WBEZ Mischaracterizes Neighborhood Watch

Yesterday’s report on the West Ridge Community Watch Program broadcast by our local NPR station, WBEZ, was inaccurate in several respects, from the color of and legend on the jackets to the extent of concern by residents that Watch participants are somehow spies for the police. To suggest that the Watch program is racist in nature is a gross mischaracterization of the program, its participants, and our local police.

Members of the Community Watch program are neighbors watching out for neighbors. A single resident, Jennifer Viets, was interviewed by Odette Youseff of WBEZ and described Watch participants as “menacing” people in “uniforms” who have been “deputized;” worse, she has told neighbors with nonwhite children that they have reason to be afraid of Watch participants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting. He is wearing the yellow jacket which all Watch program participants wear while walking.

The Neighborhood Watch Program was formed as a response to property crimes, especially vehicle theft and thefts from yards, porches, garages, and vehicles. The idea is simple: Neighbors walk a few blocks around their neighborhood, noting unsecured or open doors on homes, garages, apartment buildings, or vehicles, or piles of rat-attracting garbage. Watchers may ring a doorbell to advise a homeowner that the garage has been left open or a bike left outside, or take a quick photo of the garbage and send it to the City via 311. If Watchers see public drinking, drug sales, or suspicious activities, such as someone walking down the street trying to open car doors, they call 911. Sgt. Sisk noted in the WBEZ report that most of the thefts occurred because people were not locking their doors.

Watchers have been specifically instructed by the police not to assume police powers and not to intervene in any situation; their sole role is to notify the City or the police of what, if anything, they note on their walks. They may not use their vehicles or ride bikes but must walk. They may not carry weapons or use police scanners, and must obey the law at all times. Watchers must be older than age 21. They can walk with their dogs (the dogs must be leashed). It’s suggested that two people walk together. Most importantly, Watchers have been told not to misrepresent themselves as police officers. They have no power to detain or arrest anyone.

Viets has complained in the past of her son’s treatment by the police several years ago when he was a young teenager (he is now an adult). I first heard her story last summer when she attended an event hosted by the alderman at which then-new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was to meet residents of West Ridge. She said she was planning to confront Johnson with her story; he was unable to attend but Viets repeated her son’s story to the crowd. Youseff was careful in her report to note that the son “has never been convicted” of any crime, and in a follow-up interview said the young man had “no criminal record.” The police, of course, cannot discuss their encounters with either the young man or his mother, which leaves us with half the story. But Viets has assumed such an extreme anti-policing position that her window displays a sign saying “We don’t call police…..”

She also noted that all the Watchers are white, suggesting that the group is racist. But membership is open to all interested residents, and Watchers safeguard the property of non-white residents, too. Neither the police nor the Community Watch can be held accountable if non-white residents choose not to participate. If protecting your home, vehicle, and other property are not enough motivation for you to join the group, so be it. Participation is voluntary. Watchers do not discriminate, and would welcome neighbors of all races and ethnicities. Residents can opt in as well as out.

Youseff did note that the number of car thefts around Indian Boundary has decreased, though it’s not clear if this is a result of the Neighborhood Watch or simply a return to the “normal” level of that crime in the area. I’d bet the Watch has had an impact.

Viets told Youseff that she wants to try to develop a different approach to community-building.  She’s working with others to organize “resistance” and suggested that the shootings of Trayvon Martin by a community watch volunteer in Florida and of a black teenager by a Cleveland police officer support her concerns. It’s unfortunate that she cannot move past her anger with the police for what she believes is past injustice. Using that anger to deepen the racial divide does not help build community.

It’s wrong to suggest that our neighborhood watch program is cause for alarm. Good people keeping an eye out for potential trouble are an asset to the neighborhood.

Call for Recipes for Rogers Park / West Ridge Cookbook

The Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society is seeking recipes for its new community cookbook. Everyone in the neighborhood–as well as former residents–can contribute a favorite recipe, from appetizers to desserts. Submissions that reflect the diversity of our neighborhood are encouraged. The Society is also willing to work with restaurants and caterers to convert recipes for home use.

Your name will appear with your recipe. You can also contribute a recipe to honor the memory of someone special, maybe the grandmother who taught you how to bake cookies, or the friend who shared her special recipe for brisket. You can even include a short comment or tip to be printed with your recipe. I once burned out the motor of a hand mixer while beating in lots of luscious cream cheese to make my favorite pineapple cheesecake, so my recipe will carry a warning to use a stand mixer. (The stench from a burned motor is far worse than that from burned toast. Unfortunately, I’ve burned both.)

The cookbook will cost $18; it’s scheduled for publication in October 2017.

Submission deadline is June 30. You can submit your recipes online or download the forms here. Or you can stop by the Historical Society’s office to pick the forms up.
(7363 North Greenview, in Jarvis Square just south of dog groomer Rogers Bark) on Wednesdays or Saturdays (10:00 am. – 4:00 pm.).

Help WRCO Save the Old Library

The current Northtown Library will close in Fall of next year as its contents are transferred to the new facility at Pratt & Western. The alderman stated at that meeting that the old library building belongs to the City.

Concerned residents have been asking about saving this building for community use. Although not of major architectural significance, it is a fine example of mid-century modern design and is still in solid shape. It could be repurposed to serve the community as an arts, community, or senior center. It’s important that the West Ridge community have a say in the fate of this facility.

Therefore, the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) has decided to launch a petition drive to save the old library building. More than that, it will soon release a community survey seeking input from residents on the best uses for the building. Petitions will be available soon, and in the meantime you can contact WRCO directly through its Web site. The group is currently conducting a membership drive, and has launched an impressive series of community improvement initiatives in addition to the save-the-library activity.

Be part of the change that’s sweeping over West Ridge!

Libraries

I don’t like the interior design of the new library because I think it panders to our worst behavioral excesses. Library administrators seem to believe that turning places for learning into Starbucks with books will somehow improve scholarship and build community. “This is the way libraries are used now,” is what I hear. But should we exchange peace and quiet for excessive noise and bad behavior?

I visited the Chinatown library to see the new design and booked a computer for a couple of hours in the afternoon. A few minutes later, two men arrived with their coffee and newspapers, and began a long, laugh-filled talk at normal conversational levels. A young man sat with his laptop and cell phone, and began returning a series of calls while surfing the Web. People called out to one another across the room. At the Edgewater library it’s especially bad when teens are present, because their TV is blasting and they scream at one another as if they were in a park. When the kids take over after school, Northtown is so noisy it’s hard to think.

Why do we encourage such behavior? Why is it so wrong to tell people who demand safe spaces and freedom from bullying that their own behavior is antisocial? That disturbing other people is unacceptable? That running, shouting, and other behaviors acceptable outside do not belong indoors?

CPL gave up on encouraging good behavior when it allowed cell phone use and coffee in the library. I’ve listened to people discussing their HIV status, toileting habits, overdue bills, and domestic fights while they browse the stacks or surf the Web. Kids run through libraries the way they run through parks. Adults greet neighbors and carry on conversations as though they were in their own homes and not in a public place where other people are trying to read, write, or perform some research activity, whether a term paper or family tree. Libraries used to be the places one could find peace and quiet for reading and reflection. Now they’re designed to encourage conversation and raucous behavior.

Someone once said that Starbucks is where we go to be alone together, everyone in his own chair focused on a laptop or phone, latte at hand.

Libraries are like that now. Too bad.

Prayers for the Police

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m., there will be a prayer vigil for 24th District police officers at the Rogers Park station, 6464 North Clark Street. The nondenominational service will pray for the safety of the officers who patrol our neighborhood and keep us safe.

Please go if you can as a show of support for the dedicated men and women who give so much to our community and ask so little in return.

Residents Discuss “Chicago Is Not Broke”

Last night Editor Tom Tresser and Contributing Author Jonathan Peck addressed the questions raised by their book “Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve.” An engaged and enthusiastic crowd of about 30 residents heard Tom summarize the book’s approach to identifying the City’s financial problems and offer the authors’ solutions.

Tom Tresser, Editor of “Chicago Is Not Broke,” addresses audience at Northtown Library.

The book is divided into three sections: “Money That is Stolen from Us,” which deals with the costs of corruption, toxic bank deals, and police abuse settlements; “Money That is Hidden from Us,” otherwise known as TIFs; and finally “Money That We Are Not Collecting,” including taxes on financial transactions made by bankers and traders, such as CBOE, as well as discussions of a progressive income tax and a public bank for Chicago.

 

Jonathan Peck helps audience members imagine the city of their dreams.

 

Jonathan Peck, community organizer, then engaged the audience by asking that it imagine the city as we would like it to be. The audience offered a wealth of dreams, such as great public education, affordable housing, and citizen participation in decision-making. He then offered suggestions on organizing around such topics, working together to build coalitions of family and friends, adding neighbors and other community members, until a good idea becomes a movement.

Peck calls this “jammin’,” the term that describes musicians getting together, with each playing his own tune while creating music together.

John Kane, WRCO Chair.

That’s what’s happening at the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO), the successor to the West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRRCO), founded in 2005.

 

Its focus has expanded to include creation of a park advisory council for Warren Park, and it is working with other organizations and individuals to influence economic development on Western Avenue in addition to its many other activities. It continues to play a leading role in the LEARN Coalition and helped organize the petition drive that resulted in the new library in West Ridge. WRCO is also about to launch a membership drive and a new Web site.

WRCO co-sponsored last night’s book forum with People of West Ridge (POWR), which focuses on community research and organizing for progressive change in West Ridge.

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A strong community-focused organization like WRCO can make positive change a reality in our neighborhood. Activist democracy—residents engaged in the decisions that affect their daily lives—can become a way of life if enough of us are willing to work together to develop and implement workable solutions to neighborhood problems.

 

Peck discussed the African concept “Ubuntu,” which translates as “I am because you are.”  Archbishop Tutu of South Africa has been quoted as explaining it this way:
“We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘a person is a person through other people.’ It is not ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate,
I share.’”

Works for me.

 

 

 

 

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Is Chicago Broke? Find Out at the Northtown Library on April 27

The West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) and People of West Ridge (POWR)are co-sponsoring a book discussion on Thursday, April 27, at the Northtown Library. Our guests will be the editor and authors of “Chicago Is Not Broke: A Guide to Funding the City We Deserve.”  While the City waits to learn whether the Mayor will raise taxes and/or fees or simply borrow the money to cover the $200M shortfall in the Chicago Public Schools’ budget, residents can explore other solutions that, if implemented, could result in a tax reduction. Yes, you heard that right.

Each chapter’s author(s) explores a single topic in depth, including TIFs, a public bank, a progressive income tax, the costs of corruption, and the impact of toxic bank deals that force the City to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on debt service payments before a single penny can be spent on City services.

Authors of the book include former alderman Dick Simpson, Hilary Denk, an attorney and a Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, 2015 mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, former reporter and communications consultant Thomas J. Graedel, Chicago Teachers Union Staff Coordinator Jackson Pollock, and economics professor Ron Baiman. Editor Tom Tresser is well-known to Chicagoans as the man who first questioned the costs of staging the 2016 Olympics in Chicago and organized the “No Games Chicago” movement.

Books will be available for $12.

Please join us at the Northtown Library on Thursday, April 27, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. for a lively discussion. You’ll also have an opportunity volunteer to work on some initiatives for West Ridge improvement.

 

 

Post-Survey Thoughts

So, where were we? Oh, yes. The alderman gave the architects the results of her library survey—the one that showed that 7 out of 10 respondents don’t use the Northtown Library, slightly more than half of respondents (52%) never even visit the Northtown Library, and 76% of the 600 respondents under age 16 voted in favor of a coffee bar but did not support space for the community to meet. She said these results would aid in designing the library we all need and want.

The alderman also stated in her newsletter that the LEARN Survey obtained similar results. It did not. It asked different questions, but even where the questions were comparable, results differ significantly. This is because the LEARN Survey was a serious attempt to gather information from the community, and not a last-minute pastiche of poorly-conceived questions designed to deflect attention from the lack of information coming from the alderman’s office.

Had the alderman been serious about gathering information, she would have taken the time to properly design her survey: First question: Do you use the Northtown Library? “Yes” respondents should have been directed to one set of follow-up questions, “No” respondents to another set. It’s more important for planners to know WHY someone doesn’t use the library than to know that non-users would like to have a coffee bar. It should not be up to the alderman, the architects, or the residents to guess at the reasons people don’t use the Northtown facility; that question should have been part of the survey. If answers are subject to interpretation, then the survey has failed its most important test: Does it tell us what we want to know?

Input from the neighborhood’s children could have been captured by a separate survey designed with them in mind. Children should have a voice in selecting books and media bought for their use, but they should not be voting on the need for a community meeting room.

Whoever thought it a good idea to have the kids take the survey in class or for homework or whatever other reason has done the community a disservice. I’m sure it was meant well, but the overwhelming number of under-16 responses means the survey’s results are distorted and therefore almost meaningless.To disregard the children’s vote is as bad as giving it too much weight. Did the alderman attempt to mitigate the disproportionate response from the youngest group when she sent the results downtown? If so, how? If not, why? Was there any cover letter outlining her interpretation of the results?  Can we see it?

The survey-takers did not include one key demographic—those aged 17 to 25. These young adults are finishing high school, starting or in college or grad school, or just beginning their work lives, seeking jobs and opportunities to help get a start in life. Only seven people in this age range took the survey, and that is simply not representative of the neighborhood.

Transmitting highlights of the survey results to the community via the alderman’s weekly newsletter was in my opinion the wrong way to make the results available. For one thing, not everybody subscribes to her newsletter; for another, those who get print copies don’t have access to the full survey results (the link to those is a “click here” function, not a URL). I had hoped that the alderman and her Advisory Board would take the time to pull the results of her survey and the LEARN survey together so that the community—and the architects—might gather truly useful information that would be fully and fairly considered as the building plans move forward. I had also hoped that the alderman would then discuss these results with residents.

Instead we got an information dump on the weekend before Passover and Holy Week, with the alderman’s Devon office closed for three of the following five work days.

Time is rapidly slipping away and I wonder if it’s already too late for residents to play a significant role in this project. If the building is to be delivered on schedule—December 2018, 20 months from now—you can bet more decisions have already been finalized than we now know. Maybe the quest for  “community input” is nothing more than the sham already suspected.

The last community meeting was on March 20, more than three weeks ago. The “many, many meetings” promised are not being scheduled. Alderman?

 

 

 

 

The Alderman’s Library Survey

Results from the alderman’s survey, released yesterday, make interesting reading.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. According to the alderman’s newsletter, “more than 1,500 people have completed” her survey, reportedly “…a broad and diverse segment of the 50th Ward” including “speakers of all the major languages spoken in the neighborhood….”  [There was a question on the survey asking which languages respondents speak, but the survey itself was available online only in English.] The alderman says that she’s “…given the survey results to the project architects, so they can use your comments and input to design a library that fits the unique needs and desires…” of West Ridge residents.

A closer look at the results reveals that:

  • 68% of respondents don’t use the Northtown Library
    • 32% use a different library
    • 36% don’t use Northtown
    • 32% use Northtown.
  • 52% of respondents don’t even visit the Northtown Library
  • 37% of respondents are over age 50 (555 respondents based on 1,500 total)
    • Their votes were distributed most evenly across choices; the only group to highly rank adult reading space and community meeting rooms as top priorities
    • 63% want an outdoor reading space
    • 56% want a coffee bar
  • 23% of respondents are between ages 16 and 49 (345 respondents) with  (2%, or 7 respondents, between ages 16 – 25)
    • Overwhelmingly in favor of children’s space and technology; fewest votes for community meeting rooms and adult reading spaces (no surprises here–these are the prime parenting years)
    • 73% want an outdoor reading space
    • 63% want a coffee bar
  • 40% of respondents are children 16 and under (600 respondents)
    • Most votes for technology, children’s and teen spaces; very little interest in adult reading space; least interested in community meeting rooms
    • 83% want an outdoor reading space
    • 76% want a coffee bar

This is community input? The alderman passed this along to the architects as what the community wants? A coffee bar chosen by children? Results determined by people who don’t use the library? Who don’t even visit? Who apparently took the survey as a classroom exercise? If we build the coffee bar, will the children come?

I sometimes wonder if the alderman is paying attention to what she’s doing. It’s simply inexcusable to present her survey results to the architects when they are clearly just plain goofy.  It’s irresponsible of her to ignore the results of the LEARN survey, which was not heavily influenced by kids but was taken by thoughtful adults trying to provide serious input on a major community project. Had she gone to the community for input sooner, she might have designed a survey whose results could have been useful in planning the new library.

The alderman should have scrapped her survey results and started over.

Unless we want 600 kids to be the determining factor in what kind of library we get.

 

 

 

 

We Need Answers from Ald. Silverstein

Alderman Silverstein needs to hear from residents about two important matters related to the new library.

First, when is the next community meeting?  This needs to be scheduled as soon as possible, since the building is scheduled to be completed by December 2018, and it’s already April 2017. If residents are going to have meaningful input, it needs to happen NOW.

Second, who are the members of the alderman’s Advisory Board? The alderman must reveal their names and affiliations and tell us why they were chosen to represent the neighborhood, given that there was no call for volunteers. How were its members chosen from among all eligible residents? Further, because this Advisory Board meets with the alderman to discuss a government-funded building, the Minutes of those meetings should also be released to the community.

Contact the Alderman via phone (773-262-1050) or email (info@50thwardchicago.com).

NOTE: The alderman continues to use a private, untraceable email account for public business. According to the official City of Chicago Web site, her proper official email address, using the taxpayer-funded, city-provided secure system, is ward50@cityofchicago.org.

As regular readers know, the alderman is not subject to FOIA requests because individual aldermen are not “public bodies,” i.e., they cannot act alone. However, emails sent or received using her City-provided email address can be FOIA’d because the City is a public body.

A secret Advisory Board. Minutes from its meetings unreleased. Public business conducted via a private email address.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?