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Local Book Notes: Suicide Squad, Skid Row & Sandra Cisneros's Chicago

"The man responsible for the success of the Suicide Squad as both a book and a concept is John Ostrander. After spending the early '80s working primarily on his own characters (such as the futuristic mercenary Grimjack), Ostrander made the move to DC in 1987. Alongside Len Wein and John Byrne, he plotted the modern Squad's first appearance in Legends, which included the first look at the character who would go on to define the team in all its further appearances: Amanda Waller," Tim O'Neil writes in his deep, fascinating "How Suicide Squad Went From WWII Military Heroes To Today's Silver-Screen Villains" for the A.V. Club.

"It would be difficult in hindsight to overstate just how radical a concept Waller was when she first appeared. After years of government bureaucrats being portrayed as, at best, feckless, or worse, downright sinister, here was a career civil servant who not only fought on the side of the angels (sort of, most of the time), but was brutally effective in doing so. A single mom who lost part of her family to violence growing up in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects, she quickly rose to prominence in Washington as a congressional aide with a reputation for efficiency and bluntness. It was these talents that put her in a position to pitch President Reagan on a revamped and streamlined Task Force X."

A highly recommended read.

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Here's how Waller is portrayed in the new Suicide Squad movie:

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Down, Out And Under Arrest
"In his first year working in Los Angeles's Skid Row, [University of Chicago sociologist] Forrest Stuart was stopped on the street by police fourteen times. Usually for doing little more than standing there," the University of Chicago Press writes.

Juliette, a woman he met during that time, has been stopped by police well over one hundred times, arrested upward of sixty times, and has given up more than a year of her life serving week-long jail sentences. Her most common crime? Simply sitting on the sidewalk - an arrestable offense in LA.

Why? What purpose did those arrests serve, for society or for Juliette? How did we reach a point where we've cut support for our poorest citizens, yet are spending ever more on policing and prisons? That's the complicated, maddening story that Stuart tells in Down, Out and Under Arrest, a close-up look at the hows and whys of policing poverty in the contemporary United States.

What emerges from Stuart's years of fieldwork - not only with Skid Row residents, but with the police charged with managing them - is a tragedy built on mistakes and misplaced priorities more than on heroes and villains.

He reveals a situation where a lot of people on both sides of this issue are genuinely trying to do the right thing, yet often come up short. Sometimes, in ways that do serious harm.

Here's a highly recommended excerpt.

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Stuart: 'Poor urban residents and the police are essentially suffering from the same policies.'

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Sandra Cisneros vs. Chicago
"By the time Sandra Cisneros published her best-selling novel The House on Mango Street in 1984, she'd already left her native Chicago," Chicago magazine notes.

"But for more than 30 years she's returned regularly to visit family, each time more dismayed by the city's growing disparity of resources. 'I've been watching Chicago change for years,' says the 61-year-old. 'But Chicago's changes do not mean better for people like my family.'"

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This is the part of the Chicago piece that has gotten a smattering of attention:

Cisneros's inspiration for [a new prose poem] came after a run-in with Mayor Emanuel, who presented her with a Fifth Star award, which honors Chicago cultural forces, in 2015. "I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm going to have the ear of the mayor, I can tell him how I became who I am thanks to [Chicago's] museums - how they're the difference between me being a factory worker and writer.' And he didn't even listen to me. Just shut me down. I felt so bad that I walked out of the luncheon and sat down at Water Tower Place and wanted to cry."

She swore off returning to Chicago after that - "It was just too painful."

As Cisneros notes, Chicago is a wonderful place to visit - for those who can afford to do so. But for regular folk actually living here, it's a mean-ass town. And despite the cosseted view of a lot of would-be writers and Billy Goat journalists, there's nothing romantic about that.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on August 5, 2016


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Charter Schools Complicit With Segregation.
SPORTS - USA Gymnastics Bans Illinois Coach.

BOOKS - The Randomness Of Harvard Admissions.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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