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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

July 23, 2019

July 21, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

There are some things more important than politics

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how........it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough”

— President Donald J. Trump

Some things transcend politics.

There are no two people in The Southern Illinoisan’s newsroom that see eye-to-eye on every issue. There are times the room is filled with the sounds of spirited debate. That is the beauty of life in the United States.

When the president aimed the aforementioned tweet at Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Michigan; earlier this week he violated several tenets of American life.

In America, we can disagree. We can agree to disagree.

We understand that the vast majority of us have the same basic vision of America — a country where all, regardless of creed, skin color or nation of origin, are free to pursue our dreams, to take advantage of the freedoms offered by our Constitution and to live our lives without undue oversight from our government.

What we tend to disagree on is what path we should take to pursue those dreams.

Those disagreements are older than the Republic itself. Our founding fathers argued heatedly over four months at the 1787 Constitutional Convention before agreeing on an outline of self-government.

Disagreeing over public policy is the birthright of every American citizen. That’s what makes the words the president tweeted earlier this week even more distasteful.

Suggesting people leave this country because they disagree with you is fundamentally un-American. But, piling on with time-worn bigoted tropes is inexcusable.

Unfortunately, that line of thinking has been part of the American landscape for years.

Native Americans and African Americans returning home from World War II, even those decorated for bravery, were subjected to the same discrimination they faced prior to their service.

Since Trump’s tweets, members of Congress, who are also people of color, have stepped forward and told personal stories of constituents berating them for not “looking American.” One of the comments they frequently hear is “go back to where you came from.”

For the record, only Rep. Omar was not born in this country. She is Somalian by birth, but has actually achieved citizenship six years prior to the First Lady.

That behavior is unacceptable in a shopping center parking lot, in a public park, a bar or anywhere in the Land of the Free. Coming from the Oval Office, it’s unthinkable.

And, in many situations the president’s behavior is illegal. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clearly states it is unlawful for employers to harass subordinates based on their country of origin.

Aside from the thinly veiled bigotry, the mean-spirited nature of the president’s remarks, the undeniable element of bullying are nearly impossible to overlook — unless you are a congressional Republican. The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to condemn the president’s remarks.

The vast majority of Republicans, including local representatives Mike Bost and John Shimkus, chose to not condemn the president’s remarks. In today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, that’s not surprising, but it is still disappointing.

Some things are inappropriate. Some things, like treating fellow human beings with basic respect and dignity should be immune from party affiliation. The president’s words crossed a line that should be sacred to Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that all four targets of the president’s ire were women. That fact has been largely overlooked in the national reporting. And, that is all the more reason the tweets should have been decried universally.

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July 21, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Tone-deaf police unions

If you want to understand why, unfortunately, there is such a grave distrust in certain communities for police officers, two recent incidents in northern Illinois are eye-openers. At issue is the politically charged response of police unions to two controversial shootings.

The Chicago Police Board last week fired four police officers for allegedly covering up the tragic 2014 shooting by a white officer of black teenager Laquan McDonald. The nine-member board unanimously determined that the officers exaggerated the threat posed by the 17-year-old McDonald to justify his shooting by Officer Jason Van Dyke. The board voted to dismiss a police sergeant and three officers.

The decision appeared to have been based on the much-reviewed police dashboard camera video of McDonald’s death — he was shot 16 times while under the influence of drugs, walking unsteadily and carrying a knife — that contradicted the officers’ outrageous reports about the incident.

So what was the reaction of the police union to the dismissals?

“It is obvious that this police board has out-served its usefulness,” said Patrick Murray, first vice president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. He said the police officers did nothing wrong.

Farther west, members of a police union in Elgin paid for a billboard to defend an officer who is on administrative leave for the controversial fatal shooting in March 2018 of a woman who a consultant found was suffering a “serious mental episode.”

“The Members of the Police Benevolent & Protective Association Unit #54 proudly support Lt. Chris Jensen (asterisk)274,” says the billboard just outside of downtown Elgin.

A 34-year-old Elgin woman, Decynthia Clements, was in a standoff with police on Interstate 90 when she got out of her SUV, which she had set afire, and lunged at officers with two knives. Officer Jensen’s decision to shoot Clements was found to be justified by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and did not violate police department policy in regards to use of force, said Hillard Heintze, a Chicago firm hired by Elgin to review the episode.

But the firm cited Elgin officers for either not having their body cameras turned on during the standoff or for intermittently turning them off, in violation of a draft department policy. Further, it cited Jensen for violating the department’s policy on dealing with people having a mental-health crisis and for failing to follow protocol when no medical assistance was given her after the shooting.

That the police union feels compelled to “proudly support” an officer who shot a woman during a mental-health crisis and not to offer aid after the shooting is sure to heighten tensions in Elgin and do nothing positive for police-community relations.

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July 19, 2019

Chicago Tribune

A decisive epilogue to the Laquan McDonald case: Yes, Chicago will punish police misconduct.

The 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke was not, in the end, covered up or forgotten. The police dashcam video of the incident, when finally released, showed irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing.

As for how officers initially portrayed McDonald’s death, well, choose your descriptor: lies, evasions, an instinctive effort to protect their own. It’s not hard to imagine Van Dyke and others successfully evading scrutiny, given the Chicago Police Department’s history of tolerating misconduct and discarding reforms.

Yet this police shooting turned out differently. It blew up the department. Under a federal consent decree, CPD now must overhaul the supervision and training of officers. Over time those locked-in reforms should improve the performance of officers who will be held accountable for their police work.

Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times, is serving a 6 3/4-year sentence for murder. On Thursday, the Chicago Police Board fired four other members of the department for their actions related to the shooting. The board said Officers Ricardo Viramontes and Janet Mondragon and Sgt. Stephen Franko violated rules, including making false statements about what happened. Officer Daphne Sebastian brought discredit to the department, the board said.

The video, which played a large role in Van Dyke’s conviction, showed the officer exit his vehicle as McDonald, a black teen armed with a knife, walked away. Within seconds Van Dyke began shooting. He continued to fire after McDonald fell to the pavement. The version of events put forth by Van Dyke and other officers on the scene made McDonald the aggressor, even as he was riddled with bullets. Sebastian said McDonald continued to move after being shot. Viramontes said McDonald tried to get up with the knife in his hand.

Here’s part of what the Police Board said: The three officers, who were on the scene of the shooting, were either lying or shading the truth. “Put simply, the officers wanted to help their fellow officer and so described the incident in a way to put him in the best possible light.” Franko, the sergeant, approved reports that contained falsehoods.

The McDonald killing shocked Chicagoans. But what exactly did it reveal? There’s a parlor game to be played about whether attempts to cover up or explain away Van Dyke’s reckless violence reflect a broader code of silence in the department. In 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — under intense political pressure — said as much.

The phrase fits. We’ve seen enough police misconduct to recognize an element of CPD culture exists to protect rogue officers. Yet three officers were acquitted on charges alleging a cover-up of the McDonald murder. The Police Board’s decision helps counteract the impression left by the acquittals.

There are at least two hoped-for legacies of McDonald’s murder by a Chicago police officer. The first is that such an indefensible act is never repeated. The second is that any officer who does violate CPD regulations or the law will face consequences. Chicagoans deserve a police force they can trust. The Police Board’s decision to fire three officers and a sergeant helps.

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