The fallout from Ferguson

The short-term verdict may be in, but just like those ripples that fan out when you throw a stone into a deep, still pond, the lasting repercussions of the Ferguson debacle are only just starting to be felt.

As important as it will likely turn out to be, this inevitable incident was the culmination of years of trying to put a lid on a problem instead of making an effort to mitigate it. And that’s always a recipe for disaster because this is a tale of the people charged with protecting us falling prey to fear and hate and then doing just the opposite.

fergusonThe sad truth is, without diminishing it in any way, this story is about so much more than the death of Michael Brown which, ironically, will serve to give his too-short life far more meaning than it might’ve otherwise had.

Please allow me to explain:

1. This isn’t over

The U. S. Attorney’s office has made it clear that they will be examining every aspect of the Ferguson Police Department from a civil rights perspective. Given their consistent poor judgment and the unforgettable images of a white American police force as an occupying army, the federal folks will make it a point to make an example of Ferguson, Missouri.

It certainly won’t happen overnight, but I wouldn’t rule out a federal takeover of that police department.

2. But Darren Wilson’s and Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s careers are over

Human nature dictates that, rather than examine our own role in a sad series of events, we’d rather search for scapegoats instead.

Wilson was nothing more than a cog in a machine that became far bigger than any of its component parts. The problem is, whether we like it or not, innocent or guilty, sometimes we have history thrust upon us. The Ferguson Police Department will not be able to recover as long as he’s there so, under the guise of a resignation, Wilson will be gone.

Ah! But if someone is more culpable than their minions it has to be the Chief. Throw in his capacity to make blisteringly bad decisions, and his departure is as foregone a conclusion as I’ve ever seen.

3. The police will demilitarize

In fact, many of them are already attempting to return their MRAPs and other surplus equipment to the Pentagon, though it appears to be a virtually impossible feat.

Author Radley Balko was indeed prophetic when he warned us that, once police acquired that weaponry, they would put it to use. And given the general lack of any internal terrorist threat, they would likely use it against the very people they’ve sworn to protect.

So now, police chiefs, mayors, and even school districts, terrified of the monster they so eagerly created but can’t control, are trying to divest themselves of these “tools” and the temptation that comes along with having them as fast as they possibly can.

The slightest possibility of a Ferguson repeat in their jurisdiction is keeping them wide awake at night so, thankfully, the militarization tide has turned. The police should always be an extension of the people and not the military.

4. A comeback for Constitutional rights

As is almost always the case when tragedy strikes this country (except for school shootings, of course) the pendulum starts moving towards one or the other extreme. A perfect example of this phenomenon is our post 9/11 fright fest which made matters much worse than the actual attack itself.

Our clarion call seemed to be, “We will protect our freedom by destroying our freedoms!,” and suddenly the police were the beneficiaries of all sorts of new authority. But whenever one group gains that kind of leverage at the expense of another, it never works out because, without the necessary checks and balances, the suddenly more powerful faction typically turns on the very people who provided that new authority in the first place.

So now, especially in light of Ferguson, that slow erosion of our constitutional rights will start to reverse.

5. Police departments will make more of an effort to hire minorities

In order for Democracy to truly flourish, the people who purport to represent us or act on our behalf should actually well…represent us! We humans tend to be tribal by nature and, left to our own monochromatic devices, we quickly descend into an us versus them bunker mentality. But that’s far less likely to happen when you regularly work alongside people of color.

Not only that, but unless you’ve walked that proverbial mile in those Hispanic or black shoes, you can’t possibly understand their experience. When you combine that lack of empathy with a military mindset and the inherent imbalance of the police/citizen relationship, something like Ferguson, Missouri was bound to happen.

And please don’t give me that, “Do municipal snowplow drivers have to look like us too?” bleep because I can’t remember the last time a snowplow driver pulled anyone over or pointed a gun at me.

The best police chiefs know that the best defense against this dire dynamic is a police force that mirrors the community they serve.

6. Community policing is the only thing that really works

The police can’t possibly resolve the underlying inequities that lead to so many of our social ills because no single group wields that kind of power. That’s gonna take all of us. But with that synthesis still pretty far off on the horizon, the next best thing is to engage your citizenry because it’s much more difficult to be adversarial with someone who’s part of the process.

The problem police departments generally have with that interesting notion is that it levels the playing field which can be a nerve wracking proposition.

But it works and the folks in Kane County, Illinois need look no further than the Sheriff and the Aurora and Elgin police departments for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Sheriff Pat Perez and Chiefs Greg Thomas and Jeff Swoboda (respectively) have had amazing success in getting their constituents to buy into that fascinating form of partnership.

In fact, it’s worked so well in Aurora that Illinois’ second largest city didn’t have a single murder in 2013! Of course, some of that’s luck and some of it’s the capacity to keep the really bad guys off the street, but, in a city of over 200,000, most of it should be credited to community policing.

But the best thing about that effort is, as Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon regularly reminds us, when you’re engaged, the possibility of redemption is exponentially greater and redemption actually solves the problem. It’s much harder to dismiss your brothers and sisters when you’ve made the effort to look them in the eye.

Jeff Ward roasts the Sheriff!

Please forgive the shaky video work, but my wife was a bit under the weather and a bit too far away from the stage. That said, the sound quality is just find and who wants to see my made-for-radio face anyway?

Now, you’ll finally understand why I’ve been hiding in my crawl space for the last three days! Enjoy!

A tip of our hat to Jim Romenesko!

We here at The First Ward want to thank media blogger Jim Romenesko for including our irreverent How do you make a small fortune in the newspaper business in his Friday Morning Report! Jim was the inspiration for the piece which explained what Tribune and Sun-Times executives really mean when they issue all sorts of platitudes.

RomeneskoIf you don’t read Jim’s blog you really should because, while we do it occasionally, he does his damndest to keep the media honest 24/7. And there’s always something fascinating to read there, like the Tribune’s sudden reversal on their inane new time off policy.

Thank you Jim! Those extra hits are greatly appreciated.

A proper sendoff for the Sheriff!

To all the people I offended last night:

  • The Sheriff
  • The Chief Judge
  • The State’s Attorney
  • The Chairman
  • Dawn Barsanti
  • All of the Sheriff’s Deputies
  • All of the attorneys
  • All white people
  • All black people
  • All Hispanic people
  • TR Smith
  • The entire Perez family
  • Karen McConnaughay
  • Joe Arpaio
  • Kim Kardashian
  • Willie Mayes
  • The Latin Kings
  • Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda
  • Kevin Williams
  • Dave Wagner
  • Pat Gengler

I want you to know that I meant every word of it.

roastActually, I want to thank Pat Perez for putting me up there on the roasting dais with some of the finest law enforcement officers known to man. And I also want to thank everyone there for being such good sports – especially the Sheriff.

You really have to give Janet Ardelan and Pat Gengler an incredible amount of credit for putting together the kind of sendoff worthy of our departing lawman. The food was great, the roasters were great, and the serious speakers did a great job too.  Everyone had a great time, especially me!

As soon as we figure out how to get my roasting session video off of my wife’s phone, I’ll put it up here!

Here is your November 20, 2014 Left Right and You fix!

We talked about the current crop of Elgin City Council hopefuls, we talked about the surprising treasurer’s race, we paid homage to the late Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne.

Larry and I want to thank former LR&Y co-host and current Kane County Deputy Republican Chairman Allen Skillicorn for calling in and enlightening us as to the lengths some cities are going to undermine the current FOIA laws.

skillicornWe also want to thank Pete for calling in with yet another cogent point.

Enjoy the show!

The November 20th edition of Left, Right and You is…

… on the way!

Today, Larry and I will be talking about the best mayor the City of Chicago ever had, the late, great Jane Byrne! Say what you will about here, but she beat the machine (before rejoining them) and she was never boring.


Then we’ll move on to the recent assault on FOIA laws from Carpentersville to Rosemont and the attempted resurrection of an anti-FOIA bill in the current Springfield veto session. I’ve filed FOIAs and Larry had to respond to them and we both agree the statute should not be weakened. Former LR&Y co-host Allen Skillicorn may just call in with an interesting observation on this one!

Time permitting, we’ll also cover conspiracy theories and how – especially political conspiracy theories – are rarely are worth the virtual paper they tend to be printed on.

We’re looking forward to your calls at 847-931-1410 too.

That’s Left, Right and You with Jeff Ward and Larry Jones from 3 to 4 p.m. today on WRMN AM1410. Don’t miss it!

How do you make a small fortune in the newspaper business?

You start with a large one!

According to an SEC filing, when Tribune Publishing picked up those 38 Sun-Times suburban properties late last month, they paid $23.5 million for the privilege. Meanwhile, back in 2000, the Sun-Times paid Copley Newspapers $120 million just for the Beacon-News, Courier-News, Naperville News-Sun, and the Joliet Herald-News.

If you extrapolate that kind of loss across the newspaper board, it comes out to an astonishing 90 percent decline in value in just 14 years. That’s what you call a depression folks! The sad thing is, there was a time when owning a newspaper was a license to print money.

To be fair, despite all their flowery fourth estate proclamations, in the end, a newspaper is nothing more than just another business. But even with that caveat clearly stipulated, I can’t help but feel the platitudes coming out of both camps are the height of disingenuosity – which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a real word.

CT-BIZ-TRIBUNE_CTMAIN 0712 SROf course, the massive irony is, those words are being issued by the very folks whose staff would leap on a faltering company’s doubletalk like a leopard on a wounded wildebeest. So with that thought in mind, please allow me to employ my vast journalistic experience and exceptionally accurate BS-O-Meter (also not a word) to translate some of these bromides back into the common vernacular:

Tribune CEO Tony Hunter: “We’re thrilled to add these great iconic titles to the Chicago Tribune Media Group.”

Translated: “After being spun off from the main company with a $350 million debt parting gift, we had to do something to appear to still be relevant. We also wanted to distract folks from our most recent corporate suicide attempt consisting of doubling our print subscription rates.

Wrapports Chairman Michael Ferro: “This transaction allows Wrapports to focus on our international digital strategy and to financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times.”

Translated: “If we didn’t get a quick infusion of cash we were finished. Since we don’t have AOL money in reserve, we needed something to pursue our digital strategy which mirrors the failed Patch experiment and doesn’t stand a chance in hell of succeeding.”

CEO of Tribune Publishing Jack Griffin: “This acquisition represents an important step forward for Tribune Publishing Co. and Chicago Tribune Media Group. It supports our stated strategy of leveraging our existing infrastructure, resources and management teams to drive growth for our company.”

Translated: “This is the best we could do with the paltry $50 million in cash we have on hand. In our hearts, we know that buying a bigger piece of a shrinking market can’t be called growth and it isn’t a viable business model either.”

Tony Hunter: “It’s also exciting to establish a new long-term relationship with the Chicago Sun-Times and to ink the print and distribution deal.”

Translated: “The only way we were ever going to see a dime of the vast amount of money the Sun-Times already owes us was to agree to this deal. You can’t collect a debt from a dead man.”

Tribune Publishing spokesman Matthew Hutchison: “No changes are expected and we welcome them (former Sun-Times employees) into the (Chicago Tribune Media Group) family.”

Translated: “As soon as we think no one’s paying attention anymore, we’re going to lay off two-thirds of those 150 employees because they’re redundant and salaries are our biggest single line item. And the staffers working under the old salary structure will be first.”

Jack Griffin: “We have reach in the suburbs now, but this gives us more reach, deeper reach, with really good brands that we’re acquiring.”

Translated: “The Trib-local experiment has failed miserably. This is our last shot at trying to take some dwindling market share from Paddock Publications.”

Jack Griffin: “We think it’s very rational, very sensible and it will be another good test for us and the ability to demonstrate that this kind of activity makes sense for the company and ultimately, our shareholders.”

Translated: “This move makes absolutely no sense and not even we believe a word we’re saying.”

Please note how, especially in Jack Griffin’s case, Tribune management consistently reuses the same words – “reach” and “sense” for example which, when combined with the overuse of emphasis terms like “really” and “very” are signs that someone’s being deceitful. (Please see the book Liespotting by Pamela Meyer.)

I’m not saying they’re lying outright, but they’re certainly not nearly as excited about this acquisition as they’re desperately trying to appear to be. Based on that observation, I’m willing to predict Tribune Publishing isn’t going to be putting any serious money into these suburban newspapers either.

Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch this story unfold.