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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

[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.


Burge Torture Survivor Left with “A Growing, Burning Feeling”

January 20, 2011

By Katherine Randall
Communications Coordinator, JCUA

Anthony Holmes has trouble sleeping at night. He has nightmares and often wakes up in a cold sweat. Holmes spent 30 years in prison for a murder he said he didn’t commit. And though Holmes has physically left prison, his mind remains trapped in thoughts of the torture he endured at the hands of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

“Jon Burge shocked me and suffocated me and forced me to admit to a murder I didn’t do,” said Holmes. “He tried to kill me. It leaves a growing, burning feeling. I have nightmares and see myself falling into a deep hole and I have no one to get me out.”

Police torture victims (left to right) Victor Saffold, Mark clements, Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon. Photo taken by Brian Jackson of the Sun-Times

Holmes was one of several witnesses to testify at Burge’s Jan. 20 sentencing hearing. And though the prosecutors are pushing for a sentence of at least 30 years, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow only extended Burge’s suggested sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison to 21 to 27 months.

“That’s a slap in the face to everybody that was in that station house being tortured by Burge,” said Dickie Gaines, a longtime Chicago community activist and friend to several Burge torture survivors. “I think his sentence should be a maximum sentence,” he said.

Zakiyyah Muhammad, another community activist close to several of the torture victims, said she would be okay with Burge’s light sentence under one condition.

“If it can be a life of hell and torture then it can be okay because that’s what Burge put hundreds of men and women through,” she said.

Melvin Jones, another torture survivor who testified at Burge’s hearing, said he was still going through such a life of hell and torture.

“It comes back in my everyday life. It comes back in my dreams. It comes back every day I walk this earth,” said Jones.

Read the rest of this entry »

Speak Out Against a Light Sentence for Commander Jon Burge

January 6, 2011

Sign a petition

Voice your objection to the Presentence Investigation Report’s recommendation that former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge serve only 15-21 months in prison for his convictions for obstruction of justice and perjury.

Sign the online petition

Download a hard copy of the petition

Attend the Sentencing
Thursday, Jan. 20
Courtroom 1925
219 S. Dearborn, Chicago

9 am — arrive early for 9:30 hearing

12 noon — rally and press conference

Download the flyer

RSVP for the Rally

Jon Burge’s sentencing is quickly approaching (Jan. 20). Raise your voice!

Jon Burge, Chicago Police Commander


Over the course of 20 years, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge (in photo), in many cases assisted by police detectives working under him, engaged in a reign of torture that adversely affected the lives of more than 110 African-American men and women and their families.

Burge engaged in systematic acts of torture to extract confessions from African-American individuals, and these confessions were then used against scores of individuals to wrongfully convict them, and in the case of 12, to send them to Illinois’ death row. Many of the torture survivors served decades in prison before they were exonerated or otherwise released.

20 People Still in Prison, Families Suffering

Currently more than 20 of these individuals are still incarcerated, and their families are still suffering under the strain of having a family member unfairly imprisoned.

This past June, after a 25-year battle for justice, Burge was found guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for lying about the torture he and other Chicago Police detectives committed at Chicago Police Headquarters in the 1970s and 1980s.

Burge is now set to be sentenced on Jan. 20. He faces a maximum sentence of 45 years imprisonment.

Feds Recommend Short Sentence

Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,692 other followers

%d bloggers like this: