Chicago – April 1, 2018

– from Joan Ruppert
Shortly before the March 24 “March for Our Lives” demonstrations I contacted David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez via Twitter to ask what art (musical, visual, written word) helped keep them inspired and energized. About a week later David Hogg posted this. I’m sure the timing was only coincidental to my query because he likely wades through hundreds of messages every single day. But still, I had to smile.
David Hogg Playlist


Are we at a threshold? What is the point of activism if neither rage nor outrage appear to be working. The innateness of good and evil hasn’t changed, so, what are we missing? The battle for social justice needs a new strategy.

These stories of activism and acts of personal strength portend a season of change.

Brule Eagan doesn’t mind a bit of detention. We’ll see you in the back row. – The Breakfast Club.”

Pennridge 225
Pennridge 225

Whatcha Gonna Do? While public demonstrations in favor of stronger laws are laudable, the fight requires more. As always, John Zielinski is our guide.


Rainee Denham brings a story of strength. A Well Directed Production is a conversation with Chicago-based theatre director/adaptor, Lavina Jadhwani.

claire headshot
Lavina Jadhwani

On December 2, 1970, Richard Nixon’s administration created the Environmental Protection Agency. We can all join together and sing Sometimes All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe with Steve Buschbacher.


Erin Denk pens an excellent essay on the movement in “Me Too”:  A Space to Listen. Women stand. Will women vote?


Here we are again…

Stephon Clark
Stephon Clark

How is a cell phone mistaken for a weapon? Twenty rounds later, another brown person is dead at the hands of frightened policemen. It’s always the brown people. Really… here we are again. It is impossible to narrate the dozens of similar incidents across the country, so let’s review the video of this one, again and again. Stephon Clark committed no crime, possessed no weapon, and, likely, never knew what hit him. End of story.

Can we clarify the effectiveness of activism, because neither rage nor outrage appear to be working.

A significant time approaches and I wonder if our culture is willing to seize the initiative. A succession of events is merging to form a nexus, begging important questions. It’s time to deal in new concepts; a time to make daring plans and not settle for less than what serves us and our posterity. Everyone is involved, everyone.

Bold decisions require action. An effective start is changing the population of our government with the vote. How will we gauge their competence and awareness in the course of events? What will be the litmus test? Specifically, let’s see major progressive legislation, of the daring and audacious type. Why not raise the level of conversation and impose greater expectations, not “what we can get” laws that serve no one.

So many events, so many questions:

What will it take to stop the murder of young men of color? Why are they expendable? If life weren’t already tough, they settle gang affairs with guns, at the same time fighting a war with police. It’s everywhere and never stops. What quality of life includes a percentage likelihood of gun related death? Ask them to vote, I’ll wait.

The web of immigration intrigue entangles huge swaths of society. Add a systemic promotion of fear and “It’s the brown people” mindset. Resolutions to immigration and the flow of labor across the continent are inevitable, and in everyone’s favor. Global economies flourish, limited economies fail.

Women have every reason to take a stand. Statistics point to a wave of female candidacy across the country. Will women vote?

Advocate for the Assault Weapons Ban, demand it.

A group of smart young people in Florida embraced the big-picture from the beginning. They reached out across the country; Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, north to south, and they see a greater malaise. They are not asking permission to make change. Will they vote?

Where is a strategy for future industries to fuel the economy and support our social structure? If we insist on nostalgia to feel secure, let’s borrow from the Republican genius of Eisenhower; the National Defense Education Act of 1958; The International Geophysical Year; the infrastructure titan interstate highway system; it was civics on a grand scale.

The welfare of each citizen is connected to all. Will we vote for social safety nets, will we vote for science?

Then there are the increased white supremacist advocacies… they vote too.

Trump is the old log we kicked over and all of the creatures come pouring out, crawling, scattering, and burrowing out of sight. The cold underbelly of interest and identity politics is laid bare. Fat maggots, tentacled, multi-legged, fast movers, the backdrop of a million tiny beings, all chaos, moving as one.

The lighter view is we are living a cartoon saga. Matt Schlapp versus Tom Perez in “Celebrity Death Match.” Stephen Miller as Grima Wormtongue, whispering in the despot’s ear. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, my god. The con and the marks. The president can’t find a good attorney. Russia!

I have answered my own question. Here is the intent of activism. We must remain vigilant and aware of serious issues in a world mugging us with information. The sideshows will end. The ship-of-state will right itself when we participate.

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

Education remains the strategic high-ground. A groundswell movement is at the grassroots as teachers across the country are rightfully upset and they are beginning to demonstrate. They march. They speak out. They vote.



American Statesmen –


Before introducing this month’s articles, it is worthwhile for every American to reflect on some of the unsung heroes populating the halls of our government. Theirs is an unwavering path of significance.

In January of this year. I enrolled in an honors course examining International Relations. The class, through the City Colleges of Chicago, was uniquely chosen to participate in a State Department program called The Diplomacy Lab. Launched in 2013, this is a Public-Private Partnership that enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy challenges by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty experts at colleges and universities across the United States.

Within the structure of Public/Private Partnerships, we examined social entrepreneurship, the State Department’s Global Partnership Initiative, USAID , and a variety of programs addressing issues around the globe: children’s rights and public works in India, land rights in Thailand, citizen sector and renewable energy in Brazil, public health in Nigeria, environmental concerns in Iceland, microfinance in Bangladesh, and nascent entrepreneurship throughout Central and South America.

My class interacted, one on one, with representatives from the State Department and other universities in the evaluation of selected social programs. It was the experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Professor Mayer.

A potent example of unified effort can be found in this TED Talk:

Myriam Sidibe – The simple power of handwashing

I find myself in awe of the career diplomats we met. If they had a partisan dogma, it was never evident. Theirs is a world of global perspective and a deep sense of responsibility for utilizing the vast resources of our country in an effort to address real-world problems. These are dedicated people that see possibilities through countless improbabilities, venerating the art of statesmanship. They function with little fanfare, remaining the quiet steady force of an America we seldom acknowledge. It was a humbling example of true patriotism.

I learned the community of nations operates most productively at the conference table. Civility, language, accountability, and the nature of practical debate are more formidable than any force of arms. The future belongs to this conviction.

Within the tsunami of reading required to survive this course, Professor Mayer included two exceptional books. For those interested in world affairs, I highly recommend:

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It – Collier, Paul. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism – Manela, Erez. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

I can’t overstate the superlatives when speaking about the exceptional, talented people contributing to this blog. Yet, once again, they exceed every expectation. Please welcome a new page to this humble effort, KIOSK. Quips, commentary, music, poetry, marginalia, all will find a path to the village square of Central Standard Time.

Brule Eagan reports from Los Fresnos, where everything is Texas-sized…including the future, in Land of the Giants.”

Steve Buschbacher never shies from the most difficult questions and his essay Liberal Media? gets to the point. Let’s talk reality.

John Zielinski proves unequivocally “All that we can control is the now” in his insightful essay It’s About Time.”

Tom DeMichael has few peers when it comes to the topic of baseball. Tom breaks down the current highs and lows of our Cubs and White Sox in Crosstown.”

Marc Piane is back with brain food. When Marc’s research includes Monty Python, his philosophical perspective Thinking Critically vs Being Critical is likely to include an Argument Clinic.

Our new page, KIOSK, will begin the urban affectation for violating “Post No Bills.” This month we are treated to some verse from Rebecca Francescatti and Linda Solotaire. So much more is coming for this part of our monthly presentation.

My 50th high school reunion is on the immediate horizon. It’s been months of reflection and wonderful memories. I hope my former class-mates will join me in The Reunion.”

Thank you for being here. Let’s take a break from the common and keep company with the uncommon. As always, fill your favorite mug with designer coffee and have a seat. Let us know your thoughts and wishes…this publication belongs to you.

“Someone died.”

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

As a child in the Fifties, I recall news of lynching in far-away places like Mississippi and Alabama. When I asked my father what this meant, his response was simply “Someone died.” The war gave Dad an egalitarian view of humanity. Everyone’s blood is red. One of the drawbacks of growing to adulthood is a sudden awareness of life’s inequities. The racial divide becomes crystal clear and awareness is no longer an abstract intellectual concept. We now have the video to back it up. Graphic, gut-churning, images that put a cold, wet hand around your throat. Sobs and screams, imploring, and finally, the voices of shocked disbelief. Candles, flowers, balloons, teddy bears…

When I saw the images of a prone Rodney King being pummeled by batons in 1991, my first reaction was that no living thing should be beaten in such a way. It was a frenzy of policemen taking baseball swings at a prone black man who was not resisting. The four white LAPD officers who perpetrated the beating were acquitted and what followed was the infamous L.A. Riot, followed by the equally infamous orchestrated retreat by law enforcement. I was working in Hollywood at the time and gazed in wonder at the armored van barricading the entrance of the police station, while everything south of Melrose Avenue burned.

The video still haunts me. I could watch it only once. I was able to watch Laquan McDonald being used for target practice no more than once. Or an unarmed Walter Scott being shot in the back as he fled from a traffic stop. Then Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown. A single viewing is all a sane person needs to understand that something is terribly wrong. Every visual evidence is the state of policing in America carries an imperative for victimizing people of color.

I say this with the stipulation that the number of rogue cops is actually a small percentage of the total profession. Yet those few troubled figures dictate a powerful and palpable fear throughout the community and are a disaster to civilian trust. It’s an overt, repeating pattern. Police departments across the country bear closer scrutiny as a haven for a variety of nihilistic personalities.

And now, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The nightly news puts death on an endless loop while warning us about graphic and disturbing content. It is an advertisement for the institutional murder of black men. As for the tragedy in Dallas, how can anyone be surprised? The only shock is that it didn’t take place in Chicago. There is ample reason it could have.

Chicago, October 2014 – An drug-intoxicated LaQuan McDonald was shot sixteen times by Officer Jason VanDyke. Twelve of those rounds fired after he had fallen. It was more than a year before the dash-cam video was released showing evidence contradictory to the police account. Further discovery revealed Mayor Rahm Emanuel was up to his eye sockets in a cover-up and five million-dollar pay-off to the McDonald family. Jason VanDyke was indicted for murder and faces a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment. The case marks the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. At least 20 citizen complaints had been filed against Officer Van Dyke since 2001, but none resulted in disciplinary action.

Chicago, December 2015 – Quintonio LeGrier was shot six times by police in a fusillade of bullets that also left a neighbor, Bettie Jones, fatally wounded. While LeGrier’s father claimed he was being threatened by his son, 911 calls reveal that it was actually the son who called police first. An official Medical Examiner’s report suggests the shots were fired in the hallway. The physical evidence suggests the shots were fired from the curb. Officer Robert Rialmo is now suing the LeGrier estate for ten million dollars citing “extreme emotional trauma” for having to take the life of their son.

Chicago, June 2016 – A video surfaces of suspect Shaquile O’Neal (no, not that one) being head-kicked unconscious while on the ground, handcuffed. The Fraternal Order of Police (CPD’s union) said it disagrees with the decision to strip police powers from the offender before IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority) has completed its investigation into the incident.

“It’s just another disappointing display of, what we consider to be a consistent, anti-police (attitude). The police are just wondering what it takes to get considered as a viable part of society.” – Fraternal Order of Police

Perhaps we should wait for a determination as to whether the cop’s shoe was hard-sole leather or rubber-soled sneaker. Police unions are some of the most robust labor advocacies in the country. In numbers, there is strength…and political clout. An illuminating article by Flint Taylor delves into the dark world of police unions.

…”they mirror and reinforce the most racist, brutal and reactionary elements within the departments they claim to represent and actively encourage the code of silence within those departments.”

These cases are just some representative highlights. Cash settlements for the remediation of complaints with the CPD total over half a billion dollars. That figure easily represents the salvation of our bankrupt and troubled school system.

The police are rarely prosecuted successfully. There is no courtroom miracle or lawsuit solution, no matter how clever the litigator, that is going to discipline the police. Nor are military accoutrements the base cause of trouble. They just look thuggish and reveal a fearful over-reaction by the police, an after-effect. The real action takes place on the streets with the most common enforcement actions, the point where things go all wrong. Moreover, how does a policeman NOT understand that someone is going to document his actions, even after he sabotages the dash-cam and body-cam? A more frightening scenario is that the policeman DOES know he is being monitored, and doesn’t care.

The real tragedy of the Dallas shootings is the progressive improvements made department-wide by police Chief David Brown. In 2012, the department committed itself to transparency. It developed a policy that emphasized de-escalation. Police officers in Dallas are subject to lethal force training every two months instead of every two years. Chief Brown released an enormous amount of police data publishing statistics including 12 years’ worth of data on police shootings on an official online repository. The number of body cameras used by officers increased. Poor performing police officers were fired.

In Chicago we are saddled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose machinations regarding revenue are the stuff of legend (and fodder for a future article). Former Superintendent Garry McCarthy gave a glimmer of hope for elevating the department’s operations. Instead, he was scapegoated for the results of a disastrous economic policy that victimized and impoverished entire sections of the city.

The first step in changing the actions of our police is to get rid of the fantasy, once and for all, that the law is on our side. The law is firmly on the side of police, even those who open fire on unarmed civilians.

The use of deadly force is governed by the Tennessee v. Garner ruling in 1985 in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that “deadly force…may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.” The court later expanded its definition to include an “objective reasonableness” standard. Use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene and its calculus must embody the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Simply stated, the policeman on the scene gets to make a judgement call regarding deadly force.

Next, break the intransigent stranglehold of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

When policemen understand the consequences of their actions and have clear limits defined by state law, when indictments and sentences are handed down to rogue cops based upon those well-defined limits, when there is a provincial political motivation, this will change. Ultimately, the institutes of law enforcement will conform to the parameters they are given for, at least, their personal interests. As a community, we hope for more, but that would be an effective start.

“This is potentially a state authorized killing. It gives law enforcement officers the authority and mandates them to kill when in defense of themselves or others.” – District Attorney Hillar Moore (regarding Alton Sterling)

Finally, policing is the province of state governments. Being proactive, we can make a difference. The viable remedies are as fundamental as a gubernatorial election, a mayoral election, the appointment of a police and fire commission, a board of review, your state senators, representatives, judges and magistrates. We are too frequently caught in the maelstrom of presidential politics and take a laissez faire attitude about election issues in our immediate surroundings. Attend your local city council meeting, ask questions and demand answers. Be informed and vote.

Across the country, 116 black people were killed by law enforcement officers in the first six months of 2016. How do we ignore the ProPublica investigation that found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men?

We sit atop a powder-keg and the sparks move closer.

  • Joe Tortorici