a pandemic like COVID19. 

The study showed that state and local public health departments were steadily cut in size and scope as state legislatures cut state and local taxes.

CPS Reopening Fuels Elected School Board Talk

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

After an ongoing conflict between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union to reopen schools for in-person learning during the pandemic, education advocates argue that tensions between Chicago Public schools and the CTU wouldn’t have arisen if the Chicago Board of Education was elected and more responsive to the community. CTU approved a back-to-school deal with support from close to 55% of its members after teachers argued that the initial reopening plan fell short of safety expectations. The reopening debate has renewed energy around an elected school board for the Chicago Board of Education as CPS is the country’s third-largest school district and the only district in Illinois with an appointed school board. “I think an elected school board would make a huge difference because the school board will be responsive to public demand,” said Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. “We know that the majority of the district is Black and brown and they’re not sending their children to school right now.