Where's the rub? Johnson mulls ousting Arwady
...and creates an online firestorm by asking the public not to 'demonize' destructive mobs
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Eric Zorn is a former opinion columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Find a longer bio and contact information here. This issue exceeds in size the maximum length for a standard email. To read the entire issue in your browser, click on the headline link above. Become a paid subscriber to receive each Picayune Plus in your email inbox each Tuesday and join our civil and productive commenting community.
Here is a portion of the transcript of WGN-AM 720 host John Williams’ on-air interview last week with Chicago’s mayor elect Brandon Johnson:
John Williams: You seem to have walked back your position about (Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner) Dr. Allison Arwady, would you entertain keeping her in her current position?
BJ: Well, as I said before, there was clearly a difference of an ideological frame. I do want to have a conversation with Dr. Arwady. That was a very difficult time for everyone. And I know, those were not easy decisions for Dr. Arwady to make. And there are some clear differences there.
JW: I've heard you say that, but what did Dr. Arwady do wrong or the city do wrong about our COVID response?
BJ: It's not whether or not she did something wrong or not. This is about how we actually get stuff done in a collaborative way. And as I've said, you know, I'm happy to continue to have conversations with people who have been a part of Mayor Lightfoot's administration. And I don't think it's a secret that during the reopening portion of the Chicago Public Schools, that there was a rub there, that has to be addressed. … There was a rub there. … What I'm saying is that it's important that I have a better understanding, because as of now, that there are some differences.
What hizzoner-to-be fails to appreciate is that a lot of us in Chicago admired Arwady’s steady, friendly, matter-of-fact presence at the podium during COVID-19 news conferences and have confidence in her based on her resume:
Dr. Arwady has been at CDPH since 2015, where she initially served as Chief Medical Officer, overseeing the disease control, environmental health, emergency preparedness, and behavioral health divisions, before being confirmed as Commissioner in January 2020. Prior to CDPH, she worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer. With CDC, she worked on HIV and tuberculosis in Botswana, and international outbreak responses in Saudi Arabia (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and Liberia (Ebola). While based at the Illinois Department of Public Health, she responded to disease outbreaks across the state. She has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, and completed medical school and clinical training at Yale University.
The rub that Johnson is referring to — an idiom for impediment that comes from Shakespeare — is the difference of opinion between the Chicago Teachers Union, for which Johnson was an organizer and lobbyist while also serving as a Cook County Commissioner, and the Lightfoot administration about when to open up public schools during the pandemic.
The Sun-Times summarized the main rub this way:
Arwady enraged the teachers’ union with her plans to send CPS students back to class during the pandemic. … Arwady acknowledges the rift with the teachers union, calling them “differences of opinion.”
It was a difficult time, as Johnson acknowledges, and the decisions Arwady had to make were not easy. That she didn’t bend the knee to the judgment of the CTU surely stuck in Johnson’s craw at time, which might have given rise to his declaration about Arwady during a March 30 mayoral debate: “We have different views of public health, and so no, she will not stay on in my administration.”
That argument-free dismissal of a physician with impressive public health credentials by a politician with no public health credentials was among the reasons I had such serious reservations about Johnson as a leader. He says he has “different views” from a career expert in public health, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us? And she’s perhaps not “collaborative” enough because she made some tough decisions with which his former union (and some parents, of course) disagreed at the time?
Some have raised other concerns about Arwardy, per the Sun-Times:
Johnson said he will reopen the city’s six mental health clinics, which were closed under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and will work to improve care overall.
Under Lightfoot, who also promised to reopen the clinics, Arwady pursued a different approach by partnering with nonprofit health providers. She said she’s open to city-run clinics but said the challenge of serving tens of thousands of patients is too big for a half- dozen facilities.
On another front, Arwady was the target of community and environmental groups’ protests — including a demonstration in front of her home that led to several arrests — as she was urged to deny an operating permit for a Southeast Side metal-shredding operation. Ultimately, she denied the permit.
The bill of particulars appears thin. Johnson should make a better case for dumping Arwady if he’s going to do so. Though at this writing, the change.org petition “Tell Mayor-elect Johnson to keep Dr. Allison Arwady” has yet to catch fire, so maybe this is a niche concern. Or maybe people have absorbed my view of online petitions from a column 22 years ago:
A cynic once said, "Internet petitions aren't worth the paper they're not printed on." But they're actually worse than worthless. They lull those who care about an issue into a feeling of satisfaction that they have done something and spoken out, when in fact they have done squat and said nothing.
I have softened my position slightly since then, and if this petition makes news and catches Johnson’s attention it might be at least effective enough to compel him to offer better explanations than he’s offered so far.
Here’s more platitudinous argle-bargle from that same WGN-AM interview:
John Williams: Do you have an opinion that you could state about the disposition of Eric Stillman, the officer who shot Adam Toledo. Should he lose his job?
Brandon Johnson: Well, obviously, there's been a recommendation there. What I've said repeatedly, this is why we have to spend money to invest in the consent decree. You know, the type of measures that have to be taken in the city of Chicago to really restore —to build, to rebuild in certain instances —real trust with law enforcement. That's, again, a part of our effort to unite the city. And it's still very hard for families and communities who have lost loved ones to any form of violence — and particularly in the case of a police shooting. This is something that we do not want to have as our record here in the city of Chicago. So the consent decree and making sure that we have constitutional policing is something that I believe that everybody wants.
I’ve yet to be persuaded that anything in the consent decree would have changed the outcome that night, but convince me.
In the meantime, how about this simple answer: “It’s a very concerning case, but I’d like to hear all the evidence presented at the hearing before making up my mind”?
More on the Adam Toledo story below.
Yet another example of poor messaging from the mayor-elect
In response to the troubling scenes of rampaging youths over the weekend — jumping on cars, starting fires and fights, pelting police officers with bottles and so on — Johnson issued the following statement:
In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend. It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.
Our city must work together to create spaces for youth to gather safely and responsibly, under adult guidance and supervision, to ensure that every part of our city remains welcome for both residents and visitors. This is one aspect of my comprehensive approach to improve public safety and make Chicago livable for everyone.
The admonition not to “demonize” those who were so exuberantly breaking the law and in some cases terrorizing innocent people who found themselves in the way of their “opportunities” was so tone deaf as to prompt a ferocious backlash on social media.
We will demonize those who behave demonically, thank you very much.
And while it may not be “constructive” to do so, neither is it constructive to offer justifications for their behavior.
Johnson’s right to say that youths from disadvantaged communities lack safe recreational opportunities as well as job opportunities. He’s right to say that to increase public safety long term we have to invest in poorer neighborhoods and attack the root causes of crime by providing such opportunities. But his implication that these rowdy kids are looking for spaces to “gather safely and responsibly under adult guidance and supervision” sounds utterly naive and softheaded.
And the failure of his statement to also address the short-term issue — how to keep Chicago’s downtown and lakefront visitor-friendly during the summer — suggests he is not yet ready to lead that effort.
Notes and comments from readers — slightly edited — along with my responses
Michael G. — You should copyright "The Indiana Way" for a podcast about how awful politics are in that MAGA state, its history with the KKK, it acting as a source for guns for Illinois and how it is a perfect place for Kass to live.
David O. — Love him or hate him, calling John Kass an "Indiana man" in pursuit of "The Chicago Way" is like calling Michael Jordan a Washington Wizard.
Ray P. — I like Kass...he's like the super villain to local hero, Eric Zorn. However, "The Chicago Way" shouldn't be his to own in some way or another. To embrace the phrase is to embrace the absolute absurdity of Chicago politics.
Steven K. — As someone who resided in Lowell for five years, I can attest that Indiana is actually quite a nice place for anyone to live. The people are unfailingly friendly, helpful, respectful, congenial and polite, and unlike in Illinois, I never once saw anyone in Indiana cast garbage right out the window of their car, and never saw roadsides, parks, or parking lots riddled with detritus. But who needs testimonials like mine when it’s so much easier to smear an entire state just because you don’t approve of how a majority of its residents vote?
My parents spent much of their youth in Indiana as the children of Indiana University professors so I have warm feelings for the state. And I give Kass credit for putting Mayflower where his mouth was — I should trademark that expression! — and leaving Chicago and Illinois after complaining for so long about how terrible it is.
SLM — If you get rid of pennies and nickels, businesses giving change will have to round prices up to the nearest dime, right? They’ll get to keep the extra, um, pennies, then, right?
Studies and experience has shown that if you round up or down to the nearest dime (or nickel, if we keep those) the effect is fairly random. For every register tape that’s $3.67 there’s one that’s $3.63. Stores could set prices on single items to optimize rounding up on cash purchases of single items — packs of gum, say, or candy bars — but the net impact would be negligible.
John G. — Paper dollar bills are even more annoying than pennies and nickels. They are often filthy and crumpled and hard to contain. Replacing them by putting half- and one-dollar coins into circulation would be much more efficient. A bonus would be never having to struggle with paper money in a vending machine again. Just my two cents. (Hah! Someone was bound to say it.)
Ken B. — If the person shot by Officer Stillman had been a 5’5” 130 lb 18-year-old with a rap sheet and history of violence, would Officer Stillman be facing the loss of his job? I strongly suspect the answer is no. I am a bleeding heart liberal, but we need to be realistic about this. It was 2:38 a.m. in a dark alley. The fleeing suspect was carrying a gun that had likely been fired illegally. Stillman had a split second to make a decision that might cost him his life or the suspect his life. I’d make the same choice he did. The fact that it turned out to be a 13-year-old who tossed his gun while he turned around should not change our opinion of how the officer should have reacted.
Marty G. — One only needs to look at the recent murder of Officer Andres Vasquez-Lasso to understand and perhaps put themselves in Officer Stillman's shoes. If there is a measure of time less than a "split second", that would be the amount of time officers have to make a decision that if made incorrectly could mean his or her own death. From what we know in this case it's pretty clear that Adam Toledo was running away with a gun in his hand. A gun that had recently been fired, whether at someone or not. The outcome was awful, but the officer's actions should be understood and judged in full context.
Dan R.— If a person known to have a gun quickly turns around towards a cop, the officer already has to have made the decision to fire. If he waits to see if the gun is still in the potential shooter's hand, the officer may be headed for a teary funeral.
Joanie W. — When I watched the video, I saw the police officer chasing the boy and yelling, “Stop. Show me your hands.” That is exactly what Adam did, and then the officer shot him. It seems to me that the folks saying that this shooting was justified are essentially saying that the police would be justified in shooting anyone they are chasing who had recently fired a gun or been with someone who fired a gun, whether that person were guilty or innocent. I just don’t see that. If Adam’s conduct in stopping and showing the police officer his hands justified the officer in killing Adam, the police officer should not have told Adam to do just that.
Joanie’s narrative slows time in a way that makes Stillman’s decision to fire sound like a cold-blooded assassination. Freeze the video at a particular instant, as some newspapers did, and that’s what you see. But the time between when Adam Toledo had a 9mm semi-automatic pistol in his hand and the time Stillman fired the fatal shot into his chest as he discarded the gun behind a fence and wheeled around was eight-tenths of a second. Stillman made a horrible, tragic mistake, and the extent to which it was the result of a failure to follow proper police procedures will be determined in the upcoming public hearings.
It continues to bother me that my fellow lefties so readily abandon their ostensible belief in the power of fact and science to embrace the “poetic truth” of certain news events. Not just the Adam Toledo case but the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri and the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida.
Very complicated interactions get reduced to “innocent, unarmed person gratuitously murdered” and then amplified into a cause for rage.
Trayvon Martin’s name is frequently invoked by activists, and the incident in which officious neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot him to death is widely seen as having instigated the Black Lives Matter movement. The trial was sensational and broadcast nationwide.
But have you ever wondered why there hasn’t been one serious, in-depth book about the case? My guess is that because a fairly close examination of the actual facts causes the simple narrative — innocent Black child hunted and gunned down by a racist vigilante — to fall apart. I did some of that close examination myself at the time and many readers were furious when I pointed out all the reasons Zimmerman would be acquitted.
As for Michael Brown, the “hands up, don’t shoot!” story of a white cop gratuitously gunning down a Black youth who was simply surrendering doesn’t come close to matching the summary in the U.S. Department of Justice report of what evidence and reliable witness testimony reveal about what happened after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson told Brown and a companion to walk on the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street:
Brown … reached into the (police) SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson. … Wilson …responded to Brown reaching into the SUV and punching him by withdrawing his gun because he could not access less lethal weapons while seated inside the SUV.
Brown then grabbed the weapon and struggled with Wilson to gain control of it. Wilson fired, striking Brown in the hand. …
Brown (then) ran eastbound on Canfield Drive and Wilson chased after him. … Brown ran at least 180 feet away from the SUV … Brown then turned around and came back toward Wilson …. as Brown continued to move toward Wilson, Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.
It’s perfectly fair to scrutinize and second-guess the decisions Zimmerman, Wilson and, in the Adam Toledo case, Stillman made. But not every such shooting is as flagrantly wrong as the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald on the streets of Chicago, and it’s important to the cause of reform to remain committed to the facts as best they can be discerned.
Jake H. — I share your enthusiasm for the excellent Tribune expose of justice delayed in Cook County. I knew that long delays were common. I always used to suppose that, well, that's the cost of doing business and it's probably defendants driving it insofar as they want time to evaluate evidence, make motions, finalize a plea deal, and so on.
The Trib's dogged, impressive reporting blew those casual assumptions out of the water. I didn't know (1) how absurdly long the delays commonly were, (2) that the problem has gotten much worse in recent years, (3) that Cook County is much worse than many comparable systems, (4) that parties and judges basically ignore a law meant to require justification for delays beyond a threshold (just too impractical to follow it, they say, which doesn't sound super legal to this lawyer), and (5) that there's maddeningly little sense of urgency among most of the key players to do anything about it. They don't even keep track of delays, necessitating the reporters' own laborious improvised bookkeeping. Chief Judge Timothy Evans, someone who always struck me as a worthy, reasonable sort, does not come out looking too good.
The story revealed a disturbing clubby coziness among judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers who all seem to take ridiculous delays for granted. When I was a litigator in my last life -- in civil cases in state and federal court, in Illinois, New York, and some other jurisdictions a particular case took me -- one was afraid to sheepishly ask teacher for an extension. I'd better have a really good reason, because that judge, the person you really did not want to piss off, didn't want to hear it. It's all they heard all day -- excuses, excuses -- and they, reasonably enough, found it irritating. I faced "rocket dockets," where lawyers were disciplined by rules establishing hard and quick deadlines. Criminal cases are different, because you have to pay particular deference to the rights of the accused. But, once again, everywhere else seems to have the issue under much greater control. I don't have a lot of patience with delays occasioned by state-controlled witnesses, like police officers, not showing up. That results in dismissals in traffic court. It shouldn't be routine at 26th and Cal, and certainly not in murder cases.
This is a story that vividly demonstrates the necessity of having a vigorous independent local press. Because who else could be counted on to blow the whistle and shine a light on this outrage hiding in plain sight? Support your local journalists!
Judge Evans’ failure to grant an interview to the reporters who had delved so deeply into a subject that ought to concern him deeply was unbecoming.
On Allen Goodman’s book
Cook County assistant public defender Jeanne Bishop wrote the following letter in regard to the link in last weeks’ PS to a Chicago Magazine adaptation of “Everyone Against Us: Public Defenders and the Making of American Justice” by former Cook County Public defender Allen Goodman:
I had to peel myself off the ceiling when I read the excerpt from former Skokie public defender Allen Goodman (known as Gutterman when he worked here). I am a public defender assigned to Skokie now, and for decades before his retirement, my investigator was Ralph Metz, the one Allen writes about in his excerpt in the Sentinel.
Ralph, now retired, is as close to a saint as anyone I know. He grew up with a father whom he described as a criminal who taught him, among other things, how to drive straight backward in a car at top speed. so you could get away from the guys coming at you in an alley. Ralph served in the US Army. He is a recovering alcoholic who for years counseled other people struggling with addiction at TASC before he joined the PD office as an investigator. He also worked a printing press at the Tribune.
Ralph is a devout Catholic who is a mainstay at Holy Name and has a theology degree from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He is a regular at AA meetings and speaks of the close kinship he feels with others who struggle. When I went on investigations with Ralph, he always brought $5 bills along so that he'd have money ready to give to the unhoused people we would see on the streets. He always gave them a handshake and a kind word of encouragement in addition to the cash. It put me to shame: I was probably earning twice the money Ralph was and never gave anyone a penny, or even the kind word. That is who he is. He saw them as humans.
Ralph was also the best investigator I've ever had. He brought a fierce intelligence, a keen eye, a fearless spirit and people smarts to the job. I was lucky to work with him; he made the difference in more cases than I can count.
Here, though, is all Allen had to say about Ralph in the excerpt published in the Sentinel:
"My right hand man was a guy from the Far South Side who had extensive experience on both sides of the law. Unfortunately, he did not actually have a complete right hand. Ralph lost four fingers --but not his thumb-- in an industrial accident in the 1970s when he worked at the Sun-Times printing plant. Surgeries that initially sewed his hand to his stomach to regenerate his skin had left him with a stump of doughy folds pulled over and sealed shut. The irregular hairs and patchy circulation gave the whole thing a look somewhat like a large, dry, gelatinous turkey drumstick with a single opposable digit. He took great joy in thrusting that thing out at introductions, offering what he could as his form of handshake."
A part of this good man's body, maimed through a terrible accident, compared, again as a 'thing", to the leg of a dead animal.
I read the excerpt in the office I share with two other lawyers, and when I let out a cry of indignation, one of them asked me what was the matter. I read the passage out loud. His face furrowed, he said, "That's fucked up."
I would just call it despicable.
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template I use for that poll does not allow me to include images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently:
Vote for your favorite. I will disqualify any tweets I later find out used digitally altered photos. I’ll share the winner in Thursday’s main edition.
There’s still time to vote in the conventional Tweet of the Week poll!
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