Month: February 2017

Bill Hampton, Others Reflect on Fred’s Assassination in the Era of Trump

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Bill Hampton, the brother of Fred Hampton, in their childhood home in Maywood, flanked by photos of his mother Iberia’s grandparents, Edmond and Christine White, who were the children of slaves. | William Camarg/Wednesday Journa || Below left, former Black Panther Billy Dunbar, middle, speaks with members of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club last Thursday. | Michael Romain/VFP

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

G. Flint Taylor, Fred Hampton’s attorney who has also represented the slain Black Panther leader’s family for the half-century that’s elapsed since Hampton’s death in 1969, was recently cleaning out the basement of his Chicago law office when he stumbled on boxes full of familiar files.

“I found box after box of FBI documents,” Taylor said during remarks delivered during a meeting of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club, held at Meal of the Day Cafe, 1701 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood, on Feb. 23.

“In the middle of our trial, the government admitted that they had been hiding all of the FBI files on the Black Panther Party and on Fred,” Taylor recalled. “There were 200 volumes in our basement that they had to turn over — 15 volumes of surveillance and COINTELPRO documents of Fred Hampton alone.”

COINTELPRO is a clumsy portmanteau that’s jumbled from the words Counter Intelligence Program. The Federal Bureau of Investigations utilized the program heavily during the 1950s and 1960s as a covert, largely unconstitutional, method of spying on, discrediting and destroying political organizations considered threats to the United States.

Some of those ‘threats,’ like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, are now considered icons today. After King’s 1963 speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Hoover dropped the hammer, telling William C. Sullivan, the federal agent at the helm of COINTELPRO, to intensify efforts to discredit King and disarm the potency of his message.

In the wake of King’s “powerful demagogic speech,” Sullivan wrote, “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

If being a charismatic, articulate African American male willing to speak out about constitutional ideals marked one as an enemy of the state, Fred Hampton might as well as have been marked since childhood, said many who reminisced on the Maywood native during last Thursday’s meeting.

Rotarian Delores Robinson, who attended Proviso East High School with Hampton in the mid-1960s, remembers how he would lead her and her fellow African American classmates out of the school’s clock tower entrance down Warren Avenue after classes let out. 

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“There weren’t many blacks at Proviso back then,” Robinson recalled. “When we would leave out of school at the end of the day, the blacks would walk out of that door and Fred would always have this song that went, ‘The more you give, the more God gives to you; you can’t beat God giving.’ We’d all walk down the street singing that.”

Don Williams, another member of Rotary who served as Mayor of Maywood in the 1990s and led the local NAACP at the time of Hampton’s ascendancy, recalled how he helped recruit Hampton to become the leader of the West Suburban NAACP’s Youth Council — a position that would become a launching pad for the young leader’s rise in the world of social activism.

“There was some turbulence at Proviso East and it seemed that the African American students were being short-changed,” Williams recalled. “We didn’t have anyone in the NAACP at that time we could offer who was young. There was a basketball player, Al Nuness, who was very well-known in the community and we thought we would solicit him.”

Williams said that Nuness was too busy with other commitments. The popular basketball player, however, recommended that the NAACP recruit Hampton.

“Nuness said, ‘You want Fred Hampton,’” Williams recalled. “He said he’s very active in the school and very well-known among the young people. You want Fred. So [we] recruited Fred Hampton. The rest is history.”

By the time Billy Dunbar joined the Black Panthers in 1968, the young Hampton’s reputation had circulated across Chicago several times over.

“I didn’t meet Fred until I got to headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St. [in Chicago], but people were telling me that this guy really had charisma and that he was talking about poor people and about how black people got mistreated by Mayor Daley’s regime,” Sullivan said. “He articulated the goals, needs and aspirations of black people at the time.”

When Dunbar and Hampton eventually met, Hampton had ascended to the position of chairman of the Black Panther’s Illinois chapter. Both men were in their early 20s — if they were that old.

“I found out later, through my experiences in the party, about the type of organizer Fred was,” Dunbar said. “He had the ability to analyze and initiate the programs that were told to employ by our leadership on the West Coast. He would identify members he thought had the qualifications or the ability to get the job done and he’d assign the tasks. We then got busy applying many of these things.”

Many times, Dunbar said, Hampton made great personnel choices. In the case of William O’Neal, Dunbar recalled, “he chose poorly.”

The ‘most dangerous group in the U.S.’

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On the night of Dec. 3, 1969, Bill Hampton spoke to his younger brother on the phone, mostly “about family things.”

“The next morning, after I got off work, I saw his picture on the front page of the paper that said, ‘Cops kill Panther leader,’” Bill said, recalling how he learned about the death of his brother the following day.

Fred had been murdered by a 14-man Special Prosecutions Unit, made up of Chicago police officers who entered the Black Panther chairman’s West Side apartment building at around 4 a.m., with a warrant for illegal weapons.

Fred had fallen asleep hours earlier while talking on the phone with his mother, Iberia. On the night of Dec. 3, he had taught a course in political education at a local church. By his side in the would-be deathbed was his fiancee, pregnant with Fred’s unborn son.

The tactical unit sprayed the apartment with automatic gunfire, unleashing a barrage of between 90 to 100 bullets. Another Black Panther, Mark Clark, was fatally shot in the chest. Fred was wounded when Black Panther Harold Bell claimed to have heard officers verbally identify Fred, before noting that he was “barely alive.”

“He’ll make it,” Bell recalled an officer saying. Then, two shots later: “He’s good and dead now.”

An autopsy would reveal that Fred sustained two point-blank bullets to the very head that had made him an Enemy of the State.

Taylor and his colleague, Jeffrey Haas, filed a civil suit in 1970 on behalf of the relatives of Fred and Clark. The young attorneys wanted to prove what many Illinois Black Panthers, namely Bobby Rush, were saying all along — that the FBI helped orchestrate the raid that killed Fred through its COINTELPRO operation.

When the civil case began in federal court, Taylor recalled in an article he wrote last December about Fred’s assassination for truth-out.org, the judge “reluctantly ordered” the FBI to hand over all of the files it had relating to Hampton and the Illinois Black Panthers.

The contents of those boxes that are located in the basement of the People’s Law Office, which Haas and Taylor founded together, reveal that O’Neal had infiltrated the Black Panther Party as an FBI informant.

“Memos to and from FBI headquarters and the Chicago office,” Taylor wrote, show that O’Neal was paid $300 for his part in the raid, which included slipping a sleeping agent, secobarbital, into the drink Fred had along with his dinner the night before he was killed. The barbiturate was to ensure that Fred would not wake up while officers riddled the apartment with bullets. O’Neal also gave the FBI a detailed layout of Fred’s apartment.

In 1979, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial judge’s initial ruling against the plaintiffs, “finding that the FBI and their government lawyers ‘obstructed justice’ by suppressing documents,” Taylor writes.

Those documents, the appeals court added, showed “that there was ‘serious evidence’ to support the conclusion that the FBI, [Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, who ordered the raid] and his police unit had participated in a ‘conspiracy designed to subvert and eliminate the Black Panther Party and its members.’”

Those suppressed files also provide evidence that the FBI deliberately incited violence and dissension between the Panthers and other black political organizations and street gangs. O’Neal, specifically, was ordered to create conflict among the Panthers and other organizations.

In 1968, Iberia’s phone was tapped and in 1969, “Fred was sent to [prison] for an armed robbery he didn’t do,” Taylor said at the Rotary meeting. Hampton was alleged to have stolen $71 worth of Good Humor Bars during a 1967 theft in Maywood. That’s how Taylor, a young Northwestern law student, first met Fred.

“They sent me and another law student out to Maywood to get affidavits about how great a person Fred was and to raise some bond money,” Taylor recalled. “So, I came out to Maywood and met a lot of people who were in awe of the Panthers.”

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All levels of government, however, would work to upset that positive perception of Fred and the Black Panther Party — lest it spread and morph into real political empowerment among a larger segment of the black population. Hoover was deeply terrified that the Panthers might muster the political and physical power to overthrow the government.

According to an FBI document relating to Fred’s assassination uploaded to the bureau’s digital records ‘vault,’ Hoover is said to have called the Black Panthers “the most dangerous group in the U.S.”

At the time of his death, Fred was in the process of attempting to increase the Black Panther Party’s membership and reach by joining forces with an array of black, white and Latino organizations. According to Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s documentary film, “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” Hoover ordered the FBI to stop the Panthers by “any means necessary.”

The demonization of Fred and Black Panthers went on even after Fred’s assassination, with Hanrahan praising his officer’s “restraint” and “professionalism” against the violent black men.

Rotarian Henderson Yarbrough, a sitting Maywood trustee and the village’s former mayor, said that he never met Fred personally, but he saw him speak at an event on the West Side in the early 1960s.

“I don’t remember what the event was all about, but it was about five Panthers that came through and, at the time, I feared some of them because of what the FBI and Hoover had done to destroy their reputation and to paint them as bad people,” he said at the Rotary meeting. “The [federal government] did a good job at dividing and destroying that group in the end.”

Connie Harvey, a former Black Panther who Fred recruited to help out with the organization’s famous breakfast program, still struggles to dispel the mythology that’s been propagated against the Panthers.

“Fred and I go way back to Argo, Illinois,” Harvey said at the last week’s Rotary meeting. “Our parents were friends with Mamie Till [Emmett Till’s mother]. They were staunch NAACP back in the day. I felt honored when Fred asked me to help cook for children on the West Side.”

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Harvey said that when she would tell people that she was a Panther, she’d often be met with responses rooted in fear and misunderstanding.

“They thought we were some gun-toting hoodlums,” she said. “My sister and I cooked and helped feed those children before they went to school. That was the first breakfast program. I was a teenager when we did that. I didn’t tote a gun.”

Dunbar and Bill characterized Panthers as Black America’s best and brightest — not hoodlums; but, rather, young men and women who put their lives on hold to struggle for justice. Today, Dunbar said, many former Panthers are lawyers, Ph.D.’s, educators and administrators.

“Fred encouraged all of us to get an education,” Harvey said. “I just finished my bachelor’s degree in educational development. We teach our children to get educated. We’re not bad people and anybody who thought we were was deceived.”

Bill said that he often confronts people who believe that the Panthers were wholesale against the police. That wasn’t the case, he explained.

“Nobody ever said that the whole police force was all bad,” Bill said. “For example, the Afro-American Patrolmen’s League worked very closely with the Panthers. The [patrolmen] caught slack. They were harassed because they wanted to be decent policemen.”

But the conspiracy to demonize isn’t particular to the Panthers, Bill added. 

“That’s the conception of black people in general,” he said. “We’ve been conceived in a lot of ways. That’s not by accident.”

The future ‘may well be upon us’

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Longtime Hampton family attorney G. Flint Taylor. | Pat Hickey

Nowadays, Taylor has been speaking against what he considers to be the resurgence of COINTELPRO-like methods and actions by the Donald Trump administration, particularly Trump’s executive order that gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions — the man whose checkered history on race prompted Coretta Scott King to write a letter opposing his nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986 — a broad set of directives.

Among them is the call to “develop a strategy for the Department’s use of existing Federal laws to prosecute individuals who commit or attempt to commit crimes of violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

Taylor stated on truth-out.org earlier this month that the president’s executive order gives Sessions “a carte blanche to bring down the wrath of the federal government on anyone who is unfortunate enough to have a confrontation with a cop, a prison guard, a border patrol officer or who knows who else outfitted with a badge and carrying a gun.”

“At first blush, the order could be seen simply as a wildly unpopular president playing macho man to our nation’s police departments and their reactionary police unions,” Taylor wrote. “The unions have been chafing over being curbed by the previous administration’s Department of Justice […] which, by means of pattern-or-practice investigations and consent decrees, started to put the brakes on racist police violence.”

But on deeper analysis, Taylor added, “the order can be read as an official authorization, from one white supremacist — Steve Bannon — to another — Jeff Sessions — to pursue the most racist and reactionary criminal legal policies in recent memory.”

“Within the rubric of that declaration,” Taylor writes, is a sinister plot that the attorney is all too familiar with. That executive order essentially “takes aim at protesters,” Taylor states — Fred’s ideological descendants if you will.

They include Black Lives Matter protestors, the protestors at Standing Rock, “people protesting against the Muslim ban and many others who practice acts of civil disobedience that bring them into conflict with law enforcement.”

In his article written last year on Fred’s death, Taylor urges readers “not to relegate the Hampton assassination and COINTELPRO to the annals of history,” before referencing a 1964 FBI directive.

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Part of the text of President Donald Trump’s Feb. 9 executive order. 

“Over the years,” the directive states, “our approach to investigative problems in the intelligence field has given rise to a number of new programs, some of which have been most revolutionary, and it can be presumed that with a continued aggressive approach to these programs, new and product ideas will be forthcoming.

“These ideas will not be increased in number or improved upon from the standpoint of accomplishments merely through the institution of a program such as COINTELPRO which is given another name and in fact, only encompasses everything that has been done in the past or will be done in the future.”

For those who would resist — in the vein of Fred Hampton and other black radicals and even non-violent dissenters like King — that future “may well be upon us again,” Taylor writes. “The only answer now, as it was then, is to organize, educate and resist.”

During his Rotary remarks, there was more to Taylor’s story about those boxes he happened upon in his law office basement. They not only included a story of injustice. They also included stories of courage and resistance, particularly by Maywood residents.

“I also found down there a trial transcript,” Taylor said. “One that I thought was missing. It was from a trial that took place right here in Maywood in 1969. An intimidated African-American judge sentenced Fred Hampton to 2 to 5 years in the penitentiary for robbing an ice cream truck out here, which Fred professed not to have done. He even had an alibi, but he was convicted by a predominantly white jury.”

Taylor said that the trial transcript included the names of Maywood residents “who stepped up” to testify on Fred’s behalf when “it wasn’t popular in this community to do so.”

Those names included Delores Smith, Walter Allen, Bernice Brown, Ella Mitchell and James Sykes, Taylor said. Then Don Williams called on his fellow Rotarians to summon the courage of those witnesses to fight today’s battles.

“Mr. Taylor made a point,” Williams said, referencing the attorney’s insistence on considering Fred’s assassination as less a strict history lesson than a guidepost to inform present dissent. “Each one of us has the opportunity to stand up and step up and assert ourselves in some capacity.” VFP

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More Info Released on Saturday’s Funeral Procession Shooting in Maywood

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Forest Park police and emergency personnel at the corner of Madison St. and Circle in Forest Park last Saturday. | J. Martin Konecki/Facebook

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 || By Thomas Vogel for the Forest Park Review || @maywoodnews

Five Forest Park police officers stopped a van near Madison and Circle Avenues suspected of involvement in a Maywood shooting, Feb. 25 around 2 p.m.

The Maywood Police Department called Forest Park police following reports of a shooting involving two cars near 1st Avenue and Roosevelt Road in Maywood. Maywood police saw one car headed east on Roosevelt toward Forest Park.

At least one of the vehicles was part of a funeral procession for the victim of a gang shooting, Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas said.

Just minutes earlier, Forest Park police units had been monitoring the same funeral procession as it headed west along Roosevelt Road. The department had received several calls from frustrated residents about the procession.

“People were driving recklessly into oncoming traffic,” Aftanas said. “People were hanging out of the windows, out of the sun roofs.”

Alerted by Maywood police, Forest Park police were looking for the van. One officer spotted a blue 2005 Dodge Caravan with a funeral sticker heading northbound on Desplaines Avenue “at a high rate of speed,” according to reports.

The van blew the red light at the intersection of Desplaines and Jackson Boulevard and the officer lost sight of it. Another officer saw the Caravan stopped in traffic at Madison Street and Circle Avenue.

Pulling alongside, the officer saw bullet holes in the driver’s-side door and a funeral sticker on the windshield. The officer pulled in front of the van, blocking its path. Other squad cars soon arrived and surrounded the van.

Aftanas said officers drew their weapons because they did not know if the occupants were armed. There were five women in the vehicle, he said.

“They were not listening to officers. They were not listening to orders,” he said. “They were really uncooperative. They wouldn’t say much.”

According to a police report on the incident, the driver did not respond to orders to exit the vehicle or get on the ground. Only after one officer said he would release Canine Killian, the police K-9 unit, did she comply. The driver was bleeding from the leg, but the car’s door stopped the bullet enough to keep it from entering her body, said Aftanas.

“She was bleeding,” he said. “But [the bullet] didn’t go in.”

Maywood police came and took the van’s passengers to Maywood for questioning, Aftanas said. No Forest Park officers fired their weapons. No shots were fired in Forest Park.

The Forest Park Police Department is not involved in the shooting investigation because it did not occur in the village.

The Dodge Caravan was towed by the Maywood Police Department. It is unclear where the vehicle was registered and where the five passengers were from. Multiple attempts to contact Maywood police were unsuccessful. VFP

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Breaking: Melrose Park Mayor Says He Can’t Commit to Welcoming Village Ordinance

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Residents stand up in a show of support for a Welcoming Village ordinance in Melrose Park during a Feb. 27 regular board meeting. || Michael Romain/VFP

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Monday, February 27, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 11:11 p.m.

The atmosphere inside of a packed room at 1 N. Broadway during a regular Melrose Park board meeting felt like the pre-ceremonial rumblings of a wedding audience. At least 100 people filled council chambers tonight, most hoping to hear that the board would at least start the process of approving a Welcoming Village ordinance.

Thirty minutes later, after a 15-minute ode to immigrants and a litany of prior good deeds done on behalf of his village’s Hispanic community, Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico left most in the crowd feeling like jilted lovers.

Members of PASO – West Suburban Action Project, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and other vulnerable populations throughout the West Cook County suburbs — including Melrose Park, Stone Park, Maywood and Bellwood — have been vocal in their support of a proposal that would “draw a firm line between police and ICE, disentangling the criminal and immigration system,” according to a flyer the group has circulated.

The possibility that Melrose Park would pass some measure similar to what PASO is proposing seemed strong earlier this year. During a meeting in January, which Serpico did not attend due to a reported illness, members of the board seemed to get behind the measure.

Trustee Arturo Mota said at the time that Melrose Park “has been very supportive of being a welcoming community,” adding that the village has also gotten behind local initiatives and state laws that would ease the burden of living for immigrants.

A motion to “establish Melrose Park as a sanctuary village and authorize the offices of the mayor and village attorney to prepare all documents for the aforesaid” was tabled due to Serpico’s absence. Mota said the mayor wanted to “address everyone who is for or against” the ordinance before the vote was held.

But a Feb. 13 regular meeting where further discussion on the proposal was to take place was canceled, with a Serpico spokesman explaining that the mayor had been out of town and recuperating from “very serious back surgery.”

On Monday night, Serpico and the trustees heard at least 15 minutes of public comments from numerous community leaders expressing their support for the measure and arguing that it would alleviate some of the fear that’s been palpable in many immigrant communities since President Donald Trump’s election.

“Immigrants have always been part of the fabric of the United States of America. I’ve seen too many families torn apart due to deportation,” said Sister Noemia Silva, of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo-Scalabrinians.

“Pope Francis asks each of us to help those who, for various reasons, have been forced out of their homeland and immigrate to a new land,” she said. “We cannot wait. It’s urgent for Melrose Park to become a welcoming village for immigrants.”

Silva and others referenced raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month that resulted in the of 680 people across the country, according to ICE. Seventy-five percent of them, the agency claimed, were “criminal aliens.” One of those arrests took place in Melrose Park.

Recently, President Trump has called for local law enforcement officials to cooperate with the federal government during his administration’s efforts to ramp up on immigration enforcement.

“People are afraid to take their children to school, to go to restaurants and to generally live their everyday lives,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the executive director of PASO who is also an immigration rights attorney.

“The federal government is threatening to deport more than two or three million people this year and they are not going to be able to do that without deputizing local officials,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

“Two weeks ago, new policies were issued by the president making all immigrants targets for deportation,” she said. “This does not apply only to undocumented immigrants. They are threatening to prosecute people who came to the United States with their children, to charge them with smuggling.”

Martha Ortiz, a Melrose Park business owner, said that Trump’s immigration policies are hurting local businesses.

“Many of my employees are terrified that something can happen to their friends or their family and businesses like mine are beginning to see less sales, as people are fearful of being out and about,” she said. “They live with the fear that something can happen to them or their family. They’re also trying to save money in the case of an emergency or a tragic deportation.”

Samuel Valtierrez, a 25-year resident of Melrose Park who is running for a seat on the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board in the April 4 election, compared the trials of Latino immigrants today to those of immigrants in the past.

“If today was 1910 and [this were happening to the Italian community], I would be here saying the same thing,” Valtierrez said. “If it was 1870, I would be here to defend the Irish community, because they went through the same thing. But it’s 2017. And [it’s happening] to the Latino community.”

Serpico touted his record of taking stances on numerous immigration-related issues, noting that he’s spoken “all over the world” on behalf of immigration. The mayor said that he’s met on numerous occasions with Silva and also met recently with PASO officials about the proposed Welcoming Village ordinance.

The mayor added that the village has already taken steps to mitigate the widespread fear of deportation among area immigrants and their families by instituting numerous measures, such as stopping a click-it-or-ticket program because of the fear it elicited among some immigrant motorists. He also said that Melrose Park police officers don’t inquire about immigration status or cooperate with ICE.

“Who wants to see families be broken up? That’s not Christian,” Serpico said. “That’s not the right thing to do.”

But the mayor stopped short of committing to the creation of an ordinance that would be legally binding. The mayor briefly mentioned President Trump’s threats to yank some federal funding from local governments who refuse to cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement measures.

He also said that, besides, there’s not much a local government can do to stop federal authorities from coming into Melrose Park to conduct immigration-related actions. One village official said that the police learned about the one ICE arrest that occurred in town after reading it in the newspaper.

Ruiz-Velasco, however, pushed back, insisting that, although an ordinance would not stop deportations, it would at least provide “a layer of protection” against the federal government’s efforts and would help ease some residents’ fears.

Serpico said that he was concerned about Trump’s instability and unpredictable nature, adding that he didn’t want to pass an ordinance only to have the president implement an even more draconian policy that, given the village’s status, would perhaps open it up to potential financial repercussions.

The mayor, who didn’t explicitly say the ordinance was dead, said that he would be in communication with community stakeholders about the proposal. That explanation wasn’t enough for one Melrose Park resident, who insisted on Serpico providing a firmer declaration of his intent. No trustees on the board talked during the meeting.

“I’d like to be able to go home tonight and [tell my son some good news],” she said, adding that she was not a member of PASO.

“I can’t make that commitment,” Serpico said. “We’ll [keep] the lines of communication open.”

Valtierrez compared Serpico’s noncommittal speech to a boyfriend claiming that he loves his girlfriend without making a commitment to marriage, adding that an ordinance would be similar to a marriage or birth certificate.

“For me as a father, for my kids to feel secure, [and to know that] I am their father, my signature is on the birth certificate,” Valtierrez said. “That’s what makes me their father legally. That’s all we want. We want a legal document to feel protected.”

“I feel like someone whose been living with a woman for 20 years and has two kids, a house, two cars and I come home every day, and after 20 years she says, ‘Let’s get married,'” Serpico responded, in keeping with the marriage metaphor. “Does that paper change anything after 20 years?”

“If gives you some security, that’s for sure,” someone yelled from the audience.

“But how many people live with people,” Serpico responded, “and as soon as they get married, they get divorced?” VFP

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Melrose Park Could Discuss Welcoming Village Ordinance at Board Meeting Tonight, Feb. 27, 6 PM

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Members of PASO during a Melrose Park board meeting in January. | File

Monday, February 27, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews

The Melrose Park Board of Trustees is scheduled to hold a regular meeting tonight, Monday, Feb. 27, 6 p.m., at 1 N. Broadway in Melrose Park.

Members of PASO – West Suburban Action Project, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants and other vulnerable populations throughout the West Cook County suburbs — including Melrose Park, Stone Park, Maywood and Bellwood — have spread the word about the meeting on the organization’s Facebook page.

In January PASO members attended a board meeting to urge Melrose Park board members to support a Welcoming Village ordinance.

At the meeting in January, Melrose Park trustees expressed support for the ordinance and said that the board could vote on the measure at the next regularly scheduled meeting. Mayor Ronald Serpico wasn’t in attendance at that meeting in January and a Feb. 13 regular meeting was cancelled.

According to a flyer that PASO posted to its Facebook page, the proposed ‘Welcoming Village’ ordinance that the organization supports would “bar city officials from contacting, collaborating with, or assisting Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) solely because of a person’s immigration status.”

The ordinance would also “draw a firm line between police and ICE, disentangling the criminal and immigration system.”

For instance, federal immigration authorities would not be allowed access to village databases, “facilities, and other resources for the purpose of implementing registries based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, national or ethnic origin, or to conduct civil immigration enforcement.”

The Melrose Park board hasn’t discussed the details of what, if any, Welcoming Village ordinance it would vote on. VFP

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Study: Area Residents Crushed By College Debt | Congressman and State Rep Seeking to Help Ease the Pain

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Sunday, February 26, 2017 || By Michael Romain & Igor Studenkov || @maywoodnews

According to a recent study by LendEDU, which describes itself as “a marketplace for student loans and student loan refinance,” 70 percent of college graduates who live in the 7th Congressional District — which covers all or parts of Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park — leave school with debt. The average student debt per borrower in the district is almost $30,000.

“In 2017, more than 44 million Americans are working to repay student debt,” the LendEDU study notes. “And, the average borrower is working to repay more than $28,000 after graduation.”

Two lawmakers at the state and federal level, however, are working on plans to help ease that heavy financial burden.

U.S. Representative Danny Davis, who represents the 7th Congressional District, is working on legislation to could make it easier for first-generation college students to pay for their education and he wants his constituents’ input.

The details of the proposal are still being worked out, Davis said, but the goals are clear. The congressman wants to create something that would not only help cover tuition but things like room and board, transportation and supplies.

Davis’ Education Advisory Committee, which is working on the proposal, held a public hearing on Feb. 18 in Chicago. The congressman said that residents are welcome to call his office to share their ideas of what the bill should include.

As Davis explained during the Feb. 18 meeting, the committee is just one of the many committees he has set up to help him create legislation.

“We have advisory committees on almost everything we can think of,’ he said. “When we run for office we ask [voters] to give us the ability to represent them. The reality is, I don’t know what you think and how you feel, and what your priorities are, so I spent a great deal of time asking people how they feel.”

The idea from this particular bill, he said, came directly from conversations with constituents.

“Every year, I encounter students who went [to college] for the first semester, but couldn’t go the next semester because they were in debt to the school,” he said.

To give your input, contact Davis’s district office, located at 2746 West Madison St., at (773) 533-7520. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can also visit his website at davis.house.gov.

At the state level, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th), whose district spans all or parts of Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview and Melrose Park, has co-sponsored House Bill 3447,  which would establish the Tuition Reduction Act. The bill is currently in the House Higher Education Committee, which Welch chairs.

Rep. WelchThe bill provides individual grants to full-time undergraduates in Illinois who are enrolled at public universities in order to help offset tuition costs.

The bill also requires “each university to annually report updated estimates of the total amount in grants awarded in an academic year to the governor and the appropriate committees of the General Assembly,” according to a summary of the legislation.

“As Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, I see a lot of proposals that would affect a student’s ability to enroll into one of Illinois’ many public universities,” said Welch.

“Constant tuition increases can prevent students from applying to state universities and colleges,” he added. “It can also force them to look at colleges out of the state, and many times these students do not move back to Illinois after receiving their degree.” VFP

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Breaking: ‘A Shooting Took Place’ During Funeral Procession in Maywood, Says Forest Park Mayor

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Forest Park police and emergency personnel at the corner of Madison St. and Circle in Forest Park. | J. Martin Konecki/Facebook

Saturday, February 25, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

According to multiple witnesses and an official in Forest Park, a shooting took place during a funeral procession on Saturday afternoon. So far, no more information is available on the reported shooting beyond a statement posted to Facebook by Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone.

Maywood police officials could not be reached immediately for comment. Here is Calderone’s full statement:

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More as this story develops. VFP

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Father, Son Charged With Melrose Park Teen’s Murder | Fatal 3-Car Crash Kills One

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Reinaldo Collazo, Jr. and Reinaldo Collazo, Sr. are facing charges in connection to the killing of a 16-year-old in Melrose Park last week. | Melrose Park Police Department

Saturday, February 25, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

According to Melrose Park police, two men, a father and son, face charges relating to the Feb. 19 murder of 16-year-old Julian Hernandez, a Sun-Times Media Wire report notes. Hernandez was shot on the 1900 block of North 17th Ave. last Sunday at around 4:45 p.m.

According to the report: “Reinaldo Collazo Jr., 22, faces one count of first-degree murder; and his father, 49-year-old Reinaldo Collazo Sr., is charged with reckless discharge of a firearm, possessing a firearm without an FOID card and obstructing justice, according to Melrose Park police.”

Both Collazo Sr. and Jr. are documented gang members, the report notes. To read the full Sun-Times Media Wire article, click here.

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The intersection of Mannheim Road and Lake Street. | Google Earth

According to a Feb. 23 report in the Daily Herald, one woman from Addison was killed in a three-car crash that happened in Melrose Park on Wednesday at around 3:56 a.m., at Mannheim Road and Lake Street.

“A 1998 Chevy Astro van traveling southbound on Mannheim Road disobeyed a red light and struck a 2007 Honda Civic traveling eastbound on Lake Street in the left lane and a 2006 Chevy Impala also traveling eastbound in the right lane,” the Daily Herald, citing a Melrose Park department news release, reported.

The woman, Cindy Baez-Gutierrez, 20, was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 4:51 a.m.

To read the full Daily Herald report, click here. VFP

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