Tag Archives: Englewood

Mayor’s Emanuel’s Love for JRW’s Team, Not Neighborhoods

Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly expresse his admiration for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

Like Chicagoans across the city, Rahm Emanuel loves the plucky and gritty youngsters from the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

He tweeted repeatedly about them.

The city hosted a watch party on the Far South Side during which he and the hundreds of others there hung on every pitch.

And, on Wednesday, he’s giving them a parade to celebrate their historic that ended with their being America’s champions.

In a statement about the parade, Emanuel said the following:

“The excitement surrounding these remarkable young people has been palpable in every neighborhood of Chicago, and their spirit, positive attitude and success on the field illustrate why they are the pride of the City. Win or lose, these 13 boys are their coaches are the true champions of Chicago and we look forward to welcoming them home with the fanfare they deserve on Wednesday.”

During their run, commentators across the country noted that the team, which is composed entirely of African-American players, hails from the city’s South and Southwest Sides.

The players live in communities like Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Morgan Park, Chatham and Washington Heights.

Many of these neighborhoods have not received the same love from Emanuel as he has heaped on the young players whose heart, skill and tenacity he has rightly praised.

Take Englewood.

I pulled seven years worth of homicide data compiled meticulously by friend and former colleague Tracy Swartz of RedEye to see how it and the city’s other communities had fared during Emanuel’s 39 months as mayor as compared with the amount of time during his predecessor Richard M. Daley’s tenure.

Not so well, as it turned out.

The neighborhood has had 79 murders under Emanuel, as compared with 58 during Daley’s final 39 months.

That’s the second-highest total in the city and a 36 percent increase under our current leader.

In Washington Heights, murders have gone up from 21 under to Daley to 25 under Emanuel, a 16 percent jump.

By contrast, the total number of murders throughout Chicago was nearly identical under Emanuel and Daley.

That means that those neighborhoods have fared worse under the JRW-loving Emanuel than Chicago’s longest-serving mayor.

After the parade, the young players from the team, like young people throughout the city, will need to go back to school.

Of course, there are fewer of them in their communities.

That’s because the mayor closed 49 schools in 2012 in the largest schools closing in American history. Some of the zip codes where the youngsters live were among the hardest hit by both the actual shuttering of the school and the build up to that final decision.

The latter is an important point.

I was working for Hoy Chicago in the spring of 2012, the time when the school board, which serves under Emanuel, was deciding the schools’ fates.

I visited parents from the William Penn Elementary School in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

The strain of the potential closure on the parents, educators and students was evident. In the end, Penn was spared, but the emotional toll it had taken was real.

In a couple of years, when they are old enough, the players from Jackie Robinson West can apply to go to high school at the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School.

The school is likely to be named after our forty-fourth president, who has deep ties to the city’s South Side.

Of course, if they are able to gain admission, something that’s happened less and less for black and Latino students during Emanuel’s tenure, they will have to travel to the North Side.

That’s because Emanuel has proposed that the new school be located near the area left vacant since the Cabrini-Green housing development was closed during Daley’s time as mayor.

It’s actions like these and others have caused many in the very neighborhoods that helped propel Emanuel to victory in 2011 to question how much he cares about them and the their communities.

I asked Emanuel about this last year during a 10-minute interview he granted Hoy Chicago.

As you can see, he responded by laughing and by talking about his actions during the teachers’ strike that shot Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis to national prominence.

“I know what we have to do,” he said.

Others are not so sure.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote recently about the “anyone but Rahm” vibe that is building in Chicago, and Lewis has all but declared her intention to take on the incumbent.

If it materializes, the contest will be an interesting one.

Lewis and Emanuel’s distaste for each other, at least in the past, has been well-chronicled.

The mayor once swore at Lewis, while she has called him a liar and a bully.

Also interesting to watch will be whether Emanuel treats his potential opponent the same way during his re-election campaign as he has many of the neighborhoods that have produced the young baseball players who stole the nation’s heart and who the mayor so openly admires.

Cook County Murders, Kevin Davis’ Defending The Damned

Kevin Davis's book shows the gruesome murders people commit in Cook County and the men and women assigned to their defense.

Kevin Davis's book shows the gruesome murders people commit in Cook County and the men and women assigned to their defense.

The nation’s second largest county, Cook County has been the site of many gruesome murders.

Babies raped and murdered.  Bodies dismembered and discarded.  Policemen shot in cold blood in the line of duty.

Despite the victims’ families’ and some part of the public’s understandable thirst for vigilante justice, the alleged and real perpretrators are entitled to criminal defense under the law.  In many of the cases, the accused cannot afford private counsel, so they are assigned a  lawyer or lawyers from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office.

Journalist Kevin Davis spent a year following members of the office’s Murder Task Force.  Defending the Damned: Inside Cook County Public Defender’s Office, a clearly written, well-paced and often gripping work, is the result.

Marijane Placek, one of the longest serving attorneys, is at the book’s center. 

Much of the book is devoted to describing Placek-a Chicago native with a flashy wardrode, penchants for steak and throwing herself holiday and birthday parties at the dog track, and a relentless commitment to her work-as she defends Alyosius Oliver, who is on trial for murdering Chicago Police Officer Eric Lee.

Davis effectively recreates the incident that led to Oliver’s trial and paints vivid portraits of Placek-he deserves credit for picking a remarkably colorful protagonist-the opposing attorneys, the victim’s widow and parents, and the judge who presides over the case.

Beyond the individual characters, Davis skillfully shows the Chicago in which many of the victims and perpetrators live, and the environment on 26th and California where justice is administered.   Oliver’s shooting of Lee, an act he disputes until the book’s conclusion but a crime for which the jury holds him accountable, is the vehicle to examine wrenching issues of murder, vengeance, judgment, forgiveness, redemption, race, and the impact of one’s background one later choices.  

Both Lee and Oliver came from the same Englewood neighborhood, yet took dramatically different paths that converged on a tragic night earlier this decade.

Davis also shows the complicated and varied attitudes the defenders have toward their clients.  While one of the lawyers fits relatively easily into the portrait of a dewy-eyed liberal, many do not. 

Placek also eschews easy cliches about everyone deserving representation under the lawyer, and often consciously does not get to know her clients on a personal level for to do so would compromise her ability to fight as vigorously as possible for their defense.   In many cases, she in many cases calls her clients “assholes” or “a piece of shit.”

A combination of taking on seemingly impossible challenges, a love of the battle-Davis shows Placek quoting Henry V at several points in the book-and a sincere desire to hold government accountable motivate Placek.  In the book’s final chapter, she recounts being taken by her father as a girl to see a film about the Holocaust.  While the eight-year-old initially recoiled from the movie’s graphic images, she realized later that her father had taught her important lessons about not blindly trusting people in authority and taking action when one becomes aware of the possibility of injustice.

Defending the Damned is accessibly written and the action moves briskly along.  While much of the work foucses on Placek, Oliver and Lee, Davis also includes profiles of many of the other defenders, the history of the unit and the toll the work almost inevitably takes on defenders’ personal lives. 

Davis opens the book opens during the governorship of George Ryan, so the possibility of murderers’ being sentenced to death after being convicted is a very real one and serves as the backdrop for much of the post-verdict maneuvering.  The section where Placek and other members of her team seek to have Oliver’s life spared is some of the work’s most powerful.  By the end of the book, the reader understands better how saving someone from being lethally injected can be counted as a victory. 

Although he clearly feels affection for the defenders, Davis does not let his sympathies get in the way of showing other people involved in the legal drama in an unappealing light.  His description of murdered officer Lee’s widow Shawn, parents and partners are all detailed and respectful. 

The work could have done a bit more about the city in which the unit operates so the reader could get a deeper feel for neighborhoods in the city besides Englewood.  Similarly, the distrust many, many residents in communities of color in Chicago and throughout the country feel toward the police is given relatively short shrift until the book’s end.  More infomation in these aspects could have made the book even richer and more complex.

These criticisms are mild one.  Defending the Damned is a vivid and informative book about the horrible things people do to each other, and the men and women who are assigned to their defense.