Parachute journalism is alive and problematic as hell

Notes from the 09/16/20 issue

Parachute journalism is alive and problematic as hell
On September 5 the New York Times published a photo essay by Magnum photographer Alec Soth as part of a series on inequality titled “The America We Need.” Soth photographed people and places in two Chicago neighborhoods, Streeterville and Englewood, and to say that Tonika Lewis Johnson was surprised is to put it mildly. Through her acclaimed Folded Map Project Johnson, a Black photographer from Englewood (and a former Weekly board member), has been documenting inequality and segregation in Chicago for years, using the device of comparing North and South Side addresses. She cried foul on Twitter—“not checking or researching for similar stories/documentary photography covered in Chicago is POOR JOURNALISM!!!”—and the resulting social media storm led to an apology from Soth, who said that he would donate his $1,500 fee to her project. But Johnson’s point stands: her work is hardly obscure to anyone tuned into the ongoing Chicago conversation about segregation and representation. It should be inconceivable that in 2020 a national news organization would commission a white, male out-of-town photographer for this project. Yet it’s all too real. In response to public pressure the Times appended a note to the story directing readers to Johnson’s work, but has not admitted any failing. Meanwhile, Johnson keeps producing. Her new virtual exhibit, Belonging: Power, Place, and (Im)Possibilities—about the experiences of Chicago teens of color who’ve been racially profiled—is online at the UIC Social Justice Gallery through January 22, 2021.

South Side schools used for shelter
Mayor Lori Lightfoot sponsored an ordinance seeking to transform two closed schools on the South Side to “temporary authorized fire, police or life protection services” facilities. The process to redesign the former Calumet High School (8131 S. May Street) and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (2641 S. Calumet Avenue) was already underway. The goal is to provide 540 more beds for those needing housing. City Council approved the measure and made it retroactive beginning June 30, 2020. As the city anticipates an increase in people being homeless as the economic fallout from COVID-19 continues, more beds for those who find themselves without shelter seems critical to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Research suggests testing has been limited among those who are homeless, but as it is gaining traction findings show a significant number of people without shelter are testing positive, and that the virus is easily spread in the cramped conditions of shelters. The move looks to save the city in rent costs currently being paid to agencies such as the YMCA and Salvation Army for use of their facilities.

Black drivers more likely to be pulled over—for nothing
A study focusing on Chicago has found that Black drivers are more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by police—at a rate 5.6 times higher than white drivers, even though there are more white drivers on the road. The study, conducted by ABC 7, is unsurprising in the context of other reports showing a nationwide pattern of Black people being disproportionately profiled and targeted. But significantly, the findings also show that Black drivers are less likely than white counterparts to receive a citation for wrongdoing, meaning that they have been pulled over for nothing. Despite the lack of criminal charges, there is plenty of disrespect, harassment, and fear in being stopped for no reason. Since 2014, Chicago has been worse than Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston. The study, like other research, highlights a level of denial in Chicago’s police force as it maintains that it doesn’t “target individuals based on race or community.” The data investigation also showed an alarming rise of twenty-seven percent in the number Latinx drivers stopped by police over the past year alone—possibly foreshadowing another trend.

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