Street Smart Chicago

Crossing Lines: What’s Wrong with the Wrongful Conviction Movement

News etc., Washington Park 7 Comments »

022014By Martin Preib

Wrongful conviction settlements are big business, but they are not always sensible. Chicago settles millions of dollars in cases where convicted offenders claim they were wrongfully convicted.

For a number of law firms, suing the city over wrongful convictions has become a kind of cottage industry. Inmates claim they were tortured and coerced into confessing. The offenders are freed from prison. Attorneys quickly initiate civil lawsuits against the city. Many people assume that a settlement signifies the police were culpable and had something to hide.

But this is not the truth in several key wrongful conviction cases, none more so than the Anthony Porter case, a double murder in 1982 in Washington Park on the South Side.

“I got accused of certain things I didn’t do,” says Charles Salvatore, a lead detective in the Porter case. “I got accused of being this ringleader in a great conspiracy to frame Anthony Porter. I got accused of not having probable cause. I got accused of intimidating witnesses and I got accused of physical abuse, and I didn’t do any of this.”

In this case and many others, cops long for the opportunity to explain their investigation in civil court, even if accused of torture and coercion. Detectives want to retain their good name, and prevent the city from paying millions to murderers. The decision to settle, though, is out of the detectives’ hands.

When, in 1999, former Governor George Ryan watched news coverage of Anthony Porter’s alleged wrongful conviction by a Northwestern University investigation, it compelled him to place a moratorium on the death penalty (which stayed until Governor Quinn later abolished the death penalty). The Porter case continues to set the precedent for wrongful conviction cases in Illinois.

As a police officer currently employed by the City of Chicago, I have a unique perspective on wrongful conviction cases. Although I had no involvement with the Anthony Porter case, learning about its three-decade history has made me question the assumptions about wrongful convictions.  Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Knock Woodard

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Woodard Plaza, under construction/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Surrounded by chainlink fence and blanketed with snow, a new plaza under construction at the northwest corner of Milwaukee/Diversey/Kimball in Avondale, an intersection that appears several times in the movie “Wayne’s World,” currently looks pretty bleak. However, once it opens to the public later this year, the triangular slab of land is likely to become one of Chicago’s most vibrant public spaces.

Formerly a drab concrete traffic island occupied by a couple of trees, a bus shelter and a shabby newsstand, the wedge is being transformed into Woodard Plaza, named after the roadway that previously formed its northern boundary. The Chicago Department of Transportation has closed a short stretch of Woodard to connect the island to the mainland, creating a larger space that will house a small amphitheater, a raised performance space with power outlets, and a plethora of new greenery. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Chic Cargo

Checkerboard City, Green, North Center No Comments »
Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

Hozinsky hauls passengers during PumpKarve-Go. Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

On the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, parents transporting kids in “bakfiets” box bikes, and delivery riders hauling goods on two-wheeled, stretched-out “Long Johns” are a common sight, but hardworking utility bikes are still a relative rarity in this city. Ezra Hozinsky, owner of Green Machine Cycles, 1634 West Montrose in Ravenswood, is trying to change that. Full disclosure: Hozinsky is a former coworker and bandmate of mine.

“Having more of the larger cargo bikes on the street is useful in terms of making cycling a viable form of transportation,” he recently told me over pints by a roaring fire at the nearby Fountainhead tavern. “The positive aspect is that it starts to even out the size discrepancy between bikes and motor vehicles, making cyclists seem less vulnerable because it’s obvious they’re operating a machine. It may also be helpful for drivers to see more families on bikes. It can have the same effect as a ‘Baby on Board’ sticker on a car: a civilizing influence on the pace and aggression of traffic.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Travel Options in the Black Metropolis

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
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Young Bronzeville residents at the Cargo Bike Roll Call/Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

In the early twentieth century, Chicago’s Bronzeville community, aka the Black Metropolis, was home to African-American innovators and barrier breakers in business, music, art, literature and other fields. Now the neighborhood is ground zero for another first, the Go Bronzeville travel demand management program. This campaign, launched in September by the Chicago Department of Transportation, offers free resources, events and support for residents who want to make more trips via walking, biking, transit and car-sharing, instead of driving alone.

TDM programs in other U.S. cities have helped lower the number of single-occupancy car trips, saving participants time and money while improving their health, as well as fighting traffic jams and lowering emissions. CDOT is using federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds to conduct campaigns in five different Chicago communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Rudolph Ramble (December 15, 2013)

Lincoln Park, News etc., Running No Comments »
The titular rambler/Photo by Zach Freeman

The titular rambler/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:

Early on in this packed race it became readily apparent why it’s called a “ramble” and not a “dash” (though the Donner Dash is the kid’s race that’s tied in with the Rudolph Ramble). With 1,600 participants, the running paths chosen for the course would have a tough time accommodating everyone on a good day—and Sunday was not a good day. With temperatures in the low teens and mounds of snow left over from Saturday, this course became a bit of a cold slog right from the start, with lengthy backups and crowded conditions throughout. In areas where the trail doubled back on itself, dividing the already narrow trail in half, running became even more difficult. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Jingle Bell Run/Walk (December 14, 2013)

Lincoln Park, News etc., Running No Comments »
Santa and Mrs. Claus mingle with runners before the race

Santa and Mrs. Claus mingle with runners before the race

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown:
Who says you have to go to the suburbs for a challenging trail run? After this morning’s snow-filled Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis, Chicago can boast a race to compete with the best of them —and it takes place right in the heart of Lincoln Park! Starting and finishing in front of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (where most of the brave participants took shelter up until a few minutes before the race kicked off) this large but generally low key charity run morphed under a thick layer of fresh (and constantly falling) snow into a winter wonderland of trail running delight.

But while the snow certainly added a level of difficulty to the proceedings, the temperature (hovering just around 30 degrees) kept it from being a true slog. 10K runners took off on a mostly unplowed course through Lincoln Park at 9am with 5K runners following shortly thereafter. Smiling volunteers lined the course at various intervals, giving out encouragement and high fives. And the picturesque views throughout made any complaints about the course seem frivolous. As runners, when we approach a course like this, we are generally saying (though not in so many words): “My life is cushy enough that I feel the need to introduce arbitrary obstacles into it so that I may overcome them.” This morning the Jingle Bell Run/Walk provided just such an obstacle. And it was a blast to overcome it.

As an added bonus, Santa and Mrs. Claus were waiting inside after the race where runners could get a photo with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Boze Narodzenie: A Brighton Park Memoir

Brighton Park No Comments »
Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

By Martin Northway

“In Poland, government is a crime,” emphasized my friend Ryszard, whom I had met that fall here at the Daily Grind coffeehouse, just off the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Ryszard was a visiting professor in history from Warsaw University. Poland was just out from under martial law, but Ryszard remained a clandestine member of Solidarity, the rising national movement to restore democracy.

Among other things, we talked about the “Black Book of Polish Censorship” restricting journalists. In such a state, it was a part-time job for citizens to gather accurate information that affected their loves. “You are so fortunate in this country to have a free press,” despite its flaws, he insisted.

Ryszard spoke in accented but good, very precise English. Besides an interest in history, we shared another bond—while my father’s family goes back to the beginning of this nation, my maternal grandparents came here from Poland around the turn of the twentieth century. When he and I met, I was writing for the company magazine of the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Engine Co., three years out of my gig as as managing editor of the weekly Brown County Democrat and two years into my divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

When the Aspidistra Was Flying: Home, Among the Bookshelves, For the Holiday

Holidays, Lakeview No Comments »

By Vincent Francone

Thanksgiving, 1996. The Aspidistra Bookshop was open 364 days a year. If it wasn’t Christmas, the store wasn’t going to close. My family refused to believe this. Who would stay open on Thanksgiving?

I explained to my mother that I would not be coming home that year, that even though the trip was short—just an hour or so from Lakeview to the southwest suburbs—I had to open and close the store.

“Who’s going to buy books on Thanksgiving?”

Not a bad question. I didn’t expect many people to wander in, though few surely would, mostly the oddballs who fit right in among the dusty books and empty beer bottles that littered the shop. They haunted Clark Street drinking endless cups of coffee at McDonald’s and trading conspiracy theories before coming to our store to make my day a bit more surreal. They asked me questions like: “Do you know who really discovered  Halley’s Comet?” But they never bought anything. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Walk

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
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Crossing an offramp at Addison/Photo: John Greenfield

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year, my blogging partner Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values. Read the rest of this entry »

Greaser Girls: Fixing a New Biker Identity

City Life, Ukrainian Village No Comments »
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Crystal Kimmey and Kamaca Reavis

By Charlie Puckett

Tucked away in a Ukrainian Village alley off of Bishop Street, there are two women in a garage full of horsepower attracting askance glances and stares of jealousy alike. If you are a Ukrainian Villager, chances are you’ve never seen the garage or met Kamaca Reavis and Crystal Kimmey, but you’ve probably heard the engines of their vintage vehicles splitting apart a quiet afternoon, or you’ve heard a friend say, “I saw the craziest thing today walking down Chicago Avenue.” The spectacle your friend’s talking about could have been Reavis and Kimmey and their eight-year-old son idling in one of their vintage BMW sidecar motorcycles at a stoplight.

If your friend was staring, and Kimmey saw it, she may have said this to her son: “Seamus, sweetie, ask that nice man if he doesn’t like the color of my dress or if he’s constipated.” When that eight-year-old kid in a Star Wars X-Wing helmet leaned over in the sidecar to ask the question, that’s the moment your friend probably had his constipation relieved and whispered desperate supplications for the light to turn green. That’s just the kind of neutral response Kimmey is used to throwing out there before she shifts into first and rips away. Read the rest of this entry »