"Do you think police officers who violate the rights of homeless people should be punished, yes or no?"
To this simple question, put to him several times during a Nov. 8 demonstration at his office, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman refused to give a direct answer. Instead he kept repeating that the homeless should file complaints with the Independent Police Review Authority, the city's notoriously useless police investigating agency.
For several months, police have led an escalating campaign of harassment against those experiencing homelessness in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, long a target of gentrifiers. This neighborhood has served as a port of entry for disadvantaged migrants to the city, from Native Americans and poor Appalachians during the 1960s and '70s, to Southeast Asians in the 1990s, to African immigrants today. It has a proud history of social-justice activism.
But Uptown's proud history of racial and economic diversity has long been under siege from Cappleman and the gentrifying real-estate developers who fund his campaigns. One of newly elected Cappleman's first acts in 2011 was to "confront violence" by announcing the removal of basketball hoops from the ward's playlots, including one a half-block from my apartment, which were seen as attracting Black youth.
Outcry over the ugly racial subtext of this move prompted a quick reversal. But a few years later he was back at it again, trying to drive Salvation Army food trucks that give food to the poor out of the ward. Again, outcry over Cappleman's crass attempt to "purify" the ward and lay the groundwork for gentrifiers prompted an outcry, and he was forced to reverse course again.
But these victories have not deterred Cappleman in his relentless campaign to turn Uptown into Lincoln Park North:
He has overseen the loss of 1,000 units of low-income housing in the ward during his termmore than the rest of the city combinedand has not replaced one of them;
He organized demonstrations against a tax-increment financing ( TIF ) that brought the last chunk of low-income housing to the ward under his predecessor; and
He steered millions in TIF funds to luxury developments, in the case of the former Maryville Academy site, $15.8 million;
Not content to attack the homeless in his own ward alone, he has also voted with the mayor to shut half of the city's mental-health clinics and has opposed the mild single-room occupancy ( SRO ) preservation ordinance that even our infamously pro-1-percent mayor supported.
After taking heat for being seen as a tool of wealthy real-estate interests, arch-hypocrite Cappleman tried to burnish his image by participating in a Nov. 20 charity "sleep out" at Cricket Hill, billed as raising funds for agencies serving homeless LGBT youths. That the event was taking place literally yards away from where Chicago police, apparently at Cappleman's behest, have for months been illegally harassing the homeless, threatening them with false arrest, struck many of us as the worst form of irony.
We have filmed several instances of brazenly illegal, unconstitutional police action against the homeless. But in a city that can't seem to fire its officers when they shoot an unarmed Rekia Boyd in the back of the head, or bring legal action for thirteen months against a cop caught on police dash-cam murdering Laquan McDonald, the notion that Rahm Emanuel or Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, on their own, will discipline police who merely violate the rights of the homeless is at best hopelessly naive if not willfully stupid. Only massive public pressure works on those two.
In advance of the Nov. 20 "Sleep Out Chicago," we urged the many social-service agencies benefiting from it publicly to denounce the illegal police sweeps as well as Cappleman, who, from the stage, boasted he signed the permit for the event and expressed his great concern for homeless youth.
But the agencies' silence was total. Apparently keeping in the mayor's and alderman's good graces, as well as keeping funding for their offices and executive drectorships, were more important than truly helping the homeless.
Of course, they will spin it differently. But it shouldn't take a ton of empathy to understand that if homeless people are constantly being forced from location to location and threatened with fines that they cannot pay, it not only causes them undue stress in an already stressful time of their lives, it makes them more difficult to reach with the very services the agencies purport to deliver. Nor does it take a degree in social work to grasp that using City resources for police harassment wastes resources that could instead be spent on lockers for homeless people's possessions and "housing first," programs that the Nov. 20 event was set up to support.
Unfortunately, what often goes unremarked is that Alderman Cappleman's attack on the homeless harms LGBT people as well, and not just because many homeless people are also LGBT. We owe LGBT gains over the past few decades, from forcing rational and compassionate approaches to fighting AIDS to equal marriage rights, not only to our own efforts, but also to the often heroic support non-LGBT people of every racial and cultural background have provided.
When a gay leader like Ald. Cappleman tries to ethnically cleanse a neighborhood and telegraphs that the only interests that count in his ward and the city are those of wealthy people, gay and non-gayscrew everyone elsehis actions sabotage efforts to get the support of non-LGBTs for our future struggles. They promote backlash. They foster homophobia.
When a prominent LGBT leader attacks another disadvantaged groupin this case, the homeless, in effect playing the two groups against each otherit becomes particularly incumbent upon other LGBTs to loudly say, "You do NOT represent us!"
Ald. Cappleman responds:
I am concerned about the impact of the police sweeps on our homeless neighbors. These sweeps are a short-term tactic that does not address the underlying cause of widespread homelessnessa lack of access to safe, clean, affordable housing in our community and across the city.
The number-one issue that affects people who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless is the lack of affordable housing. I continue to advocate for keeping and adding more affordable housing in our community and throughout Chicago by my support of changes to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance that will increase the number of affordable units built as well as increase funding for the Low Income Housing Trust Fund. Additionally, to make sure we do not lose our current affordable housing, I have worked with organizations such as One Northside and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus to save more than 100 safe, affordable units owned by Presbyterian Homes. I'm proud to say that since I was elected, we have not lost any government subsidized housing units and, in fact, have added units for those with little to no income.
I have been and continue to be the number-one advocate on City Council to put funding toward the implementation of the City's 2.0 Plan to End Homelessness. More than 25 years ago, I co-founded a homeless shelter for people living with HIV/AIDS because no nursing home would take them in at the time. My experience working with the most vulnerable in our community has taught me that we must remain focused on implementing interventions that get people off the streets and into permanent housing with wrap-around services. This includes making sure the City is equipped to have all social service agencies coordinate their programming so people do not fall through the cracks, something past consumers noted was a big problem for them getting help.
However, this is not enough. As a city, we need to come together to create new, innovative solutions to help our most vulnerable neighbors. We need more affordable housing in every Chicago neighborhood. The current demand is well above our current supply. I will continue to advocate for policies that push our city in the right direction to create more affordable housing.
View chart, "Number of Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund Units," provided by 46th Ward Ald. Cappleman's office. at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/LIHTFDec2014.pdf .
Also view "2014 Rental Subsidy Program" charts at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/2014-Rental-Subsidy-Program.pdf .
View related letters, "Sleep and sweeps; Affinity Community Services, As We Give Thanks" at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/LETTERS-Sleep-and-sweeps-Affinity-Community-Services-As-We-Give-Thanks/53576.html .