A President’s Day Lesson For Trump: The Feds Can’t Fix Chicago

Dear President Trump,

 

You seem to have a strong dislike towards Chicago. Is it due to the fact that Chicago was the only city in the country, during your presidential campaign, where you were afraid to take the stage in? Or is it because former President Obama adopted Chicago as his hometown? I know you weren’t a fan of Obama since you called him, “the Founder of ISIS” and declared for years that he wasn’t born in America.

 

Okay, so you have two reasons to not like our city. But beyond that I’m not sure why you are so obsessed with Tweeting or talking badly about Chicago. You just criticized Chicago again in your pep rally in Florida this weekend. If you want to actually help our city, then you should listen to people from Chicago. You shouldn’t meet with people who aren’t from here to talk about us. Just like that pastor from Ohio who claimed on live TV that “top gang thugs” from Chicago wanted to meet with you. Except that after his bold proclamation on national television, he admitted he “misspoke”, i.e. had lied about that.

 

So for Presidents’ Day, I thought long and hard and I decided to give you a gift. As a high school Social Studies teacher in Chicago, I decided to teach you about Chicago and specifically why we do not want the Feds to come to our city.

 

Don’t think I am singling you out due to your political party either. Many of us in Chicago have been trying to teach our own Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel the same things that I am about to teach you, but he refuses to listen. He claims he cares about our city and our people, but his policies prove he doesn’t. I don’t want you to follow in his footsteps.

 

Now to your lesson on Chicago:

A few things to note President Trump, Chicago is not the wild west.

 

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city have very high levels of violence (I will address that in more depth shortly), but it is important you know that while some neighborhoods have increases in violence, many other neighborhoods have seen decreases in violence. The parts of Chicago that are funded appropriately are beautiful, which is why Chicago is the third most visited city in the U.S. I mean, you should know the downtown is beautiful, you do own the hotel in Trump Tower, right on the Chicago River.

 

In fact, contrary to what Attorney General Jeff Sessions and you say, crime is not up nationally, it is down. In addition, the police in Chicago have way too much power, so you can cool it with your Executive Orders giving police more power. Did you read the recent scathing Department of Justice Report on systemic abuses by the Chicago Police? Included in it were policies that promote a Code of Silence, poor training methods, harassment, abuse, torture at a secret facility, and murder, all done to the residents of Chicago, by the police. The Chicago Police continue to take life, while accounting for 39% of our city’s entire operating budget, which is $4 million dollars per day. In addition, Chicago Police brutality cases have cost our city half a Billion dollars.

 

In fact, Chicago does not even make the top ten of the most violent cities per capita in the country.

 

But sadly, violence is an issue in parts of our city, so lets address it.

There is no doubt that certain neighborhoods in our city are not anywhere as safe as they should be. As a Chicago Public Schools teacher for the past ten years, I have personally seen and experienced the impact that the violence has had on my students, their families, my colleagues, and myself.

 

Here is the thing about violence, hardly anyone would choose to commit crimes or be violent if there were other options. The issue is that the amount of other options are extremely limited, in particular in our most vulnerable and violent neighborhoods.

You yourself said Chicago’s violence is, “very fixable.” I hope that means you are willing to address the root causes of the violence.

 

Chicago, through the purposeful segregation policies of redlining, restrictive covenants, and eminent domain over the years, has been divided into a city of “haves” and “have nots.” Generally, downtown and the North side of the city are the “haves” and the South and West sides are the “have nots.”

 

Those of us who live in Chicago know that jobs and investment in struggling communities, which includes public schools, is the key to stopping violence. The investment in these communities should improve the lives of the residents, rather then push them out. As one Chicago writer says, “Want to fix Chicago? Invest in its people, embrace the idea that the rest of the city matters, not just the North Side.” Chicago has also closed half of its mental health clinics which were primarily located on the South and West sides. Now the largest primary provider of mental health in the entire country (yes, I said entire country) is the Cook County Jail located here in Chicago.

 

We need to stop diverting money away from neighborhoods that need it the most. This money has been stolen from the neighborhoods and used for things like new stadiums and beautification of our already beautiful downtown. We need to fully fund our public schools and create new revenue options to do that. Another Chicago writer said we need to “Talk about the systemic issues.” We need to talk about how people do not have job options in far too many neighborhoods in our city.

 

The way Chicago Public Schools are run is also terrible and contributes to the violence. The Mayor has complete control over our schools. He closed the most schools in the history of our country and has continually cut school funding. He picks the members of the school board, who show their gratitude for being appointed by doing whatever he says. This includes opening new charter schools, even though charters are proven no more effective than public schools. The person in charge of our school district has ZERO educational experience. All of these school closings, funding cuts and diversions of money to charter schools by our Mayor have and continue to harm our students and our city, which in turn is tied into the violence.

 

A Chicago organizer puts it clearly, “”Poverty is violence, and it exacerbates violence… If you give people access to mental health care, education, you give them the opportunity to realize their full humanity. And we’re denied that.”

 

To put it simply we do NOT need to give the police more power. We do NOT need more police. We need to create jobs and fund our public schools and our neighborhoods.

People need jobs.

Services need to be provided.

Schools need to be fully funded.

All neighborhoods need to be equitably funded.

 

I hope you appreciate the gift I am giving you. I am saving you some work on investigating the root causes of violence in our city. You don’t need to send the Feds to our city… unless the purpose of them coming is to get rid of our mayor. Just kidding, kind of.

But I guess all this to say, I would like to ask you to stop talking bad about our city.

Or, as the kids say, just take the name Chicago out of your mouth.

 

Sincerely,

An actual resident of Chicago

P.S. Release your tax returns.

 

To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.

Another Excused Chicago Police Killing, We Need To Trash Their Contract

It is possible that you may have missed the announcement last week that the Chicago Police Officer who killed 55 year old Bettie Jones and 19 year old Quintonio LeGrier, will not have any charges pressed against him.
The day after Christmas last year, police were called to the building where Bettie Jones lived. Quintonio LeGrier was apparently very upset and had a baseball bat, his father Antonio called the police. When the police arrived Bettie Jones opened the door of the building. She was shot and killed while the police were shooting at Quintonio, who was also killed by the police.
The Cook County State’s Attorney (Kim Foxx’s office) claimed, “there was not enough evidence to prove the officer was not acting in self-defense.” This decision to not even press charges and put the officer on trial continues the pattern of the previous States Attorney Anita Alvarez, who Kim Foxx replaced. Regardless of Foxx’s excuse to not press charges, this allows for police impunity to continue.
Recently the Department of Justice released a report condemning the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for torturing people and ripping the CPD training tactics. Important critiques from the report state that, “CPD’s accountability system is broken, that officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined, officer training is woefully inadequate, and the use of excessive force disproportionately affects people of color in the poorest, highest-crime neighborhoods.”
We need to demand an elimination of the ridiculous articles of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contract that encourages officers to lie and cover up their tragic actions. There are articles in their contract that require officers to stay silent even if they witness a fellow officer doing something inappropriate. This silence is effectively known as the Code of Silence. The Code of Silence is something that Mayor Emanuel and the city admit exists
In addition to the Code of Silence the FOP contract explains that, “…collective bargaining agreements make it harder for citizens to file complaints or to learn how those complaints are resolved. They make it easier for cops to lie and harder for their bosses to discipline them. The contracts also undermine the Police Department’s efforts to improve a training program.”
The FOP contract led to the acquittal of Dante Servin for firing recklessly into a crowd and killing Rekia Boyd. The same contract allowed Jason Van Dyke to empty a full clip of 16 shots in Laquan McDonald, allowed police to erase the Burger King surveillance video where the incident happened and in collaboration with the City of Chicago kept the video hidden for a year. In addition, Jason Van Dyke is now quietly trying to get his charges dropped. This contract allowed for the very controversial police killings of Paul O’Neal, Pierre Loury, Joshua Beal, and Kajuan Raye, just to name a few of the lives taken.
It is important that you know that I’m a teacher that supports and promotes unions. However, as a CPS teacher for 10 years, I have heard countless stories of police brutality shared by my students. Both schools I have worked at had students killed by the police and many other students had been assaulted and harassed by other officers.
It is time for educators along with everyone else to call the Fraternal Order of Police union out. The FOP and the city will begin negotiations for a new contract soon as the current one expires this summer. It is important that we demand that our Alderman, State’s Attorney, and Mayor create a new contract that keeps citizens safe, as well as police.
The vast majority of police officers are not the issue. The system is the issue. The system that encourages good cops to stay quiet. The system that encourages police who are brave enough to speak up to face dangerous levels of retaliation. The system that refuses to change the way police are investigated. The mayor changed the name of the reviewing agency from Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) to sound different but the premise is the same; no accountability for police.
If there is a system that allows for police to kill and face no accountability then we need a new system. A system such as the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) must be put in place. The difference between CPAC and the Mayor’s appointed council no matter what he calls it, is that CPAC is elected. CPAC would hire the Chief of Police, investigate ALL police shootings, establish the budget for policing and much more. Rahm does not want community control in Chicago. Just like how Rahm refuses to allow for a democratically elected school board, he fears a democratically elected police accountability council.
Changing the system first starts with a demand.
Demand that your Alderman push for a Civilian Police Accountability Council.
Demand that your Alderman require the city to abolish the Code of Silence and police abuses in the upcoming police contract.
Demand that the families of people killed by police get the justice that they deserve.
Demand that this Fraternal Order of Police Contract get thrown in the trash.
To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.
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(For anyone reading this who might be asking, “But what about the violence in Chicago?”, know that discussing police violence does not mean I am ignoring violence in certain neighborhoods. It is not, an-either or situation. I am concerned about both. This piece is just about the impact of police violence. If you are only concerned about intra communal violence then click here, here, here, and here.)

Through the Eyes of an Educator

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Photo: Rapper and activist FM Supreme (middle in red-shirt) after discussing ways to stop police brutality in Stieber’s Contemporary American History classes.

This piece is featured in the January-February edition of the Chicago Union Teacher magazine.

Two of our members discuss how they meet the challenge of helping students of all backgrounds better understand race and privilege.

Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago

I teach Ethnic Studies, a junior and senior year elective course at Taft High School. Taft is located in the far northwest side of the city in a mostly white, blue collar, city worker Chicago neighborhood. My first unit of ethnic studies is always the most difficult. In this unit, I introduce students to the concept of systemic racism and privilege. We use readings and ideas from James Baldwin, Paulo Freire, and Beverly Daniels Tatum. Tatum’s 1st chapter of her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” informs students of a new definition of racism: In short, she states that racism is not being mean to someone based on the color of their skin, that is discrimination. She defines racism as a system of advantage based on race. Tatum believes this definition is best because it holds people responsible for the systems in place that contribute to inequality and privilege, even if you’re not aware that you are benefiting. To better understand the chapter and concepts, I hold a Socratic Seminar and ask students to discuss if her definition helps or hurts our society. For many of my students this is a liberating conversation. This is where many of my students of color open up to the class about the ways in which they’ve felt that the color of their skin, ethnic background, or religion made them feel less than. For many of my white students, this conversation is hurtful. Students have shared that when they first read this definition, they feel sad because they’ve never realized they have certain benefits or privileges that their peers don’t have.  The discussions that emerge between my students during this difficult conversation are messy, tough, raw with emotion, but so full of hope. And they are necessary.

“Ms. Almaraz, I’m not going to lie, when I first read Tatum, I was very mad at you. But after hearing my classmates’ experiences, I got it. I’m getting it. I’m still not there. But please be patient with me.” A student shared this with the class.

In this chapter, Tatum describes the importance of being actively anti-racist. “I have never looked at racism this way before. And it makes great sense to me. I get it. But Ms. Almaraz, I need help. How can I be anti-racist? I don’t have opportunities to be anti-racist. And I want to make a difference.”

My student’s words resonated with me. As a teacher of color, I am conscious of the fact that my experiences and realities are not my students, especially those that have a different ethnic background from me. I try hard to incorporate what I teach my students in my everyday life and I struggled with my student’s request. How can I teach my white students to be anti-racist? Then I remembered an experience with my white friend and teaching colleague, Dave Stieber.

One evening, during our National Board Certification class, I mentioned that I was asked to write something for an online publication about the importance of having Latinx teachers. Unfortunately, because I took too long in turning in my piece, the publication’s deadline of Hispanic Heritage month was over. They would no longer need my piece. Dave asked me to send him my writing, and through one of his contacts, my piece got published. I will never forget the words he said to me, “I’m able to get my work published whenever I have something, I don’t have to wait for a specific month to publish it. Everyone should have this privilege.”

To me, this was an example of my colleague using his white privilege to help someone without this benefit. So naturally, because of this experience and conversations with him regarding his work around racism, I thought about him when my student asked what she could do to be anti-racist.

Dave Stieber

I teach at Chicago Vocational on the South Side of the city. I love my students and work to make strong connections with them by the curriculum I create, content I teach, and the way in which I get to know my students. Over my ten years of teaching in CPS I have always worked hard to create a space where my students feel comfortable sharing their stories. I’ve learned from them about their experiences with the police, violence, and what life is like for a kid growing up in the city. I’ve learned that the privileges and experiences I had growing up white were not the same as my students. Based on the education my students give me, I have been working on not only trying to be anti-racist in my life, but also create a class that challenges the system of white supremacy. One of the ways that I do this is by bringing in guest speakers who work to change the systems in place in our city. I’ve found bringing in guest speakers to be very beneficial for my students and myself. A guest speaker further makes the learning real and relevant, it exposes students to more viewpoints that may differ from or complement our curriculum. It also shakes class up and lets the students hear a voice besides their teacher.

The day after guest speakers my students always say something to the effect of, “the guest speaker we had yesterday was amazing, when are they coming back?” As the teacher, I tend to  envy the novelty of the guest speakers.  Their fresh voice captivates my students and they are excited to have them in the room.

It wasn’t until this year that the opportunity to be a guest speaker myself became an option. Mayra knew I had written articles for the Huffington Post about race and she asked me if I would be willing to come in and talk to her students about my experiences understanding whiteness and privilege.

I was nervous to speak at Taft, I was used to being in front of a room of students, but I had never spoke with white students about working to overcome their privileges. When I got off the expressway near Taft there were blue ribbons everywhere in support of Blue Lives Matter, increasing my anxiety. I had been writing a lot recently about why white people should support the Movement for Black Lives. But regardless I knew the work Mayra had been doing with her classes and I was excited.

I knew her students read an article that I wrote about ways in which white people could help with systemic racism. I decided to open my guest speaking experience by saying, “Be wary of a white person speaking to you about race. Meaning, know that while working to be anti-racist, I am still operating in a place of privilege and so please call me out if necessary.”

The classes went really well. Students asked questions. Many asked ways in which they themselves could work to be anti-racist. Some challenged some of my comments. Some arranged to come back to a later period that I was speaking at.

Among the many great questions and comments there were two that really resonated with me. One student who very quietly asked me in front of the whole class, “My parents are racist. What can I do?” Mayra created such a safe and respectful environment that her student felt comfortable enough to ask that question and be honest amongst her peers. I admitted that I had racist family members too (I would contend all white people do). I told her I did not know what it was like to have blatantly racist parents, but by her knowing this about her parents and being willing to work to challenge this, was already a brave step.

Another student stated in front of the entire group, “I want to be like you.” I have to be honest, I’ve never had anyone tell me that before (remember what I said about guest speakers, students love them). Both of these comments blew me away. I gave both these students some advice after class, such as listen to People of Color, read books that will push your thinking like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and A People’s History of the United States, read about Black Youth Project 100 and Assata’s Daughters.

The work that Mayra does in her Ethnic Studies class challenges racism, white supremacy, and privilege daily. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of her work. As teachers, we should not only be inviting guest speakers into our classrooms more often, but we should actually be inviting other teachers to come speak to our students. We teachers know how brilliant and amazing many of our colleagues are. Rather than using a PB day to go speak to students in other schools like I had to, CPS should encourage collaboration and provide professional development days to work together.

Here are a few of the reflections from Mayra’s students about my visit:

“I really liked the way he talked about how he was working to make a change. It made me think more about what I want to do to help make a difference.”

“I liked how he shared that he has different views than some of his family members because I have different views than my mother.”

“I believe Ms. Almaraz invited Mr. Stieber because she wanted us to understand the perspective of a white male who (tries to) understand(s) racism and does his best to fight against it in his own life.”

“What impacted me the most was when he said he would just listen, instead of trying to figure out what to say next and that’s how he learned a lot of the pain others went through.”

“ I understand that Mr. Stieber acted as both an alternate perspective and an example of how to cause an effect while being a somewhat “small scaled” (i.e. not a politician, political speaker, civil rights leader”) influence.

“I really liked that he said he is raising his children to be aware of the problems of the world and providing the necessary tools to help them deal with it.”

“Stieber impacted me because his understanding and honesty of today’s society blew me away.”

“You asked him to come because he speaks about a topic that some hate to believe is true and still going on.”

“To get the perspective of someone with privilege to show us how he’s trying to use his advantages to help others.”

Mayra Almaraz-De Santiago is a wife and mother of two boys, is a proud Chicagoan, born and raised in the Northwest Side. Her teaching career began 14 years ago in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood and she is now back to her Northwest Side roots, teaching high school history for CPS. Mayra has a deep passion for social justice and for helping students critically examine the world so they can change it. She is a Golden Apple Scholar, and received her Secondary Education in History degree from DePaul University. She is currently a candidate for National Board Certification.

Dave Stieber is in his 10th year of teaching Social Studies in CPS. He is working to become National Board Certified. He has a Masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from UIC. He is an occasional blogger for the Huffington Post. His partner Stephanie Stieber is also a CPS teacher and together they have two children. Their school-aged child attends a CPS neighborhood school.