Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Chicago Perspectives on the Growing Chicago City and Police Department Crisis: A Racialized Predisposition to Violating Peoples’ Human Rights

The issues in Chicago are far larger and deeper than the just-fired Chicago Police Department Superintendent. It's about the built-in operations of the police department that routinely violate the human rights of a whole segment of the Chicago community - a department that has done so for decades. These issues are deeply structural, and cannot be undone without acknowledging the underlying sickness.

From last week on Democracy Now, November 24, 2015...

Chicago Activist: City’s Call for Peace over Laquan McDonald Video Does Not Extend to Police Dept.

As Chicago braces for protests ahead of the release of video footage of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, we speak with Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. Her organization declined a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office on Monday as the city tries to quell impending protests. "For us, it was important not to take a meeting with the mayor where it was clear to us that this series of meetings was about how are we going to quell our fears — being the mayor’s office’s fears — about what young, black people are going to do once this video is released," Carruthers said. "They’re very concerned with the city remaining peaceful, but unfortunately, the community, or the target, that is being told to remain peaceful is not the Chicago Police Department."


As Chicago braces for release of Laquan McDonald shooting video; Learn about the 86 minutes of missing surveillance video

As the local and national news reporters talk more about the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago, and the impending release of the police officer shooting video, there's a lot more to this case that seems really troubling, and unfortunately consistent with the accusations Black youth and activists have been making for years about police misconduct, excessive force and department cover-ups in Chicago.

By now many people are aware of the shooting and killing of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald by CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke. According to reports and multiple media accounts, Laquan was shot 16 times from around 15 feet away, with 13 of the 16 bullets entering after his body had already fallen to the ground. Witness accounts and the medical examiner's report suggest that at least half of the bullets entered Laquan's back, or the back of Laquan's arms. Witnesses and the family's attorney have all said that Laquan McDonald was clearly walking away from the officer when fired upon, and that the lone officer continued opening fire on Laquan for more than 10 seconds after his body was already on the ground.

The shooting took place in October 2014, and officials investigating the shooting have thus far been unwilling to indict and prosecute the officer involved.

Early on, the story of the officers involved (note that only one officer actually decided to open fire) and other city and police department spokespersons, suggests that the officer was in reasonable fear for his life, and that the officer appeared to have acted appropriately. Contradicting the video evidence, the officer even stated that McDonald was lunging at the officer with a knife. Over time, the department and the city were less forthcoming about what happened, stating that they wanted to let the investigation run its course. Now, with the judge's requirement that the video be made public, we hear far stronger language from the mayor and others about the shocking, horrific and disgusting nature of the tragic shooting.

For more than a year, multiple media organizations have requested the video footage, and have been denied. In each of the instances, the city and police department indicated that sharing the video might hamper an ongoing federal investigation. Meanwhile, the city reached a five million dollar settlement agreement with McDonald's family, including a stipulation that forbids the family attorney from sharing the video. Now, after repeated refusals to release the video by the mayor's office and the police department, a Cook County judge has ordered the release of the video.

After all of this back and forth, and with the judge's ordering that the video be released, the mayor is for the first time unequivocally condemning the shooting, and acknowledging how horrific and tragic the shooting was. Moreover, he's gone out of his way over the weekend and this afternoon to meet with community activists and community organizers, including many who are critical of his polices and who he has otherwise been unwilling to meet with, all focused on preparing the community for the video's release and the potential anger and outcry it's expected to produce.

Now, and in the midst of all of this, there still is very little discussion of other and deeply concerning circumstances surrounding this shooting and its aftermath. More of this is described in the video below - dating back to May 2015 - with MSNBC host Chris Hayes interviewing McDonald family attorney Michael Robbins. In the video, Hayes and the family attorney talk about the lack of transparency from the department and the lack of an explanation for 86 minutes of missing surveillance footage from a nearby Burger King restaurant. The missing footage was detected after officers were allowed to spend 3 hours alone with the recording equipment in Burger King. Interestingly, this happened the day before officials from the department's internal affairs office came to inspect the video footage.

All of this is troubling to say the least. And unfortunately, it doesn't appear any of the major news organizations are willing to do the deeper investigative work that - in years past - used to characterize journalism in some parts of this country.

I really do hope something more akin to justice comes out of this more visible Chicago episode.  Even if not for the officer, who has the law stacked in his favor, at least for some more departmental changes. Not likely perhaps, but the struggle continues nonetheless.

Chris Hayes speaks to the McDonald family lawyer, Michael Robbins, about missing surveillance footage that may have shown moments before and after 17-year old Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by Chicago Police last October.


Video of Sandra Bland’s Arrest in Waller County, Texas; Chicago Woman Found Unresponsive in Jail Cell After Traffic Stop

Below is the video of Sandra Bland's arrest in Waller County, Texas on Friday.  Officials kept her in police custody over the weekend, and report finding her unconscious and unresponsive in a jail cell on Monday morning.  Officials are reporting that she probably committed suicide, but family and friends are saying this is highly unlikely, especially given her recent relocation for a new job at Prairie View A&M University, the institution she attended and graduated from. Given the tone of the interaction during her arrest, and reports of a history of "racial intolerance" in Waller County, one can reasonably question the official story about what happened to Sandra Bland.

Ultimately, something seems really off about this, and I hope we continue to get a better sense of what really happened to Sandra Bland.


What Happened to Sandra Bland in Waller County, Texas; Chicago Woman and Prairie View A&M University Graduate

Family, friends and other concerned individuals are pressing to find out what happened to Sandra Bland, a Chicago woman who was relocating to Texas after taking a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Sandra Bland died in police custody after a routine traffic stop.

From ABC7 in Chicago...

Friends and relatives of a 28-year-old Naperville businesswoman are angrily questioning her death in a Texas jail.

Sandra Bland was found dead in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell on Monday at 9 a.m. after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a routine traffic stop, the I-Team has learned. Authorities say her death appears to be suicide.

In numerous emails and phone calls to the ABC7 I-Team, her friends and relatives say they do not believe the official version of what happened and say this is a case of foul play in a county with a history racial intolerance.

Bland was pulled over Friday for improper signaling a lane change, according to Waller County Sheriff's Department officials. They say she was charged with "Assault on a Public Servant" and taken into custody by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper.

Bland's friends say she had been with her family in suburban Chicago over the July 4th holiday, and drove to Texas for a job interview at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A & M. Family members say she got the position and was to begin working in student outreach today.

Sheriff R. Glenn Smith says that jailers saw Bland at 7 a.m. Monday when they gave her breakfast and again at 8 a.m. when they spoke with her over the jail intercom. Smith says she was found dead an hour later. In a press release from the sheriff's department, authorities say they applied CPR, but that Bland was pronounced dead shortly after she was found.

The Willowbrook High School graduate died by "self-inflicted asphyxiation," according to sheriff's deputies, who have turned the investigation over to Texas Rangers. Some family members and friends say Bland was found hanging in the jail cell, but authorities have not confirmed the exact circumstances around her death.

In a press release from the sheriff's department, authorities say they applied CPR, but Bland was pronounced dead shortly after she was found.

Longtime friend LaNitra Dean tells the I-Team that Bland "was a warm, affectionate, outspoken woman" who spoke out about police brutality often on her Facebook page.

"The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life," Dean said. "Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually."

Waller County Sheriff R Glenn Smith said, through a statement, "any loss of life is a tragic incident."

The statement continued, "While the investigation is being conducted by outside agencies, the Waller County Sheriff's Office will continue to observe the daily operations of the jail to always look for improvements and/or preventions of these incidents."

Wednesday afternoon a small group of Bland's friends converged on the Waller County jail to protest her death. The facility is 50 miles north of Houston. Family members say they intend to bring her body back to Illinois for burial when authorities release it.


‘You Don’t Really Know Us,’ Chicago Kids Tell News Media

Bradwell School of Excellence - Chicago

Bradwell School of Excellence - Chicago, Illinois

Posted on NPR on August 2, 2014.

Tired of seeing their neighborhood portrayed in news reports as a desolate and violent place, fifth-graders in Chicago's South Shore area wrote what their teacher calls a "counternarrative." Their op-ed for The Chicago Tribune includes this line: "This isn't Chi-raq. This is home. This is us."

The students attend the Bradwell School of Excellence in South Shore. They wrote their essay collaboratively, taking the best parts of what they wanted to say. In one section they spoke directly to reporters who drop in to report on a shooting, telling them, "but you don't really know us."

Two of the students — Rondayle Sanders and Damiontaye Rodgers – discuss the essay on today's Weekend Edition, along with their teacher, Linsey Rose.

Approximately 5 minutes.


Youth Violence in America’s Cities… Remembering Chicago’s Hadiya Pendleton

On January 29th, 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago.  As has been widely reported and discussed, she was killed just days after returning to Chicago from Washington, DC, where she performed in the inaugural parade celebrating President Obama's election to a second term.  As described in all of the reports I've seen and read, Hadiya was a great student, a fun and loving daughter, sister and friend, and an all-around great person.  Similarly, she seems to have made all of the right decisions, remained in all of the right places, with all of the right people, and still fell victim to the senseless violence that pervades our nation's cities.

This young girl's murder struck a nerve in me that was different, in many ways, than the many murders we read about almost every day in this country.  It bothers me to acknowledge this, but it's true.  I feel a sense of pain and loss whenever I hear of these murders of our young children -  especially in and around our major cities, which is where I grew up and have spent much of my adult life.  Helping people to understand and be more responsive to the root causes of this type of violence that pervades our predominantly Black and Brown inner cities and close-in suburbs is a part of the work I do professionally.  But still, what I felt when I heard of Hadiya's murder was different.

I've thought a lot about why this affected me the way it did.  I think it's because the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are very familiar to me.  I grew up in Detroit during the 1970's and 80's.  Detroit was considered the world's murder capital during most of my high school years.  (Interestingly, I moved to Washington, DC just as the nation's capital was taking this not-so-distinguished 'title' from Detroit.  More to say about this, perhaps, some other time.)  Like many people I know and grew up with, my family has been directly impacted by this violence, as have many of my friends and their families over time.  My proximity to and understanding of this violence has greatly shaped my views of this nation's history, of culture, racism (in all of its forms - individual, institutional and structural), politics and the mass media in this country.

Everything I read about this young girl's upbringing reminded me of my own, and that of my closest friends.  My parents, relatives and other extended family were always trying to shield us from the craziness that was happening all around us.  My parents were really close to our friends' families.  We participated in many similar types of say-no-to-drugs and stop-the-violence campaigns and rallies throughout our years of school.  During high school, we took similar leisurely walks away from school grounds after half-days, early dismissals, mid-terms and final exams.  Sometimes these walks led to the movies, sometimes to or through the neighborhood park or playground, or sometimes to one of the nearby restaurants and fast food joints.

And guns were definitely plentiful and easily accessible.  I knew who carried guns and also buy 5.56 ammo online, and I knew who had more experience using them.  They were closer than many of my peers today would imagine.  And they weren't for sport or for hunting - at least not in the sense that America's gun advocates talk about.  I was fortunate in some ways because I was able to steer clear of the more extreme craziness that affected too many of my peers throughout Detroit in the late 80's.

Given my experiences growing up, it bothers me to see some of these people and pundits that talk about these issues with either no reference point for what life is like growing up in our cities, or in some cases trying to pretend like they don't.  And so that brings me to this afternoon's discussion by President Obama concerning gun violence.  I look forward to his remarks, and any ensuing discussion that follows with some of Chicago's youth.  He can't solve this problem alone, but he can do a lot to get more people engaged, and in a more meaningful way, in the types of efforts that will make a difference.  While both types of gun violence are severely problematic and tragic, what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is not the same as what plays out on the Black and Brown streets of America's cities every day.

In the meantime, I wanted to share an emotional discussion that was featured on NPR's Tell Me More with Hadiya Pendleton's mother and some of Chicago's youth.  When I hear her voice, I see so many of the mothers that I have known growing up and now as a father.  I feel the hurt that I observed among my family members, and other friends I have met over the years, who have personally experienced the effects of this senseless gun violence.  When I hear the voices of the youth, I similarly hear and feel - as I did growing up and now as a father - the fear, the anger and the frustration of growing up in a space that others don't see, choose not to see, or even worse, a space that others do see and choose to ignore.