The Antidote Issue Two

Hello, everyone.

For the first issue, comprising the news of early this week, see here. (Or see the post below.) This is the second issue of my virus newsletter, The Antidote. PDF is here.

The idea is for you to be able to spend 8-10 minutes every day or two reading one of these ***instead of*** spending hours on Twitter, panicked. Like I have been.

I figured only one of us need do that.

Anyway, if you want on the mailing list, hit me up at Also if you happen to know anyone who might want to sponsor or otherwise support this work. As I’m an investigative reporter by trade and training, I’ll be doing (& including) more of that as the issues continue.

Safety and kindness to you.




The gulf between what needs to happen (dramatic, sweeping transformation of our basic social contract) and what our bipartisan leadership class is offering (bailouts for big business and maybe a bit of survival cash for the rest of us if we ask nicely) is just enormous.”

– @davidklion

So society’s *real* key workers have just been revealed. Not the bankers. Not the traders. Not the elite hedge fund managers. It’s the nurses. The doctors. The delivery drivers. The carers. The porters. The teachers. The shelf stackers. The check out staff.”

– @doctor_oxford

Good thing we didn’t do something stupid like connect healthcare with employment status or this could really get bad.”

– @dansinker

Welcome to the second day of The Antidote!

“You have the authority to do so under ________ act/law. Could you please do so, and if not, can you explain in detail why you won’t?”

This will become the best form of question. It was done in a spectacular way by Rep Katie Porter, questioning CDC director Redfield on whether he will offer free testing. She got him to say yes. If you remember it, then do your homework to find that law, suddenly you are an investigative reporter. I hereby deputize you.

So. We’re on a curve WORSE than Italy’s. (And Italy’s death toll just overtook China’s, with a population 1/24 that of China.) Brace yourself.

This graphic was from Financial Times:

Last but not least before we get into news, another PSA. The newsletter 730DC made me realize: is there any safe—and thus ethical—way to go out to fetch groceries during this? At minimum we should all be wearing paper masks when we do, because of how many asymptomatic cases there are. You could have it, be giving it to others, and not know.

Remember: aerosol from a person’s normal breathing can contain the virus in an infectious form, and can even land on surfaces. A paper mask restricts the aerosol more than not. And I say paper mask specifically because we probably want to leave the good N95 masks for health workers.


  • ASYMPTOMATIC TRANSMISSION AND TESTING – Without testing of virtually the entire population, asymptomatic people will continue to spread the disease. New data shows that asymptomatic positive people transmit even more than we thought they did: an estimated 44% of transmission in the 2-3 days prior to symptoms. This means that the daily news appearances by Trump and crew, always reassuring from Donald, are full of shit. Pardon my French, but it means that without 100% testing, the world faces immeasurable peril. The military is now shuttling testing supplies around the country, but is it fast enough? A kit that provides 2000 tests appears available online for $3,800—so, ~$2 per test—but you have to know how to read the CDC’s guidelines on conducting it. New York State is thankfully now testing at a higher per capita rate than South Korea.
  • PRISONS AND JAILS COULD EASILY BECOME DEATH TRAPS – The top doctor in the New York state prison system took to Twitter to cry out for mass releases. He understands the conditions are ripe for mass death, or at least mass infection (tight quarters, low nutrition), which will result in mass death, considering how few ventilators prisons tend to maintain. My estimate: one in six residents of prisons or jails, if not released in the next couple weeks, will die. I realize that sounds alarmist but it’s not fantastical to imagine a 90% infection rate and a near 20% death rate of those infected, since the ventilator coverage can be rounded to zero. Though I’m a journalist, I took to Twitter to advocate for “mass release” because of the human rights situation this is. The virus is now confirmed in several prisons and jails, including NY’s Rikers.
  • A 3000-PERSON TOWN IN ITALY TESTED EVERYONE. NOW IT DOESN’T HAVE THE VIRUS – Of course it was more than just testing. They quarantined people who they found to have it and locked down the town’s borders. But it goes to show what 100% testing can do.
  • NETFLIX PARTY” COULD SAVE US – A new extension for the Google Chrome browser allows groups of people to watch the same movie or show at the exact same time. Socializing for the isolation age.
  • IT ALL COMES BACK AGAIN – Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore have seen new spikes of cases in recent days, after the world had thought they had the virus under control. It’s gonna be a longer slog than we thought.
  • GOP PROPOSES BILL TO GIVE LESS CASH TO POOR PEOPLE – In case they haven’t already been transparent enough with their wishes. (Though Mitt Romney filed his dissent at the unequal plan.) Here’s journalist Adam Johnson: Note how the atomic unit of moral worth is “taxpayer”—which is used a half dozen times in the…legislation—& not “workers” or “humans.” Using taxes as the mechanism for aid renders millions of undocumented, homeless & informal economy workers unpersons. They simply don’t exist.” At any rate, I’m gonna try to make it an exception in this newsletter to talk about bills one side proposes before a signoff from the other. Just too many get shot down to merit their inclusion on this “need to know” list of news.
  • PLENTY OF OTHERWISE-HEALTHY 30-SOMETHINGS HAVE DIED – from the virus. Take care of yourself.
  • RENTERS NOT YET PROTECTED – Trump touted foreclosure protection for owners and eviction-protection renters, but he neglected to mention it only covers single-family homes with loans through the Federal Housing Administration. If you rent from a larger rental business, or your landlord doesn’t have an FHA loan, you don’t see a benefit.
  • BIDEN STILL MILQUETOAST ON WHITE COLLAR GRAFT – One of the few things he’s said publicly in recent days was on Twitter: “I am calling on every CEO in America to publicly commit now to not buying back their company’s stock over the course of the next year.” Many, like @krystalball, respond with something like “‘Publicly commit???’ Get real. We need laws and potential prosecutions.”
  • ALL THREE DETROIT AUTOMAKERS SHUT – This happened mid-week. They seem open to converting the factories to make ventilators, and claimed that they had been in contact with the Trump administration to do that.
  • BOEING WANTS $60B BUT BOUGHT $35B OF ITS OWN STOCK OVER 5 YEARS – That’s it, that’s the tweet. Oh and there’s no reason for doing that other than to make shareholders richer; that’s the only function. Other than taking cash from the business that could be used to expand the business—run it better, not make faulty planes, that kind of thing.
  • LOCAL TRANSIT THAT RELIES ON USER FEES NEEDS BAILED OUT – DC had to spend $17 million on extra sanitation & personal protective equipment amid an 85% drop in ridership that means they bring in $52 million a month less in fees. (Word is NYC’s system asked for $4 billion.)
  • 1.5M JOBS WOULD COME FROM CANCELLING STUDENT DEBT – And if it’s jobs we’re in sore need of now, this might be a quick & easy way to do it. (As opposed to just suspending payments.) A report from The Nation.
  • WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION IMPLICATED IN WUHAN COVERUP – “Beijing essentially committed a war crime against its people and the world, and the WHO enabled them to do that by lying for the PRC,” said researcher Matt Stoller.
  • CALIFORNIA AND ILLINOIS ARE SHUT – LA Times reports that its governor has subjected travel (aside from walking outside, away from others) to most places. “The order allows Californians to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout & delivery restaurants, banks & laundromats. People can leave their homes to care for a relative or a friend or seek healthcare services.” Likely similar situations in Illinois, which announced a lock-down late Friday.
  • WITHOUT INSURANCE, A $35K BILL FOR VIRUS TREATMENT – And remember, 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings, or a credit card payment they could quickly pay off. Those relying on the “credit card” option might be screwed too, as more Americans lose their income.
  • 30% OF CHILD CARE, NEARLY ALL OF THEM MOM-N-POPS, WILL SHUT – That is, if they close for more than two weeks without governmental support, according to a survey of these providers. If they’re not around once we have the virus under control, fewer people will be able to work and the economy won’t bounce back.
  • SURE IT CAME FROM CHINA, DON, BUT (SURPRISE) THE PROBLEM IS LOBBYING – Here are three things you should know about China’s role in this disease jumping from animals to humans. So as not to be racist, and so as to fight the actual root cause here. Thanks to Vox for the reporting.
    1. “The majority of people in China do not eat wildlife animals…Those who consume these animals are the rich and powerful,” to whom they are marketed as health foods
    2. China’s government legalized meat-farming of non-domesticated animals in the 1970s when people were starving. This legit helped to feed people, and the farming helped them pull themselves out of abject poverty.
    3. After the early-2000s SARS outbreak, China made wildlife farming illegal again. But the industry turned to lobbying. (Sounds like the US!) It had been making ~$14B USD per year and had connections in the upper classes, ’cause they were customers. So the gov’t legalized.
    • After SARS, when faced with whether to re-legalize wild animal farming, “It’s this (rich) minority that the government chose to favor over the rest of the population.” Post-COVID-19, China has banned it again, but it’s unclear whether the ban will be permanent.
  • VENTILATORS VENTILATORS EVERYWHERE – But not enough to save us. (Roughly 200,000 in the U.S. now.) I promised some news on ventilators, and the reality is that we don’t know precisely how many more we’ll need. But we’re gonna need them in a few weeks to a few months, and the U.S. could need anywhere from 200K-700K more, the low end of which is four times the annual production capacity of the entire world. From this HuffPost article,

    (An) executive…in the industry recalled the story of World War II factories ramping up production of “Liberty ships” and compressing the build time to just a few weeks and eventually a few days. But the executive also gave a warning: It took about two years to develop that capacity. “It’s the quintessential American story, but they weren’t pumping them out that quickly in 1941,” the executive said. “There was a ramp-up period for that as well.”

    Mid-week Donald Trump raised the possibility (in some official way) of invoking the Defense Production Act, which would allow the government to temporarily requisition factories to produce precisely what’s needed. But the next day he seemed to back off that tack, maybe after receiving pushback from businesses scared shitless. Amid all this, General Motors gave an interview with The Guardian wherein they claimed to be in discussions with the administration.

  • AS OF MARCH 17, $3.2 TRILLION IN GIVEAWAYS – To banks, other financial firms, and businesses. Here are the receipts. And yet the most members of Congress have been able to agree on is about $1000 per month. (For the record, a $15/hr wage at 40 hours/week, which about a quarter of workers who made that lost because of the virus, pays $2600 a month pre-tax.)
  • ADMINISTRATION SEEMS TO BE WORKING PR FOR FOX – As Fox News (or might we say “News”) faces increased scrutiny for its complete dismissal of the virus in the first several weeks of being in America, it would appear that officials who report to Trump, including Pence and HHS Secretary Azar, are trying to rewrite this bit of recent history, praising Fox for its coverage.
  • WORKERS WITHOUT VIRUS PROTECTION AREN’T HAVING IT – From nurses at a San Francisco facility to Amazon warehouse workers, if an employer isn’t protecting their staff from the virus, workers seem to be standing up and fighting back, often by striking.
  • THE 1918 ELECTIONS SPREAD FLU – Biden said that’s why we should have held this week’s primaries. Indeed, what we learned then is precisely why we shouldn’t have.


The Antidote – a virus newsletter

Hi, all.

I’m starting a newsletter on the day’s virus news. I haven’t started an account at one of the newsletter providers but if you want on the list, send me an email at Also, if you’d rather have a PDF of the newsletter that follows, here’s that for you. I wrote the first two editions this week as a “pilot” in search of sponsorship, so I’m posting them both tonight—Friday, March 20. This is the first of the two.

Much love, and stay safe,




“The Old Order is being swept away, as we all know, but we never expected to see it happen.”

– Werner Herzog

The Republicans realize that all their economic rescue plans are socialism, don’t they? Looks like Fox News will take a break from warning us that big government spending programs will turn us into Venezuela and steal our freedom.”


Pleasure making your acquaintance. This is one of the first days of the rest of our lives. To loosely quote Dan Sinker of Impeachment.Fyi, we’ll mark time by what came before and what came after it.

Unfortunately the fear is real, the fight-or-flight response is real, and while (quoting one D. Hanssen) fear is good and can be used. On the other hand, anxiety—a nebulous form of fear that feels like a cloud of fearful unknowns—stops us in our tracks.

Browsing the internet, in the form of social media or whatever, looking for information, is like anxiety. I intend to make this newsletter like a known fear. Scary things you can use. So you don’t have to try to read everything to make sense of the new world you’re living in.

Shortly you’ll see a list of bullet points, each roughly representing another item of key virus news, or more likely, key news about the rest of the world that happens to have been caused by the virus in some way.

And because I have a background as an investigative reporter, I’m endeavoring to also include key questions that can be asked, with citations at the bottom (if you choose to read that) explaining how I’m going about asking them.

But before we get into that, a quick PSA about how best to handle this thing, from a public health expert. Because maybe some of you haven’t yet heard this precisely, and it’s imperative you do.

What will likely have to happen, considering that there’s mounting evidence of pre-symptom transmission, is you’ll form an “isolation group,” most likely those in your household, but if you still go to work and you work in a small group (and, crucially, don’t interface in person with others), it could also include the households of those people.

Those in your isolation group should only be in contact with others in that group for six days, because symptoms likely appear after 5-6 days if they’re going to appear at all. It could be that someone in your group has it and is asymptomatic, but it’s unlikely that everyone in your group can get it and experience no symptoms.

After 6 days or more with no one in your group experiencing symptoms, you can be reasonably sure that no one in your group/household has it. Only then can you join with other such groups from time to time—and only then if you trust that all of them have been isolated six days or more. Use of public transport, including flights, will reset the isolation clock of your whole group, because of the danger of aerosols created when anyone breathes. (BTW, these can land and survive on most hard surfaces for hours or days, so the importance of wiping down and washing up remains.)

It’s unclear whether you should count a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy toward the timeline. If you stay six feet away from everyone, it could be a buffer, but isn’t guaranteed. Whether it’s counted toward your (and thus your group’s) timeline will ultimately be up to those you’re proposing meeting; whether they feel comfortable with it.

Now for the bullet points of news.

  • ECONOMY DEATH – Contestants on the reality TV show Big Brother—the weirdest test case in all this—will walk out of their isolation boxes into a world almost entirely devoid of bars and restaurants, the few that remain slowly dying as they can’t cover bills without revenue. Indeed the world has become absent most meaningful social gatherings outside of families, housemates, and videoconferencing. By the time the contestants are released, there might not be air travel as we know it.
  • FIRST MEMBER OF CONGRESS WITH COVID – The office of House member Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement that the member showed symptoms Saturday evening, and that he was on the floor voting (and likely in offices and/or chambers) on Friday. That means he may have exposed other members for days. Indeed, potentially five days of exposure to other members. Trump came into contact with at least two people with the virus, and his office claims he himself was tested, but judge for yourself based on his answer when asked what the test was like.
  • NO ONE SPARED, POOR HIT HARDEST Apparently ONE IN FIVE U.S. residents have lost work due to the virus. It’s even more (one in four) for families with incomes under $50,000/year. Even before the virus hit, Americans were strapped. Collectively the group of our lowest-paid fellow citizens comprises 44% of U.S. residents and their families make an average of $18,000 per year.
  • TRUMP INVOKES THE DEFENSE PRODUCTION ACT – Yes, he’s seizing control of production as if this is a time of war. And whether you’re a libertarian or not, you better believe your life depends on it. The number of life-support ventilators the virus will require ranges from 5x our current number to something like 30x. Even healthy people in their 30s and 40s have died without ventilators upon getting COVID. We’ll have a more in-depth look at the ventilator market tomorrow, but suffice it to say this was the right move. It should have been done sooner.
  • SAD FOR DA DOGS – You probably shouldn’t pet other people’s dogs, one of city life’s most important morale-boosting pastimes. If you have to do so, best to carry some 70%+ alcohol hand sanitizer. I’ve also been washing my face and hands after these walks. Because, you know, #touchingmyface.
  • WHAT’S REALLY NEEDED – Bernie Sanders has said he thinks every American should get a $2000 check from the government every month until the economy bounces back. (Kamala Harris, for her part, said $500 per month. Which often doesn’t cover rent in the poorest counties in America; I know, I lived there.) With programs to abate mortgages, rents, and most debt service, $2000 per month seems like it could ensure no one becomes destitute.
  • ACTUAL CHECKS COMING – Trump and other Republican politicians are on board to send out about half Bernie’s demand, with a nebulous means test attached. There is apparently bipartisan support to send $1000 checks in short order to every American whose income is “below a certain level,” in addition to some help for small businesses. Checks were proposed to be cut April 6 and May 18, but there is talk of speeding up the timeline of the first check, and allowing for direct deposit. But many are in agreement: it’s only a decent “first step.”
  • FREELANCERS, “GIG” WORKERS AT RISK – People working in the so-called “gig economy” might be hit hardest, because some in government may forget the plights of those people when offering stimulus checks. (Gig workers may not technically have “jobs,” so they can’t prove that they lost one.) It could be a bloodbath for them, especially if this ends up being an 18-month affair: that’s the minimum time until a vaccine, should current testing prove successful, would be widely available.
  • HOW ‘BOUT THOSE PRIMARIES – “Primary elections,” in air quotes, were held Tuesday in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona, but not Ohio. Any election after March 15 was in direct contravention of CDC guidelines urging (though I suppose not requiring) people not to gather in groups of more than 50. (Trump had said 10 should be the limit.) Few political groups lobbied postpone the in-person elections, weirdly–though some ardent readers of science, like yours truly, urged them to cancel last-minute. Ohio’s governor took the safest tack, suing to postpone, losing, then using the state health authority to close all polling locations.
  • SHAM ELECTIONS – About two weeks after the primary (so, March 31), we’ll have a more official sense of who got the virus that day. While it takes six days for symptoms to show, it generally takes another week for folks to think it’s serious enough to test; seek and find a test; get the test, wait for results, and have those publicly logged. But what we DO know is that the primary had poor in-person turnout in Illinois (160 virus cases as of Wednesday) and Florida (~300 virus cases), though turnout increased in Arizona (26 cases). Polling locations in Chicago were a shambles., some even lacking materiel, such as ballots, with which to vote. Maybe the biggest reason to have postponed the elections is that it will be known in the memories of many as something of a tainted result, particularly because the DNC threatened states with reducing the delegates allotted to them if they postponed.
  • KEEP AN EYE ON TESTING – The question of testing has faded *somewhat* from the news, though it probably shouldn’t have. Not having data on a threat is very different, and arguably more dangerous, than having data and potentially botching a response. Other nations have conducted “surveillance testing” in addition to testing those very likely to have it. So-called surveillance testing is what will ultimately help us come out of our house-boxes: knowing with some certainty whether it’s safe to return to work or school. With tests at below $2 each MSRP (less in bulk discount), and some very large number of tests available for purchase since at least the weekend, who is limiting them? Hospital chains? Or have they been following guidance from CDC, and if so, where did that guidance come from? (1)
  • STIMULUS SO FAR – A couple “stimulus” packages arose over the weekend, and both will help marginally, but neither will help much compared to the scope of the problem. For example, centrist Dems joined with some Republicans to pass paid sick leave “requirements” with loopholes that provided exemptions to the employers of 80% of workers. That’s right – human rights for just 20% of us.
  • FREE BOOKS – A standup American publisher of nonfiction in a lefty tradition, Haymarket Books, is doing what they can to ease our collective boredom. They’re offering 10 free e-books, generally about what is possible in governing (though I’m sure they’re more exciting than this sounds) from their catalogue.
  • TO LIMIT CORPORATE BAILOUTS – The economy generally—where workers work, not the fake economy of the stock market—keeps getting more bleak by the day. More government infusions will be needed. To that end, NGO-backed economic thinker Matt Stoller has put together a helpful guide for what conditions should accompany any corporate bailout. That is, if you want it to do something other than grant even more power to the powerful people who’ve been looting American businesses for decades. Fewer companies would take such bailouts, maybe, but some will have to if they don’t want to close. They’d force agreement from a firm to:
    • Never lobby again & limit PR spend
    • Not merge/acquire for 5yrs
    • Never again buy back their own stock
    • Pay no dividends for 5yrs
    • Limit exec pay to X ammt
    • Reset stock value to $0

What’s to come in future newsletters? Questions about ventilators. But they can wait one more day.

Stay safe out there.


Investigative questions:

(1) I filed a FOIA request with CDC and HHS on March 3 regarding testing, particularly the decisions to issue guidance about who can be tested, and to not accept the early test approved by the WHO, which seems to have set back testing in the U.S. My determination on expedited processing is now overdue, and I’m searching for an attorney to represent me in a lawsuit against the federal government. (My longtime attorney is representing Buzzfeed in a similar suit regarding slightly different questions.)

I teach source security at Northwestern’s Medill journalism school. Here’s my course outline


Image from my 2015 cover story in In These Times magazine about working with whistleblowers.

This spring, I was commissioned by Northwestern’s Medill journalism school to prepare curriculum for, and come in person to present, a workshop on source security. The resulting workshop’s outline was audited by Micah Lee, security researcher and journalist at The Intercept, and features helpful interjections from Lee throughout.

If you want to learn more about the nitty-gritty of protecting sources, read the PDF outline above. I’ll likely be back to Northwestern to teach the workshop again this fall.

Why I’m asking for a mayoral candidate (and 12 others) to be held in contempt of court

In case you’re writing a news story and would like to speak with me about these matters, please reach me via phone—I have the encrypted app “Signal”—at 740-505-0038 or via email at Here is the press release my attorneys and I have dropped.

In case you don’t know me, I’m the journalist who sued the city of Chicago in 2015, forcing the government to release the video of Laquan McDonald being shot and killed by former police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted on a charge of second degree murder in October 2018. I am currently reporting for ProPublica and split my time between Chicago and Washington, DC.

I’d like to explain two legal motions my attorneys, Matt Topic and Josh Burday, recently filed on my behalf in ongoing cases regarding the murder of Laquan McDonald and documents that surround it. I feel it necessary to explain myself because journalists don’t usually ask a court for judgement for or against someone. We’re generally here to report, not to advocate. I’m doing so now only because I believe the future of the Illinois transparency law to be at stake. The violators of this law in this case are blatantly flaunting it and flaunting a judge’s ruling.

First, Topic, Burday, and I filed a motion today asking judges to vacate a protective order, AKA “gag order,” in a case connected to Laquan McDonald. This will allow my FOIA requests regarding the case (and people involved in them) to be properly processed. The case is commonly known as the “conspiracy” case, People v. David March, et al. This bench trial resulted in acquittal handed down from Judge Domenica Stephenson on Jan. 17. It makes sense that the public be able to view documents surrounding the now-finished case.

The other motion we filed is in our own FOIA case in civil court, where we attempted—and won a judge’s order—for people involved in the Laquan case to search their text (SMS) and email records from personal phones and email accounts. (City-issued devices and accounts had already been searched at court order years ago, and didn’t produce too much news.) Judge Raymond Mitchell ruled in our favor on August 2, 2018, ordering the individuals we know were involved in the Laquan McDonald matter to conduct these searches. Here’s what these people actually did:

  • 10 of 18 individuals, including Jason Van Dyke, Garry McCarthy, and John Escalante, said they wouldn’t do the search, in defiance of the judge’s order.
  • 3 of 18 didn’t respond to the city’s repeated contacts informing them of the order and their requirement to search.
  • 3 of 18 seemed to perform searches and claimed to have found no responsive records, i.e. records about the Laquan case.
  • 2 of 18 could not be located or contacted to inform them of their court-ordered duty.

On my behalf, on January 15, 2019, my attorney (Matt Topic) wrote the attorney for the city of Chicago, Amber Ritter, asking:

“Can you confirm that you informed all of these people that the Court ordered them to provide any responsive records to the City? Is there any more detail you are able to provide about precisely what you said and what they said?”

Ms. Ritter’s response:

“I can confirm that I informed all of these people, or their attorney as indicated, about the contents of the order.”

The detail Ritter provided for each person, included in the list I’ve made below, is the only detail she was willing to give.

At least 13 people, including a current mayoral candidate—former police superintendent Garry McCarthy—are defying a judge’s order and they know it. Civil contempt of court in Illinois can mean a jail sentence until the jailed person agrees to comply with the order.

If I said nothing in response to this behavior, it might send the message that I don’t care about the Illinois FOIA law. Clearly I believe in the power of the Illinois FOIA. Since 2014, I’ve battled the city of Chicago for violating the FOIA in maybe half a dozen cases (depending on how you count them). In service to trying to uphold this law and obtain documents for stories in the public interest, I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading often, um, dry, legal material. My attorneys have risked their work product, because I typically don’t pay them myself. I believe, and a lot of evidence backs it up, that this law affords every Illinois resident a power over those who govern them that no other law, rule, or norm does. Luckily, journalists typically allow one another to advocate for transparency, as I’m now doing.

(To be clear, in addition to transparency, I’m comfortable with journalists advocating for a few more basic things, including an evidence-based approach to governing; democracy; fairness; and equal justice under the law.)

I don’t know why these people are refusing this judge’s order. But as a journalist, I’m put in a strange situation. I have to report back to the judge that these people have refused to search as they’ve been ordered to. Typically with such a report, a plaintiff and their attorney will recommend to the judge what course of action the plaintiff prefers. I don’t want to allow these respondents’ blatant disregard for the FOIA to be the crack in the dam that allows it to disintegrate. If I want to not risk weakening the transparency law, the respondents—including mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy—have essentially tied my hands. I must recommend they be held in contempt.

I am told judges typically issue a daily fine for transparency-related contempt rulings, prior to the ultimate penalty allowable, which is jail time.

If it was these peoples’ intention to make me advocate for something publicly, I suppose they have succeeded. And yet for this advocacy, I’m not and won’t be made ashamed. I know I wouldn’t be allowed to blatantly ignore a judge. These people—maybe especially the mayoral candidate, given the public status of his personal ethics—shouldn’t get to choose whether or not they follow a court order.


Responses per individual

Jason Van Dyke — Via his attorneys, said he is “not willing to search for or produce any such records.”

Garry McCarthy — Police superintendent at the time of Laquan’s murder, and current mayoral candidate. Did not respond to Ritter’s request asking him to search as of January 15, 2019.

John Escalante — As of Dec 18, 2018, Mr. Escalante, formerly acting CPD superintendent and current police chief at Northeastern Illinois University, told CPD’s lawyer that “At this time I will not be conducting a search of my private emails or text messages.”

Joseph Walsh — Van Dyke’s partner the day Laquan was murdered. Walsh is represented by attorney Tom Breen. Breen initially told Ritter that he “doubted that his client would be willing to search for or produce any such records, but that he would call me back if that was not the case. Since that time, I have called him multiple times and left messages asking for a return call, and he has not called me back.”

David March — March is represented by attorney Jim McKay. McKay initially told Ritter that he “doubted that his client would be willing to search for or produce any such records, but that he would call me back if that was not the case. Since that time, I have called him multiple times and left messages asking for a return call, and he has not called me back.”

Thomas Gaffney — Says via personal attorney Will Fahy that he is not “willing to search for or produce any such records, and cited (his) Fifth Amendment rights.”

Joseph McElligott — Says via personal attorney Jennifer Russell that he is not “willing to search for or produce any such records.”

Dora Fontaine — Says via personal attorney Jennifer Russell that she is not “willing to search for or produce any such records.”

William (Bill) Bazarek – A CPD attorney during and after Laquan’s killing. Says he has no responsive records after a search of his private emails or text messages.

Martin (Marty) Maloney – Declines to run a search.

Lecia Velez — Says via personal attorney Will Fahy that she is not “willing to search for or produce any such records, and cited (her) Fifth Amendment rights.”

Arturo Becerra — Told city attorney Amber Ritter that he “does not have any responsive records.”

Ralph Price – Per city attorney Ritter: “I cannot locate any contact information for him – his last known phone number with the HR departments is disconnected (same number on the ARDC website) and I can’t find him online, either personally or professionally.”

James Roussell — Apparently this man is a “custodian” of some potentially-responsive records but the city’s attorney has not yet let us know whether his records have been, or will be, searched.

Janet Mondragon — Via her attorney, Jennifer Russell, said she “would not be willing to search for or produce any such records.”

Daphne Sebastian — Via her attorney, Jennifer Russell, said she “would not be willing to search for or produce any such records.”

Ricardo Viramontes — Via his attorney, Jennifer Russell, said he “would not be willing to search for or produce any such records.”

David McNaughton — Told city attorney Ritter that he has never had a private email account.

Chicagoans put their police on notice by convicting officer of murder for on-duty actions

I fought Chicago city government in court in 2015 to release the video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being killed by a police officer. After a judge ordered the video released in my case, 405 days after the killing, prosecutors charged the officer, Jason Van Dyke, with murder. A jury convicted Van Dyke October 5.

It’s a strong message, the conviction of Jason Van Dyke. In at least 50 years, no Chicago police officer has been charged with murdering a citizen while on duty—let alone convicted. Judging by this verdict, if more police were charged, more would be convicted. At least a hundred killings a decade by Chicago police have gone without punishment. Without justice, some would say. How can we slow or stop it? I’ve outlined that below.

Laquan had a hard life. He was high the night he was murdered, and walking around, sometimes holding his knife and sometimes with it pocketed. (Talk to people from Laquan’s neighborhood and you’ll learn: guns are for violence. Knives are for protection.) He may have been out to steal a car radio, although he never got ahold of one.

None of this should have meant a death sentence, according to members of the jury that convicted Van Dyke. They found the former officer guilty on one count of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

“Black boys needed that,” said a member of Laquan’s community, outside the courtroom after the verdict was read. “Black girls needed that.”

That night, Laquan had run away from police for a few minutes before he was surrounded by five police cars, totaling ten officers. When it was clear he wasn’t getting away, he slowed his walk and held his knife. Van Dyke had been following Laquan in a police car, but roughly six seconds after he jumped out, he opened fire, hitting the teen with all 16 bullets in his gun.

Since videos of the incident didn’t come with sound, the prosecution called an FBI expert to identify visual markers to determine how long Van Dyke was shooting. The FBI found “a minimum of” 14.2 seconds. Then they played a video, with sound, of a marksman shooting 16 shots into a target over exactly 14.2 seconds.

The painfully slow sound was devastating—horrifying—to those of us trying to understand how Laquan met his end. Maybe even more than the actual video.

A prosecutor asked the FBI expert: “How would you characterize the rate of fire?”

“It’s a deliberate rate of fire,” the expert said. “It’s methodical. He was taking time to aim each shot.” The prosecutor let that linger in the dead air of the courtroom. You could hear a pin drop.

In years past, several citizens had filed complaints alleging Van Dyke had used racial slurs in their interactions with them. The judge did not allow this to be presented to the jury in his trial.

One in three Americans killed by people they don’t know are killed by police, according to a study published in Granta magazine. The American Journal of Public Health declared that between 2012 and 2018, 8% of adult male homicide victims are killed by police.

Maybe after this verdict, more American juries will stop accepting an otherwise baseless “I feared for my life” by accused officers. And yet, darker-skinned people are still perceived as more scary than the lighter-skinned. If that doesn’t change, the excuse will still work, considering police tend to shoot people of color. Caucasians make up five percent of people police shoot in Chicago, a city that’s 32 percent caucasian.

The video prompted firings of a slew of officials and a slate of reforms is set to be approved by a judge. (Donald Trump’s attorney general says he opposes the reforms.) Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the day before Van Dyke’s trial that he would not seek re-election. Emanuel had raised millions for his campaign and fielded ballot petitioners.

Every story about Rahm’s political prospects since the video’s release had mentioned the name “Laquan McDonald.”

And yet—replacing brass doesn’t replace a system. Police originally lied to the public, saying a single shot killed Laquan. The city and police opposed the video’s release. Offices that sought to hide how the boy died remain. Each worker in them can cite “that’s just how things work” or “I’m just doing my job”—instead of considering oneself, where responsibility lies.

Two witnesses to Laquan’s murder were arrested that night, taken to “central holding,” kept overnight, and intimidated. They were told over and over, according to a lawsuit one of them filed against the city, that “you didn’t see what you think you saw.” Several other witnesses have said they were “shooed away” and that police didn’t take their information.

If Chicago wants to stop police from killing so indiscriminately, Chicagoans need to dismantle officers’ ability to exonerate themselves and hide their colleagues’ misdeeds. When I filed my lawsuit for the video, with an attorney who only got paid by the state when he won, I was washing dishes in a restaurant.

Several, but not yet all, officers involved with protecting Van Dyke face charges in connection.

To police: if the public sees you purging repeat offenders from your ranks, Chicagoans might start to trust you again. And don’t let the Fraternal Order of Police convince you that transparency or accountability causes violence. This has been probed extensively and found untenable. Well-proven solutions haven’t been implemented at scale.

If only Laquan knew that night, as he breathed his last breaths, that his name would galvanize a mindset for an entire city. If only he were here to see it. To file a FOIA request. To march, with his schoolmates, for a better world.

Set up a tiny monthly contribution to join in my stories and learn the craft


Police watch protesters on the University of Chicago campus. Photo by Sydney Combs. (

I set up a “Patreon” page this week. I’m telling my family, friends, and supporters around the country to check it out. I hope you do, too. It allows you to set up a small recurring monthly contribution to my work. Every dollar lets me do that much less work on odd jobs, and thus that much more journalism.


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