Race, poverty and politics: Outrage over Metra deal continues; Englewood not trusting Trust; minimum wage hike stalls

Despite the "street heat" that congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, and dozens of protesters brought to Metra during a march outside its offices on Thursday, the commuter rail company has not yet buckled to demands that it rebid contracts for a major construction project so more African American companies are included. The $133 million project, called the Englewood Flyover, will take place in the almost entirely black, namesake neighborhood. Yet the only contract given to an African American company amounted to a $112,000 deal signed with a security company. Metra executives claim that several outreach efforts were conducted in Englewood and help was offered to start-up companies. Adding another twist, Metra has asked for an extension on the timeline of its project...because it is behind schedule.

On a similar note, 15th Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes told The Chicago Reporter this week that she was concerned about whether residents in her South Side ward--which includes Englewood--would be getting some of the 30,000 jobs promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as part of his $7 billion rebuild Chicago effort. Foulkes, a labor ally, wondered aloud if those jobs would be reserved for unionized, laid-off workers--who often get first dibs at the jobs--or if 30,000 brand-spanking-new jobs will be created. Foulkes voted against the controversial $1.7 billion infrastructure trust last week, an integral part of Emanuel's initiative.

Two weeks after being indicted on a federal bribery charge, 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith pleaded not guilty on Monday. Smith also ended six weeks of silence, as both he and his attorney, Victor Henderson, criticized the federal government. Smith claims the feds engaged in "shenanigans" and built a false case against him. "The people in my district elected me even after the government charged me with wrongdoing," Smith said. "And that's because they believed in me." In the March 20 primary, Smith, who is African American, beat Tom Swiss, a white, former Republican party chief, in a majority black, Democratic district. Smith was nominated a week after being arrested for allegedly taking a $7,000 bribe in exchange for a letter of recommendation by him to a daycare center seeking a state grant. Henderson spoke out against the feds because the informant used in the sting has a criminal history. After Henderson entered Smith's plea of not guilty, he read a poem about Germans who ignored the Nazi persecution of Jews. "Today it's Derrick Smith," Henderson said. "Who is it tomorrow? That's the point of [my reading] the poem."

Workers at a Caterpillar plant in Joliet have gone out on an indefinite strike, protesting wage freezes and a doubling of their health care premiums. About 800 workers say stagnating wages won't allow them to keep up with their rising health care costs, not to mention buy food and pay for housing. The strike also hits at Caterpillar's plan to eliminate pensions and seniority rights. In 2011, Caterpillar's profit jumped 83 percent to about $5 billion.

For two weeks in 1992, Los Angeles was paralyzed by riots that were to change the face of urban unrest. On the 20th anniversary of the mass outbursts, which left entire neighborhoods in the sprawling city devastated, critics consider how much has changed, and how little, since then. In a LA Weekly "Then and Now" profile, the writer finds that "in the Los Angeles area, unemployment for Latinos and blacks is worse than in 1992. In 2010, 13.4 percent of Latinos and 19.5 percent of African-Americans were without work." The riots were sparked by the police beating of a black man, Rodney King, which was caught on camera. Consider this in light of the Reporter's most recent investigation on police brutality.

Legislation to keep a private prisons company from building an immigration detention center just south of Chicago passed the state Senate last week. The bill amends the Illinois Private Correctional Moratorium Act, by keeping private, for-profit companies from running civil detention centers through contracts with counties or municipalities. Previously, the bill barred for-profit companies from running detention centers, but was unclear whether this meant they could do so by contracting or partnering with local authorities.

A state Senate bill aimed at bumping up Illinois' hourly minimum wage to $10 from $8.25 per hour, hit another pothole in the road Wednesday when a vote was delayed. The bill could be debated by the Senate Executive Committee next week when legislators are back in Springfield.

Hipster racism, you say? An article by Jezabel on 'ironic racism' has sparked a conversation on the many faces of racism and how it continues to manifest itself, even for people who think -  "But I went to college — I can't be racist!" The article examines six types of ironic racism: "Tee-Hee, Aren't I Adorable?," recreational slumming, casual use of the n-word, bashing on "white people," ethnic jokes and assuming that because we have a black president, racism is over.

-Nick Moroni contributed to this post.

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