My Son Came Home

April 13, 2016

(This blog post was originally printed in Oy! Chicago on March 25, 2016)

Annice MosesBy Annice Moses
JCUA Member

Three teen boys running around with saggy pants and backpacks. One of them is wearing a black hoodie — hood up, a bandana covering the lower half of his face. That kid has a gun in his hand. He’s shooting it. The police are called. You know what happens next…

What happens next is I get a call from my son. He tells me his friend was being an idiot and shooting squirrels. Someone called the cops. Can I come pick him up? He gives me the address. It’s not the address of the police station.

I am the first parent to arrive on the scene. There are two police Suburbans parked, their engines running. My son and his two friends are standing nervously. Two guns and a giant canister of ammo sit on the hood of one of the police vehicles. The officers are extremely polite. They tell me that the boy with the hoodie had been shooting his Airsoft gun and both my son and the third boy had not. They said the boys had all been cooperative. My son was free to go. Free. To. Go.

I found out later — many days later — that my son also had an Airsoft gun. A gun that was shifting anxiously in my son’s backpack, while he was being respectfully questioned by officers. A backpack that was never searched — a gun that was never discovered.

My son, at age 13, had just gotten a big dose of white privilege. A privilege that may have saved his life.

My son came home that day. He left his bed unmade and his towel on the floor the next day and the day after that, and the day after that. My son continues to have breakfast every Sunday with his grandparents. He still opens up a mouth about having to clean his dishes before going out with friends. He still takes too long doing his hair and regularly makes his brothers late to school. He got strep throat. He turned 14. My son came home.

Tamir Rice was black. He was 12 years old. He was playing with a BB gun in a park. He will never play in that park again. He will never celebrate another birthday. He was shot by an officer before he had a chance to explain his gun was a toy; before he had a chance to hide it in his backpack; before he had a chance to call his mom and say he needed her to pick him up; before he felt his nerves kick in worrying about what his mom was going to say. He’ll never come home again.

I can’t stop thinking about it. But I can if I want to. I’m not raising a black son. I don’t need to teach my son — my sons — to keep their hands on the steering wheel when they get pulled over. I don’t have to help my sons’ white friends understand that the usual mischief boys get into can’t be for mine because I fear his life may be taken in a “misunderstanding” because he’s black. When the dispatcher comes over the radio saying, “Suspect is a black male…” somehow those words — BLACK MALE — strike such a fear, that a routine nuisance call can escalate to a child dying in a park next to his toy gun. The gratitude that my son came home is forever paired with shame. There can be no solace in injustice, even if my son came home.

Chicago Trauma Center Victory: Black Lives Do Matter

December 15, 2014

By Michal David
JCUA member and guest blogger

‘I can’t breathe’

Die in protest against police brutality

Activists take part in a die-in in the Bronzeville neighborhood to protest police brutality against people of color.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, I attended a #blacklivesmatter demonstration in downtown Chicago to protest the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, and to stand up against a persistent system of police brutality in this country. Like many other protests across the nation over the past few weeks, one of the most powerful phrases chanted by demonstrators was “I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Eric Garner before he was placed in a choke hold and killed by a New York City police officer in July of this year.

Michal David

Michal David

While chanting these words, I found myself walking next to an older Black man standing in front of dozens of police officers blocking the march. He was urgently yelling, “But I literally can’t breathe.”

When I asked him to explain, he said: “I go through my life with the feeling that I’m suffocating. That no matter what I do, I can’t do anything right.”

The response left me with a deep sense of despair. How could we even begin to make change in a system that it causes individuals to feel like they are suffocating from severe disenfranchisement? These feelings of helplessness lingered with me as I entered my work week the day following the protest.

Trauma center victory

And then, something wonderful happened. We had a win.

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, the University of Chicago announced that it would begin the process of expanding its pediatric trauma program to include 16- and 17-year-olds. Since the closing of the University’s Level 1 Adult Trauma Center in 1988 and the subsequent closing of the Michael Reese Trauma Center a year later, the South Side of Chicago has been devoid of an adult trauma center. As a result, adults on the South Side who suffer from traumatic injuries are often forced to travel up to 12 miles to receive the care they need.

Join JCUA members in observance of Hanukkah, Thursday, Dec. 18 from 6-8 pm at Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. RSVP here.

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On Rosh Hashanah, New Beginnings Bring New Resolutions

September 24, 2014

By Nate Seeskin
AVODAH Organizing Fellow, JCUA

Nate SeeskinSeptember marks two new beginnings for me with the coming of the Jewish New Year and my starting as an Organizing Fellow at JCUA. This is not just another year where I look to improve myself, but one where I look to engage with my new community.

Many people look to the High Holidays as an opportunity to reflect on how they can improve themselves. As an organizing fellow I understand that in order to effectively attend to outside factors in our lives, such as family and work, self-care and reflection are essential.

Along with the emphasis on self-improvement, there should be equal weight placed on the betterment of community (Tikkun Olam) and social justice (Tzedek). I moved to Chicago last month largely because I considered it like a second home throughout my life with the personal connections I have here. Yet I can also relate to this city because of its many similarities to my home city, St. Louis. Both are steeped in rich traditions (especially baseball and food) and have a special type of folksy flavor that you cannot find on either coast.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At a recent rally, Chicago-area Jewish clergy sound the shofar to call for a level one trauma center on the South Side.

At the same time, both cities are plagued with problems like gun violence and police brutality. Disparities in access to resources are rampant, whether it be the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri or the shortage of emergency health care on the South Side of Chicago. These problems are only symptomatic of a broader problem: segregation. Last year, St. Louis and Chicago were respectively ranked as the sixth and seventh most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. Within this ranking, 12 of the 25 most racially segregated American cities are in the Midwest. As the third largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago is prime battleground for our fight for social justice.

Social justice plays a foundational role of Jewish faith and communal expression. Our history is one of both persecution and perseverance and in our annual period of reflection, we must not take for granted the world around us.

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[Event 1/31] “Lawndale Conversations Series: The Contract Buyers League”

January 23, 2013

by Max Harkavy
Communications Intern, JCUA

On January 31st at 6pm, the Hull House on UIC’s campus will be hosting an event titled “Lawndale Conversations Series: The Contract Buyers League.”  The Hull House is convening in partnership with the North Lawndale branch of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) in order to raise awareness about the Contract Buyers League and the history of its neighborhoods, specifically North Lawndale.  North Lawndale has a rich narrative and many feel that in order to bring about change in the community this narrative has to be brought to light.

Contract Buyers League Protesters

Contract Buyers League Protesters

The Contract Buyers League was a union of African Americans during the 1960s that fought the exploitative sale of homes to blacks through the selling of contracts.

“I think it’s really important to tell this story to make all the people that lived through it proud of their accomplishment, and to raise awareness among the younger population,” said John Wolf, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the NHS North Lawndale office.

Neighborhood Housing Services seeks to promote positive change from within the community.  Director Charles Leeks believes that, “In order to turn a neighborhood around, you have to recognize what the community has been.”  Leeks explained that sometimes people choose to ignore the community’s past, “if it is not convenient for them at any given moment.”  The goal of this event is to raise awareness of North Lawndale’s rich past and to foster pride from within.

Rutgers University Professor, Beryl Satter

Beryl Satter

There will be three guest speakers at the event.  The first is Beryl Satter, author of the book, “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America” which tells the tale of the Contract Buyers League and the struggle against unfair housing practices that occurred throughout the 40s to the 70s.  Satter’s father was an attorney who fought for equal rights for African Americans during the time of the Contract Buyers League.

Co-Chairman of the Contract Buyers Leage, Clyde Ross

Clyde Ross

The second speaker will be Clyde Ross, who was at one time the co-chairman of the Contract Buyers League, and was recently named the recipient of the Neighborhood Heroes Award given to him by the NHS.  Ross still lives in the house he bought under contract.

Jack Macnamara

Jack Macnamara

The final speaker is Jack Macnamara, a Jesuit seminary during the time of the Contract Buyers League.  He also worked as a community organizer that brought people together on issues concerning the Contract Buyers League in the 1960s.

“The image of community and the way north Lawndale is projected in the press is often negative but this event is a way of talking about positives from the community and one the biggest positives of North Lawndale is its history,” said Wolf.

Rev. Calvin Morris Reflects on His Work with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

February 28, 2011

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Community Renewal Society

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Ph.D. serves as Executive Director of the Community Renewal Society, a faith-based social justice advocacy organization in Chicago focusing on race and poverty. A civil rights and human rights activist, he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., serving as Associate Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation BreadBasket (now Operation PUSH) in Chicago from 1967-71. He was Executive Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, from 1973-76. He was also a university professor and theological dean from 1976-1998. Morris is frequently invited to preach, speak and lecture.

When I returned to Chicago, after an absence of 27 years, to become the executive director of Community Renewal Society, one of the first sister organizations to whom I was introduced was the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. I had been aware of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs during my first stint in Chicago as associate director of SCLC’s Operation BreadBasket, now Rainbow PUSH, which was at the time under the direction of the direction of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, who Dr. King named national director of BreadBasket in 1968. At that same time I was appointed associate director.

I had known Rabbi Marx during my earlier years in Chicago and was keenly aware of the work of JCUA. Soon after my return, the city of Chicago experienced the death of two African-Americans, both in their twenties, a male and female, who were killed by Chicago Police under rather unsettling circumstances.

Members of the Chicago advocacy communities rallied in light of both of those events, and the Rev. Donald Benedict, retired executive director of the Community Renewal Society and founder of Protestants for the Common Good, urged the formation of a coalition of organizations to work for the reformation of the Chicago Police department and its relationship with the black community. Jane Ramsey, the executive director of JCUA, and I were chosen to be co-conveners of that coalition of groups, soon to be called the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago.

For more than a decade, JCGC worked to bring former Chicago Police Cmdr. John Burge to justice and demanded that a special prosecutor be named to look into the allegations of torture under Burge’s watch, advocated for the videotaping of confessions, urged the creation of an independent police review board, and called for the expungement of records of non-violent offenders who had served their time.

Rev. Morris, Carol Steele and Jane Ramsey at a Coalition to Protect Public Housing rally

During that time and since, Community Renewal Society has worked with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs to assure that the residents of public housing would benefit from new housing to be constructed on the land where the high-rise gallery apartments were to be demolished. Along with other partners within the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, both organizations stood with and in support of the residents of the Chicago Housing Authority, always cajoling, demanding, and making our presence felt at the CHA commissioners’ hearings.

We warned them, from the very beginning, that the rush to demolish that housing had the potential of scattering gangs located within those complexes to other adjoining neighborhoods, and voiced our fear that turf battles for dominance in the South Side drug trade would emerge.

JCUA and CRS have worked closely around issues affecting the voiceless and the disempowered and have stood together in the empowerment of us all.

Jon Burge Gets 54-Month Prison Sentence

January 21, 2011

Jon Burge Guilty of Torture

CHICAGO, Jan. 21, 2011 — After two days of testimony from police torture victims and from the defendant himself, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow today sentenced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge to 4-1/2 years in prison. That’s double the federal sentencing guidelines.

Lefkow also added three years of probation, plus alcohol treatment.

Prosecutors had been seeking more than 30 years in prison. Defense attorneys were pushing for only two years.

Burge was convicted of perjury in a series of police torture cases that spanned many years. JCUA, the Illinois Coalition Against Torture and numerous other groups have been focusing attention on Burge and his tactics for more than 10 years.

Taped by JCUA outside of yesterday’s sentencing hearing (before the sentence was announced), Joey Mogul, an advocate with the People’s Law Office said: “When we’re thinking about the ultimate sentence that Burge received, we have to remember the fact that he’s not being prosecuted for the actual crimes of torture he committed, and that’s because the statute of limitations has expired. And the reality of that, and the blame for that is due to Mayor Daley, who was the Cook County State’s Attorney back in 1981 through 1988.”

“People lose sight of what happened here in this city—the fact that over 100 African-American men and women were systematically tortured. They were abused. They were aggrieved in a way that the international world has universally condemned. And it was done with the condonment of the highest officials here in the city.”

Police torture was the topic of an event co-sponsored by JCUA last month for International Human Rights Day.


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