Vigil for journalists in Gaza

On December 11, a few hundred journalists, media workers, and allies held a candlelight vigil at a Pilsen art gallery for the sixty-three journalists who’d been killed at that point in Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, now in its third month. After a few speeches and a moment of silence, Chicago journalists read aloud the names of the dead as their photos were projected on a wall. Then, attendees wrote messages in pages torn from reporters’ notebooks, which were affixed to a wall in an installation that will remain at the gallery through the spring.

The death toll in the latest invasion on Gaza includes not just Palestinians, but four Israeli and three Lebanese journalists as well. At the time of this writing, at least seventy-three media workers have been killed, making the war in Gaza the deadliest for journalists since the International Federation of Journalists began keeping track in 1990. Our Palestinian colleagues, such as Wael Al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza City, have courageously continued to report on the war even as Israel’s military appeared to be targeting them. Al-Dahdouh lost his entire family in an Israeli airstrike last month, and was wounded in another that also killed his camera operator, Samer Abudaqa, last week. He was back on air the same day.

The violence is not limited to Gaza: Last week in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers brutally beat Palestinian journalist Mustafa al-Kharuf. And the violence is not new. In 2022, Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American journalist, was killed by an Israeli sniper. At the time, Abu Akleh was wearing a blue flak jacket emblazoned with the word “PRESS,” a piece of protective equipment common to war correspondents that, in Gaza, has become a target for bullets and bombs. 

As journalists, we are charged with telling the truth. We are also admonished to be objective and avoid advocacy. In the face of the relentless bombing of civilians in Gaza and the unprecedented slaughter of our colleagues, however, we must speak out, condemn the killings, and stand in solidarity with the courageous victims. To paraphrase Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed in what appeared to be a deliberate Israeli airstrike: should they die, we must live to tell their story. We must make it a tale. 

Migrant child dies at Pilsen shelter

A five-year-old boy died on December 17 after falling ill inside an overcrowded migrant shelter in Pilsen, and the following day four children and an adult staying there were hospitalized. The converted warehouse by a bridge near Cermak and Halsted is Chicago’s largest city-run shelter, housing more than 2,300 men, women, and children. For months, it has been the subject of complaints about poor treatment and unlivable conditions. In an investigation that Borderless Magazine published last week, residents described “horrible” living conditions, freezing temperatures, dirty bathrooms, and occasional spoiled food. 

On Sunday afternoon, police were notified that a five-year-old boy was suffering a medical emergency at the shelter. The child, later identified as Jean Carlos Martínez Rivero, was transported to Comer Children’s Hospital in Hyde Park, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is under investigation, police say, and an autopsy is pending.

The day after Martínez Rivero died, Borderless reported that a Venezuelan migrant living at the shelter said the boy had a fever of more than 100° F and was convulsing in the bathroom before emergency medical services were called. Though the city maintains that Martínez Rivero died shortly after arriving at the hospital, migrants at the shelter told Borderless they believe he died in the shelter bathroom.

On Wednesday, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for migrants near the shelter and collected warm winter clothes to distribute. 

In a press conference a day after Martínez Rivero’s death, Mayor Brandon Johnson deflected questions about conditions at the shelter, pointing a finger instead at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “They’re just dropping off people anywhere. Do you understand how raggedy and how evil that is?” Johnson said. “Then you want to hold us accountable for something that’s happening down at the border? It’s sickening.”

However, Martínez Rivero did not die “down at the border.” According to the city, his family arrived in Chicago on November 30. He, along with the five others who were hospitalized Monday, fell ill in a city-owned shelter that is staffed by a vendor hired by the city. Johnson’s administration is responsible for the well-being of those staying in the shelters, and he should be held accountable for their conditions, as well as the city’s oversight of them—or lack thereof.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *