In the Wake of Sunday’s Looting, A Call to Elected Officials from a Chicago Teen

By Caleb Dunson, Chicago Votes Inaugural Brian Sleet Fellow

After a night of looting on Sunday, Chicago was trending on Twitter in a matter of hours, the thread rife with videos of people breaking into stores, snatching clothes, and fleeing police. Everyone had an opinion. Some people attributed the riots to the democratic leanings of the city, while others leveraged the moment to call out the economic inequality Chicago has been plagued by for decades. Some people just marveled at the destruction, using it to confirm their belief that Chicago is an incredibly dangerous place. It seems once again, Chicago has become a chess piece, used by outsiders, to fit political ends and construct personal narratives. 

Donald Trump has had an obsession with Chicago since his 2016 campaign, and over his presidential term, Conservatives have swiftly turned Chicago into a euphemism for liberal-city-plagued-with-lawlessness. In recent weeks, Trump even deployed federal troops to the city to quell violence and preserve his strong man persona in the midst of his losing campaign

Democratic Chicago officials largely rejected protesters’ calls to “defund the police” and ignored consent decree deadlines intended to ameliorate the Chicago Police Department’s numerous civil rights violations, instead opting to hash out personal beefs in internal meetings and engage in media mud-slinging.

This naked ambition on both sides of the aisle has done nothing for the city I so deeply cherish. 

I am a Chicagoan, born and raised, and I have always had a profound love for my city. I was always there to celebrate when the light and warmth of the Christkindle Market cut through the cold bitter winters, stuff myself with fatty foods when the Taste of Chicago rolled around signaling the official start of summer, and march in the Bud Billiken Parade, savoring the last days of summer break and dreading my return to school. 

I loved my city even as I watched kids my age killed so often it was no longer surprising, even as I saw Black people gunned down by my city’s police, even as I saw my community––the Austin neighborhood–– and others like it go without capital investment or government funding when we desperately needed it. 

Though in recent years, Chicago has not gone for very long without making national headlines and efforts to address the problems in our communities have seemed to stagnate. It feels as if politicians, political pundits, and news media organizations are perfectly fine using the city to fit their narratives, but don’t want to do the work to help improve our city. No, that burden is left to the Good Samaritans in our neighborhoods. 

My Block, My Hood, My City, After School Matters, The Greater Chicago Food Depository, A Safe Haven, Chicago Votes, and countless other community organizations in Chicago have been doing the work themselves for years. Resigned to the fact that no one is coming to save us, our communities have relied on each others’ strength and shown tremendous resilience. But as much great work as these organizations are doing, we cannot rely on a few to save a city of almost three million people. 

It is time for our elected officials to step up and do the work they were hired to do. To Chicago’s politicians who have relied on organizations to do their jobs for them and to the news media organizations that have used Chicago’s violence to create sensationalized headlines, I have one request. 

Get out in the community and do the work it takes to make our city better. 


Caleb Dunson is an incoming freshman at Yale University and is Chicago Votes’ inaugural Brian Sleet Memorial Fellow.

OPINION | The erasure of Black women and femmes in media coverage of the BLM movement

By Caleb Dunson

See article in the Triibe: https://thetriibe.com/2020/08/opinion-the-erasure-of-black-women-and-femmes-in-media-coverage-of-the-black-lives-matter-movement/

George Floyd’s death has ignited widespread protests, prompted local governments across the country to consider police reform and renewed the national discussion about systemic racism.

But the Louisville, Ky. police officers who killed Emergency Medical Technician Breonna Taylor on March 13 have yet to be arrested.

The lack of accountability for Taylor’s unjust death is symptomatic of a larger issue: the erasure of Black women and femmes in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

I am all too familiar with the fight for Black lives; I was 9 years old when Trayvon Martin’s death on Feb. 26, 2012 started the Black Lives Matter movement. I was a seventh-grader when Laquan McDonald was killed by Chicago Police Department Officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. And as crazy as it may sound, I have had the pain and privilege of growing up and watching people fight for the humanity of young Black men like me on TV. The same cannot be said for non-male Black youth.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has always been effective at calling attention to unjust killings, news media outlets have consistently focused on the deaths of Black men, so much so that #sayhername was started in 2015 to raise awareness about violence against Black women. 

Yet names like Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald and George Floyd remain more recognizable than Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson, Kisha Michael, Miram Karey and Breonna Taylor, who is featured on the front cover of the September 2020 issue of “Oprah” magazine. 

The most tragically ironic part of Black men being centered in coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement is that the movement’s founders are Black women, and they work to “center those who have been marginalized in Black liberation movements.”

The disproportionate focus on Black men in news media reporting is troubling for three reasons. First, it creates the illusion that Black men are the only people affected by police brutality. Second, it leads to the exclusion of Black women and femmes in calls for equity. Third, it reveals that reporting on race-based social movements has not evolved much since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Ultimately, the Black Lives Matter movement without the intentional inclusion of the voices of Black women and femmes is the Black Men’s Privilege movement. Black women will continue to be the most affected by race and gender pay gaps, while diversity initiatives see more Black men in the C-suite.

Violence against Black trans women — including Riah Milton and Dominique Fells— will continue to go ignored as the fight for police reform reaches the halls of Congress. Black LGBTQ youth will continue to face disturbing rates of homelessness and incarceration, while young Black men’s organizations enjoy increased press recognition and philanthropic donations. Efforts to achieve racial equity will consequently devolve into guileful and disingenuous attempts to place Black men in the same social position as white people. 

Scholars including Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins have been saying this for decades, yet their points fall on deaf ears in the national discussion about race. That has to change. We cannot honestly discuss dismantling systems of racial oppression without including the voices of the breadth of those affected by it. That not only includes women, but also Black LGBTQ+ people, Black disabled people, Black immigrants, and incarcerated Black people.

Black Lives Matter cannot continue to be portrayed as a one-dimensional movement. News outlets must uplift diverse Black voices — including women and femmes — and listen to the local movement leaders in an effort to paint a full and accurate picture of the Black Lives Matter platform.

Only then can we begin to have real discussions about addressing racism.

Caleb Dunson is an incoming freshman at Yale University. He is currently working with Chicago Votes as the inaugural Brian Sleet Memorial Fellow.

Commentary: After George Floyd’s death, remedy for apathy is equity in civics education

By CALEB DUNSON

See the article online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-george-floyd-civics-education-equity-20200803-5tkc7zbacfhqjhfrf76ql6uryq-story.html

I was 12 years old when Mike Brown was killed. I was 12 years old when I realized the world viewed me as a threat. I was 12 years old when I was forced to confront the reality that I could not maneuver through society like my white peers, that my Blackness made me liable to be murdered by anyone, for any reason. 

But then I watched as tens of thousands of people from across the country converged on Ferguson, Missouri, to advocate for justice, and I saw true civics in action. The protesters stood in solidarity and possessed unyielding hope. They organized to take collective action and forced the entire country to pay attention. And when everyone was watching, they spoke with fiery passion and deep conviction, telling vivid stories of social injustice and community resilience. I wanted to be like them, and that was the moment civics became my passion. 

I dedicated much of my high school career to exploring that passion by taking civics classes, participating in study abroad programs centered on global citizenship, and joining volunteer organizations geared toward creating equity.

Unfortunately, I also came to realize that for most high school students across the country, those opportunities, and the chance to learn about civics in general, were inadequate, incomprehensive and inaccessible. 

My peers frequently relayed the comments students at their schools would make, like, “I don’t care about politics because it doesn’t affect me,” and “I never get the chance to learn about how I can help my community,” and, “Civics class would be more interesting if we actually talked about current events.”

It’s those current events, like the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless Black people that have reinvigorated political discourse among everyday Americans. But conversation is only the first step. 

Six years after Mike Brown was killed and six years after I realized the world viewed me as a threat, all members of my generation still need to be taught about civic engagement in order to turn discourse into change. This country, after all, was founded on the ideals of engaged citizenship and active political participation.

It is through active learning opportunities that I have acquired the tools to take meaningful action.

As junior class president at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, I learned to use data to support policy proposals, including one I offered on restorative justice, which my school implemented. Advanced placement government class showed me the importance of involving local elected officials in reform efforts, so when I decided to start an initiative to increase schoolwide cultural understanding, I knew to get approval from my local school council. Through a study abroad program in Cape Town, I learned about international social movements; now I can critically examine American politics in a global context. 

My civics education has shown me the power I hold as an American and has taught me how to leverage it to address key issues in my community.

Imagine what kind of change would happen if everyone had access to the same opportunities I did.

Maybe then the lively discussions I have with my friends about social issues wouldn’t get quiet as soon as one of us pondered the political processes that lead to government action. Maybe my peers would show up to vote in larger numbers because they would understand the process of registering to vote, researching candidates and casting a ballot. Maybe my community organizer friends would be able to mobilize students on an unprecedented scale and get them to advocate for policies they support. Maybe Generation Z would be able to break the cycle of youth voting apathy and force politicians to listen to young people.

Achieving equity in civics education will require more than expanding a few opportunities to traditionally disenfranchised students. We need an overhaul, a change in how civics education is administered and who it reaches. We must make all civics education experiences inclusive, we must support students historically underrepresented in civics spaces, and we must challenge students to use their identity, background and civics knowledge to address the unique needs of their communities.

Six years after I began to fear for my life, I now see equity in civics education as the path forward. It’s time we build a future where students like me are not the exception, but the rule.

Caleb Dunson is a graduate of Chicago’s Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, an incoming freshman at Yale University and a member of the iCivics Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship. He is also the inaugural Chicago Votes Brian Sleet Memorial Fellow.

“The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell”: Reflections Toward Abolition

By: Katrina Phidd


I struggle between a place of hopelessness, rage, and the paradox of exhaustion while also feeling that I am not doing enough. Black people have been arguing our right to be alive, to receive the same resources and opportunities as white people, the same benefit of the doubt, and pleading with those in power to take our pain seriously for years on end. However, an awareness that the system is sustained when its pervasiveness leads to our inaction has forced reflection on my own ability to contribute to the legacy of work to dismantle structures of oppression. 

The goal is abolition. To dismantle “the system” through various tools.  As a community, knowing how to work the system, who holds what power, and who holds them accountable, challenges the sustainability of systemic racism, putting power into our hands. Our knowledge and ability to use tools of the system is a direct threat to its continuance. While voting has never been the end-all-be-all solution, there is a reason people continue to fight for the right to vote and run for office, while others simultaneously boldy fight to disenfranchise and silence our communities. 

Dismantling, not reforming, systems of oppression must happen and must happen now. When Black people continue to be murdered by police, it becomes overwhelmingly difficult to believe this time, this death, will be the last one. I simply do not believe it. The summer of 2016, Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer, not far from my home in Minnesota. We marched, we chanted, and we cried, but the officer who killed him was acquitted of all charges. Now, in Minnesota and all over the world, people are taking to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd. Justice to some is charging and convicting all officers involved in his murder with actual sentences. Justice can also be ending our violent system of policing through abolition.

I do not believe reforming the police will end the reckless murder of Black people. Minneapolis implemented reforms, provided training on implicit bias and de-escalation, diversified their police force, and required the activation of body cameras while traveling to calls. George Floyd was still killed. If we sit back patiently, justice will NOT eventually be served.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell. 

The word ‘system,’ itself, can make change seem incredibly daunting. A system is a set of components working together to produce certain outcomes. If the whole system is the problem, a system that is built to continually harm and oppress Black bodies and lives, envisioning any immediate way to make lasting change can seem unattainable. However, an understanding of the system in this way suggests it is faceless–but that is not the case at all. Even while many people work within this structure governed by laws, historical precedent, and a culture of status quo, an understanding of the system as faceless and unknown perpetuates the system. Voting is a tool we use to achieve abolition. It is a strategy to move us forward in a moral direction, identifying which candidates hold abolitionist values, allowing us to have a weighted voice as police budgets are built and approved by Alderman and the Mayor in city hall.

Electing people like Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Alderwoman Maria Hadden who will unapologetically directly quote young people living in their communities, taking stances to remove officers from Chicago Public Schools, terminating a 33 million dollar contract with CPD, move us toward abolition. These are the leaders who have proven to us our voices can make it to City Hall. These leaders are choosing to invest money into preventative versus reactive services, ultimately choosing a path of abolition and transformative values. We have the ability to vote for or against the State’s Attorney and Judges. The State’s Attorney’s and Judges have the power to decide when to stop prosecuting and convicting crimes of survival, how to hold officers accountable and can bring to light past and current cases of police torture. 

We cannot rely on the systems in place to bring justice for our communities, but we can take time out of our day to encourage our people to run for office, vote, and dismantle the system from the inside while also hitting the streets to advocate for vital policy changes and making our voices heard at forums. While we protest in the streets, holding those in power accountable by voting strengthens our voices.

From trying to process collective trauma, imagining what a truly transformed society would look like, to feeling anger over and over again, the world feels really loud right now. Knowing where you are needed is in constant flux as protests and organizing evolve and knowing where you are at in your own head can be a challenge. But, when our confusion and exhaustion allow those in power to perpetuate the system, our vote is disruption. The fight to dismantle systems of oppression is continuous and layered, we must use EVERY tool we have to win. 

#DefundCPD

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