Domestic Abuse at Top of Chicago Arrests for May 2022, Data Show

By Andy Reyes • June 11th, 2022

According to data from the City of Chicago Data Portal, domestic battery with bodily harm offense was the most likely reason for someone to be arrested in Chicago in May 2022. A total of 202 people were arrested for domestic battery this May, with an additional 120 domestic battery offenses that did not result in bodily harm. This is trailed by arrests for possession of a controlled substance (144), non-domestic battery (120), driving on a suspended license (105), and finally retail theft (100).

Looking at the demographics of those who were arrested this May, the story remains similar to the past few months. Male, people of color are more likely to be arrested by CPD — almost 60% men, more than 70% Black. However, this should not be taken at face-value. A study by The Sentencing Project reveals the racial disparity between the people arrested and the people who commit crime. This is due to systemic racism in the police force, such as over-policing Black and Brown areas, as well as harsher sentencing for those people.

The problem of racism reflected in CPD data is not new. In-fact, CPD is 10 times more likely to use force against Black people than white people. There’s a similar disparity in this month’s data, as Black people make up over 70% of all arrests.

These visualizations highlight the top reasons for arrest as well as the demographics for all arrests in Chicago in May.

Read more: Crime

Data: High Percentage of Mass Shootings are Teens, Children

By Caroline Fisher • June 11th, 2022

The elementary school mass shooting in Uvalde Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers has stoked the flames yet again of one of the country’s most pressing issues: gun violence. , a nonprofit advocacy organization against gun violence, “Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed with guns and more than 200 are shot and wounded.”

This leaves many Americans questioning the adequacy of the gun policies that states have in place and wondering whether or not our representatives are doing what’s best for those vulnerable to gun violence.

As illustrated in the , one in every four victims of mass shootings are children or teenagers, and the U.S. has a 26-times higher rate of mass shootings than other high-income countries. And Illinois ranks fourth among states in mass shootings since 2009.

“Whether a state has a large capacity ammunition magazine ban is the single best predictor of the mass shooting rate in that state,” said Michael Siegel, .

High-capacity magazines, which allow a gunman to fire more shots before having to stop and reload, result in five times as many people wounded in mass shootings where they are used. These ammunition-feeding devices were used in many of the country’s most devastating mass shootings, including the 2017 Las Vegas shooting.

States with large capacity ammunition bans are associated with a 63% lower mass shooting rate than states without them, according to Siegel.

Read more: Crime

COVID-19: Latest Data and Work-from-Home Best Practices

By Red Line Project • June 11th, 2022

COVID-19 Year 3: Global, Local Numbers Still Climbing

It seems only yesterday that the arrival of a highly contagious virus that would permanently change the world was only an idea worthy of a Netflix film. But three years later, COVID-19 has become an unavoidable part of life, and the numbers have proven it highly unlikely to change anytime soon.

As of June 6, there have been 530,266,292 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, which means that 7% of the world population has been infected with the virus, including more than six million deaths worldwide. Additionally, over 8 billion vaccine doses have been administered so far.

Despite having decreased its transmission rate significantly, the U.S. continues to be the country with the most COVID-19 cases in the world, with 83,987,071 cases and almost a million deaths. According to the World Health Organization, 575.4 million vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S as of May 20th, 2022.

For Illinois, cases have remained controlled with a 9.4% daily average positivity rate, and 939 daily cases for the city of Chicago. Although numbers still seem concerning for most, it is important to remember that most safety restrictions against the virus have been removed nationwide. Masks are no longer required for most in-door establishments and capacity levels have been restored to their maximum.

For many, life has returned to “normal” since the beginning of the pandemic. Activities such as festival concerts and travel, which seemed impossible to retrieve at one point, are now possible again. Nonetheless, the importance of vaccinations and boosters continues to be a topic of debate amongst people.

With kids as young as 5 years old being able to receive the vaccine, and soon even younger, the nightmare that has been COVID-19 seems to be fading away slowly, but surely. However, it is important to remember the significance of simple measures such as constantly washing hands to protect ourselves and others. — Sofia Diaz

COVID-19 Graphic

How to Work from Home Like a Pro

After over two years after the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 remote jobs are skyrocketing. Although many jobs have transitioned back into offices, some businesses have chosen to stay as full-time remote jobs.

The demand for these remote jobs is going up due to the flexibility and freedom of working from your own home. However, there are a lot more health disadvantages of working from home than a lot of individuals initially think.

When working from home individuals have the freedom of rolling right out of bed and clock into work without having to shower, get dressed or commute for work. This is very convenient for many as it provides them with the ability to sleep in as much as possible before going to work.

However, what many people don’t know is that getting running around the office doing tasks, going out for your lunch, or talking to your coworkers while on break are all healthy routine things that we often overlook and don’t think are significant.

When working from home individuals often feel like they have no other choice but to stay at home because they have everything they need an arm’s reach. This can ultimately affect your mental and physical health in many ways.

As stated by Forbes, if not managed delicately “working remotely can leave people feeling isolated, or even more stressed out by their work. That’s why having a morning routine in place provides structure to manage the happenings of the day.”

Something as simple as including a morning exercise can enhance attention, visual learning, and decision-making, according to a 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Small changes such as having a balanced routine, being active, eating well, staying hydrated, and stretching throughout your shift can change your morale and motivation when working from home. — Joselyn Bibian

Work from Home Graphic

Read more: COVID-19

Data: Tracking Chicago’s Gas Prices Over the Past 22 Years

By Olivia Castillo • June 7th, 2022

Read more: Transportation

Maps: Chicago Summer Concert and Music Festivals Guide

By Caroline Fisher, Madeline Pimlott and Rubi Carmona • May 30th, 2022

Best Chicago Music Venues

With summer approaching, more and more artists are announcing tours featuring stops in the good ol’ Windy City. With the help of this map, readers can see where some of their favorite acts might perform this summer.

It’s clear through the map that a vast majority of the city’s most popular venues, like The Vic, Metro and Concord Music Hall, are located on the north side of the city in neighborhoods like Lake View, Lincoln Park and Logan Square.

This summer, music lovers can explore one of the city’s newest venues, The Salt Shed, which is housed in the old Morton Salt Factory in Lincoln Park. The venue is hosting an outdoor summer concert series dubbed “Summer Shows Outside the Shed,” featuring performances by artists like Courtney Barnett, Fleet Foxes, Lord Huron and more.

Although this map doesn’t include non-music exclusive spaces, concertgoers should also look out for events hosted at places like Soldier FieldUnited Center and Wrigley Field for major artists passing through like Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and more.

The map also doesn’t include spaces where the city’s major music festivals are held like Douglass Park’s Riot Fest and Grant Park’s Lollapalooza, which are set to feature headliners like Metallica, Doja Cat, Misfits and Bad Religion. — Caroline Fisher

Where Are the Best Music Festivals?

As a massive city with diverse tastes, Chicago is hosting a large amount of festivals this summer. The festivals feature food, art, literature, and music. Music is especially popular during Chicago summers due to the city’s spacious outdoor venues, dazzling skyline, and dynamic talent (both local and national).

Because many festivals took a break during the pandemic, Chicagoans and tourists are keen to return to the music scene this year. This map includes a compilation of music festivals happening this summer in the city. For inclusion, the festival must self-identify as a music festival and take place in Chicago during June, July or August of 2022.

The festivals are spread around the city and feature a wide variety of musical genres, such as classical, house, and blues to name a few. Prices range from free (usually mentioning a suggested donation) to hundreds of dollars, meaning live music is available for anyone’s budget. — Madeline Pimlott

Best Chicago Nightclubs

Read more: Neighborhoods

Map: Where to find Chicago’s Recycling Centers

By Jinhao Zhao • May 30th, 2022

The map shows the areas of Chicago (gray). seven of those areas (yellow) each have a recycling station, meaning there are seven places in Chicago where residents can drop off their recycling. Of course, there may be other recycling sites, but they’re not marked on the map as official centers.

They are the Far North Side in Rogers Park, the Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, the Household Chemicals and Computer Recycling Facility in Near North Side, the West Loop in Near West Side, Near South Side, the Old Attucks School in Douglas, and Washington Park. Click on the coordinates to have a picture displayed, which can help you find the recycle bin near the picture shown.

Rape Kit Backlog: Trauma, the Untested and Advocacy 

By Karlie Sanchez and Ricardo Brum • May 7th, 2022

Editor’s note: Per Red Line Project’s principles and policies, the name of the sexual assault victim interviewed has been changed for this story.

Joanne was laying half-awake in a hospital bed in Lincoln, Nebraska, when the questions came rapid-fire from police.

Were you assaulted?”

“What happened?”

“Did you know who the perpetrators were?”

 “Do you want to press charges against them?”

Joanne, 25, who now lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois, had been sexually assaulted a few hours earlier in 2020. Police had questions as Joanne found herself in a strange setting with the company of only a nurse.

“I felt supported,” she said, “but it wasn’t a warm welcome.”

The questions would be overwhelming for any sexual assault survivor, but they become even more difficult to answer for Joanne, who was surrounded by police, only minutes after regaining consciousness. It took 15 minutes to complete the questioning with the police, where she went over all of the events of the night as best as she could recall. She confirmed she wanted to follow through with prosecution and consented to a forensic exam, also known as a rape kit.

When people are sexually assaulted, they may choose to report it to the police and proceed with a forensic exam. The exam consists of having a doctor or nurse take a series of photographs of the victim’s body, while conducting an invasive and thorough examination for any DNA evidence left by the perpetrator. 

This is collected into a sexual assault evidence kit, commonly known as a rape kit. These kits can serve as strong evidence in identifying and convicting the assailant, but only if they are properly and timely processed. 

When Joanne underwent her forensic exam in Lincoln two years ago, she was told the approximate wait time was six to eight months, but the actual processing time for Joanne’s rape kit to get tested took a year-and-a-half. 

In 2020, the Chicago Police Department reported that the expected wait time for a kit to be processed at a state lab is about 270 days. But survivors are told by detectives and advocates in the state to expect a wait time of as long as two years.

Reporter’s Notebook

Reporter Ricardo Brum discusses the careful approach the reporters took on this sensitive story.

Abraham Martinez, a Criminal Justice Program Director at Generations College and a former correctional officer, said rape kits are crucial in building a sexual assault case, as “it is important that they are taken to the police right away. Rape kits should not take more than two weeks to be tested.” 

“These people could be raping again, and those test kits are still in the process of being tested for years, that’s a shame,” said Abraham Martinez

Also in 2020, at a January Illinois Senate Public Health Committee hearing, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly stated that analyzing DNA evidence within six months was an achievable goal. Yet, the state still had survivors who underwent analysis in the previous year waiting for their kits’ results for over eight months.

Although the backlog persists, some improvements have been made. Prior to the enactment of the 2010 Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act on Sept. 1, 2010 in Illinois, 6,020 out of 7,494 of rape kits booked into evidence from 1995 to 2010 in 127 out of the state’s 267 jurisdictions had not been examined. The law requires law enforcement officials to track rape kit data and send every rape kit in police custody for lab testing within 10 days.

In order to fight against the backlog, the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization focused on assisting survivors, has laid out six legislative pillars for states to implement to clear the backlog. See your state’s standing below:

Joanne’s experience was a common one for sexual assault survivors: A confusing wakeup, a strange setting with the company of only a nurse before officers are rushed in for questioning, bloodied clothes nearby as the victims try to make sense of what happened. That’s followed by an hour-long exam and months of waiting for a response on the rape kit from the state.

After waking up, the only familiar face she saw was her mom’s, who was asked to step out of the room as soon as Joanne was up, before any chance of interaction between the two. Within minutes, the nurse approached her to confirm the sexual assault, and to inform Joanne the police were there to take her statement and ask some questions before she was able to talk to her mom.

“Then he [the police officer] came in, introduced himself, started going down his list of questions, and then I started crying,” she said.

While Joanne was set on reporting her rape, that is not the case for the majority of sexual assault survivors. Only 31% of sexual assaults are reported to the police, and out of those, only 5% lead to arrest, according to RAINN. 

While most police districts in Cook County reported a similar level of criminal sexual assault in the first trimester of 2022 as they did in the first trimester of 2021, there are some noteworthy exceptions.Districts 2, 5, 8 and 19, covering South and Central Chicago, saw significant decreases of at least 29% on criminal sexual assaults, with particular attention to be paid to District 5, covering Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman and Riverdale, which saw a 67% decrease, with case numbers dropping from 21 to seven.

Meanwhile, Districts 10, 17, 18, 20, located on the North Side, and District 22, located West of the South side, all saw an increase in criminal sexual assaults of at least 50%. District 18 in particular, covering Lincoln Park and the Near North Side, saw an alarming increase of 129%, going from 24 reported sexual assaults in the first trimester of 2021, to 55 in 2022.

Martinez has worked at Cook County Jail for nine years, and for his last five years he was in charge of the lineups on a unit called SORT (Special Operations Response Team). From there he became a police officer for five years and worked as an officer at the University of Chicago, and lastly he became a deputy chief for a suburban department.

“If the chain of custody is not followed correctly, that evidence could be lost and you could lose your case,” Martinez said. 

 In 2007, Harvey Police Department had a raid by the Cook County sheriff’s office where they uncovered 200 rape kits. When Martinez was a deputy chief in Dolton, he was asked to assist another agency, Harvey Police Department where he found over 52 rape kits in a refrigerator that was in their evidence room. 

Getting rape kits tested has shown that it is important not only for the survivors, but it is important they are tested in order for their results to come back in a timely manner and law enforcement can proceed with their case and find the person who committed the rape. 

In 2010, #Endthebacklog created an initiative with the Joyful Heart Foundation, with a goal to eliminate all of the backlog in the United States and to prevent it from happening again. 

The Joyful Heart Foundation has worked to keep the narrative on rape kit testing through public awareness, allowing different communities to engage as well as government officials and state officials, and advocating for rape kit testing reform.

In 2015, the Accountability Project issued open records request in order to bring light to untested rape kits in Urbana, Champaign, Springfield and Chicago. In 2016, Illinois became the first state that enacted law S.B 2221, which required a statewide rape kit and audit. This would ensure that all rape kits are being reported right away, and processed. 

Since 2016, Illinois has enacted six bills, in order to help support the research, development, and reform of untested rape kits. These bills also help support survivors in being able to shower at the hospital after completing their medical exam, and having a sexual assault advocate with them.  

Senate Bills and House Bills passed in Illinois to Reform Backlog

Angie Gomez has worked with sexual assault survivors in different capacities for over 14 years. Sometimes she was the first person they told, other times when they’ve been interviewed by the police or after a police report has been filed.

“My experience when it comes to law enforcement working with sexual assault victims is not good,Gomez said. “They need a lot of training, trauma informed training. I don’t think police should be interviewing sexual assault victims.” 

Gomez said that certain components “from the way one is greeted at the hospital, the lighting, from how people are being spoken to, make the survivor feel supported, not judged and cared for. “

It is very important for a survivor to feel heard, seen and recognized for what they have been through. Through advocacy like Angie has done in her community, or initiatives and reform organizations like #Endthebacklog, it’s all a way for people to be informed, and take action. 

“If there is a silver lining, it’s that there’s other people who I can talk to,” Joanne said. “They might not know what every single detail feels like, but they have been through similar events, and you know, there is power in that, in saying their story to people who are actually listening.”


How to Help

There is still much to be done on easing a survivor’s plight. If you, or anyone you know, needs support concerning sexual assault, the following resources are available:

Source: RAINN

Read more: Crime

Albany Park Residents Fear Increasing Violence in the Neighborhood

By Eloiza Duchi, Lindsey Lasiewicz and America Puente • May 7th, 2022

Albany Park Sign Photo

Residents put up anti-violence signs in response to the violent attacks happening on the corner of Drake and Ainslie (Photo/Eloiza Duchi)

As a resident of Albany Park since 2010, Mildred Flores has seen her neighborhood take a massive shift, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of violent incidents has increased dramatically since 2019, with violence seemingly constant for residents like Flores.

“I would say it’s always with a fear of a shooting happening,” she said.

Between the streets of Pulaski and Kedzie lies Albany Park, a Northwest Side neighborhood that has come to be known as Chicago’s “entry port” for immigrants. Despite being a neighborhood where culture and diversity thrive, residents have been expressing concerns over their lack of safety. 

Flores has been the witness to several violent acts, and shared one that occurred on her way home from school. She described one incident in which  two cars were chasing each other and people were firing shots as she walked home on the sidewalk next to them.

While there is a police presence in all of Chicago, Flores explained the fear and negative impact that a heavier police presence could have on the community, if residents were to report every violent encounter.

“Mostly fear and also just being a minority, we feel like the authorities won’t always say for us, and we might actually be negatively impacted if we speak up,” she said.

Statistics from the Chicago Police Department from Sept. 29, 2021 to Oct. 5, 2021 showed that while murder, robbery and sexual assault crimes decreased, other crimes such as theft, motor vehicle theft, burglary and aggravated battery crimes increased. Furthermore, motor vehicle theft and burglary crimes have doubled.  

Residents have attempted to take matters into their own hands by adding extra safety measures. Fences are now seen in nearly every front yard and security cameras are rapidly being installed outside of homes. 

Claudia Pizarro, who has lived in Albany Park since 2002, knows too well the frustrations of these additions. While trying to fall asleep one night, she woke up to gunshots just outside of her house. 

“I was even thinking that, you know, maybe a bullet can come through the window,” Pizarro said of that night.

After checking the security cameras, Pizarro realized that the incident occurred just outside of the field of view.

Down the street from her house is a violence hotspot that has grown infamous amongst Albany Park residents: the intersection of Drake and Ainslie.

In 2020, a condo building in front of the intersection had installed cameras and began to upload any useful footage it captured to the YouTube page Drake and Ainslie.

With video footage ranging from car crashes to vandalism to drive-by shootings, the YouTube channel highlights Albany Park’s violence and crime issues. Many of these videos had occurred in broad daylight as well.

In March, the Chicago Police Department put up a camera at the intersection to steer gangs away from the intersection and to capture anything that did occur. Within a matter of days, the camera was shot at and destroyed. Thus, the violence continued.

The camera has been replaced now and Pizarro has noticed a big difference. She has not heard any gunshots since the camera went up two weeks ago.

Luis Sinchi works in Albany Park as manager of operations at Communities United. This organization focuses on youth investment, immigrant rights, and on furthering affordable housing for five neighborhoods, including Albany Park. After working up close with the neighborhood for the past decade, Sinchi has seen the rise in violence firsthand and understands the nuances of crime spikes.

“Violence,” Sinchi said, “is connected. We cannot see violence as just an isolated thing.”

Residents attribute the violence to rising rents, the closure of the Albany Park Youth Center in 2017, and an increase in gang presence in Albany Park could be among the contributing factors to the rise in violent crimes. All of these issues are urgent, but Sinchi understands the solutions are time-consuming because of resource allocation and general project length.

In the meantime, Albany Park residents must rely on small changes, like the camera on Drake and Ainslie, to ensure their safety. But how can one camera protect an entire community? Chicago’s lengthy history of organized crime and gang presence is certainly far from coming to a close. In fact, 2021 saw the most violent crimes, including homicides, in nearly 25 years. The simple answer: it cannot. But we can look at other facets of the violence spike.

In 2017, a branch of the Albany Park Community Center on Kimball and Ainslie closed down. This branch, however, focused on GED certifications, job training, and early childhood education programs. With schools cutting their afterschool programs as well, this closure marked a strange beginning for many children in Albany Park.

The lack of afterschool programs and activities leaves kids more prone to resort to gang activity and being on the streets after dark. According to research done at the University of Maryland, there is a significant correlation between participation in after-school programs and participation in criminal acts. When kids are safe and accounted for at after-school programs, they won’t be out in the streets getting themselves into trouble.

Sinchi echoed this research as he described the effects that school resources have in kids’ lives. Elementary schools and high schools need adequate funding for all kids in the community. Without this, there are no positive forces pushing kids away from the streets.

According to the University of Maryland research, young people behave based on their observations of the world around them and can be easily susceptible to negative paths if that is all that is presented in front of them. 

This lack of community investment, as Sinchi puts it, is then seen into adulthood. The cycle of violence continues as each generation passes through without a change in resources and educational programs.

However, being in school doesn’t mean being safe. In February, Albany Park residents were notified of a shooting that occurred in front of the Alessandro Volta Elementary School

The shooting itself was right outside of the preschool’s doors, where a 16-year-old girl was shot and wounded around 10 a.m.

“It just feels like parents send their kids without knowing if something’s gonna happen to them,” Flores said.

Read more: Crime

Asian Americans Are Facing Unprecedented Difficulties in Chicago

By Hannah Ding • May 7th, 2022

Chicago had always been one of the oldest and largest cities that Asian immigrants lived in since the 1870s. Many Asians were born and raised in the city just like many other ethnic families.

According to World Population Review, there are 179,530 Asian Americans living in the city. Asian Americans make up 6.63% of the total population of Chicago.

Zuviriya Anarwala, a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was born in India, and came to America when she was ten years old in the year of 2009.

“I think Chicago is really diverse so that makes it really easy,” Anarwala said. “It’s like your own place where you don’t have to be American or Asian. You can find your own balance. You can find both communities.”

According to the Chinese Exclusion Exclusion Act signed in 1882, Asian Americans seem to also never get to be treated equally as other ethnicities or to be seen as true “Americans”. 

A series of studies were conducted and found that hate crimes targeting the Asian American community have reached some unprecedented levels.

  • According to Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. more than quadrupled in 2021 compared to the year before.
  • Based on a national report from Stop AAPI Hate, from March 2020 to Dec 2021, 10,905 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported nationally. Based on the reflection of the report, 42.5% occurred in 2020, and 57.5% occurred in 2021.
  • According to a report by the NYPD, New York is one of the cities with the highest 339-percent-increased Anti-Asian crime rates in 2021. In March, an Asian female was hitted in the head and face 125 times. In February, another Asian female tailgated on her way back to her apartment, and got stabbed dozens of times. In January, a 40-year-old Asian female was pushed in front of an oncoming subway. When they were waiting for tomorrow they would never know what they only have is this moment.
  • According to a report released by Federal Bureau of Investigation in Fall 2021, among single-bias hate crime incidents in 2020, there were 6,880 victims of race/ethnicity/ancestry motivated hate crime, and 5.0 percent were victims of anti-Asian bias.

“I feel like most of the Anti-Asian crimes happened especially in the 2020s,” Anarwala said. “Trump said that thing. The whole freedom of speech topic comes up. Things like this can be really complicated.”

Asian-hate is not only in crime, it is also in the life of Asians in Chicago. Emily Sun is a second-generation immigrant whose parents came from China. She said that she and her friends were verbally and physically violated when they hung out together in Chicago.

“They call his name like chink. And one of my friends was pushed,” Sun said. “It was very scary. And I was just very disappointed about the people here.”

Things like this don’t just happen on the street, they are also happening in official offices. 

Ishani Mukherjee, a clinical professor in the department of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a South Asian immigrant who has been in the U.S. for 17 years. She said she faced secondary profiling when she was being interviewed by a White American male in an administrative office in the US that deals with international travel in 2021.

“He just said, ‘Your people’ – which is such a colonial othering thing off the bat – ‘every time they come into this country, they choose to bring all this gold with them,’ ” Mukherjee said. “God knows how many racist or cultural assumptions or prejudices this person has.”

Mukherjee said the official’s racist rant made her sad, as she had been working hard and waiting long to travel internationally.

Recently, an international incident that has caused concern among Asians is Lincoln Mitchell from CNN commenting that Eileen Gu, an Asian freestyle skier is “ungrateful.” Gu used to be Asian American but represented China while winning two gold and one silver in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Mitchell’s comments about Gu led many Asians to believe that it was also a disguised form of racism.

“They should not call her ungrateful, because part of her culture is Chinese,” Anarwala said. “It’s not like she’s not Chinese. She’s gotten the gold medal. And I find it weird. She’s accomplished something, and they have to say something negative about it. It feels like racist.”

Mukherjee said, “I think in baseball, and there are other sports, there are players who have simultaneously represented different regions or different countries. So I think it’s just bad timing that the people need something to create controversy on and it’s sad that it fell on Gu. I felt it’s important to explain why someone would be primed to think a certain way. ”

Anarwala, as a Muslim being, was offended by a female carrying her children, while she was wearing a black turban on her head at a restaurant.

“I kind of went out all black with my cousins and everybody,” Anarwala said. “So this mom, when she saw us, she told all her kids to get out really fast. She was like, ‘let’s go’, you know? And I was like, Will.”

According to the report released by Federal Bureau of Investigation in Fall 2021, among all the the 1,481 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 8.8 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.

While Asian hate is on the rise, Asian people in Chicago are trying to fight against discrimination. A Stop Asian Hate rally was held on March 26 by over 65 Asian American organizations. In fact, such protests are not just an isolated case. Another rally was held on Jan. 22 for an Asian grandfather who was shot and killed randomly in Chinatown.

Many of the Asian American communities are also helping Asians in the U.S. to adapt their lives here by offering them the taste of home. When searching for Indian restaurants in Google Maps, hundreds of results pop up. Food can always reflect the culture of an area, and Chicago is a  melting pot of different cultures with various different cuisines from regions all over the world. 

Being able to taste the flavor of their original culture in Chicago, as Anarwala said, Asian Americans can always find a balance between both Asian culture and American culture.

According to the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in Jan 2021, teaching Asian American history in public schools became a mandatory requirement starting from the 2022-2023 school year. 

Mukherjee, as an expert in intercultural communication and human mobility, said, “We talked about how it’s important in order to build communication competence, particularly intercultural communication competence, it is really important to kind of take a step back from your own cultural location, and then look at not just what others are doing. These factors are there in the US in a lot of us. But how we choose to fight against it, or how we choose to sort of put that aside and give credit to an individual for their experiences and what they bring or the richness screen is what I think is really important.”

Read more: Immigration

Uptown Concerned Over Weiss Hospital’s Potential New Owner

By Louise Macaraniag  • May 7th, 2022

Weiss Memorial Hospital photo

Weiss Memorial Hospital. (Photo courtesy Weiss)

Weiss Memorial Hospital in Uptown is undergoing two major real estate shifts this year, which has drawn the attention and ire of many in the neighborhood.

Pipeline Healthcare has recently sold both Weiss Memorial Hospital and West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park to Resilience Healthcare for $92 million. This is following the $12 million sale of the hospital’s parking lot to Lincoln Property Company last year. Lincoln Property’s plan for the lot is to build a 12-story luxury apartment complex.

“I am so worried about Weiss Hospital,” said Kathy Powers, a longtime North Side resident and organizer for Northside Action for Justice. “What’s going to happen if Weiss closes? It’s written in the cards that is what’s going to happen. 

“The expansion area that Pipeline sold off because that’s what hedge funders do, they sell off the quickest thing they can sell and then they leave. I don’t think Resilience is any different.” 

Powers isn’t the only one worried about Weiss. Community members, as well as the patients and hospital faculty, have shared several concerns over the recent transaction between Pipeline Health and Resilience Healthcare.

“I think that the very basic concern that we all have is that the hospital property is just gonna be flipped like a house,” said Julie Cottle, a community member and organizer for the Campaign to Stop Luxury Development.

Cottle spoke about a pattern of hospital closures throughout the Chicagoland area, specifically hospitals that primarily serve low-income patients like Weiss Hospital. In the last 20 years, nearly one in four Cook County hospitals have closed, and eight have been in Chicago. 

Weiss Hospital’s current owner, Pipeline Health, has struggled to maintain operations in one of their other facilities, leading to the closure of Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park. Westlake Hospital filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after Pipeline Health had promised to keep the hospital open. 

After Westlake closed in 2019, court filings later revealed that Pipeline never intended to keep the hospital open. 

A statement regarding Westlake released on April 11, 2019 by the Service Employees International Union-Health Care Illinois-Indiana read: “Instead of desiring to improve the health and well-being of the community, Pipeline seems only interested in pursuing financial gain through the acquisition.” 

Despite community concerns over the potential change in ownership of the hospital, Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) wrote in his newsletter published on March 10, “This ownership transition serves as further proof that Weiss Hospital is here to stay, and this additional investment ensures that the hospital will have the needed resources to continue expanding its offerings, services, and future jobs for our community.” 

Resilience Healthcare’s Background

Another question community members have raised is about the background of the potential new owners. 

“We’re concerned about who these people actually are,” Cottle said, specifically discussing Resilience Healthcare CEO Manoj Prasad and his partner, CEO of Ramco Healthcare Holdings, Reddy Rathnaker Patlola. 

In an April 8 public hearing regarding the exemption application for the hospital’s change of ownership, Angela Clay from Northside Action For Justice read a letter written by the Campaign to Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital. 

“The professional and financial background of the buyers is still not clear,” Clay said, questioning whether the buyers are “fit, willing and able to provide a proper standard of healthcare service for the community.” 

The letter was cosigned by Northside Action for Justice, Chicago Union of the Homeless, Asian, Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, Axis Lab, Lakeside Area Neighbors Association, and SEIU-HCII. It was written collectively by a campaign called Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital.

StoryMap: Cook County hospital closures, 2008-2019

The full letter had a comprehensive list of questions for the applicants regarding their full academic, professional, and financial background. It also included questions regarding the methodology used to determine the purchase price, plans for improvements, and about the promised $12 million reinvestment into the hospital.

“There just seems to be a lot of gaps in the application process, aside from their credentials,” Cottle said. “The parking lot deal has not yet gone through, but Pipeline says it’s giving Resilience $12 million, but there is no $12 million in cash; it was given as a credit on the purchase price, and we haven’t seen loan agreements for the purchase.

“Our position is that Pipeline should give back that property to Resilience, if the sale goes through because that property is expansion land. It’s land that has been used in the past for COVID-related operations, and moving forward, that should always be there as a way for hospital expansion.”

Weiss Parking Lot’s Redevelopment Plan 

The approval of the parking lot sale has not been finalized, and the community has continued to fight in order to stop this from happening. The campaign to Stop Luxury Development at Weiss Hospital started last year to stop the approval of the lot’s sale to Lincoln Property. The group’s primary concern for the redevelopment plan is the anticipated rise in gentrification that comes with it.

Within the 12-story luxury apartment complex Lincoln Property plans to build on the lot, there will be 306 market-rate units and only eight affordable units. This development further decreases access to affordable housing, leading to the displacement of low-income communities.

According to the most recent data on Uptown, 84 percent of households earning less than $20,000 are considered “cost-burdened” by their housing situation. 69 percent of those earning $20,000-$49,000 are also similarly cost-burdened, and only 5 percent of those earning $75,000 or more are cost-burdened. 

Dr. Janet Smith, a former UIC professor in Urban Planning and Public Policy, highlighted that Lincoln Property’s redevelopment plan demonstrates the disproportionate amount of affordable and luxury housing being built in Uptown. 

“To get a few units of affordable housing, we have to get a lot more units of expensive housing,” Smith said at a public hearing last December, “We often refer to [this] as chasing the problem rather than solving it.” 

The Community’s Next Steps

The community groups say their goal is to protect Weiss Memorial Hospital and ensure quality and affordable care for Uptown residents. 

Cottle said that the campaign has a multi-pronged, long-term approach to achieve this goal. The steps include making sure community members have a place at the table where their input is prioritized, interrupting any operations that put community members at risk, and maintaining the existing affordable housing in the area. 

Most importantly, according to several community organizers, one of the first steps to fixing these problems is to replace Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward). Cappleman, in a last-minute change of plan, acted against his constituents by voting to push the approval of the parking lot sale to City Council. 

When asked to comment on the Alderman’s vote, Cappleman’s office responded with a list of questions and answers from Lincoln Property Company’s meeting with Lakeside Area Neighbors Association on March 18, which outlines the process of the purchase and approval. 

During this meeting, a community member commented, “To encourage the sale of “public” spaces – like a hospital, a school, playground, non-for-profit buildings and helping developers upzone those spaces seems to speed up the spiral that is happening with gentrification already.” 

“I do not encourage or discourage the sale of property because I do not have control over who wants to list their own private property to be sold,” Cappleman responded, despite having the choice to vote against the approval of the redevelopment. 

“How this entire process was handled by our current Alderman has just left so much doubt and frustration,” Clay said. “He sold us out.”

Read more: Neighborhoods

How is Illinois Handling All of the Bilingual Teacher Vacancies?

By Joseline Salmeron and Fernando Mendez • May 7th, 2022

EDUCATION: The Illinois State Board of Education is offering $4 million in response to bilingual teacher vacancies. It’s a temporary solution, and teachers say there’s more that can be done.

Westdale School Photo

Sophie Alarcon, Westdale School, a third-grade bilingual teacher, presents a language arts lesson. Alarcon has been teaching for 20 years. (Photo courtesy Westdale School)

On March 4, the Illinois State Board of Education announced a $4 million grant to support the bilingual educator pipeline. The grant would help cover the tuition cost for instructors that teach English Learners. 

The grant was created in response to a vacancy for bilingual teachers. The announcement listed 98 vacancies for bilingual education classrooms in October 2021. 

Dr. P. Zitlali Morales, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a need for more bilingual teachers. 

There’s absolutely a need, and part of it is, again, unfortunately, part of the repercussions of the pandemic,” Morales said. “A lot of teachers left the profession because either they were near retirement, or they just didn’t want to deal with all of these changes, and all of the new stresses involved, because teaching is a very difficult profession to begin with.”

Pandemic Strains Existing Challenges in Bilingual Education

Bilingual teaching has grown increasingly difficult, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily moving classes remotely. Guadalupe Sandoval, a bilingual teacher at Wilma Rudolph Learning Center, was one of many teachers that had to adjust to a new teaching environment.

“Many schools were not equipped with the proper electronic devices, because they weren’t in the classrooms,” Sandoval said. “And many of the kids, and teachers didn’t know how to use them.”

The changes from COVID–related adjustments made it difficult for teachers to communicate with English learners and students’ parents during the quarantine. With schools returning to in-person instruction, Sandoval said it’s been easier, but that more can still be done, especially with the vacancy in bilingual education.

“It has been a struggle, and it’s still a struggle, which is why I think many people are happy that we’re more in person,” Sandoval said. “But it has been very, very difficult. With them, we’re still not where we should be, I think technology-wise, even helping out parents in their homes with that.”

One of the major aspects of gaining new bilingual teachers starts with teachers earning an English as Second Language endorsement or Transitional Bilingual endorsement. These certificates allow for the educator to temporarily teach for six years before it needs to be renewed. 

During this time, the teacher must complete a set of requirements and classes to be properly trained to teach in a bilingual setting. The number of Transitional Bilingual Certificates earned has steadily gone down over the past few years with a slight increase in 2020-2021 with 352 certificates given out.

The $4 million grant provides incentives and opportunities for people to earn their ESL endorsement. Morales added that while providing the grant is headed in the right direction there’s more that can be done for people that are already bilingual teachers.

“I think it’s a great step. I think that it’s an opportunity for people that maybe we’re thinking about it, but that they know that they have to take more courses or that they have to take, you know, certain tests,” Morales said. “So I think that this is definitely an incentive. And I think that at the district levels, there needs to be sort of more envisioning of what we can provide for current teachers who again, are sort of stressed and overwhelmed sometimes, especially because of the circumstances of the pandemic.”

Addressing the Bilingual Teacher Shortage

Monica Rojas, a bilingual education teacher at ACERO Marquez Charter School and 2021-2022 Teach Plus Policy fellow, said that for new student bilingual teachers, an incentive is to offer paid internships and paid student teaching

Morales cited scholarships and grant support are great for teachers gaining their licenses, as it encourages them to finish the license. However, she added that there should be more financial support for current bilingual teachers who often have to do extra work that sometimes isn’t compensated. 

Extra work includes seeking out opportunities to refine bilingual language skills to more effectively communicate with parents with limited English-speaking skills and receive professional development. 

Sophie Alarcon, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Westdale School in suburban Northlake, said her experience with parent-teacher communication did not come easy on academic matters. 

College and professional development coursework did not prepare bilingual student teachers like her to communicate with parents on an academic level but solely on a social level. 

Guadalupe Sandoval Photo

Guadalupe Sandoval teaches working with students. (Photo/Wilma Rudolph Learning Center)

Districts are also doing little to support English Learners in receiving high-quality instruction through provisional licenses and basic bilingual tests assessing Spanish language proficiency, teachers and experts say. 

Teachers like Alarcon say they have gone the extra mile to better communicate with parents by seeking out translating opportunities. 

“The problem with that is a lot of them, they’ll say like, ‘Oh, I know how to speak Spanish but I’ve never had to write it like official level.’ So it really is just learning a new way of thinking about language,” Alarcon said of teachers and aides offering translation services to refine Spanish language skills.

In Illinois school districts such as Mannheim 83, educators like Alarcon may not receive tuition reimbursement until two or three years later. Mannheim School District 83’s present model is on a first-come, first-serve basis until the allotted $50,000 budget has been exhausted for the school year and there are no special provisions for bilingual endorsement coursework. Any reimbursement request that has not been fulfilled gets rolled over into the following year. 

According to ISBE Employment Information salary data, the median salary for bilingual education teachers is $71,915.62. School district tuition reimbursement models like this discourage educators from taking more robust postgraduate level work and are often driven to online colleges, like the University of Phoenix, that do not provide holistic instruction necessary for educators to apply in real-time classroom settings. 

Importance of Bilingual Teachers

According to U.S. Census data published in August 2021, an upward of 1.6 million Spanish speakers were recorded in the 2020 Census with about 618,000 stating that they spoke English less than well. 

The vacancies in bilingual teachers have become more of an issue with the increase in English learner students enrolling.

ISBE’s 2021 annual report shows that 243,308 English language learners enrolled in Illinois. The number reflects a consistent increase in English language learner enrollment and the need for teachers to compensate. According to the Illinois Report Card, 12.9% of Illinois students are English learners.

The need for bilingual teachers has been a pressing issue for Illinois schools. The number of English language learners goes up and, according to Sandoval, this has always been an issue, especially with the Russian invasion of Ukraine introducing new students that require bilingual education.

“Since I’ve been, at least in Chicago Public Schools, there has always been a high need [for bilingual teachers],” Sandoval said. “And I think more recently, even more, because there are so many refugees coming through. Whether you know, it’s Haitian refugees, now the Ukrainian refugees, so they’re coming. The need is tremendous … unfortunately, there are not enough bilingual teachers to fulfill the need of education”

English learners have been most affected by the vacancies as the number of English language learners. According to an ISBE report, English language students meeting grade-level standards in English and math fell by half in 2021 compared to 2019. According to the Illinois Report Card, English learner students also had an increase in chronic absenteeism with 21.1% missing 10 or more days of class without a valid excuse.

Mastery Over Compliance

Promoting effective bilingual education services over meeting minimum federally mandated bilingual education standards is the present challenge in Illinois. 

Rojas recognized deficiencies in professional development, teacher licensing, and the dangers of provisional certificates for bilingual educators employed as meeting the bare minimum requirements for compliance during her Chicago Teachers Union Policy Fellowship. 

Educator License with Stipulations (ELS) for Transitional Bilingual Educator endorsements only require a bachelor’s degree within any field and a passing score on the Target Language Proficiency Test to provide an ELS-TBE provisional license which is good for five years. 

Within the past five years, ISBE has issued an average of 376.8 ELS-Transitional Bilingual licenses. 627 Language Proficiency tests were administered in the 2016-2017 school year and that number has since increased to 958 tests administered for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“We just want to make sure that bilingual education teachers are in positions, regardless of whether or not they’re able to deliver the services. So they’re receiving provisional licenses,” Rojas said about the state and district efforts to meet bilingual education requirements. 

This practice is symptomatic of a focus on compliance and not an effort to ensure that English Learners are receiving a comparable education to their monolingual peers.

“The focus right now is on compliance, it’s not on services,” Rojas said. The $4 million grant announced by ISBE is funded using federal pandemic relief dollars, otherwise known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. 

Being only a two-year grant, it is not a sustainable solution. Rojas, also on the Evidence-Based Funding Professional Review Panel, indicated that state funding is exhaustive but to better promote high-quality bilingual services, funding can be re-allocated. 

“It is a harsh reality but it’s a reality nonetheless that I definitely think that money can be allocated differently. That’s something that a lot of people won’t talk about,” said Rojas, speaking on the reallocation of state education funding. 

Presently, ISBE’s assessments budget is in the millions and is seeking to institute a year-round testing model, with an estimated cost of $228 million over the course of ten years. Funding from costly and inefficient non-mandated standardized testing can be diverted into other indispensable educational services, such as bilingual education. 

Despite these challenges and shortcomings on the district and state levels, Illinois’s bilingual educators prioritize their students. 

“Bilingual education is not for teachers and it’s not for schools or for districts,” said Rojas, emphasizing once more the need for high-quality bilingual services. “It’s for students. The services that they’re supposed to be receiving are supposed to support them and help them to be successful and to be on par with their grade-level peers.” 

Sandoval said one of the joys she has with being a bilingual teacher is helping students discover what makes their language special.

“As a bilingual teacher, you value the students for who they are, what they bring, their culture, their language,” she said. “You honor that, you respect that, you add a language to them, which is English, especially. And I think that especially when they’re that little you respect who they are, they become better students, they become better human beings in the environment and they learn to respect different languages and people.”

Reporter’s Notebook

Joseline Salmeron discusses how the story was reported.

Read more: Education

Chicago Carjackings Continue to Rise During the Pandemic 

By Brielle Conwell and Madeline Pimlott • May 7th, 2022

Around 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday last June, Gio Vamninorena was attacked and carjacked while going to his car to retrieve a pack of cigarettes for a friend near the corner of North California Avenue and West Augusta Boulevard in the Ukrainian Village.

Vamninorena said he had been hanging out at a friend’s house the night of the incident. He had gone out to his 2015 Honda Civic and was looking for his keys when three men approached him from behind. They told him to give them his belongings and keys and that they were going to take his vehicle. Vamninorena said that he was angry, but he did not argue.

“At the time, my first son was just born,” Vamninorena said. “So for me, the last thing on my mind was the car or anything that I did have, that’s all replaceable. It wasn’t really that important at the moment.”

According to the Chicago Data Portal, Chicago had a 31% increase in carjackings in just one year following the start of the pandemic, between 2020 and 2021. There were a total 1,852 carjackings reported in 2021 and Chicago’s numbers are higher than every other large city. Carjackings in 2021 are the highest they’ve been in 20 years and had actually been on a decline since 2001.

But that changed at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Rocco Wlodarek and Marvin Cooks of University of Illinois at Chicago’s Transportation Services encourage patience and staying safe in dealing with carjackers. Wlodarek said that about 80% of the time a thief’s “goal is the property, not the person.” He advises victims to escape the situation as quickly as possible and “let material things go under those circumstances when faced with violence.”

“If they’re asking for your things, you want to comply,” Cooks said. “You’re thinking about trying to get home and trying to be safe.”

Wlodarek said an increase in desperation among offenders during the pandemic is a possible effect on the rise in carjackings. Cooks cited “lack of resources” as a potential factor.

Don McCarty, an associate professor of Criminology, Law, and Justice at UIC, said he believes the rise in carjackings during the pandemic is closely related to inconsistencies and fluctuations in public schooling over the course of the past couple of years during the pandemic. 

McCarty pointed out that a majority of carjackings tend to be carried out by juveniles and while school is back to normal now, there were long periods of time when kids were unable to attend school.

 “Whenever we have these big tumultuous events, there are always unintended consequences,” McCarty said. “And I think certainly one of those has been, you know, the lack of supervision. The lack of structure for young people.”

On April 1,  the Chicago Police Department reported 72 arrests for carjacking so far this year. Among those arrests, 57% of offenders have been juveniles. 

When reflecting on being carjacked, Vamninorena said he remembered his attackers being young. He guessed that two of them were in their late teens with the third being a bit older, probably in his early 20s. 

Vamninorena said his car was recovered the morning after the carjacking near Des Plaines. He said the car was found crashed and contained liquor bottles and marijuana and it appeared to have been a joyriding incident.

McCarty said that often there is no sophisticated goal in carjackings. These offenders, mostly juveniles, are performing these crimes as a way to have fun or to show off for their peers. 

“Sometimes it’s a means to another offense, but sometimes it’s a means to just, you know, to have fun,” he said. “And again, I know, it’s weird to put it that way. But, oftentimes that’s what it translates to.”

Vamninorena said he wishes people would be more aware and cautious of their surroundings. He said that his family has lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood for over 40 years, himself 26 years, and he acknowledges the improvements that the neighborhood has experienced, but, he said people still need to watch their backs. 

“With so many bars that we have around here, sometimes you get some stragglers, and people you know, just being annoying,” he said. “It does arise some tension and you always have to be on guard with anything that goes on.”

Wlodarek said people are more vulnerable to carjackings within the last 15 feet before entering a vehicle as well as at gas stations, because their actions are “completely predictable” when entering, exiting, and approaching a car.

“You’re thinking about packing stuff into the back of your car, getting your keys out of your pocket or your purse, you’re not completely invested in what’s around you at those moments,” he said. “That’s why those are key areas where people get taken advantage of.”

Looking back on the assault, Vamninorena said he is glad that he didn’t fight back and he encourages others to be sensible if they are ever in a similar situation. He said that being raised in the neighborhood and environment he was in has made him more aware of the risks and precautions that people should take in the city. He said he believes that an overall lack of respect and awareness from the younger generations has contributed to the rise in carjackings.

“That’s just because they were brought up differently, and they don’t really know the circumstances of what might be able to happen without being able to actually be street smart,” he said. “Which I feel like a lot of people nowadays in this generation don’t really have. Which I feel like that does credit toward the actual juvenile delinquency going up.”

Reporter’s Notebook

Brielle Conwell discusses how this three-part carjacking project was reported.

Read more: Crime

Vandalism Increasing in Chicago Since Start of the Pandemic 

By Marci Ponce and Valeria Fridegotto • May 7th, 2022

On a visit to Wicker Park on March 29, Johanna Felton parked along the side of the store Round Two on North Milwaukee Avenue. 

Around 10 p.m., she decided to leave and noticed that her car lights were on. Thinking it was a mistake, she opened her door just to find a mess inside the car as someone had broken in.

She thought she was safe as she paid for the spot. However, she still dealt with the repercussions of this incident. She chose not to file a police report. 

Felton said she feels unsafe now and takes the train to the city from the suburbs. While this is inconvenient, she says she fears for the safety of her car. 

“I hate the train,” she said. “I feel unsafe there too. The commodity of driving my car is something I miss every day, but I am far too traumatized to bring myself to drive downtown again.”

Felton is one of many victims of vandalism in Chicago, a trend that has been increasing since the start of the pandemic.

According to 2020 Chicago crime statistics, for every 100,000 people, 3,926 have committed a crime. That’s 67% higher than the national average, with violent crimes playing a large role in those numbers. 

Although this statistic includes all crimes that have been reported throughout 2020, property damage was the leading crime with 80,742 cases reported. That means for every 100,000 people, 2,983 were reported for property damage charges.

Vandalism is characterized as the intentional destruction of property with malicious intent. Acts of vandalism include behavior such as breaking windows, graffiti, slashing tires, and destruction of public or private property. Vandalism is a malicious act that reflects a person’s recklessness and demonstrates their intent and malice.

Chicago faced many hardships with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses were forced to shut their doors. It took a toll on the education system as well, as classes moved online.

More carjackings were reported as well, there were 603 carjackings in 2019 compared to 1,415 in a 2020 analysis of police data. Acts of vandalism also caused a spiraling effect on the lower class citizens, who are struggling to provide for themselves and their families, they are just looking for a way to survive, experts say.

Rahim Kurwa, a UIC  assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice and Department of Sociology, does research at the intersection of race, policing and residential segregation.

“Catching people for stealing the basic ingredients, subsidizing, keeping your infant alive if you had one, right, we have to get to a point in our society, we’ll look at that picture and understand what that’s really a picture of, which is a picture of an indication of the severe economic need in our society,” Kurwa said

With fewer after-school programs and not many jobs available, citizens in the lower class found themselves stealing necessities and causing property damage in hopes of sustaining or making a profit.

Cicero resident Tanya Chanprung saw men break into her car on a sunny March afternoon in 2021.

She parked in her usual parking spot. She liked that parking spot because she could see her car from her apartment on the third floor of her building. She could keep an eye on it, regardless of how unsafe her neighborhood is. 

She went upstairs, organized her groceries, and put a TV show on. While having dinner, she looked out the window and she saw a group of men approaching the area where her car was parked. She was a little skeptical, but it did not concern her. 

After a couple of minutes, she realized that the group of men would not move away from her car. She called her boyfriend. Five minutes later, she heard a loud noise and she looked out the window once again. On the phone with her boyfriend, she yelled, ‘they just broke my car’s window!’. Her boyfriend, on the other line, urged her to call the police. 

Chanprung was scared. She watched her car get broken into as it was happening. There was nothing she could do but wait for the police. She feared it would be too late by the time they arrived. She heard the sirens. She did not know at the moment whether or not it was the police attending her situation, but hoped so and prayed they were here. She wanted to scream out of her window. She felt helpless. 

After the police arrived at the scene, Chanprung felt safe enough to walk up to her car. The police were searching around the area, but it was too late to do anything. Fortunately, none of her belongings were stolen. The police claimed that the group of men were probably intending to steal her car. 

Chanprung drove to the police station with her boyfriend and filed a police report. To this day, nothing has been done about the incident. Fortunately, Tanya’s insurance covered the damage. A year later, Tanya pays monthly to park her car at a parking tower less than a mile away from her apartment. She has considered moving out of the area for safety purposes. 

“The wait was killing me,” Chanprung said. The risks of parking in the city of Chicago caught up to her. Nothing has been done about the incident, leading Champrung to wonder if she would have gotten help if something worse happened. 

Kurwa said, “in Chicago, you know, when crime goes up, we hire more police. When crime goes down, we hire more police, right when we really need money to fix other problems. We don’t have it, but we will always have money to increase the number of police officers. Right. Chicago has more police officers per citizen than any other city in the country. Right? And what do we have to show for it?”

Read more: Crime

Carjackings in Chicago: Who is Impacted and How You Can Help

By Sydney Voracek, Elizabeth Rojas and Evy Reyes  • May 7th, 2022

On Dec. 8, UIC graduate student Citlalli Trujillo and her boyfriend’s family joined many other Chicagoans as victims of an attempted carjacking and robbery, an incident that has changed her life dramatically. 

After saying goodbye to her boyfriend’s parents that evening, she never expected to hear a scream outside her apartment in Pilsen. When Trujillo and her boyfriend returned to his parents, they were face-to-face with three to four individuals attempting to rob them with weapons. 

“I looked at one of them in the face [and asked], ‘What do you want?’” she said.

The suspects, whom Trujillo described as young, surrounded the car and forced her boyfriend’s parents out of the vehicle. Trujillo’s boyfriend attempted to intervene but he got punched in the face as one of the suspects fired a weapon at the vehicle.

The individuals then left with a Michael Kors purse and all of their iPhones, with no one else seriously injured.

Her experience is one of many in Chicago as the city has seen a sharp increase in carjackings since the start of the pandemic. According to crime data in the City of Chicago Data Portal, from Jan. 1, 2021 to April 14, 2022  there have been 2,296 carjackings in the city.

After her incident, Trujillo began to see her neighbors flood the scene observing and asking questions. However, she was the one to call the Chicago Police Department, even though many others saw or heard the incident. 

“I have lived here for three years,” Trujillo said. “If you heard that was happening, and if you saw it was happening, why didn’t you intervene? You know? It could be so easy to just call from your house. 

You’re not in danger.” 

Trujillo said she’s frustrated with the community. She said that she has roots in Pilsen, loved ones have lived there for generations and it’s where she works and goes to school. She is not willing to abandon her community and her frustration has driven her to do more and get involved. 

“I know some people get really baffled when I say this, but I actually am staying in the neighborhood,” Trujillo said, “pushes me to keep making my presence in the community, and I really want to change things as a researcher, as someone who has family in Chicago, and as someone who lives here now”

According to crime data on the City of Chicago Data Portal, there have already been 133 aggravated vehicular hijackings in the month of March 2022 across the City of Chicago.

Diane Ramos witnessed multiple carjacking attempts on March 12 through her living room window in the Hegewisch neighborhood, on Chicago’s East Side.

Ramos was relaxing in her living room watching TV, when suddenly through the window in her living room she saw a group of four African American men walking up and down the street. Considering she lives on a main street she found this very odd, especially at 8:30 p.m.

As she looked out her door, she saw the four men running in front of cars, up to the cars, and pretending to have a gun with them in an attempt for a car to stop to carjack them. 

Ramos told her husband to call 911. She stressed the importance of being aware of your surroundings and any suspicions going on around you. According to ABC 7 Chicago report, the most common days to get carjacked in Chicago are on a Tuesday, though the incident Ramos witnessed was on a Wednesday.

CPD Officer Hernandez, has been on the force for six months. She has never witnessed a carjacking herself, but her district is familiar with the incidents. 

“I’ve never personally witnessed it happen, but of course we do take reports on it,” she said. “Especially because of the district that I’m in, we’re so filled with expressways. It’s literally [where] two expressways meet. So my point being is that people come and carjack and then just hop on the expressway. So it’s really easy to do that.”

Hernandez said that sometimes when a carjacking occurs, it’s not always violent because most of the time that people have gotten their car stolen it’s because they left their car running,  especially if they do DoorDash or UberEats.

“They’ll run to go get their food and pick it up,” she said, “and their car will be gone because they left it on. That’s usually a lot of time [with] the carjackings.”

“So, there’s the carjacking and then a straight steal. A straight steal is when you leave your car running with the keys in it and then they take it. [To be considered] carjacking, there needs to be some type of force.”

Although Hernandez has not been involved in aggravated vehicular carjackings where the drivers were injured, she mentioned her colleagues’ experiences when investigating carjacking in Chinatown. Hernandez explains her colleagues’ experiences as, “violent” and, “a lot of instances where they hit the driver over the head with a gun.” This is a similar situation to Truilljo’s experience where the offenders were violent and used their weapon.  

Said Hernandez, “Why are they so common? Honestly, I don’t really understand the purpose of carjackings. A lot of the time, people will take them and commit a crime or not, and then dump them.” 

Hernandez said that when people commit vehicle hijacking, they are unable to drive too far due to the key fob. This causes the engine to stop when the key is not near it. She further explains that cars that have a key fob let you program it so the car can only drive within five miles until the car senses that there is no key fob. Once the car senses that there is no key fob it will stop.

Hernandez was asked if there is a pattern of certain cars that are carjacked. 

“It’s usually any car, I’ve seen a lot of Jeeps get stolen, as well Lexus, Mercedes, Volkswagen, or like the Volkswagen trucks,” she said.

According to CBS 2 Chicago, the most common cars to get carjacked in Chicago are Jeeps, specifically the Grand Cherokee model. Toyota Camrys are also common cars to be carjacked because they’re one of the most cars seen on the road. 

Reporter’s Notebook

Brielle Conwell discusses how this three-part carjacking project was reported.

Camrys have a 3.61 percent of all the carjacked vehicles that have occurred in Chicago. Followed by the Grand Cherokee with 2.97 percent. 

Getting these two cars comes with the cost of potentially being targeted for carjacking here in the city of Chicago.

Elizabeth Favela also witnessed the multiple carjacking attempts on March 12 near her mother’s home in Hegewisch.
As Favela was standing in the kitchen preparing dinner for her family, she saw two African American men walking up and down the middle of the street. She then saw two other African American men running toward the two walking. The men were screaming, “Let’s get the next car, go.”

Favela noticed that as she was dialing 9-1-1, police were already arriving. She and her husband decided to go outside to see what was going on and then saw other neighbors outside.

Favela said, “It feels good to know I live in a neighborhood where we are always cautious and mindful of what is going on and we act on any suspicions.

“Our neighborhood is family-oriented. Those who are attempting carjackings are not from here and we all know this.”

How to Help

Trujillo said neighbors can help with community policing by attending  beat meetings. Beat meetings are hosted by Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) and are used as a communication tool across residents, police officers, and other community members. 

Here are some other resources that can be used to better assist the community:

  • WTTW Pilsen – A platform specific to Pilsen resources 
  • Pilsen Wellness Center  – A resource that assists the Pilsen community with affordable mental health services and holistic human services 
  • The Resurrection Project – A nonprofit in the Pilsen community that  advocates for clean and peaceful streets, safe and affordable housing, and quality education and community resources. 
  • Chicago Cred – A nonprofit to reduce gun and street violence in Chicago by taking a multifaceted approach through Street Outreach, Coaching & Counseling, Workforce Development, and Advocacy & Prevention.

Read more: Crime

Wicker Park Carjackings: The Fear of Going for a Ride 

By Lulu Anjanette and Gina Vega  • May 7th, 2022

Carjacking photo

Carjackings have been on the rise in Wicker Park and either attended or unattended vehicles have been targeted for car parts or for vandalism. (Photo/Gina Vega)

In the daytime, the Wicker Park neighborhood fills with shoppers or people eating at the multiple restaurants on both sides of the streets and by night, the streets become more crowded and more vibrant. 

However, some area residents say they have grown afraid to step outside of their homes to go to their car because of the fear of being hurt.

Tommy Almanaza, a long-time resident of Wicker Park, stated that he and his friend were almost victims in a carjacking when they were walking outside of Wicker Park’s many businesses.

“I think the other day, I was just with my friend,” Almanaza said. “I forgot what store we were at, but I only remembered that as we were walking out, like these three guys, right away, were standing in front of his car.” 

“I think they were trying to take the rims off of them because they had a couple of things like the nuts out,” Almanaza said.

Their initial reaction was what anyone would react; shocked. 

“We just kind of stood there for a second until my friend processed what was happening to his car,” Almanaza said. “And when he started yelling at the guys to leave, that’s when they just booked it.” 

This experience changed the way Almanaza and his friend felt about their safety in Wicker Park. 

“You just expect to walk to your car and as you walk out, you hear something happening,” Almanaza said.  “You’re kind of, it’s more like a deer in headlights type of moment. What do you do?”

Since late last year, the number of carjacking cases around the Wicker Park neighborhood had spiked tremendously. With four carjackings happening in the span of less than a week. The highest was four carjackings in one day, according to the 14th District Chicago Police. 

Arrest rates are low with only one in eight carjackings in Chicago in 2020 resulting in arrest, according to a study by the University of Chicago. From these arrests, 61% are of youths age 17 and below. 

Wicker Park resident Chloe Osberg said neighborhoods like Wicker Park can have as much police patrolling as they want, but they don’t contribute to the decrease of carjacking crimes.

“I just don’t feel like they do much, and I don’t think they help with crime in my neighborhood either,” Osberg said. “I don’t know much about the aldermen or the policies they’re making in Wicker Park, but I would just like to see some sort of action.”

She said that a big community presence is what helps others prevent crimes since most of those who commit the felony often get overwhelmed by the sheer presence of a potential witness to their crime. 

Video: Wicker Park carjackings

“But, I definitely think people’s presence does a lot more to help lessen crime in neighborhoods just because people are less likely to commit crimes when there are many witnesses to see it happen,” Osberg said. “Wicker Park is a great community of people. It’s a thriving neighborhood. And it’s growing. So just to see that people care about the community and continue to just watch out for each other. It’s just something that is great to see.” 

Back over by Bucktown, it has been said that residents who have experienced similar attacks have put their foot down and started up the Bucktown’s Neighbor Association, which hires private security to patrol a different part of the neighborhood every day. 

Christopher Powell, a graduate student instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Criminology, Law and Justice Department, said there are several hypotheses for the increase in carjacking cases these past few years.

“There’s to me, no doubt that part of the explanation lies in the incredible challenges brought on by the pandemic,” Powell said. “I’d be interested to see what the statistics look like on homelessness and food insecurity and my suspicion would be that they are strongly correlated because a lot more people are in crisis, which, unfortunately, only exacerbates problems like carjackings.”

Trends: Google searches on carjacking in Chicago since the early days of the pandemic

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak began, violent crime rates around the United States have increased exponentially. The overall violent crime rate — which includes murder, rape, assault and robbery — rose about 5% in 2019, according to FBI statistics

“There’s also, rightly or wrongly, less motivation, less incentive, or even less ability in many cases for police officers to engage in high vehicular pursuits,” Powell said. “And so, if that’s the case, then it becomes less risky to engage in carjackings.” 

According to The Civic Federation, a blog that reports on recent carjacking incidents within Chicago, carjacking incidents often have a very low rate of rate resolution. This means that because most carjackings don’t occur often, the way to handle an event much like that has started to increase in 2020, and there is no other solution other than to increase police patrolling in neighborhoods like Wicker Park.

“Oftentimes you know, the people who are doing it are juveniles,” Powell said. “We don’t necessarily expect seventh, eighth or ninth graders to be engaged in violent crime, but sometimes that’s exactly what’s going on.”

“It’s certainly one of the more visible instances of crime, especially when it happens in highly gentrified neighborhoods like Bucktown and Wicker Park,” Powell said.  “And so the idea that there’s vulnerability to violent crime and in spaces that attract metropolitan Chicagoans, it creates a lot of drama that creates a lot of pressure. You know, to do something.”

He argues that the rise in violent crimes in the past produced an avalanche of punitive, tough-on-crime sentiment that made its way into legislation. 

“When there is enough outcry, I think we might start to see harsher penalties,” Powell said. “You might start to see the return of laws that treat juvenile aggressors, muggers, carjackers as adults, you might start to see legislation like that.”

“In a sense, history doesn’t always repeat itself, but it rhymes,” Powell said. “And I’m not thrilled to see where that goes.”

Reporter’s Notebook

Brielle Conwell discusses how this three-part carjacking project was reported.

Read more: Crime

Security In Chinatown: What Improvements are Being Made

By Emily Chow and Mathew Da Cruz • May 7th, 2022

CRIME: City and state officials weigh in on the recent spike in criminal activity in the Chinatown neighborhood of Chicago and discuss the effects.

lori lightfoot photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials speak onstage at the Town Hall Youth Meeting in the Harold Washington Library on April 2. (Photo/Emily Chow)

Chinatown has seen a dramatic increase in crime within recent years, largely during the COVID-19 pandemic. This escalation has raised heavy concerns for safety within the Chinatown community. 

Crime rates in Chicago have grown during the pandemic, according to data from the City of Chicago Data Portal. Battery cases increased by 56% from 2019 to 2020, and grew by 9% from 2020 to 2021. Homicide cases also grew during this time. From 2019 to 2020, homicide cases rose by 55%, and grew by 3% from 2020 to 2021.

One of the most recent acts of violence in Chinatown was a homicide that involved elderly resident Woom Sing Tse, which was reported on Dec. 9 at 247 West 23rd Street. The incident occurred directly across the street from John C. Haines Elementary School. 

Tse was shot 22 times and killed while walking to obtain a newspaper at noon, according to police. The accused gunman, Alfonso Joyner, was caught and charged with first-degree murder. No apparent reason was found for the shooting.

Catherine Moy-Davis, the principal of John C. Haines, described how the shooting happened that day.

“Some of the students were outside at recess,” she said. “The shooting happened maybe 15 feet away from the office.

“We had to do a quick lockdown. So all the children came inside from recess. We turned off the lights, and I went on an intercom. It was a very scary moment for everyone, myself included, just because I’ve never had to do anything like that.”

Moy-Davis said Haines has taken extra safety measures since the shooting.

“We do have two security guards in the building from Chicago Public Schools,” she said. “We also have to make sure that we are still continuing drills. and then just talking to [the students] about being safe, going home, walking in pairs. We did hold a tabletop conversation with mental-health service providers for this in terms of talking about trauma.”

Chinatown has a reputation as a relatively safe neighborhood in Chicago, with security cameras placed in the streets and central square, as well as having a close-knit community. 

“It devastated this community, people felt very violated in their own neighborhood. It was very sad, tragic,” said William Schejbal, the coordination officer from the Chicago Police Department’s 9th District. “Citywide, there’s been an uptick everywhere in everyone’s neighborhood of property crimes, and unfortunately, violent crimes.” 

As a coordination officer, Schejbal communicates directly with businesses and local community associations in Chinatown as well as other neighborhoods throughout Chicago. He helps to ensure that the organizations and community members understand what the police department is doing for the city.

When questioned about the feeling of safety in Chinatown, several local residents answered similarly that the safety situation did not seem to be very good at the moment. Nearly every local asked had expressed their wishes to remain anonymous. They did not want to give any identifiable information that could be linked back to them.

Edith Liang, who lives near Chinatown, said of public safety in Chinatown: “I feel like lately, crime has been significantly rising in our community. So that makes me fear for my elderly neighbors that are in Chinatown, and especially with violent crimes and also carjackings.”

Liang recounted an event in which her cousin was carjacked in Chinatown. Her cousin was able to escape unharmed, and the incident left a deep impression on her and others close to her.“Because a situation like that happened to someone close to me, it makes me fearful to walk around Chinatown late at night, even during the day now,” Liang said. “Growing up in that community, a lot of the elderly people have routines. So it makes me fear for them. And also myself when I walk alone in Chinatown.”

Liang mentioned senior members living in Chinatown, who tend to have more difficulty staying safe. Elderly citizens are physically limited in mobility, and thus are more vulnerable to attacks. 

When asked about how the safety situation may be improved, Liang said that it would be difficult. 

“I think it all comes down to education,” she said. “If we educate our younger ones the right way, and teach them the morals that they need to be taught and teach them that education is really the foundation of their growth, then I feel like that would solve the root problem.”

Not only were acts of violence felt deeply by Chinatown residents, but the effects also echoed throughout the rest of Chicago as well. 

In a Youth Community Safety Town Hall meeting held on April 2 at the Harold Washington Library, Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke on the city’s desire to improve the safety in Chicago neighborhoods. 

“What we’re trying to do with the investments that we’re making, and the way in which we’re engaging in community is to really build in every single community, safe places,” Lightfoot said at the event.

The audience was seated at many tables for the event, with the younger participants upfront. Attending city officials, including Lightfoot herself, visited the tables to hear the opinions of young people about their neighborhoods and the city. 

“We really want to make sure that we work with the Chinatown community – many of whom are immigrants – so that they don’t feel like they can’t speak up and talk about the issues and challenges that they’re experiencing in the community,” Lightfoot said at the event.

Lightfoot added that she and her office are increasing police resources in Chinatown, as well as working with the Chamber of Commerce, various service organizations, and stakeholders.

Other city officials also attended the event, such as representatives of the city as well as leaders from the Chicago Police Department. They informed the audience of their current work for the city.

“It’s got to be a community effort; we need, when crimes are happening, for our community members to report crimes,” Ald. Nicole Lee (11th Ward) said during an interview at the Town Hall meeting. “It’s one of the bigger challenges in our community and the Chinese community, that sometimes people don’t want to report crimes. So we’re working on getting more language-skilled police officers, as well for the district.”

CPD photo

Officer William Schejbal and Officer Cheryl Welbel from the Chicago Police Department’s 9th District in Chinatown. (Photo/Emily Chow)

The safety of citizens is addressed on a broader scope of the state as well. Illinois State Rep. Theresa Mah shared some of the state’s efforts toward community safety in an interview.

“We added more than $200 million for public safety and law enforcement measures,” she said. “This is in addition to the $250 million that the governor had originally set aside for reimagined public safety.

“Some of those programs had already started earlier this year. They’re grant programs that are designed to address public safety through some of the root causes.”

Mah also described bills recently set in place for crime prevention and public safety. One such bill turns carjacking into a Class One felony for adults. Another increases funding for highway cameras, and compensates residents for sharing footage from their security cameras with law enforcement. One more bill places more attention on witness protection and victim responses.

“We have been hearing from residents who have expressed concern about these things,” Mah said, “and so we’re trying to put together legislation that’s smart on crime and assists law enforcement and increases the technology to increase clearance rates and then also supports victims of crime in a more robust way.” 

When asked what community members could do to help improve safety, Schejbal said that community organizations and the police department need to be in touch with one another.

“We need the people in these community groups to feel that they can reach out at any time to talk to us,” he said. “Let us know what the problems are. Don’t just stay silent, let us know.”

Schejbal emphasized the importance of citizens familiarizing themselves with others in their community.

“Be outside, talk to your neighbors,” he said. “And when you go to your local store, say hello to the people that work in the store so that they know you and you know them.”

Communities need more citizens to stay aware of what happens in their neighborhood, as Lee highlighted. It will require the contributions of more members for the well-being of each community.

“Community safety is something that we all have to take some ownership of,” Lightfoot said.

CTA Continues Struggle Making El Stations Accessible

By Samantha Mahoney and Ola Stepien • May 7th, 2022

CTA Green Line Photo

A CTA Green Line train pulls into the Morgan station. (Photo David Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

For Hugo Trevino, a Disability Services Specialist at UIC, riding CTA trains can be a challenge.

Trevino, who has been in a wheelchair his entire life, relies on the CTA to get around the city. And, as many Chicagoans know, not all public transportation is created equal, and the CTA is no exception. Trevino has faced struggles getting into the waiting area for the El trains through the elevator, and even pushing the elevator buttons can be difficult.

“Sometimes they [elevator buttons] are sticky or hard or worn down,” he said. “And so, no matter how hard I try to push it, I can’t. Or sometimes the elevator buttons are in a very awkward corner. So no matter how I position my wheelchair, I am not going to be able to reach it.”

Trevino isn’t the only commuter that has experienced hardships on the CTA. According to the CTA, on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on the CTA. According to the City of Chicago, approximately 10.1% of the city’s total population reported having a disability. That would mean an estimated 161,600 people living with a disability ride the CTA. 

Of Chicago’s 145 El train stations, 103 have elevators and are fully accessible. The other 42 have not been upgraded in decades, with some last renovated in the 1930s and a handful that have not been substantially improved since the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to CTA records. 

Forty-two CTA rail stations are non-accessible to those with mobility disabilities. This interactive map shows all CTA stops with elevators and those without. There are future plans to renovate CTA stops over the next 20 years. 

The impact of not having access to an elevator or the appropriate transportation to get to work, school, and other responsibilities. This is a privilege that is often taken for granted, experts say.

Shannon Moutinho, a Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Specialist at UIC, said many people don’t take the deaf into consideration when riding the CTA. Her husband is deaf.

“Just the communication can be not great,” she said. “If you’re not able to hear the announcements, like my husband is deaf, and he has sat on a train that suddenly they make a verbal announcement like, ‘Hey everybody, this train is gonna go express,’ and so he’s not privy to that information. 

“So some people get off the train because they don’t want to be on an express train, and he just sits there and all of a sudden, he’s on his way, all the way to Howard,” she said. 

Trevino said the importance of having CTA staff present to help with difficulties such as individuals not being able to tap their Ventra card to get through the turnstiles or with issues regarding the elevators. Moutinho also highlights that CTA staff should be trained to assist individuals with disabilities and be able to communicate with all patrons. 

“I don’t think it’s quite that bad with CTA because they are thinking about accessibility; they are working toward improving stations,” Moutinho said. “But again, I do think that it’s like it’s not as much a priority for people without disabilities.”

Imagine needing to leave for work and only having to check the arrival time for your bus or train. Needing access to elevators adds more time to your daily routine. And, if your designated stop didn’t update online and the elevator is out of order, you have no choice but to reap the consequences. 

Both Trevino and Moutinho suggested having multiple elevators at El stops; Trevino said it would be easier for him mobility-wise. Moutinho said if one elevator went out of order, then there’s a second one right there on the spot. 

“If your only option is to exit on one street instead of the other, that’s also an inconvenience,” Trevino said. “And I would love it if all train stations had two exit paths for people with disabilities instead of just one. You know, because I feel like that’s also a hazard.”

The physical constraints of these decade-old rail systems have threatened the infrastructure around these stops. To take on the project of updating these stops would be expansive to accommodate elevators and expensive in many cases. 

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, an estimated 10% of Chicago rail stations were meeting accessibility standards laid out in the legislation. Changes have been made to increase accessibility, the CTA president estimates that the El system is now 70% accessible 30 years after the disabilities act was passed. 

One of the requirements the ADA has is that key stations must be accessible

“Key stations probably mean the highest-trafficked stations, which usually are the destination stations; those are the stations downtown with lots of business happening,” Moutinho said. “Except the humans that work in those offices live in the rest of the city.”

She said that having these key stations accessible may be nice, but if you’re not able to enter the El to get to these stations, then it won’t matter in the long run.

Some changes that have since taken place since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buses have lifts, and most rapid transit stations have elevators and other features that make traveling more convenient for people living with disabilities, according to Access Living, a Chicago advocacy group for people living with disabilities.

Trevino said, “When you’re getting on a train now, the trains they’ve updated them to where the trains can kneel. So they lower a little bit which the buses do that toward the ramp, and that’s like what people can picture very easily, but I don’t know if people realize that like the trains also do that.”

However, this isn’t a perfected system on the El. Trevino recalled that sometimes the platforms and the trains do not correspond at the right height. 

Recently, the new Infrastructure Bill got passed and will provide $1.75 billion in competitive grants over five years to state and local governments. 

According to Kate Lowe, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at the UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, the infrastructure bill will “fund things that are more material, like buses, and rail tracks and signals.”

“The CTA releases several plans on what it wants to do with funds,” she said. “The RTA is doing a strategic planning process right now; I don’t think we have all the answers on how all the dollars are going to be spent.” 

In addition, the CTA has the All Stations Accessibility Program, which is working toward making the entire CTA system 100% accessible. The CTA did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.


Read More

Currently, the All Stations Accessibility Program is working alongside the Red-Purple Modernization Program. The CTA is currently working on the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations on the Red Line through this project, and is going to make these stations fully accessible, alongside fixing the tracks and other improvements the stations will undergo. 

Following this, the Infrastructure Bill is going to provide public transportation $4 million out of the $1.75 billion.

It is important to note that the CTA does have in place a system of elevator statuses which you can check when you sign up to receive text or e-mail updates for elevators, as well as planned and unplanned service changes that affect bus or rail service on your route via CTA Updates.

Read more: Transportation

COVID-19 Has Put More Chicagoans at Risk for Homelessness

By Manny Meraz and Brielle Conwell • May 7th, 2022

Andres Lopez had always made a steady income working from home as a mechanic.

But since the pandemic hit, he has lost his income and his home, and has had to move from house to house among family members, or has had to get motel rooms.

“I used to have my own home before the pandemic and I used to do all my auto work from home back then,”  said Lopez, who used to work from his garage before the pandemic hit, and now struggles to find work since he no longer has his home in West Town.

Lopez said he and his 10 brothers have all been mechanics since the mid-1990s. He said being able to work in the US has been better than what he was used to back then in Mexico, but has seemed to change since the pandemic. 

Lopez is an immigrant from Mexico, and many people like him have no other options than to try their best to get out of the homelessness situation since they can’t seek help from the government and have to tough it out to make their living situation better. They can only seek jobs that pay cash only — which can harder and harder to obtain — and despite being a 64-year-old man from Mexico with no family to support, work and money is needed to survive.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reported that 58,723 people in Chicago experienced some form of homelessness in 2019. Homelessness has been on the decline in Chicago since 2010, but with the pandemic leaving many people in financial uncertainty, more and more are at risk of homelessness. 

The 2021 Household Pulse Survey released that 170,000 adults in Chicago are in fear of losing their home to foreclosure or eviction in upcoming months. While the number of Chicago residents experiencing homelessness has not shown a dramatic increase yet, it appears that this rise could be in the near future as the economic strain from the pandemic continues to grow.

Homelessness comes in many forms. Being homeless can mean living home-to-home because you can’t afford the cost of living. In Lopez’s case, he now lives in different situations because he can’t find steady work. 

Sam Carlson, manager of research and outreach in the policy department for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said he believes that the biggest misconception that people have about homelessness is that the majority of homeless people live in shelters or on the streets. In reality, most people experience homelessness through couch-surfing or doubling up by temporarily staying with friends or family.

“The City of Chicago only has around 3,000 shelter beds, while around 23,000 different people access those shelter beds throughout the course of the year,” Carlson said. “So only a fraction of people experiencing homelessness are in a shelter.”

The effect that COVID-19 has had on the economy is putting more and more people at risk for homelessness, especially as government aid related to the pandemic has ended. Throughout the course of the pandemic, many people received government aid in the form of COVID relief checks as well the eviction moratorium that ended in October 2021, which had allowed people to remain in their homes for as long as possible before facing eviction.

“We haven't seen a huge influx in people who are experiencing homelessness yet,” Carlson said. “But it's probably on the horizon, as all of these resources are ending.”

There has not yet been a significant rise in the number of people who have accessed shelters or tried to access shelters over the course of the pandemic. Carlson explained that there has been a significant increase in the number of calls to 311, The Homeless Prevention Hotline, during the pandemic and especially in recent months. 

“The pandemic really affected those people because jobs offered [fewer] hours or many jobs just began to lay people,” said Yamira Montoya of the Social Security Administration. “The harsh reality is that the cost of living in the United States seems to be the problem.

“The government has stepped in in tons of ways because there are more programs and longer-tenured programs such as unemployment and social security benefits.” 

Montoya added that while the government has initiated programs to help fund more people and families, it doesn’t mean homelessness will be solved instantly.

Lopez said he hopes to save the little money he earns to get a home where he can have access to a garage and work. In the meantime, he’s doing what he can do to get by, but he doesn’t lose hope as he is grateful for being able to be in this country. 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has made public claims that a lack of initiative by Chicago’s city government has contributed to the rate of homelessness. Not enough money or resources has been appointed to provide aid for those without adequate housing, the organization claims.

“I would say the leading cause of homelessness in Chicago is a lack of political will to do anything about it,” Carlson said.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless recently launched the Bring Chicago Home campaign in order to create a dedicated revenue stream to address homelessness in Chicago. The signature campaign is advocating to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end property sales costing over $1 million. 

Currently, if a person buys or sells property in Chicago, there is a transfer tax of 0.75%, Bring Chicago Home aims to raise that tax to 1.9% on properties over $1 million and all revenue generated will go toward funding housing for people experiencing homelessness.

 “This could end homelessness,” Carlson said.  “And in Chicago, it could house tens of thousands of families.”

Read more: COVID-19

The Real Effects of Chicago’s Red-Light and Speed Cameras

By Michael Bednarski, Kyle Lukas and Emely Lobo • May 7th, 2022

Chicago, like many other major cities in America, is notorious for its famous streets and the drivers that inhabit them. Hundreds of thousands of people use these roads in order to commute to work, school, and get around the city on a daily basis.

In order to make the streets a safer space for the community, the city adopted the use of red-light traffic cameras in 2003 and has continued to use them in order to enforce infractions of the law that might not otherwise be noticed by scattered police patrols.

According to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the initiative has proved to reduce serious and fatal auto accidents by 15%, showing that there is positive change occurring within the city as a result when it comes to the number of accidents. 

While well-intentioned and certainly beneficial in some aspects, data shows that these cameras also have the tendency to discriminate and ticket black and brown drivers at a higher rate than other individuals. Factors such as the placement location of these red-light cameras and the population density of lower-income neighborhoods both contribute to this disparity.

Dr. Nebiyou Tilahun, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose research focuses on travel behavior, transport accessibility, and transportation equity, said “there are appropriate cases of use” in regard to red light and speeding cameras.

In March, an Illinois Policy Institute investigation reported that Chicago had collected $89 million worth of speed camera tickets in 2021 alone. While these numbers may demonstrate that the collection of money is working as it is intended to, many of the people who have received these fines are left wondering if their steep fine is actually contributing to making the streets safer? 

The calibration and overall accuracy of the technology that is used in these cameras also have recently come into question by motorists when analyzing these devices, as vehicles that are aiming to avoid collisions and dangerous situations on the road can actually end up being those that are accused of violations.

DePaul University student Patrick Ugolini said he has been issued tickets on more than one occasion due to a fast-changing light that goes from yellow to red in almost an instant. In not wanting to slam on the brakes and risk potentially damaging his own car as well as other possible drivers behind him. 

“I think it comes down to the technology not being smart enough to account for real-world situations,” said Ugolini. “If I have to make a judgment call as to whether I will be ticketed or involved in an accident that could seriously affect my life and others, I would choose the ticket every time.”

The question then must be asked if these fines are meant for another purpose other than just to keep the streets safe? The COVID-19 pandemic and a slew of other factors have left Chicago once again needing to balance the city’s budget. Recently Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city also plans on increasing the spending budget by 8.4 % for 2022

Another increase came to the pocketbook of drivers in Chicago in 2021, as it was announced by the city that drivers would now be ticketed for going any more than 6 mph over the speed limit if they were to come in contact with one of these cameras.

When questioned during a 2021 press conference on why the city had decided to take this action, Lightfoot said that the increase in this threshold is “about encouraging safer driving during the pandemic because there were fewer drivers on the streets,” essentially arguing that the drivers who were using the roads regularly were actually speeding more. 

According to a Northwestern University Transportation Center study conducted in 2017, Chicago’s red-light cameras enforcement program delivers significant safety benefits.

With a successful ticketing program in place, questions regarding the possible expansion of both red light and speeding camera programs for the city have risen.

Survey: Your thoughts on the red-light and speed cameras

Tilahun said he believes the use of these cameras and a possible expansion in the future depends entirely on the situation.

Tilahun said that in cases where the cameras are not working “you should also be just as quick to remove them … if you’re charging people, but you’re not getting any safety benefits, definitely, we should remove them.”

He added that even though there were fewer cars on the road in 2021, the number of fatalities from car crashes had gone up significantly. In response to this, he believes that speed cameras are one of the many tools that can be used to help save lives

So how easy can you get a ticket from redlight cameras? City law says that a vehicle “rolling” through the turn can endanger pedestrians and bicyclists who may be legally crossing the street with the green light and/or the “Walk” signal. Red-light cameras typically are there for when a driver passes an active red light, sensors are oftentimes implemented inroads for this to happen. Other cities though have different red light cameras that have their own sensors already installed. 

Incidents like these cause the driver’s license to be taken away or take further action in the consequence caused by street accidents. In Illinois, Traffic ticket convictions can result in the suspension or revocation of your Illinois driver’s license by the Secretary of State. Fines can be up to $120.

Henry Hodge, a senior at the University of Illinois Chicago, said that red-light cameras just add more “stress” to their lives. 

 “I commute about an hour and a half to school and have gotten tickets for accidents that were caused by another driver, I had to pay so far about $200 dollars total worth of tickets,” he said.

UIC student David Montoya said that red-light cameras have “made a dent in my wallet.” 

“I drive to school through the same route and I have been wrongly written a ticket a few times now, each time has been for different reasons but I still have to pay the fines,” he said. “I work part-time and go to school, it just adds more to my plate.”

Read more: Crime

Chicago Small Businesses Slowly Regaining Steam

By Prithvi Bandaru, Chelsea Pimentel and Fiona Cushing  • May 7th, 2022

Ricobene's Restaurant photo

Ricobene’s restaurant from April 2022. (Photo/Chelsea Pimentel)

Frequent customer Anthony Olmos has been coming to Ricobene’s, the famous Chicago restaurant and home of the famous breaded steak sandwich and pizza since he was a kid before attending baseball games. 

 “I first came to this restaurant about the age of six when my dad would bring me to the White Sox games,” he said. “We had a tradition to eat at Ricobene’s either before or after games.”  He said, “My dad’s coworker recommended this place at the time because of its great food.” 

Olmos said he has stayed faithful to the restaurant over the years. But like many Chicago restaurants and businesses, Ricobene’s was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – and customers like Olmos noticed the changes.

“One thing I have noticed is that the restaurant does not get as [busy] as it used to before the pandemic,” he said. “It is getting busier every day, especially since the dine-in is open again. But it is not as busy as it was before the pandemic. Recently, the prices of the food have been increasing as well and the pizza slices seem to have been getting smaller too.”

Due to the pandemic, many restaurants had to close their indoor dining and only provide take-out and delivery orders. Once cases began to decrease in the city, restaurants slowly began to reopen their indoor dining again to their customers. 

“I love the fact that indoor dining is open again,” Olmos said. “ I’m not a huge fan of carryout food, because I hate when the food is not fresh. Being able to socialize with other customers while dining in is  something I for sure missed, especially after the White Sox games when hundreds of White Sox fans stop by to grab some food and socialize with each other about the game that they just went to.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago has lost 361 businesses during the pandemic, starting when Gov. JB Pritzker implemented the two-week stay-at-home order in March 2020 that was extended to several months. Those who survived and remained open had to adjust to the new normal and figure out how to keep their businesses alive during mandates and surges such as Omicron.  

The COVID-19 outbreak began in January 2020, but the brunt of its ramifications was not felt until March. As a result of this, many businesses have found themselves in a difficult situation where they had to lay off people and raise prices due to product price increases and shortages of merchandise. 

Consumers have also been impacted by their favorite restaurants closing down, lessening their quality of products and portions, shortage of staff making wait times longer, and few human interactions due to delivery and take out being the only options for them. They have also found themselves to be much more conscious about their spending due to such price increases. 

Daniel Soria, the manager of Typica Cafe at the intersection of Claremont Street and Taylor Street, opened the location three months ago after the business that preceded it, Claremont Diner, shut down due to COVID-19. 

Soria said that the process of opening a business has seen notable changes now that the city is recovering from the pandemic. From the process of receiving and passing an inspection, to the process of acquiring appropriate permits, the path to opening day is taking longer than ever. This is because Chicago’s inspectors have an intense backlog of interviews and inspections that are only continuing to pile onto themselves.

 However, the difficulties for newly opened businesses does not stop there. A nationwide labor shortage finds itself damaging smaller, local businesses the most.

“It’s super difficult to find people to work right now.” Soria said as he explained the hardships of balancing employees and cost. “Why? Because most of them, they’re working with Amazon, Grubhub, and Uber Eats. So it’s super difficult to compete with these big companies and what they have to offer. Because of that, we have to increase our rate payment and it affects the final price for our customers.”

Timeline: COVID-19 history

In order to prevent losing employees to bigger companies, Soria depends on culture. He has found that celebrating the successes of individual employees and creating a positive environment helps employees feel comfortable and safe while working.

“The big thing is, we try to not make this place just a job,” Soria said. “We try to introduce our personal life to all our employees and that really helps establish the culture. We celebrate birthdays and all the special occasions like a big family.”

While dine-in reopened again and cases of COVID-19 fluctuated in Chicago and continued to do so, vaccination proof was required in order to dine indoors and many had mixed emotions about this. Olmos said he was not against the idea. 

“I was not against the idea of having vaccination cards to eat in at restaurants because I just wanted to dine,” he said. “I just wanted the dining services to be operating again, because I missed it a lot during the pandemic. It also made me feel more safe that the people around me were vaccinated which helps decrease the spread of COVID-19. If there is a spike in the cases again, I would feel safer if vaccination requirements were brought back.”

Like everything, prices have increased as inflation hit 8.5 percent in early April. As a result, customers have been more financially conscious on what they should be spending their money on. As a consumer, Olmos was asked if his perspective on eating out has changed. 

Olmos said, “Yeah, the price increase has certainly changed my perspective on eating out. Sometimes I just feel like going out to eat costs way too much now. And I prefer to make my own food at home. Although I do love the eating out experience. I do not love the idea that the prices keep constantly going up”  

Ultimately no one knows when this pandemic will be over as new variants emerge. Restaurants and other businesses continue to do their part in creating a safe and clean environment for their employees and customers to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

When looking at the future, Soria and Typica Cafe are focused less on in-person traffic and more on delivery services. Although they will open their patio for the warmer weather, Soria is paying attention to allocating labor and resources to deliver their goods across the city when the summer comes. “Right now we’re putting a lot of focus on the marketing for our delivery apps,” Soria says as COVID-19 saw that most businesses have a demand for delivery services over strictly in-person service. 

Steve Bob, director of the Entrepreneurial Support Program at the University of Illinois Chicago, has helped entrepreneurs on campus with their dreams of starting businesses. From leading workshops on campus to meeting with students to discuss their entrepreneurial goals, Bob loves to see businesses grow and thrive. 

Like every small business in Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bob’s job duties changed as well. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic I spent time learning about the various programs to help small businesses manage the pandemic,” he said. “Probably the biggest change was that I started doing all work with clients virtually. Since March of 2020 I have not met in person with any clients both for strategy meetings or for workshops.” 

Meeting in-person and actually having those face-to-face meetings with clients means a lot to Bob. He used to host occasional virtual meetings, but it is just not the same. He enjoys the whole experience of being able to “shake hands and be together.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, business culture has changed. Whether it be from small businesses to office jobs at universities, everyone has had to adjust to social distancing and virtual interactions.

“Many businesses suffered as customer activities changed and in many cases, there was less demand so the businesses had to pivot and change their offerings. There were some businesses that were able to grow and expand during the pandemic. Typically, they were already offering something that customers needed more of during the pandemic or the businesses were able to pivot into a market that had higher demand.”