Publisher’s Box


We’re back. Our regular readers will notice that Residents’ Journal has not published in a few months. I apologize for this delay. As a not-for-profit organization, we are dependent on foundation support, and the grants did not come in the way we hoped for in 2005.

I will admit that there were times the Residents’ Journal staff wondered if we would ever publish again. But we kept at it, broadcasting over our Web site,, and on “Residents’ Journal TV,” our television program on the CAN-TV network. We also reached out for help and got great support both from our fellow journalists and from the broader community. In the spring, the Chicago Headline Club announced that Editor-in-Chief Mary C. Johns and Assistant Editor Beauty Turner – as well as our partners at the Chicago Reporter, Alden Loury and Brian Rogal – won first place in the Media Collaboration category for our report, “Deadly Moves.” In the summer, the Society of Professional Journalists announced that “Deadly Moves” won the First Place Award in the first-ever New America category. I got to accompany Mary and Beauty when they went to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to pick up their award. I even got to take the photo of Mary posing with legendary CBS anchorman Dan Rather. The “Deadly Moves” team was asked to train other journalists on the techniques of successful collaborations at the SPJ convention in Las Vegas later that year.

That was just the beginning. Also in the summer, Mary and Beauty won the Courageous Voices Award from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, a 40-year-old social justice group here in Chicago. In August, the Chicago Defender Charities awarded us the Marjorie Stewart Joyner Community Service Award. The late fall saw the premiere of “Dislocation,” a documentary film which covers the last six months of Beauty’s former building in the Robert Taylor Homes development. Beauty is one of the main characters in “Dislocation” and the film was made by Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia University sociologist and We The People Media board member.

All of these honors meant a lot to our morale during what might otherwise have been a down time. The good news on the financial front started coming just as the weather turned cold. We got new support from the Albert Pick Fund, Illinois Bar Association, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Reader as well as continuing support from the Polk Bros. Foundation. As a reader, you will also note our new look, courtesy of the R.R. Donnelly Corporation, which is providing us with in-kind support by printing Residents’ Journal for free. Like many of the above grants and honors, the new relationship with Donnelly Corp. is due to our board of directors. They have been gracious and understanding about our situation, and are stepping up their efforts to get us back on firm financial footing.

In recent days, we got two bits of news even bigger than those I listed above. First, the Wall Street Journal featured Residents’ Journal on their front page. They even included their famous line drawings of Mary, Beauty and me. Then, the Community Media Workshop announced that we had been awarded the 2006 Studs Terkel Award. To me, the Studs Terkel Award is the most prestigious honor in Chicago journalism, given to those writers who – like Studs himself – use the power of the pen to bring the stories of ordinary people to the public square. A major factor in the Wall Street Journal article and the Studs Terkel Award was our publication of “A Questionable Connection,” the investigation we conducted with the Better Government Association of the donations from CHA contractors to the 17th Ward Democratic Organization, a political entity affiliated with CHA CEO Terry Peterson.

The mainstream media coverage, awards and the grants are a great boost, but the truth is that they are not what motivate us. This is hard work, stressful, dangerous and – as the name suggests – non-profit. Instead of fame and fortune, we keep publishing the Residents’ Journal because the content of our articles frequently improves the lives of our readers and sometimes saves their lives. “Deadly Moves” is an investigation of the relationship between the relocation of public housing families and the surge in the murder rate in certain parts of the city. Publishing it prompted the city to deploy more police officers to ‘hot spots’ around the city. We wrote “A Questionable Connection” because residents are too often blamed for the lousy services the CHA provides. Publishing it got at least one private management company to clean up its act.

As you will see from reading the follow-up reports to “Deadly Moves” and “A Questionable Connection” on the following pages, both reports produced tangible benefits for our readers and for taxpayers in general. You also will see that more work needs to be done to make sure that the relocation and redevelopment process launched seven years ago is completed properly. Much of the mainstream media and the general public has given up or forgotten about public housing. Reading the news reports about high-rises being demolished at Cabrini-Green or Robert Taylor Homes has led many to think that every building has already been demolished. The truth is that only 1/3rd of the city’s public housing units are gone, and those residents who have been relocated have not gone far. Most have moved just a few miles away to other low-income, African American neighborhoods like Englewood, Roseland and South Shore.

So we will stay on the beat. And we are not alone. In addition to our partners and supporters, there are many others making sure that Chicago’s most vulnerable families are not kicked to the curb. Among them is Jamie Kalven, a We The People Media board member and author who broadcasts at Over the years, Kalven has been involved with residents of Stateway Gardens, working closely with Local Advisory Council President Francine Washington, also a We The People Media board member. These days, Kalven is helping a Stateway resident named Diane Bond sue a number of individual police officers for alleged acts of abuse. According to the lawsuit, Bond was repeatedly harassed and assaulted by officers who are members of something called the “skullcap crew.”

The city and the police department are contesting Bond’s allegations and have issued a subpoena against Kalven. But residents of Stateway and nearby Robert Taylor Homes confirmed for me one part of Bond’s story. There is a skullcap crew in the Chicago Police Department. Assistant Editor Beauty Turner, among others, said the skullcap crew has a distinct reputation in the developments.

“All the young men know the skullcap crew,” she told me. “They know to run.”

I do not mean to prejudge the officers here. The public housing beat is the toughest in the city. Just the idea that a ‘skullcap crew’ exists, however, detracts from the professionalism of the department. Even if it is just perception that this ‘special’ team of officers operates under different rules in public housing, it shatters trust between citizens and their police department. It goes without saying that the skullcap crew would not be tolerated in, say, Lincoln Park or any other middle-class neighborhood.

“The official narrative does not include the skullcap crew,” Kalven explained.

Kalven is right. A lot of things are left out of the official narrative. So here’s one more edition of Residents’ Journal for the unofficial narrative.

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