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Illinois Coronavirus Inbox: Tuition Strike, Muslim Relief, Preventable Jail Death

1. In Midst Of Covid-19 Crisis, More Than 1,400 Students Urge University Of Chicago To Halve Tuition; Hundreds Prepare To Strike.

From: UChicago for Fair Tuition.

Students across all undergraduate and graduate divisions at the University of Chicago are coming together to urge the University to institute a 50% reduction in tuition and elimination of fees for as long as the coronavirus crisis continues.

The newly established group, UChicago for Fair Tuition, is also urging the University to eliminate advanced residency tuition for doctoral students.

Furthermore, they are demanding that the university release the budget, reinstate part-time status, and institute a long-term tuition freeze. As of 9 a.m. on April 7th, a petition calling for negotiations around these requests garnered more than 1,400 signatures.

As the tuition deadline approaches on April 29th, over 820 students are considering participating in a tuition strike by withholding Spring Quarter tuition should the University fail to negotiate with UChicago for Fair Tuition.

The University of Chicago is the most expensive university in the country, with an $8.5 billion endowment. In February, they announced a 2019 fundraising haul of $5.4 billion, surpassing their original goal by a hefty $1 billion, with the promise to aid low-income students. UChicago has the means and the responsibility to provide financial relief for students during this difficult time.

As the world faces a health and economic crisis, students are extremely vulnerable. Many are experiencing severe financial and housing insecurity; this includes undergraduates who had to move out of their dormitories. Families are struggling with sudden unemployment and facing the prospect of high medical expenses should someone fall ill. And yet, students at UChicago are still being asked to pay exorbitant tuition.

2. Muslim Charity Packing And Distributing Food To Locals Affected By COVID-19.

From: ICNA Relief Chicago.

ICNA Relief Chicago is distributing food boxes to those who have lost their jobs, homebound elderly, widows, and other low-income neighbors.

As we adapt to this new reality, many neighbors are worried about where, when, and how to provide the next meal for their families. "With the recent crisis, the demand has skyrocketed," Dr. Saima Azfar, ICNA Relief's Midwest regional director, said in a statement. "Not only are our clients already low-income wage earners, now they are out of work or have seen their hours dramatically cut. They have nowhere to turn to but us."

We invite the media to witness the distribution of food boxes on Saturday, April 11 from our Rogers Park food pantry (2809 W Devon Ave) as volunteers line up to deliver food boxes to local families in need from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We also encourage friends to join the national ICNA Relief efforts to share the responsibility of assisting our vulnerable neighbors.

-> Donate.

-> Volunteer.

ICNA Relief is a subsidiary of the Islamic Circle of North America, operating across the nation with programs such as homeless women's transitional homes, food pantries, back to school giveaways, Muslim family services, women's hygiene kits, winter clothing drives, disaster relief, free health screenings, and more.

ICNA Relief, in collaboration with other organizations, announces the opening of free telehealth services helpline to advise patients on non-urgent questions or concerns without having to visit medical clinics or a doctor's office during this COVID-19 health crisis.

3. Cook County Jail's First COVID-19 Death Could (And Should) Have Been Prevented.

From: Sarah Staudt from Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

Jeffrey Pendleton is the first person known to have died after contracting COVID-19 in the Cook County Jail. His infection and eventual death were avoidable and preventable.

Each and every government actor who objected to his release - or contributed to his incarceration in the first place - played a role in his death. If Cook County officials take his death seriously and respond decisively and quickly, perhaps they will be able to avoid further loss of life. But if they respond with apathy and inefficiency - as they have throughout this pandemic - his death will be the first of dozens, or even hundreds, of incarcerated people who will die needlessly.

Mr. Jeffrey Pendleton died at age 59. The most important thing to remember about him, I'm sure, is not the criminal case against him or the reason he was incarcerated. Like every human being, Mr. Pendleton had family, friends, and a community. He had a life and dignity that should have been respected and preserved. Unfortunately, in his final years, Mr. Pendleton was subjected to the grave injustices of our criminal punishment system - including money bond, overcharging, and pretrial incarceration - and when he asked for mercy and justice in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, he was denied. Jeffrey Pendleton had been in the Cook County Jail since July 2018. For almost two years he lived in jail while presumed innocent, awaiting trial on charges for which he had not been convicted.

At any time during those two years, Jeffrey could have gone home had he been able to pay just $5,000. On March 26, four days before Mr. Pendleton tested positive for COVID-19, his public defender asked the judge and State's Attorney on his case to reduce that bond - or to, at least, let him be confined at home on electronic monitoring while he awaited the resolution of his case. The judge denied the bond reduction and Mr. Pendleton went back to Cook County Jail, where it was impossible for him to follow CDC guidelines, impossible to keep his hands washed regularly, and impossible to avoid contracting the virus. Less than two weeks later, Mr. Pendleton was dead. He will never see the outcome of the pending federal lawsuit challenging the conditions of his confinement as cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment.

For the past several weeks, state's attorneys and Sheriff Tom Dart have repeatedly touted that people charged in "non-violent" or "low-level" cases have been released. Quite obviously, this has been and remains false.

Mr. Pendleton wasn't accused of hurting, threatening, or robbing anyone. While he was accused of crimes that sound particularly dangerous, the behavior he was accused of did not, in fact, hurt any specific person. From the publicly listed charges, it seems he was arrested for allegedly carrying a firearm without a license and possessing, or possibly delivering, heroin. There is nothing in his charging to suggest that he shot anyone or threatened anyone. The "victim" listed in his charges is the State of Illinois. Yet, the state's attorneys decided to charge him with two war-on-drugs-era charges that inflated his possible sentence to a minimum of 21-years.

He was charged under laws from the 1980s and 1990s - laws which the majority of the country no longer support - designed to lock people up and throw away the key, so his case was not considered "non-violent." One of these is the "Armed Habitual Criminal" three strikes law, which imposes a 6-to-30-year sentence for simple gun possession on people with two or more past felony convictions. The other is the Illinois "Armed Violence" statute - an extremely misleadingly-named statue that is one of the harshest gun possession laws in the country. It imposes high mandatory minimums in all cases where a gun is possessed at the same time another alleged, usually non-violent, felony occurs. In Mr. Pendleton's case, it was the supposed delivery of heroin. Because of these draconian laws, Jeffrey Pendleton was facing a 21-year mandatory minimum sentence: a sentence that might have very well led the 59-year old to die in prison.

I'm not going through these details to minimize the crimes in which Mr. Pendleton was accused. We can't know from publicly available documents what exactly the circumstances of his arrest were, but I can say this:

* If Mr. Pendleton could have paid $5,000, he would have been able to go home well before this pandemic began. Our wealth-based system continually uses money bonds to incarcerate the poor and vulnerable while letting those with money go free.

* If the State's Attorney's Office had followed its own touted policies, and not chosen to use outdated charges, Mr. Pendleton likely could have been released before the COVID-19 pandemic began - either pretrial or after finding a reasonable resolution (something other than a 21-year minimum prison sentence) to his case.

* If the Chief Judge of Cook County Timothy Evans, Sheriff Tom Dart or State's Attorney Kim Foxx had directed their offices to respond appropriately to advocates' calls to massively depopulate the jail before the first cases were reported, Mr. Pendleton might have avoided the infection that killed him by sheltering-in-place with his family like other Chicagoans. Because they dragged their feet, used extremely narrow definitions of who was eligible for release, and insisted on lengthy individualized reviews of 5,600 cases while the virus spread like wildfire in the jail, Jeffrey Pendleton was handed a death sentence.

No one is disposable. No one deserves to die of this virus. Every death is worth preventing. No one should be left behind as society comes together to collectively survive this unprecedented crisis, but there are thousands more people still behind bars at Cook County Jail. Very, very few of them are a direct threat to anyone and none of them deserve to die simply because of an accusation or for being too poor to pay a bond.

Many more will die needlessly before this pandemic is over. State's Attorney Foxx, Sheriff Dart, and each judge in Cook County - particularly Chief Judge Evans - have the power to prevent more avoidable deaths. They must exercise that power.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Pendleton's family and community are able to grieve him and, somehow, find peace. I hope that over the next few days, if his family and friends wish, we can all lift up the most important things about Jeffrey Pendleton's memory. I hope that all of us who did not know him will see our responsibility to radically change our approach to the crisis in the Cook County Jail, respect the value of human life, and send home every person we can before more families are robbed of their loved ones.


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 9, 2020

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