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.

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

New Year, New Laws in Illinois

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally Published at Gapers Block | Jan. 2, 2015

While you were out celebrating New Year’s Eve, the State of Illinois ushered the new year in with a tradition of its own: new laws. January 1 is the state’s default effective date for any new law unless otherwise specified. As such, more than 200 new laws took effect January 1 in Illinois.

Here are a few notable new laws to keep in mind this year:

Continue reading “New Year, New Laws in Illinois”

Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Rauner Party

By Emily Brosious and Qudsiya Suddiki | Originally published at The Red Line Project | Nov. 5, 2014

The Illinois governor’s race results weren’t called until nearly midnight, but two things were clear right away on Tuesday night — there would be no free drinks and no free Wi-Fi access at Bruce Rauner’s election-night party.

Continue reading “Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Rauner Party”

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”

Chicago Students Want a Democratic School System

Video and Story by Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Aug. 26, 2014

In 1995, Richard M. Daley convinced the Illinois General Assembly to do away with elected school councils and place Chicago Public Schools directly under the mayor’s control.

Since then, CPS has operated under a model whereby the mayor directly appoints school board members and district CEOs — currently Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Continue reading “Chicago Students Want a Democratic School System”

Food, Bombs and Poverty Policy

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Nov. 25, 2013

(Featured photo: Food Not Bombs grocery distribution and mural at United Church of Rogers Park / by Emily Gray Brosious)

As millions of low-income Americans face reduced federal food assistance this winter, the necessary role of grassroots groups working to stem the tide of hunger in Chicago is clearer than ever.

One such organization providing food to Chicagoans-in-need is Food Not Bombs. The group started in Boston in 1980 and has since spread to hundreds of cities across the world. Food Not Bombs has three Chicago-area chapters in Pilsen, Humboldt Park and Rogers Park.

Community activists come together each week with their respective chapters to prepare and serve free meals in public spaces while promoting a platform of non-violent resistance to war and militarism, Dante, an organizer with Pilsen Food Not Bombs, explained in an interview.

“We serve our food, pass out literature and talk with people about wars and other things going on in the political realm,” he said.

The groups get their food donations from local, mom and pop grocers around the city, Dante said. He and other organizers gather Sunday mornings at the Magi Cultural Center in Pilsen to prepare food for that day’s serve at Plaza Tenochtitlan.

“We don’t have degrees in this, but we’re very skilled cooks,” he said. “We mostly do vegetarian and vegan meals.”

Rogers Park Food Not Bombs serves hot meals under the Morse Red Line station every Sunday as well. Following meal service, organizers distribute groceries at the United Church of Rogers Park down the block.

Phillip Robinson, a church liaison who helps coordinate Sunday grocery distribution, said about 80 to 90 people come to the church for groceries on a weekly basis.

Willine Glenn is a low-income Rogers Park resident who is considered too wealthy, by federal standards, to qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“I don’t even bother with it anymore,” she said in an interview at the Rogers Park grocery distribution. “I come here for groceries every Sunday, thankfully.”

There are gaps in state assistance for people in need, Dante said. Groups like Food Not Bombs help to fill some of those gaps by providing food in public spaces, where people can easily access it, he said. He estimates that Pilsen Food Not Bombs serves about 30 people on a regular, weekly basis.

Though that number might grow in coming months. On Nov. 1, Congress allowed a $45 billion federal SNAP spending stimulus to expire. The stimulus was authorized in 2009 to counteract effects of the 2007 economic recession.

SNAP is the largest hunger safety net program in the United States that helps low-income people buy food. The majority of SNAP recipients are children, disabled or elderly.

Feeding America, a national network of food banks, said in a statement that these cuts will result in the loss of nearly 3.4 billion meals for low-income Americans in 2014.

“That is more meals than the entire Feeding America Network of 200 food banks distributed through 61,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in 2013,” they said.

According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, nearly 2 million Illinois residents will be affected by these benefit reductions. Approximately 47 million will be affected nationwide.

SNAP program spending follows economic and poverty trends. This is why the federal government authorized a stimulus to compensate for the 2007 global recession. However, studies show that poverty rates are still relatively high in the U.S. Too high, some say, to merit billions of dollars in SNAP reductions.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as surviving on less than $2 dollars, per day, per person, every month. A 2012 National Poverty Center study shows the number of households living in extreme poverty in the U.S. has more than doubled within the last 15 years to around 1.65 million, including 3.55 million children.

U.S Census Bureau data shows the nation’s 2013 supplementary poverty rate, which counts federal benefits as income, was 16 percent. This was up from 15 percent in 2012. SNAP kept over 5 million people out of poverty in 2010.

A recent UNICEF study reports the U.S. has nearly the highest rate of child poverty among the world’s 35 wealthiest nations, at 23 percent. The only economically advanced country with a larger rate of child poverty than the U.S. is Romania.

As food stamp budget cuts go into effect, millions of Americans may fall back below the poverty line. Children, who comprise the majority of SNAP beneficiaries, are especially at-risk.

Keith McHenry, a cofounding member of Food Not Bombs, points to a bloated national defense budget as one major economic policy contributing to insufficient social safety net spending in this country.

McHenry has seen the number of homeless and hungry people rise considerably across the country since starting the food distribution organization in 1980, he said in an interview. This rise in poverty has been notably accompanied by a substantial rise in U.S. defense spending, he said.

“Money that would be spent on healthcare, education and many other social services is diverted to the military,” he said. “So, cuts are made in the programs that once kept people from being homeless. We can see a big effort is currently being made take funds from social programs to fund the Pentagon’s programs.”

A report from non-profit news center Common Dreams echoes McHenry’s assertion. House Republicans have been pushing for cuts to social safety net program budgets to avert major cuts in defense spending, it said.

House Republicans say the SNAP cuts are necessary because the program has grown out of control in recent years.

Indiana Republican representative Marlin Stutzman, who led efforts to split food stamp spending from the overall farm subsidy bill, said these SNAP reductions are designed to “Eliminate loopholes, waste, fraud, and abuse, while ensuring those who meet the current income and asset eligibility requirements continue to receive the benefits they need.”

House Democrats disagree, saying these “draconian” cuts will plunge more Americans into poverty.

The House Democratic Budget Committee said the GOP’s 2014 budget proposes drastic cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, including food stamp assistance, while safeguarding a comparable majority of Department of Defense spending.

U.S. defense budgets rose significantly following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, defense spending has gone down somewhat in recent years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2012, military spending dropped from $711 billion to $668 billion, representing the largest decline since 1991.

Still, the United States spends more on defense and military programs than the rest of the world’s top 10 military powers combined. The U.S. outspends China, the world’s second-biggest military power, by about 6-to-1.

Food Not Bombs organizers like McHenry and Dante say that a good portion of that defense budget would be better spent on programs of social uplift.

Until that happens, local Food Not Bombs groups will continue doing their part each week to provide a food safety net for Chicagoans in need.

Restore the Fourth Chicago Rally Against Mass Surveillance

October 26, 2013 | Rally Against Mass Surveillance held in Chicago’s Federal Plaza on the anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, organized by Restore the Fourth Chicago.

Video by Emily Gray Brosious

Song Credit: Digg CC Mixter- I dunno

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Gun Violence Prevention Advocates Rally for Congressional Action

By Emily Gray Brosious | Published at Gapers Block | Aug. 22, 2013

Demonstrators gathered Wednesday evening at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to rally for gun violence prevention. The event, which was coordinated by volunteers with Organizing for Action, featured activists and community members who spoke out about the harmful consequences of gun violence and called on Congress to take action and support commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.

Chicago demonstrators demand tighter gun-control legislation. | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious
Chicago demonstrators demand tighter gun-control legislation. | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious

Here in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn recently passed a law requiring background checks on all gun sales. “While this is a great step in reducing guns entering the illegal market, we need a strong national law to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son when he was fatally shot on November 29, 2012 in Evanston, said it’s time for everyone to stand up against gun violence and urged a united front–clergy, parents, politicians, and police–to “end this senseless killing of our kids.”

As tragic gun violence continues to shake our communities and the country at large, the need for national, comprehensive gun control has never been more obvious, organizers explained. Polls show that a majority of Americans now support tighter gun control measures, and demonstrators agreed that Congress must seize this opportunity to pass gun violence prevention laws that keep guns out of dangerous hands and make our neighborhoods safer.

Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son to gun violence,  urges a united front to “end this senseless killing of our kids.” | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious
Carolyn Murray, who lost her 19-year-old son to gun violence, urges a united front to “end this senseless killing of our kids.” | Photo/Emily Gray Brosious

Demonstrators want to know what it will take for Congress to act on gun violence prevention. “If the will of the American people and the voices of the families affected by all these tragedies aren’t enough, what will it take?”

As one community activist, Victoria Jordan, put it, “If we can’t trust the people we vote into office to fight for us, who can we?”

Beyond implementing crucial gun violence prevention laws, Pastor Michael Neal of

Glorious Light Church spoke of the need for an integrated approach to curbing gun violence. “We must not settle for a simply reactive approach to the problem,” he said, “We should look holistically at the various ills that have caused this violence. Then, we who are able have a duty to consistently be active, serving, and supportive of the programs that bring life.”

Why Did Chicago Police Attack ALEC Protesters?

By Emily Gray Brosious | Originally published at Gapers Block | Aug. 13, 2013 

Thousands of activists, union and faith group members, and concerned citizens rallied outside the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago this past Thursday to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose 40th anniversary conference was being held inside the hotel.

Demonstrators picketed around the block for about an hour, then gathered at a soundstage to hear speakers including Rev. Jesse Jackson address the crowd. Closing remarks from a Chicago Federation of Labor representative thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for protecting the crowd and asked everyone to leave. A majority of union members, many from out-of-town, did leave at the CFL’s request. However, a smaller group of anti-ALEC activists and citizens stayed put to continue on with the protest.

It was at this point that police began moving to break up the crowd, pushing and using barricades. After a brief standoff with activists chanting on one side of the barricade and police standing on the other side, police opened the barricade and surged into the crowd, knocking protesters to the ground. The commanding officer, Alfred Nagode, was seen repeatedly striking an activist in the face and head. Several others were beaten by police officers before a handful of arrests were made.

Aaron Cynic, an activist and writer at Chicagoist on hand at the anti-ALEC protest, witnessed police rush the crowd seemingly unprovoked. He said the beatings and arrests appeared to be targeted and pre-planned.

Laura Sabransky, another activist and anti-ALEC protester reports very little communication from police before they rushed the crowd. They did not get on a bullhorn ordering people to leave.

“Specific individuals were secretly selected as targets and attacked,” David Orlikoff, an anti-ALEC activist and member of Occupy Chicago, alleges.

Orlikoff, himself, was targeted and arrested about half an hour later while he was leaving the protest. As he walked along the sidewalk on the south side of Monroe, an officer snatched him from behind, pulled him into the street, cuffed him, searched him, and took his phone.

“I was completely taken by surprise and shocked and had no idea what was happening to me,” Orlikoff recounts.

He was not informed of his rights, and when he asked why he was being arrested, the arresting officer said it was for something he had done earlier, but would not elaborate. He was eventually charged with misdemeanor battery.

Orlikoff says police animosity towards anti-ALEC protesters was obvious throughout the incident. Nagode, who he describes as a “hot-head with a flaring temper,” was heard repeatedly chastising protesters for being ungrateful that they had even been allowed to walk and chant. Once inside the police wagon, he witnessed police deny medical assistance to another arrestee, a female teacher, who was having a medical emergency and begging for the inhaler inside her bag that had been confiscated. Inside the jail, he heard police verbally berate other anti-ALEC arrestees.

So what is up with this violent police crackdown on protesters at Thursday’s demonstration? To understand the police response, it is necessary to understand what anti-ALEC activists were there to protest.

For those unfamiliar with the group, ALEC is a tax exempt 501 (c)(3) organization made up of legislators, corporations, and foundations that works to promote conservative, free market, limited government ideals. It does so by drafting model bills and pushing them in state legislatures though its legislative members. ALEC’s impact on public policy goes well beyond simple lobbying. In effect, unelected corporate representatives have actually finagled positions of power within legislatures akin to those of elected representatives.

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, has criticized ALEC as a “collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators,” waging a “savage assault on democracy.”

The group boasts around 2,000 corporate members and 300 legislative members across the country. Their model legislations include right to work laws designed to do away with minimum wage, laws to create tax havens for corporations and wealthy interests, laws to push public funds from public schools to private charter schools, laws to prevent class action lawsuits from being filed against corporations and employers, laws to repeal mandated worker benefits, laws to eliminate pollution regulations and environmental protections, laws to increase for-profit prison operations, and numerous others. The controversial “stand your ground” law is also an ALEC brainchild.

Many believe that Chicago police cracked down on anti-ALEC protesters because their message directly defies the pro-business agenda of political players calling the shots in this city, chieflyMayor Rahm Emanuel. Mayor Emanuel has notoriously embraced many of ALEC’s conservative policies pushing to expand privatization and corporate reach within the city.

Cops do snatch and grab arrests to repress individuals engaged in activities confronting the legitimacy of the dominant hierarchy, Orlikoff explains. Charges distract from those activities. Police target organizers and individuals involved with the activist community, attack them, and arrest them on made-up charges to undermine the viability of political movements. Its easy for police to do and makes it much harder for protesters to get back on the street without risking harsher punishment.

Because police are the “frontline foot-soldiers” of the existing power structure, Orlikoff laments, “Anything that challenges that existing structure elicits a dangerous response from law enforcement.”

Of course, historically and presently, repressive police tactics are nothing new for Chicago’s activist community. From the first round of Occupy Chicago mass arrests back in October of 2011, to mass arrests surrounding the NATO Summit in May 2012, to last week’s anti-ALEC protest crackdowns, the Chicago Police Department appears to have a nasty habit of targeting and violating the constitutional rights of protesters based on their proletarian political beliefs.