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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LETTERS Sweeps; Palatine locker room; The video; Speak up
2015-12-16

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Stop the sweeps

The following letter was sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

On Nov. 20, more than 400 individuals endured the season's first snow to take part in the Out In The Open Sleep Out to fight youth homelessness.

This inaugural event took place on Cricket Hill Park, steps away from Wilson Avenue, where homeless people have endured routine sweeps from the Chicago Police Department. These sweeps threaten the well-being of some of the city's most vulnerable residents as tents are torn down or ticketed and medications, identification documents and other precious items are randomly discarded by police officers who inconsistently act on the negotiated list of "approved" items that homeless people can have in their possession.

The individuals who participated in the Sleep Out experienced a tiny sample of what people experiencing homelessness go through every day. There are not nearly enough resources available for the 125,848 Chicagoans estimated to have experienced homelessness by the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless during last school year—nearly 11,500 of whom were unaccompanied youth.

On behalf of the Pride Action Tank, a project of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Sleep Out participants and the more than 750 donors who have contributed over $43,000 to support 19 Sleep Out beneficiaries that are suffering greatly due to the state budget impasse, I submit the attached petitions.

These petitions, signed on that snowy night in November, call for a stop to police sweeps of homeless people and a real commitment to housing first. Housing saves lives. We call on you, as mayor of this fine city, to instruct the police to stop the criminalization of homeless people and these inhumane sweeps.

Sincerely,

Kim L. Hunt

Executive Director

Pride Action Tank

PETITION CONTENT FROM SLEEP OUT:

It's cold outside. But not far from where the Out In The Open Sleep Out is taking place, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, continue to do sweeps under the viaduct on Wilson. These sweeps often result in people experiencing homelessness being ticketed or having their shelter tents torn down and possessions thrown away, if those possessions aren't on an approved list of items. The Pride Action Tank, one of organizers of the Sleep Out, finds these actions deplorable and calls on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to stop the sweeps immediately.

We know that the best way to end homelessness is to make sure everyone has a home and the support services they need. We understand that this is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. In the interim, as a society we must stop criminalizing people who experience homelessness.

Sign this petition to let Mayor Emanuel know that the ticketing and harassment of people experiencing homelessness needs to stop NOW.

* * * *

Being fair

The following is Christina Kahrl's letter to Superintendent Cates and the board of District 211.

[Editor's note: This letter was written before the Dec. 7 meeting that continued to allow a Palatine trans girl to utilize her school's girls' locker room facilities.]

Like many others, I am asking you to stand up for fairness for all students and to affirm your agreement with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in tonight's meeting. I would have wished to attend myself, to ask you to do this myself, but I'll be working at my job at ESPN tonight, covering Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

The acceptance I found inside baseball, and at ESPN, are not a reflection of any strength or courage I have as a trans person. They are instead the product of the merit that the overwhelming majority of people who are not trans have, and that I hope you have as well. They had a readiness to accept someone across our differences, and to accept that trans folks are people of merit, as peers, colleagues, co-workers and friends. It is remarkable only because their brand of everyday courage to look beyond difference is not something our society amplifies and praises every day, but it is that same courage that I would ask for you to find within yourselves tonight.

This avoidable fight should not be the source of ongoing discord. As it already stands, this one kid has had a multi-year dent placed in her childhood, and to what end? It is your sworn responsibility to learn from this experience and anticipate the needs not just of this one student, but to anticipate the needs of every student to come.

There is also wisdom in investing the time to learn from the demonstrated experiences of school districts in Illinois and across the country that have already faced this unanticipated challenge. Perhaps no civic institution was founded anticipating the existence of trans people, but many have already proven that with work up front, you can provide understanding and be a model for other school districts. Don't simply sit there waiting to get yelled out by my fellow activists or by parents motivated by empathy. You have the opportunity to work with the leaders of local districts like Berwyn, Barrington, Plainfield, Elgin and more, besides. Reflecting examples from across the country, they've had no problems with the trans kids in their care or with their policies, because in the end, they're not people who need special rules and special administrative solutions—they're just kids, asking for the same deal other kids get.

You can embrace this as an opportunity to place your district among the best, instead of one committed to fighting suits you will ultimately lose, at the expense of the families and students you are responsible to. To do that while doubling down on hurting this one student is not just irresponsible, it is unconscionable, because it is avoidable. You are charged with protecting students. You can do this by affirming the agreement with the Office of Civil Rights, and fulfilling your obligation to her and to all of your students.

Finally, I'm not just writing to urge you to do the right thing, but to volunteer to help you if you need it. It's easy to complain about a thing, to suggest how it ought to be without volunteering a readiness to help make it so. But if you want my help, you've got it, on your terms and however much you need. The right choice may not be the easy choice, but you have plenty of people like me willing to help you make it work, long after the cameras and the reporters go away.

I trust that you will honor your agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. But I also expect that District 211 will fulfill its obligation treat all of their students fairly, equally, and without separation and discrimination. Embrace this opportunity as a chance to do right by this student, all of your students, and all of your students to come. The present and the future will thank you for it.

With hope,

Christina Kahrl

* * * *

No justice, no peace

To the editor:

Neither Laquan McDonald's death nor the levels of distrust between the Chicago police and the community did not happen in a void.

There is just cause for suspicion, because of the trust lost between activists, politicians, police and religious leaders. It is a very difficult to rebuild, but rebuild it we must.

The LGBT community is not immune to this situation. Have we not for years had our own difficult times with the Chicago Police Department, and listening to the cries of racism within our own community without an adequate response?

We must do something different, new and innovative, said Cook County Circuit Court Judge Colleen Sheehan, who hears juvenile cases. Sheehan and a few other forward-thinking Cook County judges have been turning to alternative methods of conflict resolution in cases that come before them. According to America Magazine and a major online Roman Catholic periodical, one of those methods is the Peace Circle. According to the online publication, the Peace Circle is an idea as old as the Quaker religion and has roots as well in Native American spirituality.

Father David Kelly, a Precious Blood priest from Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood, has led Peace Circles for court-ordered defendants. He says they are built on the twin pillars of "hospitality and radical accompaniment." However, the call for a demonstration on Michigan Avenue to highlight the injustice of how politicians and police such as Mayor Emanuel, Anita Alverez and Police Commissioner Gerry McCarthy have responded to the situation, set the bar high for continuing dialogue.

The video of the shooting only highlights the injustice of this situation. Any rush to judgment at this point is not helpful for either the community at large or the police. We should not throughout the baby with water in our attempts to seek justice.

However, unlike the reply in, say, Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago had a more peaceful response to the situation, as exemplified by the Michigan Avenue demonstrations. This happened because religious leaders were willing to call for peace in a time of injustice and turmoil, and we had a mayor that initiated this spiritual call for a peaceful demonstration.

In my opinion, no matter how overwhelming and damning the evidence looks, it would be just as irresponsible as the city's efforts to keep this video hidden. Officer Jason Van Dyke ( who shot Laquan McDonald ) deserves to be tried in a court of law, not on social media.

Now we need to keep our sights on both justice and love. Police, politicians and religious leaders must continue to seek reform of a system that is clearly disordered, and perhaps prayer might help.

Joe Murray, Chicago

* * * *

A matter of trust

There are a lot of challenges in the City of Chicago and nationally that face us as a community—which means there is a lot of work to be done! Through an intersectional lens, civic engagement is the vehicle that drives Affinity's social justice work on behalf of Black LGBTQ communities.

Our work enables us to bridge communities through action for social justice, freedom and human rights. As board president, it is my duty to ensure that Affinity's voice—the voice of her people—is always at the table speaking out against injustices and speaking up for equality. In a special address to Chicago's City Council on Dec. 9, Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly apologized for the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and criticized not only what he called decades of city police corruption but also the "shoot first and ask questions later" gun epidemic in the United States. "I am the mayor," Emanuel said. "As I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. ... If we are going to fix it I want you to understand it's my responsibility." I agree with Emanuel when he said, "We have a trust problem; it's time to change the narrative."

People, we have the power to change the narrative! Reciprocal relationships between legislators have to be cultivated and sustained to affect change. As state Sen. Jacqueline Collins told me after the mayor's special address, "Your community needs to come together in a unified front to voice all of your concerns, not solely those pertaining to LGBT."

For many LGBTQ people, the win for marriage equality was the end—but for me as a woman of color, that was merely one of many fights that have yet to be won! My color does not supersede my womanhood or my place on the LGBT continuum. All of my identities are equally important and when one is under attack, I must rise up, speak out and take a stand! I again implore you to stand with me and Affinity in solidarity not only for those whose lives were commandeered to gun violence, but for your life and a seat at the table.

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu!"

They were! You are! I am! We are Affinity!!!!

In Solidarity,

Ebonie S. Davis, Board President, Affinity Community Services

* * * *

Stand up

An open letter from Gay Liberation Network to Equality Illinois and its supporters

This letter is an appeal to the conscience of Equality Illinois and its supporters.

There are times in civil-rights movements when a simple act of courage—a Rosa Parks moment—can propel a movement forward. Right now, prominent Chicago organizations and individuals, through their support or rejection of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, face such a moment.

Emanuel showed contempt for democracy, which was crass even by Chicago's low standards, when he concealed the dashcam video showing the police murder of Laquan McDonald.

It's only thanks to a monthslong court battle that the city released the video and the officer was indicted for murder. Besides potentially being a felony, Emanuel's act of concealment allowed him to steal the close-fought election for mayor.

Most Chicagoans, especially in the Black community, know they've been had. A Dec. 5 poll of "likely voters" showed Chicagoans disapproved of Emanuel's rule over those who approved by a nearly four-to-one margin. Fifty-one percent of likely voters—a serious undercount of minority and working-class residents—said he should resign, versus only 29 percent said he shouldn't. ( See www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/12/08/poll-51-chicagoans-say-mayor-rahm-emanuel-should-resign/76977622/. )

And the city is still fighting to prevent the release of at least two more police-shooting videos of other young Black Chicagoans.

This is a Rosa Parks moment because organizations like Equality Illinois are at a moral crossroads. Those groups that continue to give tacit or explicit support to Emanuel will not only participate in his contempt for democracy. They will also be sharing in his contempt for Chicago's Black community, which disproportionately faces the police violence that Emanuel chose ( and continues ) to cover.

More specifically, when an organization that is explicitly concerned with LGBTQ civil rights trades respect for the rights of others in Chicago in exchange for political access, it compromises itself. But it also does worse: It sends a message that LGBTQs are ignorant of, or immune to, the sufferings of others, including large numbers of Black LGBTQs in our own community. It undermines or even destroys any future attempts we make to create bonds of mutual support and united struggle to win justice for all.

Equality Illinois, this is your Rosa Parks moment. We implore you not to invite and do not allow Rahm Emanuel to your 25th annual gala on Feb. 6. Do not extend a political lifeline of support to a vicious and manipulative mayor who right now so desperately craves it.

Stand up for all of Chicago.

Gay Liberation Network


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