Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Lynn Sweet At Highland Park, “Worst Mass Attack In Recent Illinois History”

When it comes to news reporting from the Windy City along with political insight few come better than Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times. To say I have respected this reporter for decades would be an understatement. When it comes to solid writing and a tenaciousness for getting information Sweet is the type of journalist who always gets praised on this blog.

While I enjoy newspapers between my fingers after they land on my front stoop the decades-long appreciation I have for the Sun-Times makes it the only digital paper to be read daily at our home.

So very early this morning—or very late last night–I read a most impressive article by Sweet, who was at the Highland Park parade when hell opened up. One that I will post below in its entirety, something I seldom do. But given a paywall and the power of her words, I take this exception and simply ask that you read the following.

You know why I’m writing this.

I was at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.

Not as the Sun-Times Washington bureau chief. As a civilian. I’m staying with my sister over this holiday. She lives in Highland Park, which is approximately 25 miles north of Chicago’s downtown. More than 30,000 people live there.

I just wanted to go to this parade and enjoy the day. Hang out with friends. Maybe after the parade, go to one of the stunning Lake Michigan beaches that hug this North Shore suburb. Or maybe have a swim at the Highland Park pool, next to the fire station. That fire station transformed into an emergency operations center after the unimaginable — is this a cliché? — happened.

In a matter of seconds, a sniper — using a high-powered, rapid-fire weapon — slaughtered six people and wounded dozens of others as the parade made its way down Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park.

The parade started about 10 a.m. I’m at the start of the route.

Leading off the parade were fire engines from Highland Park, sirens blaring in a good way — before the world changed in this suburban city at 10:14 a.m., when the sniper started shooting from a rooftop.

There was a color guard — four sailors, two with rifles on their shoulders. Soon after that, the Highland Park City Council marched, led by Mayor Nancy Rotering — who a few minutes after she passed me would be dealing with a massacre on what was supposed to be a day of celebration.

The blue-shirted members of the Highland Park High School band stepped off playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” Then the marchers from the League of Women Voters from Highland Park and Highwood.

It was all so delightfully normal.

Then it wasn’t.

I was watching and listening to the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band perform on top of a flatbed truck when I saw people running away from Central Avenue. “A shooter,” someone said. I saw terrified people run into an underground garage, looking for safety from the bullets.

As people were fleeing the scene, I hustled toward it. Please don’t make a big deal that I did it. I’m a reporter.

I saw, frozen in time, what people left when they fled. So many baby carriages. Folding chairs. Backpacks. Water bottles. Towels. Blankets. Police were asking people to leave the active shooting scene.

As I approached Port Clinton Square, by the reviewing stand, I saw a woman down. I don’t know if she was dead or alive. Two people were leaning over her. I saw another woman on the ground.

Then, near a bench in the square, I came upon a pool of blood, ruby red blood. There was so much blood, that the blood puddle was lumpy because so much already coagulated. The shape of the blood — was this a twisted Rorschach test? — looked like a handgun to me.

I’m going into this gruesome detail because this is what gun violence from a rapid-fire weapon with an apparent high capacity magazine looks like. My sister, Neesa, on Central near the railroad tracks, heard two sequences of rapid fire. The pause is likely when the shooter switched out magazines.

I saw my first body of the day. A blanket covered the top of the man. His shorts were soaked with blood. His legs were bloody and blood was still flowing out of him. Two more bodies were on the steps leading into Port Clinton. Thankfully, someone threw blankets over their torsos.

We know that a “person of interest” has been apprehended. He’s local, 22 years old, grew up here. We all wonder about his motive.

As I’m writing this, a friend just sent me a note from his rabbi about a member of North Shore Congregation Israel who was murdered Monday.

Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the horror in Highland Park. Harris will be in Chicago on Tuesday and it’s likely she will further address gun violence. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, with Rotering and many law enforcement officials, gave a press briefing from that firehouse — the one next to the city’s pool, where we were supposed to be celebrating our nation’s independence.

The Highland Park mass shooting is getting global attention, as it should: It’s the worst mass attack in recent Illinois history.

As we mourn the Highland Park victims, let’s not forget the chronic loss of life in Chicago happening almost every day from gun violence.

On Chicago’s South and West sides, nine people were killed and at least 52 others were wounded by gunfire in Chicago as of Monday evening on this Fourth of July weekend.

In May, the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde were added to the tragically growing list of mass shootings in the U.S.

And now Highland Park.

I’ve been reporting on gun massacres for years — since the 1999 Columbine school shootings. But always from a distance. I wasn’t there when the killing happened.

Until this July Fourth.

When I was.

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Donald Trump’s Operation Legend In Chicago Regarding Guns Did Work

I believe one needs to head back to April 2018 on this blog to find the last time I was able to find something in which I could agree with Donald Trump. At that time it was the decision by the United States to send missiles into Syria for that nation’s use of chemical weapons. Though a limited and symbolic rebuke to President Assad’s putrid behavior at breaking international law, it was nonetheless the correct response to the dictator.

Today, with data to back me up, I can agree with another action that was the result of Trump’s four years in office. The Chicago Sun-Times best known as “the hardest-working paper in America,” reported the following about Operation Legend, a short-lived effort looking to make people arrested for crimes involving guns face tougher federal penalties than they might if prosecuted in this case–by Cook County courts.

We all should be able to agree on policies designed to rein in gun violence.

Authorities have said that at least 170 people were arrested in the Chicago area in Operation Legend, including 130 on gun charges and 40 on drug charges.

For context, Chicago recorded more than 770 killings that year and thousands of nonfatal shootings.

The average federal sentence of nearly four years in the cases the Chicago Sun-Times reviewed was far higher than what’s typically seen in the Cook County courts.

To determine that, the Sun-Times examined a decade of Cook County sentences in cases in which the most serious charge was illegal gun possession. The average prison sentence was less than a year — 254 days — in the approximately 4,000 cases filed between 2011 and the end of 2021. About 2,300 other cases resulted in probation, according to a Cook County database.

What one can absolutely disagree with, however, was the political timing of the larger plan by the Trump White House. Using law and order for election purposes Trump trotted out Operation Legend after a year of growing social pressure on police tactics in the nation. But we know the need to curtail guns was raging in places like Chicago in 2017 when Trump was inaugurated. And St. Loius. And Baltimore. And…

What riled so many at the time Trump sent federal agents to cities in July 202o was that it fit into the larger narrative about his autocratic moves. It did provoke deep concern when sending in federal forces to major cities with Democratic mayors—in an election year. And after the attempted insurrection with Trump’s support and backing on January 6th at the nation’s Capitol, the federal move in hindsight by Trump that summer seems even darker.

Now I certainly understand how in many presidential election years the GOP has spasms and urgings to show how tough they are and how patriotic they can be.  George H.W. Bush, who often gets respect for international policy on this blog, was nonetheless going for the gutter when he used the flag for his bid for the Oval Office, just as Richard Nixon is to be harangued for stoking the middle-class angst over cultural discord in the 1968 election.

So, it is clear that Trump was playing to his election base of white male voters in mid-2020 and was not truly interested in curtailing gun violence. The desire to look tough and act autocratically has long been the default for Trump. That he hungered and slavishly sought the favorable nods and ‘love letters’ from dictators worldwide was not lost on a swath of the nation.

But having said all of that there is no way to not recognize the bold type steps–such as Operation Legend–that will be required to stem the gun culture which creates daily death and bloodshed in the nation.

I would have advised the Biden White House to not have ended the program, but rather tweaked the policy so ‘the locals’ did not feel like the ‘the feds’ were running roughshod. There is much, much merit in getting as many guns…and the misfits who carry them–off the streets. Who can deny that fact?

What probably goes without saying is that even at the time Trump was correct he was so inept that he bungled that, too.

I can not fathom a third Trump action or policy that I will be able to agree with. After all, even a broken clock can be right only twice, come morning and night.

And so it goes.

Pat Cassidy Steps Away From Chicago Radio Microphone

When I was a youngster my brother had a yellow car that at times we would drive to one of the local towns for this or that errand. I recall the car radio was tuned to WMAQ from Chicago and country music would play over the speakers. But what most caught my attention was the voice of a broadcaster who would often be behind the microphone.

Pat Cassidy.

Over my life, there have been certain voices from broadcasters that resonated and impressed me so much that there is a vocal recall that can be quickly brought to mind when thinking of them. Orion Samuelson, Earl Nightingale, the legendary Paul Harvey, and my personal favorite as a teenager, “Chicago Ed” Eddie Schwartz.

The perfect tonal quality of Pat Cassidy stayed for many years at the NBC powerhouse in Chicago, until it was sold. WMAQ (AM 670) was the oldest station in the city, and I would argue simply iconic. In 1922, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover created the station’s call letters to WMAQ. The calls originally had no meaning, but went on to form the motto: We Must Ask Questions.

WMAQ.

The ‘voice’ then moved to WBBM (AM 780), the famed all-news radio station from Chicago. My dad would listen to that station while mom shopped in Steven Point stores. It does amuse me how the touchstones of my life often are the radio stations and broadcasters who made such fond memories.

Cassidy not only worked at WBBM for 21 years as part of the morning team but he was a driving force that allowed the time slot to reign in the ratings. He was akin to a rock star of the radio world.

The broadcaster ended his career at the end of 2021 and noted that “On January first I’ll hold a private ceremony to destroy my alarm clock!

Pat Cassidy is part of a long list of Chicago broadcasters and famed announcers who impacted my life such as Wally Phillips, a professional I so admired and respected, and when a young man wanted to emulate. There is also on the list Bob Collins, Spike O’DellMilt Rosenberg, Steve and Johnnie, and Roy Leonard. These were heavy-hitters that drove the ratings.

So much in radio has changed over the years. Walking into a broadcast studio today is a far cry from WDOR, where I worked in Sturgeon Bay.  The age of digital broadcasting has taken over.  And I know that is progress.  But I also know there is something missing.   No more albums and turntables.  No more cart machines that might eat the tape.  No more splicing reel-to-reel tape.  Granted things are easier and faster with the modern conveniences of better equipment. But still…

Here is a photo of how I looked in those heady days of radio broadcasting at ‘The Big 94-FM’ in the 1980s. ‘Let’s get to that live remote and help open the new supermarket!’

We can be heartened with our memories of the many radio friends we felt so comfortable with that we continually invited them into our homes and cars. Early in the morning or late a night they were our sources of news and entertainment.

With the end of Pat Cassidy’s career, we now have one more voice that will be heard only in our fond recollections.

Caffeinated Politics wishes Pat a memorable retirement. But do broadcasters ever really stop doing what they love? There is always an outlet called podcasting….just saying!

And so it goes.

Wisconsin Guns, Chicago Crimes

Gun violence in Chicago is often the topic of headlines around the nation. Too often Monday morning newscasts will report on the number of shootings and homicides from the weekend. Even more tragic to learn are the reports which deal with children in the city who are struck by bullets and killed. We do not know the kids personally, but such news rips at us deeply.

Chicago, often based on such news, gets a negative backhand from many who hear of the gun violence tallies. But the Windy City is, of course, not alone in dealing with the gun culture that has totally gotten out of hand. In Philadelphia, as an example, officials are fearing this could be the deadliest year in the city’s history.

But while learning of what is happening in Chicago neighborhoods there must also be an awareness of how Wisconsin plays a role in that gun violence. Recently data was examined which connects the dots of a Glock stolen from a smashed glass case in Superior, Wisconsin, to its recovery during a street stop in Chicago. 

The movement of guns from Wisconsin to Chicago, and the tragic outcomes caused by such weapons, has triggered a likely journalism prize-worthy series in the Chicago Tribune. It truly deserves attention from Wisconsin residents as we are clearly part of the problem.

It was a few hours past midnight on New Year’s Day 2016, a time when the working-class northern Wisconsin town of Superior keeps the bars open especially late.

Police were tied up with two bar fights, one of them a 30-person brawl at a local saloon called the Ugly Stick.

With no cops in sight, the burglar was ready to make his move on Superior Shooters Supply, a gun shop frequented by hunters and hobbyists.

It was just 12 days later, authorities believewhen one of those (stolen) pistols was fired from a car in the southbound lanes of the Chicago Skyway around 97th Street, killing a 25-year-old road manager for a rap group who was driving his new BMW coupe.

The ease with which anyone with a disturbed mind or cruel intentions can make entrance to gun stores and steal deadly armaments is very concerning. In the above robbery, the store owner in Superior noted that the handguns were “stolen from one of her glass display cases”.

The consequences of such brazen thefts are noted in the data.

Guns that end up on Chicago’s streets often come from Indiana and Wisconsin. In 2019, of more than 11,000 guns confiscated by Illinois authorities, 460 were traced back to Wisconsin, which ranked third for states with the most gun traces outside of Illinois, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

We need to re-examine the issues at play that allow for hundreds of guns to leave our state and cause injury and death. Wisconsin needs to implement stricter standards for gun dealers. The reason why is most obvious. 

At the present time, ATF does recommend that all commercial dealers install an alarm system, high-definition security cameras with audio, place bars on all windows, plus sturdy doors with multiple locks at each entrance.

But that is not enough.  Advising such common-sense recommendations is far different from demanding under law the stores act responsibly.  So let us be clear as to what Wisconsin should require.

Simply put, all gun stores need to place all firearms in a safe or vault after business hours to prevent theft.  I also have long felt that these stores would be best served with burglar alarms connected directly to the local police department. These ideas would in no way impede on those who seek to buy and own guns but would make those who sell weapons more responsible members of society.  If stores do not abide we then need to hold gun store owners accountable for shoddy security practices.

Chicago records show that aside from the above Glock linked to 27 shootings in Chicago, the three other guns from that one burglary were tied to more shootings in the city, striking at least 10 people and killing one of them.

In one case a 9 mm Glock 26 was confiscated by Chicago police from a teenager six months after the break-in, and in another, a 9 mm Glock was linked to the shootings of at least eight people including the slaying of Elliott Brown and wounding of his girlfriend.

The burglary at the Wisconsin shop was another episode in what police said is an established connection between Chicago and towns along the western tip of Lake Superior. Drugs often move north from Chicago, officials said, and sometimes firearms head south.

The reasons for the epidemic of gun crimes have long been studied. At this time in the nation, there is a soaring number of gun sales, the ever-more harsh political rhetoric against gun-control measures, and a deep distrust among some towards law enforcement. The list of contributing factors also includes economic forces which ramped up during the COVID crisis, and the long-running federal drug policy which desperately calls for reform.

Stealing deadly weapons from a gun store is also a proven problem which demands a public policy solution.

And so it goes.

Choices in Life: Former Madison Resident Took The Wrong Path, In Vehicle When Police Officer Killed

There are many times we can ponder a newspaper story and try to walk backwards from the events in the article. Whatever the article is reporting we can try to consider what might have happened if one of the subjects in the story had taken only one alternate path in life.

Such was the case this week regarding the tragic shooting of two police officers in Chicago. One of them, 29-year-old officer Ella French was killed almost instantly. The other officer remains in critical condition at the time of this posting.

Emonte Morgan, 21, pulled the trigger last weekend and for all practical purposes ended his life, too. He will spend the rest of his life in prison as a result of first-degree murder. Of a police officer. Perhaps two.

Alongside the shooter was his brother. They were both seated in a vehicle during a traffic stop. Eric Morgan, 22, had resided in Madison until 2018, He is now facing a raft of criminal charges ranging from unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon with a prior conviction, and obstruction of justice.

The gun that was used for the Chicago murder was bought by Jamel Danzy, from Indiana, in what is termed a ‘straw purchase’. Such gun sales are a topic that concerns all those who understand the need for better gun control laws.

In such a transaction paperwork is used with lying on a form so to buy a gun for someone who could make the purchase themselves. And it comes with some irony, too. Straw purchasers have clean criminal records by nature, as that is the point since they are the front person in such crimes. They use their clean records to commit a crime.

Danzy, used his clean public record to so violate federal firearm laws and gain the purchase of a weapon for a felon. A judge released him from custody with a slap on his wrist, terms that included a $4,500 unsecured bond, and supervision by court personnel. During this process, it was reported Danzy admitted he also purchased a gun for his cousin, who he knew was a convicted felon.

So many stand-up characters in this news story.

But is it Eric Morgan my mind keeps returning to, again and again.

Eric Morgan was sentenced in Dane County to three years of probation in June 2019 after pleading guilty to theft as a party to a crime. He was skirting so close to real legal pitfalls and potential problems that would surely pull him down if he did not take corrective measures. Yes, he was initially arrested for armed robbery, and that is a most serious matter, indeed.

But he was young, the world awaited with promises of better days and success if he chose to track in that direction. Was there no one who sternly took his arm and had that ‘come to Jesus’ meeting where it was spelled out in stark terms that the end of the dangerous and reckless behavior had to occur? No one with the force of character or the means to force some changes?

How did Eric wind up alongside someone with a gun that should never have been obtained and then used to kill a police officer, and shoot another one?

We all know in any life there are off-ramps, course changes that can be taken. How is it that this young man did not take any, or have a guiding hand of an adult to prod him–or otherwise–down a new path? There were clear reasons to have headed to the side of the road, and take the turn to something better in life.

That did not happen. It is very sad.

Why I Detest Hedge Funds, Chicago Tribune Showcases Reasons

If you ever wondered what the call letters for WGN (radio or TV) stand for now might be the time to find out. Because the root of the meaning is slowing dying.

Col. Robert McCormick was a legendary businessman and mover and shaper of Chicago. He is best known as the owner and publisher of the famed Chicago Tribune. He rightly had proclaimed that newspaper as the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” as it was a long-time preeminent source of news for the region. When the company bought a radio station and television station the idea for the call letters fell into place.

WGN.

Now the newspaper has fallen into the grubby and destructive hands of a hedge fund known for destroying local journalism.

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too.

Now comes news that the newspaper will likely be saying goodbye, by the end of next week, to some of its best-known names who, with their bylines, have allowed readers to know a credible reporter was writing the story. The reason for this madness is the newspaper is fully under the control of a hedge fund known for severe cost-cutting. No regard for talent and experience, or the needs of the citizenry to have a newspaper designed to impart information to all the neighborhoods and communities that rely on the Tribune.

Instead, there is now a voluntary buyout underway as Alden Global Capital sinks their teeth into the meat and bone of a newspaper that has been a regional necessity for readers. If the new owners accept the reporter’s buyout they will be gone by Friday, June 18th.

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism.

Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

And so it goes.

Urban Milwaukee Published My Article Today About Media Buyouts Hurting Local Journalism

Urban Milwaukee published my column today about the ways local journalism is undermined with massive buyouts, such as a hedge fund purchasing Tribune Publishing.

Local Media, Reporters Matter: Chicago Tribune Is Proof

Not for the first time do I stress the importance of supporting local media. From subscribing to a local newspaper and supporting businesses that advertise on a local radio station. Local media and the newsrooms they populate with reporters and journalists are one of the foundations that keeps our democracy strong. News and information is a vital component for an engaged citizenry.

With that being said it was not shocking news, as the reports on the negotiations have been known for weeks, that Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, has agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million. But it was still very unsettling and troubling to learn of the outcome as the consequences are enormous. This is far more than just a news headline to be treated in a fast cavalier manner.

As a result of the deal, there is soon to be one of the largest newspaper operations in the United States. But that does not make it a boon for news consumers, or a win for the newspaper profession, or hard-working journalists who ferret out the news for each edition. Far from it! The reason is due to Alden being a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

But there is also a more fundamental issue to consider with the amassing of properties in large media companies. When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down. Or with some local papers due to budget cuts, there is not even an editorial staff to ponder the issues of the day. For the sake of our democracy, I again make the case as to why there must be regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, in any medium, into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

When it comes to the iconic Chicago Tribune I shudder to think of the future. The newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30 percent since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs. No, far more important those numbers are news reporters who head around the city to meetings and neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers. And with the knowledge of what happens in the city comes the sense of community and connections which is also a vital component to democracy.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too. It also should come as no shock Alden has done great harm to other papers they have bought and chopped up in their all-consuming zeal to make money. The reason so many people are exercised over the recent deal is that local news suffers when newsrooms are pared down and the voices and events of those nearest to the reader are not reported.

When a hedge fund looks to break apart a newspaper and treat it as only a cash cow there is a deep price paid for by the local community. When newsroom owners view profits as the only goal, quality, reliability, and accountability suffer in the editions of the paper that hit the streets and land in the mailboxes.

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, whose local chapters represent newsroom employees in Chicago, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando, and other cities, expressed his views on the Alden deal concisely and to the point.

“Alden has a history of running newspapers into the ground, This isn’t good for workers, the company, shareholders, or the communities.”

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism. Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

I end this post where I started. I urge readers to subscribe to their local newspaper. Paying for quality journalism should be viewed as just as important as paying for other needed services in our lives.