Tackling Violence with a Softer Side of Policing

By Emily Gray Brosious | Gapers Block | Jun. 30, 2015

Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga answers questions from children and youth at the Foglia Family and Youth Center in Chicago's East Garfield Park neighborhood. (Photo by Emily Gray Brosious)
Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga answers questions from children and youth at the Foglia Family and Youth Center in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood. (Photo by Emily Gray Brosious)

When police officers couldn’t make it to a scheduled basketball match with youth in the East Garfield Park neighborhood last Wednesday, 11th District Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga swooped in to save the day with an impromptu meet-and-greet of sorts.

Dressed in plain athletic clothes, the outgoing young officer spoke about policing in Chicago to a few dozen people gathered in the gymnasium. Then she opened up for a question and answer session. Children and teens sat cross-legged on the basketball court, eagerly raising their hands to ask Officer Varga about her background, her police work and what it takes to become an officer.

“Everyone in here could be a police officer. Be athletic, be healthy, get your degree,” she said before leading a few lively rounds of training drills and breaking into some basketball practice with the kids.

This isn’t necessarily the picture of police-community relations that readily comes to mind following recent waves of protest and national outrage over the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of white police officers. Amid such tensions, it can be easy to overlook the individuals and organizations actively working to change that dynamic.

Organizations like Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, which planned Wednesday’s event as part of a larger collaboration with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) aimed at building trust between police and community members to help tackle gun violence in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

“With more than 1,100 shootings in Chicago this year alone, the community in Garfield Park is bracing for the worst as summer approaches and temperatures rise — conditions under which gun violence historically rises in the city,” said Stephen Barker, Associate Director of Development at Marillac St. Vincent Family Services.

Building a “coalition of peace” between the police and the community is a key strategy for lowering gun and drug related violence in the Garfield Park neighborhood, Barker said in an interview. “This is what saves lives.”

Officer Vargas echoed that sentiment and underscored the importance of community-police relations. CPD’s emphasis on community policing measures is actually one of the reasons she chose to join the department, she said in an interview.

Many children and youth were excited to meet with police officers Wednesday.

“A lot of people don’t like police because of shootings and things across the country, but I feel safer when they’re around,” 14-year-old Jacari Brown said in an interview.

He hopes increasing positive interactions between youth and police officers will lower the gang-related violence in his neighborhood.

“We want less gangs, less guns, less kids getting killed,” he said.

Chicago Mothers March to Remember Children Killed by Police

By Emily Gray Brosious | Gapers Block | May 12, 2015

A group of mothers protested police violence Saturday evening on the South Side, near the spot where 15-year-old Dakota Bright was fatally shot by Chicago police in 2012.

“My baby was 15 and he was taken away,” said Bright’s mother, Panzy Edwards. “And the third district cops have no remorse.”

Police claim Bright was killed after he pointed a gun at an officer, but Edwards maintains her son was unarmed. Officers on-scene declined to comment for this story.

The “Mother’s Day March Against the Police State” was the latest in a series of demonstrations aimed at law enforcement, targeting what organizers call systemic racism, violence and a culture of impunity within police departments nationwide.

Standing in front of a poster that displayed the names and faces of black men and women who have been killed by police, Edwards read names of the dead aloud. She turned to the police and said– “If y’all are for the people then why are you killing the people?”

Panzy Edwards, the mother of 15-year-old Dakota Bright who was killed by Chicago police in 2012, addressed demonstrators Saturday evening before leading a march to the Third District Police Station. (Photo/ Emily Gray Brosious)
Panzy Edwards, the mother of 15-year-old Dakota Bright who was killed by Chicago police in 2012, addressed demonstrators Saturday evening before leading a march to the Third District Police Station. (Photo/ Emily Gray Brosious)

Demonstrators rallied steps from the alley where Bright was killed, then marched nearly a mile to the Grand Crossing District police station. Chants, songs and the sounds of car-horns honking in solidarity filled the air as police officers silently tailed the slow-moving peaceful march — without much interaction with protesters.

The group held a candlelight vigil outside the police station and Edwards read a poem for her slain son. It’s been more than two years since his death and Edwards said she still hasn’t found justice through the criminal justice system.

Organizers echoed that sentiment, saying they did not believe justice could come from the same system that “kidnaps and kills their loved ones.”

Demonstrators said they are fed up “living under police occupation,” and called for no-police zones in communities they say have been brutalized by “state sponsored black genocide” at the hands of Chicago police officers.

“Strong communities make police obsolete,” organizers repeated during the rally.

Demonstrator Daphne Jackson described a “war” being waged by police on black communities, and said it was time for people to stand up and defend themselves.

“They’re not here to help us. We are our help,” she said.

Jackson also pointed past the police, at larger public policies that systematically disenfranchise and subsequently criminalize black men in America.

“This is what society gave them. Stop blaming them for it,” she said.

Freddie McGee, whose 34-year-old son Freddie Latice Wilson was killed by Chicago police in 2007, said he sees trouble ahead if the criminal justice system doesn’t reform in a major way.

“People are tired of marching peacefully,” he said.

Neighbor: Slain Bernadette Glomski, 58, did yard work outside Logan Square home

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago | May 4, 2015

A 58-year-old woman found strangled in her Logan Square home appeared happy and upbeat just days earlier, according to a neighbor.

A friend found 58-year-old Bernadette Glomski dead in her home in the 2500 block of West Moffat Street on April 15, authorities said. An autopsy later concluded she died of asphyxia by strangulation and her death was ruled a homicide, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

“It’s heartbreaking. You don’t want to hear that happen to anyone … especially like 50 feet from your own bed,” said upstairs neighbor Keithon Gipson. “Whatever the situation, nobody deserves that.”

Authorities have released few details about the killing, and only released the woman’s name in hopes of locating a family member.

Despite the slaying, Gipson says he he still feels safe in the neighborhood.

Gipson, 38, has lived in the apartment directly above Glomski’s for about three years. He said Glomski lived there “for sometime” before he moved in.

Gipson said Glomski, and the man she lived with, were often outside doing yard work and odd jobs for the landlord.

She was an interesting person. Not exactly the friendliest, I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong to anyone, just sometimes you’d try to avoid her. She was that type of character,” Gipson said.

Glomski appeared in good spirits, and days before her death Gipson said she was hanging out with friends and playing music in the backyard.

She looked happy. The color in her face looked real good,” he said. “And to have her life end that way is unacceptable and terrible.”

Gipson said he spoke briefly with police the night Glomski was found dead, but says detectives have not contacted anyone in the building since then.

I’m not a policeman, but it seems like they have somebody that they’re thinking about. Because they didn’t come back and rehashed anything with us,” he said.

Nobody has been charged for the killing. Area North detectives are investigating.

Rahm Emanuel’s Got Friends in High, Right Places

By Emily Gray Brosious | Apr. 6, 2015

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia face off Tuesday night in a mayoral runoff election, the culmination of a six-week runoff campaign sparked by Emanuel’s failure to capture a majority vote on Feb. 24.

A clear divide in Chicago’s Democratic-party politics is on rare display in this election, with both candidates campaigning from different sides of the party agenda.

In the final weeks leading up to the April 7 runoff, both Democrats are receiving campaign contributions from a very different group of donors.

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Top donors to Rahm Emanuel’s campaign between Feb. 24 and March 18 included hedge fund manager and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin at $250,000, Madison Dearborn Partners CEO Paul Finnegan at $200,000 and Groupon CEO and Lightbank co-founder Eric Lefkofsky at $200,000, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Samuel Mencoff ($200,000), Samuel Zell ($150,000), Michael Sacks ($125,000), Cari Sacks ($125,000), John D. Arnold ($100,000), Laborers’ Political League Education Fund ($100,000), Barry Malkin ($100,000), Richard Melman ($100,000), Muneer Satter ($100,000), Bernard L. Schwartz ($100,000), Craig Duchossis ($100,000) and Donald Edwards ($100,000) were also among Emanuel’s top donors during this time.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s top donors during the same period included the American Federation of Teachers at $350,000, SEIU Healthcare at $318,169.89 and National Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education at $144,000, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

Other top contributors to Garcia’s campaign during this time included Service Employees Local No. 1 Political Education Committee ($100,000), International Transportation Trade Authority PAC ($50,000), Harold M. Baron ($25,000), Cook County College Teacher’s Union ($25,000) and Yusef D. Jackson ($25,000).

Since Feb. 24, the pro-Emanuel political action committee Chicago Forward, has raised $1,014,000, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Top donors to Chicago Forward include Ken Griffin at $500,000, Michael Sacks at $200,000, Cari Sacks at $200,000, James Abrams at $100,000 and Wendy Abrams at $100,000.

Emanuel’s top funders like Ken Griffin come from the traditionally Republican Right and like-minded financial, business communities, whereas Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s top funders come from the Democratic Left — unions and the like.

Emanuel is no doubt the powerhouse fundraiser between the two candidates, and Garcia’s campaign has criticized the mayor and his wealthy backers for perpetuating the “pay-to-play” problem in politics.

Nonetheless, finance records show neither candidate appears to be turning down donor funding in the lead up to this tighter-than-expected mayoral showdown.

Family calls for police reform at Homan Square protests

Public demonstration: A family affair

February 28, 2015

John Paul Gonzalez and his two children hit the streets of West Chicago Saturday afternoon to participate in public protests at the Homan Square warehouse complex, a so-called ‘black site’ facility where Chicago police secretly detained and interrogated thousands of people without providing access to attorneys, according to an investigation published April 16, 2016 by The Guardian US.

Gonzalez says the police reform demonstration presented him with an opportunity to teach his children about the issues at hand and show them the value of community organizing.

Video shot & edited by Emily Gray Brosious
Music credit: “Stop” (blue mix) by Ghost Kollective/dig.ccMixter, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Family: Slain football coach Alexander Villafane kept kids off the street

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago | Feb. 17, 2015

Alexander Villafane named his youth football program after his second-favorite NFL team, the New England Patriots, family said.

The 39-year-old football coach did not get to see the Patriots win Super Bowl XLIXthis month because he was fatally shot in the head while working on a vehicle less than a week before the game, family said.

Villafane was replacing a stolen catalytic converter when he was wounded during a Jan. 25 drive-by shooting in the 3500 block of West 24th Street, family said.

Villafane, of the 2300 block of South St. Louis Avenue, died two days later at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

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“I’m at a complete loss … I would never imagine, in a million years, out of all the things that could happen, something like this.” said Villafane’s stepdaughter, Jennessa Martinez.

She said her stepfather dedicated his life to keeping children on the football field and off the streets.

Villafane started the Humboldt Park football team with his brother about 10 years ago as a way to help at-risk youths, family said. He coached more than 300 children, many of whom went on to play high school or college football, Martinez said.

“It’s hard to see that the very thing he was fighting against was the thing that took his life,” she said.

Relatives described the father of four as a “family man” who was a “role model” to many.

“He just taught me so much as I grew up in life,” said Villafane’s godson Angel Del Valle. “He didn’t give up on me. He worked with me, he worked with many of the other kids that were on the bench to better themselves so they can become better people.”

The family believes Villafane’s shooting might have been a case mistaken identity.

Witnesses only told relatives that a gunman inside a passing minivan shot Villafane, the family said during a press conference calling for more police cameras in the area.

Nobody has been charged for the murder.

Family members are asking anyone with information about Alexander Villafane’s murder contact Area Central detectives.

Family: Slain Rayvon Little enjoyed basketball, reading

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago | Feb. 5, 2015

Rayvon Little left his Minnesota home as a teenager to come live with his grandmother in Englewood, family said.

Christine Little said her grandson was a quiet young man who often spent his time at home reading or watching Christian television with her.

Christine Little said she was close to her grandson, and when she recently encouraged him to go visit his family in Minnesota he requested she accompany him.

Rayvon Little, 20, never got the chance to return to Minnesota because he was fatally shot Nov. 1, 2014, in the 6700 block of South Morgan Street.

Authorities said Little was outside when somebody in a passing group opened fire. Little was shot multiple times and died about an hour later at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. Another man, 19, was shot in the leg but survived.

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Rayvon Little, who attended a local alternative high school, enjoyed riding his bicycle through the neighborhood and playing basketball and football at local parks, his grandmother said.

At home, Rayvon Little would “read for hours” and wanted to become a teacher, his grandmother said.

Family friend Kendall Richardson said Rayvon Little wanted to earn his GEDbecause “he saw what was going on around in the streets.”

He wanted to better himself, but I guess it was too little too late,” said Richardson, who added “it can happen to anybody [in this neighborhood]”.

Christine Little said her grandson was out when the gunfire erupted, but she never thought it was him who was shot.

Immediately after the shooting, Christine Little said she went to the front windows, but she was unable to get a good look because the windows were being replaced and were covered with plastic.

I didn’t think it was my baby,” Christine Little said. “I went to the window and peeped underneath [the plastic] and saw a guy running.”

Christine Little said nobody knocked on her door to tell her it was her grandson who was killed until after police left.

I was shocked that this happened, especially with him,” Davis said. “He was so quiet and low key. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to do something that terrible to him.”

Nobody has been charged for the murder. Area South detectives are investigating.

Family: Slain teen Michael Bloodson enjoyed arts, technology

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago | Nov. 20, 2014

Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy student Michael Faheem Bloodson recently developed a passion for glassblowing.

Bloodson, 17, was shot in head in the 3900 block of South Prairie Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood about 3 p.m. Sept. 13, authorities said. He died at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County less than an hour later.

Continue reading “Family: Slain teen Michael Bloodson enjoyed arts, technology”

Dill Pickle’s Cooperative Spirit

By John Zaccari and Emily Brosious | Originally published at The Red Line Project |

Nov. 18, 2014

[Video music: “When the Sky Turns Blue” by BOCrew, via ccMixter]

You walk into a local grocery store and notice customers unpacking boxes with staff members. Employees run through future orders with customers. This isn’t the Twilight Zone. This is a community cooperative.

Continue reading “Dill Pickle’s Cooperative Spirit”

Chicago Organizers Protest Lead-Contaminated Schools

By Emily Brosious | Story originally published at Gapers Block | Oct. 24, 2014

Organizers with Chicago Light Brigade (CLB) demonstrated outside a board of education meeting Wednesday morning to call for immediate action on lead-based paint contamination in school buildings — a hazard they suspect is widespread in Chicago.

Continue reading “Chicago Organizers Protest Lead-Contaminated Schools”

Give a tattoo through Google Glass

By Emily Gray Brosious and John Zaccari | Originally published at The Red Line Project | Oct. 8, 2014

How we made the video

By Emily Gray Brosious

A good portion of twenty-somethings like myself know what it’s like to get a tattoo. So my teammate John Zaccari and I were curious; what’s it like on the other side of the needle – what’s it like to give a tattoo?

We wanted to capture the experience from a tattoo artist’s perspective, using Google Glass. Lucky for us, Tattoo Factory’s David Dillon obliged.

I wore Google Glass to record our interview at the popular Uptown tattoo parlor where Dillon works. Then we passed him Glass to record his point of view during a tattoo session. We asked him to walk us through his process as he worked.

Homicide Watch Chicago | Jeremiah Shaw

Video by Emily Gray Brosious, Peter Holderness and Alex Wroblewski | Story by Emily Brosious and Kaley Fowler | Originally published at Homicide Watch Chicago; Chicago Sun-Times | Sep 2, 2014

Jeremiah Shaw was a loner who avoided gangs, family and friends said.

That is why they were shocked when he was fatally shot Aug. 6 while smoking a cigarette outside his aunt’s home in the 5400 block of South Laflin Street in the Back of the Yards community, authorities and family said.

Continue reading “Homicide Watch Chicago | Jeremiah Shaw”