Laquan McDonald’s life matters 

Laquan McDonald was shot to death on October 20, 2014 at 9:57 p.m. by a white Chicago police officer. His death comes just after the aquital of officer Dante Servin. He shot a young black girl in the back of the head while riding in a car. These cases will forever change Chicago.

The white Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times last year, has been charged with first-degree murder. But the question that I and others are asking is this: What was the State’s Attorney Office doing for a year between Laquan’s murder and the officer’s arrest?

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s decision to delay charging Officer Van Dyke has  significantly damaged her political career, perhaps terminally so.

For generations, black frustration with policing has been best described as this: ‘Cops don’t care about or respect blacks when they come in our neighborhoods and harass our young black males.’

The problem is not new. As a teenager, I remember quite vividly how several white police officers attempted to frame me for strong-arm robbery. They did it even though witnesses vouched for my whereabouts when the incident occurred: I was working my part-time job at Woolworth.  They did it, ignoring clear and objective evidence of my innocence.

The real perpetrator was never found nor really looked for.  The police had their man.   I was charged even though I was nowhere near the scene of the crime, yet I  still had to stand trial to prove my innocence because a State’s Attorney Office did not do its job and was more interested in ruining another black male’s life. 

Now, 30 plus years later, we still have a State’s Attorney Office that’s willing to look away at police corruption and cover-up. My life could have been ruined if it weren’t for those who cared and loved me and my family’s ability to pay for one of Chicago’s top criminal attorneys.

In the ’80s, crack and heroin syndicates swept through black and poor neighborhoods. Then, black parents, pastors and community leaders supported  a war on drugs. What they got was “broken windows”, mandatory minimum sentences for minor infractions, indiscriminate stop and frisk sweeps, and deadly chokeholds on men selling loose cigarettes. And now in Chicago, the execution-style killing of a 17-year-old black teenager for holding a knife and walking away from police officers.

The police claimed their lives were in danger because McDonald lunged at them with a knife. Unfortunately, I missed that portion of the tape.  Perhaps you can see something different in the police’s dashboard video. Maybe that incident is the one shown on the 86 minute missing Burger King’s  security tape, allegedly erased by the Chicago police.  Anita, can you tell the public how the criminal justice system spells obstruction of justice or the obstruction of a police investigation?

The initial false police report and subsequent delays and evident cover up tactics might have worked again if it wasn’t for a young white reporter who was looking for transparency. Instead, the tactics have eroded the trust in law enforcement from the police to the State Attorney’s Office. 

Now many communities with large black and brown populations will become more distrusting of all law enforcement. Now the distrust goes towards the unfair and disproportionate prosecution of black and Hispanic men by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. And now we see what these communities have been assaulted with over and over again: THE CODE OF SILENCEThe black and brown communities have suffered again and again from this CODE OF SILENCE, as we have seen it play out over the past 13 months.

With residents of black and brown communities even more fearful of police killing of their young men, the Chicago police have given the gangbangers a compelling mantra to sell: if you work with the Chicago Police, you may have signed our death sentence and how is our CODE OF SILENCE different than the Chicago police department’s CODE OF SILENCE … A CODE OPERATED BY THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND THE POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT THAT SUPPORTS IT.

Many residents continue to live below the federal poverty line, unemployment is at its highest among black and Hispanic men. Black families continue to struggle in the age of mass incarceration, poor schools, gun violence, unjust incarceration and police killing of black men continue to suffer.

I have one question: Why did it take a dashboard video of the killing of Laquan McDonald to illustrate  how much we suffer as a society from the social, political and economic abuse. Can McDonald’s death lead to improvements that reduce the chances of another tragedy?  We must all work to make sure his death is neither ignored nor in vain.

Ronald Lawless, community activist 

Behind the West Side’s blight is a glimmer of hope

Chicago is an internationally known city often celebrated for its architecture, cuisine, and diverse culture. It has fast become a travel destination hot spot, backdrop for major music and sporting events, and burgeoning tech and entertainment hub. Imagine if the same amenities were extended to the East and West Garfield Park communities?

Behind the picturesque skylines (easily viewed from decades’ old vacant lots) — where boarded up public schools and mental health facilities, distressed properties, food deserts and high crime neighborhoods are the norm — community residents here are consistently overlooked and underserved by elected officials presenting minimal accountability and leadership deficiencies.

Many people are forced to navigate through gang territory to go to school or work. Lifelong property owners are forced out as neighborhoods become attractive to the affluent. Healthy food options are either nonexistent, out of reach or too expensive for families with financial challenges. Gang and gun violence receives national coverage and data confirms the statistics are increasing weekly. It is perplexing for residents of the aforementioned communities to marvel in the glory of this world class city when there is an undeniable lack of respect by the person elected to lead.

There is a glimmer of optimism. Constituents have seemingly become more engaged and between each election cycle, some valid questions are beginning to dominate discussions. Who will best represent the community?  What is preventing economic growth and urban development? When will funding be available to those in dire need? Where are the resources? Why are some of these communities still in ruins? How will a new candidate bring about change?

Unfortunately, the questions remain unanswered as we predict election outcomes before the winner is declared. The passion previously evoked through dialogue in small diners, living rooms and bus stops diminishes as an occasional garbage can is replaced, a tree is trimmed, a dinner and dance is held, or a parade through littered streets takes place. Those actions are mistaken for acts of gratitude on behalf of an elected official, and all is forgiven. Unfortunately, there is no follow up or follow through for a call to action.

Elected officials representing these type of communities have demonstrated little to no social responsibility. Nonetheless, the arrogance on full display is due in part to believing one will forever hold their honorary title. It cannot continue without citizen empowerment. Utilize your voting power to demand respect.

What my campaign is about 

On Friday I walked with thousands of Chicagoans down Michigan Avenue, demanding accountability for the outrageous response by city officials to the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

To be amongst the lineage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Chicago Freedom Movement was a powerful thing. For a moment I forgot that one of the men leading the march, joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Bobby Rush, identified with a hat reading “Danny K. Davis,” was in fact my opponent in the March 15 primary for the 7th Congressional District. 

These are the moments made for Danny Davis, a man who has been fighting for racial equality and equal justice since before I was born.

I spent the remainder of the Thanksgiving weekend wondering if my candidacy would serve to enflame Chicago’s already smoldering racial tensions. I considered if it was best for me to drop out. After careful consideration, I will do no such thing.

For as much respect as I have for Danny Davis’ twenty years of service in the U.S. Congress, this election isn’t about the past twenty years, it’s about the future. It’s about empowering every community so no one is confused that black lives matter.

Empowerment ultimately means having a job. Right now 12.5 percent of 7th District residents do not have jobs. Twenty-one percent of Austin residents are unemployed.

Empowerment ultimately means protecting your health. In Austin, the death rate from kidney disease is 22 percent higher than entire city of Chicago; the death rate from all types of cancer are 33 percent higher than the rest of the city; 33 percent more Austin residents are dying from diabetes than the residents of the entire city of Chicago. The City of Chicago loses one person a day to gun violence.

Empowerment ultimately means having your elected official hear your voice. Nearly every last dollar contributed to Rep. Davis’ reelection campaign has come from political action committees or four-figure donations from wealthy friends.

I will continue this race because I have a concrete plan to bring jobs back to this district and prepare our workers for the jobs of the future, invest more in prevention and cures, find the people responsible for the violence in Austin’s streets, and make sure your voices are heard in Washington. Do not let any leader stoke anger, no matter how justified, for his or her own political gain without a plan to empower the Austin community, and communities like it.

What this district needs is a plan for the next twenty years. I am providing one. I haven’t seen one from Congressman Davis.

In the very first weeks of my campaign, I issued my plan to end mass incarceration. Specifically: end federal financing incentives that police forces use to enforce drug laws disproportionately in predominantly African American neighborhoods. Specifically: extend juvenile court treatment until the age of 21. Specifically: expand federal grants for Taser guns and body cameras.

But my plan, issued before any comprehensive plan was offered by any other nationwide or statewide official that I know of, did not end with policing issues. It also proposed specific measures to provide economic opportunities to residents in low-income communities and ex-offenders. I proposed extending tax breaks to employers who hire ex-offenders who have completed certified rehabilitation programs. I also proposed chartering hundreds of new Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, and expanding federal tax credits to invest in low-income neighborhoods.

In Washington, I will fight for these priorities and more. I will fight for expanding federal support for public education, and making that support more effective. I will also fight for job apprenticeship programs, and training our workers for the manufacturing jobs that will make this region competitive again.

I will fight for expanding federal support for finding cures – not just health care for diseases we already have, but finding cures. We can build a private-public partnership, funded by publically-issued bonds, chartered to find cures for all forms of cancer and diabetes.

I will ask the next president to suspend all federal purchases of guns – the U.S. military, for example, is an extremely valuable client for gun manufacturers – until the gun manufacturers leverage microstamping technologies on all of their models. This will allow investigators to track a gun’s model, make, and serial number, stamped on the cartridge, when a bullet is fired. 70 percent of gun murders in Chicago go unsolved; microstamping will help police investigators track the gunman.

And I will be a strong voice for public financing of campaigns and a $100 voucher issued to every voter, which you can use to donate to a candidate in a federal election: me, Congressman Davis, or whoever you want. Think politicians aren’t listening to you? What if you had a $100 voucher in your hand?

One humorous commentator on the Austin Weekly News website, an African American who was apparently frustrated with Rep. Davis, said he was supporting the “WHITE THOMAS DAY.” Let’s talk about race. I am not running to take this seat from the African American community. I am running to serve it.

What this district needs is not an African American candidate who feels entitled to your vote, or a timid white candidate with a guilty conscience. It needs a candidate with a plan. I just offered you a part of mine.

From here forward, I will be conceding only one African American vote to Danny Davis: that of Danny Davis.  

— Thomas Day, candidate for U.S. Congress, 7th Congressional Dist.