Notes for 1/23/19

Every Map of Chicago is a Map of Discrimination, Part 10,000

Last year, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental advocacy group, published a map of Chicago that showed how pollution risks were unevenly distributed across neighborhoods. The map plotted risk factors like air pollution, proximity to Superfund sites, and lead paint exposure against socio-demographic data like concentration of poverty and minority populations to see which neighborhoods were at the highest risk from environmental hazards. Unsurprisingly, communities on the South and West Sides faced the highest risk, and already environmental organizers from these communities have begun using this map to ally themselves with other affected communities and further their cause. Gina Ramirez, an organizer on the Far Southeast Side, has shown the map at local high schools to raise awareness and used it to oppose handing out permits to polluting corporations, according to an article in Pacific Standard. If the city won’t listen to its residents saying their neighborhoods unfairly bear the burden of pollution, maybe the hard data presented in a striking and incriminating visual presentation will make it harder to avoid the facts.

Sampling to the South

The Indiana Department of Environment Management has ordered U.S. Steel to begin sampling groundwater at its Portage plant. Sampling last fall discovered elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. This follows an April 2017 pipe failure that dumped nearly 300 pounds of the chemical into a waterway that leads to Lake Michigan, prompting officials to warn South Siders to avoid the lakeshore until water could be tested. Indiana’s environmental regulations are generally less strict than across the border in Illinois—a problem for Chicagoans, particularly those utilizing Far Southeast Side beaches and waters, who face serious health risks from environmental contaminants drifting across the state line. With the EPA paralyzed by the government shutdown, it’s relieving to see Indiana regulators taking at least some action against polluting industries, though the true extent of contamination from U.S. Steel’s facility remains uncertain.

Fuzzy Math

Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer convicted of second-degree murder and sixteen counts of aggravated battery in the murder of seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald, could have faced a minimum ninety-six-year prison sentence for his crime, according to a review of Illinois case law and sentencing statutes that David Holland, a Cook County public defender, published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Had Judge Vincent Gaughan, who presided over Van Dyke’s prosecution, found that each of the sixteen shots caused McDonald “severe bodily injury,” the mandatory sentence would have been six years for each of the sixteen shots—or ninety-six years. (Ditto for any other outcome — six years for each “severe” shot.)

However, Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to serve only eighty-one months, or six years and nine months in prison with two years of supervised release—a difference of roughly ninety years. Although the last time we checked, death far outweighs bodily injury; a weird Illinois law quirk, as reported by Holland, required Gaughan “to sentence Van Dyke on the aggravated battery charges, not the second-degree murder, on the counterinstinctual holding that aggravated battery with a firearm is more ‘serious’ than second-degree murder (even when murder is the ultimate result of the gunshot wounds) and even when a jury convicted Van Dyke of murder.” And since Gaughan did not find each shot to have caused severe bodily injury…

So, let’s do the math: one white police officer + one Black teen retreating in the opposite direction + racism + one fatal shot out of sixteen total shots, multiplied by a flawed criminal justice system = a six year sentence (with the potential of shaving off a few of those years with good behavior), divided by the likelihood of Chicagoans remembering this sentence when Gaughan is up for retention again in 2022. (Very likely.)

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