Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A violent overtone to this week of thanks; will it be ugly Black Friday?

Perhaps it’s only fitting at a time when filmmaker Spike Lee is preparing to put Chicago on public display for its level of urban violence that the reality of the situation is more ugly than any fantasy that anyone could concoct.

We had one of Chicago’s “finest” facing an initial court appearance on Tuesday on a charge of murder related to the death last year of a teenager. It seems that boy was shot repeatedly by the officer, and the judge was so repulsed that he denied bond for the police officer.

OR AT LEAST that’s what the video camera on the dashboard of the officer’s squad car appears to indicate in a video snippet that was made public late Tuesday – and has some fearing that this year’s Black Friday will be more than just a retail designation.

That incident alone would be enough to put a damper on this week in Chicago’s history.

Yet we also got the word earlier this week that Chicago police intend to dismiss a police detective for the 2012 shooting death of a 22-year-old woman whom activists say the detective shot to death while off-duty.

To see our newscasts, you’d think we had nothing but killer cops roaming our streets – and a whole lot of white faces wearing badges giving them the legal authority to use violent actions on people they think are breaking the law.

WHICH IT WOULD seem is an authority that gets used all too often on people with natural black faces (and not just some clowns putting on an Archie Bunker-like minstrel show).

Although what’s going to enhance this particular debate is the fact that some people in our Chicago world are going to want to believe that these officers were just in their use of deadly force.

There will be those who will jump to the conclusion that people like Rekia Boyd and LaQuan McDonald must have done something wrong – something to deserve whatever deadly force was inflicted upon them.

For the reality is that we do give police officers the authority to use force on people; and we hope they don’t over-step that authority. Only we as a society don’t seem to agree on what the limits of that authority ought to be.

THEN AGAIN, THERE may be the tendency to take these two extreme instances and try to equate them as the norm of our society in Chicago. Which itself would be a tragedy.

Although the fact that some will use the fact that these incidents were aberrations as some reason to justify them is itself a sad commentary on our Chicago mindset.

I understand why people are upset about these deaths and the fact that some people amongst us want to downplay them. Although I also comprehend that some are too eager to jump to conclusions.

Because the reality is that this damaging video that allegedly has the potential to stir up Chicago into a massive Thanksgiving Day race riot hasn’t been seen by anybody outside of a few prosecutorial and law enforcement types who are going to bring their own emotionless perspective to the sight of someone being shot and killed.

OF COURSE, THESE two killings weren’t the only ones adding to the public outrage this week. There’s also the case of Tyshawn Lee, who was the 9-year-old who was killed in a gang-related shooting because it was believed (rightfully so, it seems) that his father was a street gang member.

Someone is actually facing unrelated criminal charges for weapons possession, and had a $1 million bond set in part because he’s a person of interest in the Lee death. Usually, that’s enough to ensure someone stays in the Cook County Jail while the case is pending in court.

But the Chicago Tribune reported that the suspect has a girlfriend who recently won a huge financial settlement against a hospital – and she put up the money for bail that will allow him to be free for the time being.

Some are going to argue he’s not charged with the Lee slaying. But I’m also sure many people in Chicago will think his being able to post bond is a bigger outrage than anything the officers are alleged to have done.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Losing an auto feels like a limb loss

A part of me went through Monday feeling like I had lost a limb.

As in the automobile I was relying upon to get myself from place to place conked out, and may well be beyond repair.

My current incarnation of an auto in the hours before it likely gets hauled for scrap. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda
UNLESS I’D BECOME foolish enough to throw several thousand dollars that I don’t have into rebuilding a 15-year-old auto that already has the appearance of a pile of junk. For the time being, I’m stranded!

For the record, I had wound up with a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am that once belonged to my brother – for whom we had a memorial service on Sunday to mark his passing.

Perhaps the vehicle has a mind of its own and now that its primary driver is gone, so is the essence of the car.

Literally, the car’s last trip was to enable me to attend my brother’s tribute on Sunday, then visit my father where I spent the night.

WHEN ON MONDAY I tried to start the car up for a day’s worth of assorted activities, there was nothing. The thing was completely dead. As in it would not start.

My initial reaction was to think that the car was merely suffering from the type of glitches that get caused by wintry weather. Even though this weekend’s winter weather was weak.

But an attempt at a jump start didn’t do a thing to start the car up. My father offering me a trip to a Pep Boys shop nearby to buy a new battery also was unsuccessful.

Putting in the new battery produced even less reaction from the motor than did my initial jump start attempt. Although the people at Pep Boys did confirm that the old battery truly was dead and in need of replacement.

WHICH MADE THE Pep Boys people more than eager to take $153 from my wallet as they sold me a new battery.

But while the old dead battery generated a few clicks (but no action) of sound, the new live battery wound up being totally useless.

Fortunately for me, Pep Boys took back the new battery and refunded my money – although not before putting me through a series of questions meant to imply it is my own incompetence and nothing wrong with the battery that was causing me to have a dead car.

As I write this, I’m facing the prospect that this old car (which I already knew was leaking engine coolant and couldn’t retain steering fluid – even though two different mechanics claim there’s no leak) is gone.

AND THAT I’M finally going to have to give in to something I have tried to avoid for years – both when I was driving a used Saturn SL2 that now rests in parts in a junk yard somewhere and in occasionally using my brother’s old auto.

A car payment!

That monthly memo that would eat even further into the scrawny living I earn these days as a freelance writer – which is a fact that annoys the car dealers who’d love to sell me a new vehicle because it means I don’t have the absolutely reliable income they’d love to see from my credit.

Telling someone that my employer is sometimes late in processing the invoice that requests my payment, and that my income fluctuates from week to week depending on how much copy I can generate for someone else, doesn’t build up much good will.

OF COURSE, THE ultimate insult to injury may be the fact that when the car didn’t start, I had to push it out into the street so as to allow another vehicle parked in the same driveway to get out. I can’t screw up everybody’s day just because my own on Monday was chaotic.

Yet it seems that I pointed the vehicle in the wrong direction on a residential street. Meaning that when I came back from the Pep Boys store with the new battery, a friendly neighborhood police officer had issued me a citation – and a $35 fine, if I pay it within 10 days without a fight!

This definitely won’t be a moment I mention come Thursday when I’m asked what I’m thankful for.


Monday, November 23, 2015

We got hit with our first winter snow a month shy of winter weather season

We won't be seeing this sight on Lake Michigan anytime soon
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And here, it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet.

Sure enough, we in Chicago got hit with our first snowfall – enough accumulation that some of us can claim nearly a foot-and-a-half of snow and even the lesser among us could claim a couple of inches.

I HAPPEN TO be in the latter category – living down in southern Cook County as I do, and can also claim to have been visiting my father in suburban Homewood Friday night when the snowfall began to hit.

In fact, for me the story will be how I got roped into running a family errand that had me driving around all over the place at the time the snowfall began.

My nephew had a date (took her to a movie), and because he’s at that age where he’s still in driver education and too young to have a license, he needed to have someone give him and his lady friend (he claims she’s not formally his girlfriend, not yet) a lift.

Yet because of some confusion and curfews at the movie theater, I had to take then to two different theaters before they found one that would let them see a movie without an adult presence. And for the record, I had no intention of being their adult chaperone while they watched “The Hunger Games.”

SO WHILE THE sloppy weather conditions began developing, I was driving around in a frenzy trying to ensure they could get to their movie on time. Then, when their ride home fell through, I had to go pick them up.

So excuse me for thinking of the first snowfall as a frustrating experience – one that it probably shouldn’t have been based solely on the couple of inches that were on the ground at that time.

I also was fortunate to manage to avoid having to drive much this weekend until after the snowfall fell – although as it turned out, I got to relive a childhood chore I hadn’t done in years.

We will see this sight on Lake Michigan very soon
As in grabbing a shovel and helping to clear my father’s driveway! And no, I can’t claim any kind of allowance payment for such duty.

IT WOULD HAVE been worse, I realize, if I had been in a part of the Chicago area where they got hit with significant snowfall. So heavy that the Chicago Tribune proclaimed the snowfall to be an all-time record for the city for a storm in November.

The amount of snow depended on how far north one lived – with the closer to Wisconsin one was resulting in more snow. Does this mean the good Lord willing felt compelled to dump all that snow on Chicago Cubs fans?

Either that, or he just enjoyed seeing the sight of Wisconsin Badgers cheerleaders getting pelted with snowballs by their team’s fans.

Of course, all of this is trivia, since the National Weather Service records weather totals at the airports. And at O’Hare International, there was 11.2 inches of snow that fell Friday night into early Saturday.

EVERYBODY ELSE IS highly unofficial. Even if, for them, their local total is the only one that matters.

All of this is interesting because we won’t have the speculation about a ‘white’ Christmas, since we have the white already even though we’re not yet at Thanksgiving.

Officially, we’re still shy of winter. Four more weeks until we can officially claim “Ol’ Man Winter” has arrived.
Weekend snowfall turned cheerleaders into targets in loss to Northwestern
Just think of this weekend’s weather blast as one of those aberrations that occurs that makes Chicago ever so unique.


EDITOR’S NOTE: How long until we begin the annual debate over parking and ‘dibs?’

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sickening video to air just before we stuff faces for thanks and shop for glee

What are the chances that a police video camera depicting the death of a teenager at the hands of a Chicago police officer will be the common topic of discussion amongst Chicagoans come Thanksgiving Day?

Very likely. Although to be honest, I’d be surprised if we are capable of reaching any consensus about what it is that we will be able to see once the video goes public – which officials indicate will be Wednesday.

OR THE DAY before we all gorge ourselves to the point where we blow any diets we may be trying to stick to.

My guess is this uncertainty/differing of opinion is why city officials gave in and decided not to file any legal appeal challenging the judicial ruling earlier this week that said the video (shot with a camera on the dashboard of a squad car) must be made public.

Even though attorneys for the officer who pulled the trigger repeatedly and let 16 bullets fly at Laquan McDonald’s 17-year-old body say that making the video publicly accessible will ensure he won’t be able to get a fair trial should criminal charges ever be filed against him.

As it is, the video would have been incriminating enough that city officials felt compelled to offer the McDonald family a significant financial settlement up front – rather than risk having a judge approve an even bigger one if a civil lawsuit had been filed.

NOW OBVIOUSLY, I haven’t seen the video, although news reports indicate it shows the officer in question feeling threatened enough to file repeated shots at the teenager while other officers were capable of showing restraint in their actions.

I’m sure some people will watch the video of a teenager being killed by a uniformed officer and will be repulsed. It will reinforce every ill thought they have ever felt toward law enforcement officers.

There is the fear amongst some that those people will feel the need for retaliation, which had the Chicago Sun-Times reporting how police are gearing up for a stronger-than-usual police presence this coming week. While also realizing that THEY THEMSELVES may well be the target of any attacks.

This Thanksgiving holiday could become Chicago’s response to Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore or any other place where certain people felt compelled to take the law into their own hands when they feel the “law” is deliberately targeting them for reasons no more significant than their complexion.

YET LET’S BE honest. There are also going to be significant numbers of people who are going to desperately want to believe that such a line of logic is a crock!

I’m already braced mentally for the people who will over-analyze the yet-to-be-released video and find minute actions that they will claim made McDonald a threat and thereby justified the hostile response that was directed toward them.

There are certain families who probably ought not to be allowed to commingle come Thanksgiving Day, or else run the risk that the holiday meal carving knife will wind up being plunged into someone’s chest.

I don’t know that we’ll get such a blatant split as the sentiment from the criminal trial of football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson – where more than two decades later some people will still quarrel with each other over whether “O.J. did it!” or not.

BUT IT’S NOT going to be pretty, either in sight or in sound.

It’s also not going to be something we can ignore. I wonder if it’s going to be aired on so many newscasts and put on so many video-oriented websites that it is something that will linger on and on for decades to come. Something similar to that tacky Tonya Harding wedding night video that some perverts still feel compelled to watch when they need to get their jollies.

Although I wonder if this video’s sordid aspects will be more reminiscent of that prison-made videotape that showed mass murderer Richard Speck wearing panties and performing sex acts on other inmates while also boasting of the acts that got him sent to the Joliet Correctional Center in the place.

All video snippets I wish I could say I’d never seen in the first place.


Friday, November 20, 2015

EXTRA: Somebody wasn’t paying close enough attention to film

I’m not going to get all worked up over the nonsense being spewed down in Urbana-Champaign by those people purporting to be the White Student Union, who are ensuring that the views of white people are not overpowered by those of black people.

It’s too stupid to take seriously, for one thing. For another, I find one of their supporting arguments to be total nonsense.

THIS UNION ISN’T an actual group. It’s a Facebook page that was put up this week, then taken down, then restored and is now the subject of a fight over University of Illinois officials.

For it seems that one of the items that got posted on the page in support of their arguments that black people ought to just shut up and quit their whining was a video snippet from the 1998 film “American History X.”

In that film, actor Edward Norton’s “Derek Vinyard” character goes on a rant about how black people have no right to think of themselves as being hurt by slavery.

“Lincoln freed the slaves some 130 years ago. How long does it take you to get your act together,” his character said.

YET THAT IS such a weak argument because the film doesn’t support it. Actually, that film has Norton playing a character just released from prison following a two-year stretch for killing a black man.

During his time, he came to see the hypocrisy of his racial rhetoric and the people who espoused it, and upon prison was desperately trying to get himself and his brother – played by actor Edward Furlong – out of the white supremacy movement.

That particular scene was meant to be a flashback showing just how far gone and stupid the Derek Vinyard character was. It seems someone with this alleged group has no sense of context.

Either that, or they ought to be forced to write the paper about race relations that Furlong’s character was assigned to write at the film’s beginning. Perhaps they’d learn something and realize how nitwit-ish their White Student Union truly is!


Cantankerous Chicago? Or just Second City’s common sense showing through?

It shouldn’t be a shock that the City Council felt compelled to make a statement against the fact that our state’s Republican governor felt compelled to go along with the partisan nonsense of other GOPers with regards to Syria.

The City Council felt compelled this week to dump on Gov. Bruce Rauner
They’re all feeling the need to “talk tough” and claim they’re going to bar any refugees of Syrian nationality from being able to enter their states – because supposedly it was the Syrians who were behind the plot to cause so many attacks on Paris last week.

OF COURSE, THAT’S nonsense. But then again, there’s rarely ever any logic behind purely political partisan rhetoric.

So with Illinois officially on the side of the ideologues, Chicago felt compelled to take the opposite side.

Which is why the City Council passed a resolution that says the “sanctuary city” status that already applies to immigration matters also applies now to Syrian citizens.

If they come here, they will be welcomed. Or at the very least, they won’t be harassed.

NOW I’LL BE the first to admit this sanctuary city status is as cheap a political statement as all the talk of refusing to permit Syrian refugees to enter the state.

Just as how state governments really don’t have the authority to close their borders to anyone, the city doesn’t really have the power to grant services to those refugees in need – particularly considering how financially strapped the city is in offering the municipal services it already is obligated to provide.

RAUNER: Envision his irate call to Rahm
This is all pure symbolism. Our city officials are letting it be known publicly how full of it they believe the governor to be for getting Illinois mixed up on this particular political issue.

The fact that it merely enhances the regional split between the urban and rural parts of Illinois (the latter of which account for roughly one-third of the state’s population – even though they prefer to think of it as 96 of the state’s 102 counties) is just a side benefit, I’m sure.

ON A PERSONAL level, I’m pleased with the City Council’s stance – even though I admit it changes nothing (except allowing President Barack Obama to excuse his home city from the nonsense his home region is participating in).

EMANUEL: Envision a wicked cackle in response
In that with all the Great Lakes states’ governors (except Minnesota) feeling the need to take this anti-Syrian stance and turning the region into a collective of nitwit-ish behavior, it is nice to be able to state the obvious difference that Chicago has.

And considering that I suspect most refugees who head this way would likely be headed for Chicago (I doubt they’re going for Cairo or Thebes – the Southern Illinois versions), we ought to make the collective statement of our sympathy for those people who are trying to escape the nonsense of their home nations that we are legitimately opposed to.

As for the fact that those conservative ideologues will now want to trash Chicago, well what else is new? Those kind of people are the ones who always want to isolate themselves in pockets of the state and nation that are cut off from the real world.

THE FACT THAT they see us as different is probably all the more evidence that we in Chicago are doing something right!

As for sanctuary city status, all it means for immigration is that the local authorities don’t join in with federal immigration officials in scouring out people for the feds to initiate deportation hearings against.

Which I suspect is what it also means for those Syrian nationals who wind up in Chicago. So long as they cause no trouble and merely try to integrate themselves into the larger mass that is Chicago, they will not be harassed by authorities. They will be left alone.

Isn’t that what the “American Way” of life is supposed to be about?


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bad tickets? Too bad, considering the reason for issuing them was the revenue

I remember an early-morning (as in about 1 a.m.) moment I had a couple of decades ago in the South Loop when I took a wrong turn down a one-way street, and got pulled over within a half-block by a Chicago police officer for driving in the wrong direction.

Too overactive?
I got ticketed, and actually showed up in court about a month later – only to get one of the biggest breaks I ever got in my life.

FOR IT SEEMS that the officers in question who pulled me over had issued a few tickets that night whose legitimacy was questionable.

What wound up happening was that the state’s attorney’s office had to dismiss the charges against every single person who got a ticket on that particular night.

Including myself. My wrong-way on a one-way street wound up being tossed. The court clerk in that courtroom handed me back my driver’s license and I didn’t have to pay any fine.

I still recall the look of disgust on the face of the assistant state’s attorney in that courtroom, knowing she was going to have to repeat the same drill for so many cases because of a cop screw-up.

I WONDER IF she’d feel just as appalled at the Chicago Tribune report on Wednesday that said the video cameras erected at Chicago intersections to catch traffic scofflaws had managed to screw up, and that some $2.4 million in fines were not valid.

I’m sure there’s somebody within municipal government who had already spent that money, and is now desperately trying to figure out how to make up the lost revenue.

It seems the problem lies with cameras that were still active, recording traffic activity and issuing citations, even after hours when they were supposed to be turned off.

For it seems some of those locations only had restricted traffic flow at certain times of the day. Or in other cases, signs warning people of parking or traffic restrictions were written or erected in such a confusing manner that it could be argued that motorists really didn’t know they were doing something improper.

I’M SURE THERE are some people out there who are dismissing this as a petty flaw. There probably are some people outraged that I got away with driving for half-a-block the wrong way on a one-way street.

But it really does come down to that legal principle that we hold our law enforcement officials to a higher standard and will not allow flawed cases to proceed.

These improperly-operating cameras can’t be allowed to take over and impose all these citations upon us – even though I’m very sure the big reason for having those cameras is to catch as many violations as possible as a municipal revenue source.

The fact that catching those offenses might make our streets more safe for the public is probably a secondary concern.

ALTHOUGH I HAVE to confess that reading the Tribune report about all those tickets being tossed out and the revenue lost amused me in the same way that watching television re-runs of “Hill Street Blues” does.

How many times did the officers of the Hill Street station in that Chicago-like city (even though the real-life Maxwell Street station’s outside was used in select scenes) do some minor gaffe that wound up resulting in their whole case being thrown out?

Usually with the voluptuous public defender Joyce Davenport delivering the lethal legal blow; leaving her boyfriend-turned-husband Captain Furillo as frustrated as anybody else!

Think of these flawed cameras as the 21st Century equivalent of a police gaffe, and we have to wonder how little some things change at all.