Sept. 18 was my first day as editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter. It’s rare when you can bring your values and skills to a job. I’m privileged to do that at the Reporter, an organization that shares my commitment to investigating race and poverty.
One of my early stories as a young reporter was about an old man known as “Uncle Monk.” He pushed a rickety shopping cart loaded with whatever he could salvage from trash bins and sold the items to stay afloat. His body was found in an abandoned building; he died of natural causes—if poverty and lack of health care could be considered “natural causes.” The pastor at Agape Ministries, a local church that served homeless people, eulogized him. And the county paid for Uncle Monk’s burial. I learned two things about him at his funeral: He had once worked at a meatpacking plant, and when asked why he kept pushing his shopping cart, he would say, “I gotta keep on moving.”
Uncle Monk was both a fixture and a phantom in the small Texas town where he lived. Everybody knew of him, but nobody knew about him. His story is like the issues the Reporter illuminates: They are at the center of our society, but seldom at the forefront of public discussion.
For more than 40 years, the Reporter has helped place the intertwined issues of race and class high on the public agenda, moving beyond anecdotes to examine the data that explain structural inequality and the impact on human potential. Who else is dedicated to telling these stories? As income inequality worsens in the wake of the Great Recession, the work of the Reporter is even more vital in Chicago and the nation.
We are gearing up our daily digital presence to engage a broader audience and deepen the impact of our award-winning journalism in the public interest. Visit us at www.chicagoreporter.com for more of the stories you expect from the Reporter and national offerings from our partner New America Media, an award-winning collaboration of ethnic news organizations.
In this Issue
Does Chicago have its own version of New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy? Some critics of the Chicago Police Department say, “Yes.” But that’s just one aspect of Angela Caputo’s compelling investigation of why Cook County has one of the highest dismissal rates for misdemeanor cases in the country.
Caputo writes: “Eight out of 10 misdemeanor cases have been dismissed between 2006 and 2012, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of records for 1.4 million cases maintained by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts.”
Police are arresting people for drug possession, trespassing and other low-level offenses in an attempt to deter more violent crimes. Yet most of these cases are tossed, often because police officers don’t show up to testify. Prosecutors continue to press charges, despite the high dismissal rate.
Is this policing strategy making our communities safer or simply recycling African Americans and Latinos, who are the majority of those arrested, through a clogged criminal justice system? Are these dead-end misdemeanor cases a wise use of taxpayer dollars or a boondoggle?
These are the questions raised by Caputo’s investigation, which connects the dots between the police, the prosecutors, the courts and the county jail.