Archives:

A Truce in the War on Drugs? Part II.

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Editor’s Note: The article below was produced as part of the Social Justice News Nexus, a program launched this year by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications with a two-year grant from the McCormick Foundation.

Will Drug Courts Ease Prison Overcrowding?

Drug courts are becoming an increasingly popular topic of conversation among elected officials as they scramble to find solutions to punitive sentences for those charged with low-level drug-related crimes.

A large majority of these nonviolent offenders – with dependencies on alcohol, prescription and street drugs – are particularly hard hit with sentences that can lead some to life imprisonment.

In an exclusive interview in early February, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin said he was “absolutely” in favor of the use of drug courts as an alternative means to incarcerations for low-level non-violent drug offenders. He added that money saved from imprisonment costs would be funneled into the use of more of them.

“What we’re trying to do is focus this money back into drug courts, which bring in people who would otherwise be prosecuted. [People] who they would say, ‘This isn’t criminal. This is an addict. Let’s deal with them that way.’ Do it for veterans. I think that makes more sense if you deal with a person whose real crime is addiction. Let’s get to them early before the addiction becomes even worse.”

Read more »

Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage Investigative Reporting

A Truce in the War on Drugs? Part I.

by Mary C. Piemonte 

U.S. Se. Dick Durbin from Illinois speaks at a recent conference on reforming the War on Drugs. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Editor’s Note: The article below was produced as part of the Social Justice News Nexus, a program launched this year by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications with a two-year grant from the McCormick Foundation.

Now that American prisons are swollen to capacity with thousands of non-violent, low-level drug offenders, public officials – like powerhouse U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the majority whip, and even some judges – are shifting their attitudes about the War on Drugs.

Many of the inmates have addictions and many have been given harsh punitive sentences, including life without parole, after being charged with possession of small amounts of crack or powder cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine under laws established decades ago.

This growing number of officials are currently meeting around the country to rethink the drug war while modifying policies and revising procedures for charging and sentencing offenders under old drug laws.

All this is done in a drastic attempt to reduce the enormous costs to taxpayers of the criminal justice and prison systems while trying to rectify the disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos locked behind cold steel bars.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

CHA Chiefs Come and Go as Plan Stalls

by Mary C. Piemonte 

 

New CHA CEO Michael Merchant at a Nov. 19 CHA Board meeting in the ABLA Homes public housing development. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Michael Merchant, previously the city’s buildings commissioner, recently became the fifth CHA CEO since the inception of the Plan for Transformation, a multi-billion dollar effort to overhaul and redevelop family and senior public housing stock into mixed-income communities that began in 2000 and is now projected to conclude in 2015.

Merchant told RJ after the Nov. 19 CHA Board meeting at the Fosco Park Field house in the ABLA public housing complex that he was confident he would complete the Plan during his tenure.

“I have every intention of being here to finish out the Plan,” Merchant said. “With respect to the fact that there has been turnover in this position, there’s still consistency within the staff, consistency with what the mission is, and what the goal is. Our goal is to make sure that we have vibrant communities and safe and affordable housing. So, I’m here to push full forward.”

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Remembering ABLA Homes’ Deverra Beverly

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Deverra Beverly, longtime president of the ABLA Homes public housing development. Photo courtesy of the National Public Housing Museum.

Deverra Beverly, a Chicago Housing Authority commissioner and long-time president of the resident council at the ABLA Homes public housing development on the West Side, died November 9, 2013.

CHA Officials Honor Statement about Beverly

Beverly was appointed to the CHA Board of Commissioners by former Mayor Richard M. Daley on July 22, 2009.

A life-long public servant, she held numerous resident leadership positions prior to her appointment, including president of ABLA Homes’ Local Advisory Council, vice chair of the Central Advisory Council from 2002 to 2008, interim CAC chair from 2008 to 2009, and treasurer in 2009.

In an email to Residents’ Journal, a CHA press statement recalled that Beverly also worked for the City’s Department of Human Services for 30 years and received “countless awards in recognition of her efforts to improve the quality of life in public housing.”

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Another CHA Chief Bows Out

by Mary C. Piemonte 

CHA CEO Charles Woodyard listening to residents’ comments at a CHA Tenant Services meeting on August 8, 2012. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

For the second time in two years, a Chicago Housing Authority chief announced his resignation even as the agency’s multi-billion dollar plan to redevelop its family and senior public housing remains incomplete.

In June 2011, a month after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was inaugurated into office, Lewis Jordan resigned from his 4-year tenure as CHA chief while city officials investigated his and others’ alleged misuse of CHA credit cards to purchase dinners at expensive restaurants and pay for red light tickets, among other items. 

Now Charles Woodyard, former CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority in North Carolina, who was appointed CHA chief by Emanuel in September 2011 to replace Jordan, is calling it quits as relocated residents continue to wait to return to replacement housing in mixed-income communities.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visits Chicago

by Mary C. Piemonte 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talks to a young fan at a recent book signing and lecture at the Harold Washington Library. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor declares proudly that she has a lot in common with poor people, including public housing tenants. She should know, since she grew up in a South Bronx public housing project “in abject poverty struggling with an illness, in a dysfunctional family.”
Sotomayor, who became an instant American icon after her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in May 2009, shared more about her early life there during a recent visit to Chicago promoting her memoir, “My Beloved World.”
The book covers her transition from her early life growing up in New York City to becoming a judge on the country’s highest federal bench. Early life in public housing was not easy, she said to the audience in the jam-packed auditorium at the downtown Harold Washington Library last month. However, her role models, including her mother, and her perseverance in the face of obstacles to her life’s goals allowed her to gain success and become the first Latina and third woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Growing up a juvenile diabetic with an alcoholic father, in an era where things like that were kept hidden, where poverty was something that was perceived as shameful, where being a Latina in situations where I had been made to feel uncomfortable,” was very hard, Sotomayor said.

Read more »

Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Activist and photographer Bernard Kleina (left) talks to Chicago Freedom School graduate Richard Wilson at a recent commemoration for Dr. Martin Luther King. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

People around the city recently celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while organizing to continue the fight for social justice.

The Chicago Freedom School, a non-profit organization which trains people at all ages in social justice organizing techniques, hosted an “intergenerational” program to honor Dr. King’s activism in Chicago at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn St., several weeks ago.

In the first half of their 3-hour program, an intergenerational roster of the organizations involved talked to the audience about how Dr. King “brought organizing, marches and political change to the South and beyond.” In this city, the event organizers recalled that King “mobilized mass marches on the Southwest side, lived and shared community with residents on the West Side, and fought for fair housing justice for all of Chicago.”

  Read more »

Tags: , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Tenants Protest CHA’s Plans for Lathrop

by Mary C. Piemonte 

A protestor in the Lathrop Homes objects to all three redevelopment ideas proposed by the Chicago Housing Authority Nov. 15. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Tenants and their advocates protested the Chicago Housing Authority’s redevelopment plans for the Lathrop Homes public housing site on the North Side, which is slated for demolition and replacement by a mixed-income community consisting of an array of for-sale, affordable rental and public housing apartments.
On Nov. 15, CHA held an open house inside the New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen Ave., to present three concepts for the Lathrop redevelopment and pose questions to Lathrop Community Partners, the development team selected to help revitalize the 32-acre public housing site that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
But outside the church, members of the Lathrop Leadership Team – composed of tenants and their advocates – declared that developer’s plans “three dense scenarios, and one destructive idea.” Some of the protestors held signs ridiculing the three concepts; one sign featured a picture of the Three Stooges television characters, to whom the three concepts were compared.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Anti-poverty activist and scholar Peter Edelman during a recent lecture at Northwestern University Law School sponsored by the National Public Housing Museum. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

It will take “a national groundswell of concern if we are going to make the progress we need on poverty,” said Georgetown Law Center Professor and author Peter Edelman during a lecture hosted by the National Public Housing Museum at Northwestern University Law School, 375 E. Chicago Ave., on October 10. Discussing the “growing chasm between America’s wealthy and poor,” Edelman said that “America has the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world,” with 46 million people living below the poverty line, a situation that could cause problems in the future. “Our democracy is in danger,” he said.
Edelman, faculty director at the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy in Washington, D.C., is an antipoverty advocate and former legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy who served as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Clinton administration but resigned from his position to protest President Clinton’s support of welfare reform. The free public lecture, based on Edleman’s latest book, “So Rich, So Poor: Why it’s So Hard to End Poverty in America,” was part of the National Public Housing Museum’s “Profiles in Color: Race, Place and Identity Series” funded by the Ford Foundation and the Boeing company. Read more »

Tags: , , , , , ,
Categories: Homepage

Black Pioneers Honored

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Descendants of Civil Rights Activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett pose with Sandra Young, a former president of the Ida B. Wells Homes public housing development. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

 

Remembering Ida B. Wells

Several Chicago public housing tenants representatives, city public officials and a few prominent people around town got together to remember what would have been the 150th birthday of civil rights activist Ida B. Wells on July 16 at the community room of 3750 S. Cottage Grove on the site of the mixed-income Oakwood Shores housing complex, two blocks from where organizers plan a monument in her honor. Oakwood Shores replaced the Ida B. Wells public housing development, the last section of which was demolished in August 2011.

The participants, including some of Wells’ relatives, mingled and ate hors d’oeuvres as they listened to Shirley Newsome from the Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee give a brief update on the effort to build the memorial.

A world-renowned African American sculptor, Chicagoan Richard Hunt, was chosen to create a sculpture of Wells and he was on hand to speak about his process as well.

Afterward, some of the participants took a short walk to 37th Street and Langley Avenue, the future site of the monument. Wells lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood “where she lived, worked and raised her family from 1895 until 1931,” according to the Wells Art Committee, a subcommittee of the Oakwood Shores Working Group, which is a committee designated by the Chicago Housing Authority to oversee and provide input on planning, developing and maintaining the mixed-income community.

Read more »

Tags: , ,
Categories: Homepage