Tag Archives: Chicago Reader

The video out, the officer charged, the problem persists

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A press conference to discuss what we are working toward with the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Me at left, William Calloway at the podium, and Dorothy Holmes, right, mother of Ronald Johnson, who was killed by police a week before Laquan McDonald. Thanks to ABC7 for the screengrab.

A lot has happened in the past week, including my column in the Guardian; a New York Times article about me being barred from the press conference my lawsuit precipitated; and a Columbia Journalism Review article about my as-yet non-tethered nature in the news industry.

But here’s the latest.

My lawyer and I are demanding that all documents related to Laquan’s case are immediately posted to the internet. (We’re using #LaquanOnline.) That’s the only way to show the public what they need to know in this rather obvious cover-up. (Kudos to the Washington Post editorial board for not mincing words!) Making everything public is the only way the city will “heal,” as Rahm often likes to say.

We’ve filed a FOIA for everything involved in the case, but we are very interested in the first half of one particular video, if it exists; the video from one particular police car, if it exists; and the mysteriously missing audio from all the tapes. Also, crucially, any statements taken from any officers on scene; and the names of all the officers on scene that day.

But it’s not an isolated incident, as most of us know, and this case finally brought that idea into the sails of major media. In the article linked above, the Washington Post editorial board called for the heads of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. And the Post wasn’t easy on Rahm, either. Said the cover-up likely stretches all the way to him. Ben Joravsky also had an insightful column about Rahm’s position in all this.

In my view, Rahm needs to discuss the data behind police shootings. There’s one per week on average since at least 1986, according to the Reader’s Steve Bogira and copious data. (There are no signs of it slowing, as McCarthy has bewilderingly stated.) And Rahm needs to discuss the concrete steps he’s taking to make sure the shootings slow to a near halt. Not vague references to “culture.”

A good start would be to tear down and rebuild the so-called “Independent Police Review Authority,” tasked with investigating police misconduct. They have historically found virtually no officer at fault. Even a whistleblower has come out and shown (with emails!) that he was asked to falsify his investigations of police misconduct, and he was fired when he tried to push back internally.

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Why I’m suing the Chicago Police Department

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Justin Kaufmann, host of WGN Radio’s evening show “The Download,” poses for a quick shot with me after our live segment August 12 about FOIA fails and transparency in Chicago.

In case you weren’t aware, I’m all for transparency, particularly when it concerns police misconduct. As such, I’m suing the Chicago Police Pepartment. It’s an attempt to force them to release the video of an officer shooting dead a 17-year-old black teen last fall.

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Reader going into the case in greater detail, and why I think police should release the video.

Then, last night, Justin Kaufmann and his producer Pete Zimmerman have me on their talk radio show to discuss the state of transparency in Chicago. (Spoiler alert: transparency isn’t exactly alive and well here.) An mp3 of the audio is available to download at that link.

A big thanks to Justin for letting me talk about what I think is important. He gave me pretty free reign, which is so cool coming from a media company as big as the one he works for. I got to say that I think everyone can and should be filing FOIAs–maybe with the help of FOIA Machine for everyday ones and Muckrock for complex ones. Also I got to mention the case coming this fall, where the Fraternal Order of Police is attempting to force the city to destroy all records of police misconduct from 1966 to 2011.

You’ll hear more from me on that subject. I second journalist Jamie Kalven in calling for the FOP to back down from it’s position, which is at best foolish and at worst criminal. Destroying evidence of a crime is itself a crime, and for rape and murder in particular, there are no statutes of limitations.

Tales from the crypt(-oparty)

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My story on Chicago’s CryptoParty scene appeared on the cover of the Chicago Reader last week.

Thanks for reading, folks. It’s a long piece, so if you get through it, kudos to you. And bravo if you somehow manage to not get lost as you go, with all the techno-terminology. We tried to make it as friendly to novices as we could. Especially the sidebar, about helpful tools.

I guess this makes me Chicago’s crypto educator in chief?

I’d like to paste below a few sections that got cut from the final story. The Reader editors know: people just don’t read long, meandering pieces anymore. It’s either solidly on-topic or people click away.

About the psychological science behind surveillance:

Psychological studies bear out the detriments of surveillance. Knowing or suspecting that you’re being watched definitely changes a person’s behavior, according to several controlled, peer-reviewed studies. Stress and anxiety tend to rise under surveillance, according to a 1996 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. And job performance suffers under constant watch, according to a 1992 study in the journal Applied Ergonomics. (While anyone with a helicopter boss could tell you that, a proper study isolated that cause from other potential factors.)

And since the 1950s, psychologists have known that surveillance encourages social conformity in a person even when their larger social group is “obviously wrong,” writes the neuroscientist Chris Chambers, in an article in The Guardian.

About the applications of crypto to whistleblowing:

Conversations at CryptoParty often revolve around government transparency and corporate accountability. Many planners and attendees use freedom of information laws to demand answers from public entities. Their questions are often, but not always, about surveillance. (Institutional racism comes in at a close second.)

But as a transparency tool, the Freedom of Information Act is limited. No one can prove whether an agency is withholding something. There are no audits of FOIA offices or officers. Even if you sue, as I have, judges simply take an agency at its word that it gave you everything it found—and that it searched in all the possible places.

And what about all the things we scribes don’t think to ask, or won’t know to ask? That stuff will only see the light of day if whistleblowers choose to tell someone outside their offices. And in the private sector, forget about it—unless a whistleblower tries to tell the public about a hidden danger. Cryptography can protect whistleblowers’ identities when the government won’t.

If a whistleblower tries to tell the public about a hidden danger, cryptography can protect their identity when the government won’t. These days, governments seem a lot more interested in punishing whistleblowers than protecting them. Just ask John Kiriakou, who, when asked to be a part of the CIA’s torture program, instead blew the whistle on it. Or William Binney, who built the NSA’s surveillance apparatus after 9/11 and saw it get out of hand. Binney narrowly avoided jail. Kiriakou spent time in prison for his classified leaks. Former General David Petraeus, part of Washington’s “in crowd,” was fired for leaking classified information but has not faced any charges.

Open letter to ‘Cedars’

Once upon a time, I was News Editor for Cedars, the bi-weekly student newspaper of Cedarville University. Times were fun, I learned how to manage people (and how not to manage them). I published a few grating opinions that didn’t receive much response because there wasn’t much participation in the newspaper.

But now I’m at Columbia College Chicago, and Cedars has been re-designed, re-staffed, and is rearing to go once again. I applaud their efforts to resist the anti-media culture that seeps from the school’s hallowed halls. (Or, rather, seeps from the schools trustees and donors, but I won’t get into that now.)

Still… surely they can do a better job than this.

Just now I inquired about whether they have separate websites for on-campus and off-campus viewers. Stooping that low for preemptive damage control is a sad possibility, but not the saddest part of the setup.

That’s just simply the journalism. (Update, 2:15 p.m. CT: Cedars staff confirmed, via a comment on their Facebook page, that only one version of the website exists. Hooray!)

I want to say something. Hmm…

I literally can’t find a way to contact them other than posting a message on their Facebook page, so I’ll have to post my open letter here for the time being. I wish I didn’t have to put it in the open, but them’s the breaks. I’ll take it down if I get a message from them saying they get the point. Here goes nothing, after the break…

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First Daily Blank piece

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Masks that supposedly resemble the visage of Guy Fawkes, make popular in the movie V for Vendetta. (Photo from The Daily Blank)

Today I was published at The Daily Blank, Chicago’s only satire site that focuses on local issues.

For your enjoyment I’ll paste the entire article below, because their licensing allows it. Enjoy! …And I have one more piece in the queue, so look out.

Daley to ‘pull an Obama’ to fund CPS

In two about-face moves Tuesday, Chicagoans banded together to stand up to the Daley administration, and the Mayor decided to listen to the majority voice of the people.

Following a protest, Mayor Richard M. Daley issued an edict that every corporate executive who had received preferential treatment under the TIF program would voluntarily cut his or her income by 90 percent.

The mayor did not say what the consequences would be if said executives disobeyed, except that “the shit will hit the fan,” he told the throngs of cheering lower-middle-class people before him.

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Clout City

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Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley speaks at a celebration for a building’s LEED certification. (Creative Commons-licensed photo from the Flickr account of the Center for Neighborhood Technology)

Move over, Tribune, there’s another watchdog in town. No one seems to follow the mayor’s corruption (yes, I said it) more intently than Mick Dumke of the Reader.

If you haven’t already read the cover story he wrote with Ben Joravsky, Chicagoans, it’ll blow your mind. And get you hooked on Dumke’s blog. And give you a reason to object when your friends say “I vote for Daley ’cause I don’t know why I wouldn’t…”

I wish I had done work like this at the two papers I’ve written for in years past. No regrets, though. After reading this article and archives of the blog “Clout City,” I’ve armed myself for next time: with source gumption and due persistence.

Maybe someday I’ll do my part to help edge representative democracy back into Chicago.