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Solution to escalating violence in Kankakee sought

KANKAKEE — The issue is clear, but the solution is much more out of focus.

Faced with escalating crime in Kankakee, the Kankakee City Council met for more than three hours during a rare special council meeting Tuesday to address community violence and learned the police department is implementing new strategies in the hopes of getting a firm grip on the problem.

But community involvement repeatedly came back as the best way to fight against unlawful people.

While ideas and concepts were discussed — including installation of Ring camera systems, more police foot patrols, reorganizing police shifts and implementing new special police units — the root solution seemed to return to community involvement.

“This is not a police problem, but our problem,” Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe stated in his public comment prior to the meeting.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all public comments were submitted in written form and Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong read them during the meeting livestreamed on multiple platforms.

Rowe, a Kankakee resident, noted it takes courage for a community to reduce violence. Therefore, he said, the “community must come forward. We must refuse to be held hostage in our homes.”

The violence issue has been heightening in recent months in Kankakee as the city just recorded its sixth homicide of the year and police receive nearly daily reports of shots fired. The police department has noted much of these incidents can be laid at the feet of gang activity.

However, the community is not as interested in why it is happening, but how can it be stopped.

A resident described the city as being in a state of emergency and the city must respond appropriately. The resident said the time for action was two years ago when problems became more frequent. The resident suggested fines or community services for parents who are not being responsible when it comes to their children.

Police Chief Frank Kosman said the force is working on multiple fronts in an effort to cut into these issues.

He and Deputy Chief Willie Hunt noted a Crime Response Unit is being formed to focus on the greatest police needs of that particular day. Key personnel, including Lt. Mike Sneed, will be reassigned to the 2 to 10 p.m. afternoon shift in an effort to combat the problem. Direct patrols will also be taking place. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive has also committed to assist with ballistic testing to aid in gathering evidence faster.

Basically, the administration is looking at any and every way possible to help quell the violence.

During the meeting, the city council voted to dedicate $10,000 from new bond funding to purchase the Ring cameras — which are home doorbell and security camera systems — to aid in helping identify those who are committing crimes. Before the meeting had concluded, Alderman Chris Curtis reported the city had collected $2,500 for the purchase — $500 donations from himself and Alderman Dave Crawford, as well as $1,500 from unnamed donors. The city also had a $2,500 commitment from First Trust Bank.

The request was overwhelmingly approved by a 9-4 vote, but because it was not specifically mentioned on the meeting agenda, Wells-Armstrong said she would contact the city’s law firm to make sure the vote was legal.

Curtis said while some plans to address the violence are more term, the camera system could be much faster to put in place. He was hoping before the end of October.

While there was some discussion on the effectiveness of these cameras, the majority of the council said actions must be taken.

But whatever steps are made, the ultimate answer seemed to come back to the residents.

“The community needs to help us keep us all safe,” said Alderman Mike Cobbs. “If [residents] see something, say something.”

A longtime U.S. mailman, Cobbs said in all his 30 years on the job delivering mail in Kankakee, he never felt unsafe. However, he said, if these issues are going to be solved, it’s up to everyone, not just the police.

“If we don’t do anything as a community, it’s sure to spread,” he said.

The most serious of the crime issues have largely been in the 2nd Ward. Second Ward Alderwoman Stacy Gall said like most problems, the issues are caused by only a few people. She said there are perhaps three chronic problem properties and perhaps 10 people causing the issues.

She said getting those residences handled through the court system and the nuisance abatement law would help the area immensely. The city is currently in court on one of these properties now.

However few or many are causing the issues, the matter has to be solved, leadership noted.

Whether the answer is police saturating the area or cameras monitoring the landscape, answers need to come and the sooner the better, officials noted.

Said Alderman Michael Prude, “Actions speak louder than words. You can give money, but we need to get out on the street. I hear a lot of talk. I don’t see a lot of action.”

He said the breakdown of the family within these homes are at the root of the problem.

“Until we get into that family structure, nothing with change.”

Trump, Biden clash in chaotic debate

CLEVELAND — It started out civilly enough, with President Donald Trump striding deliberately to his lectern, and Democrat Joe Biden nodding to his opponent and offering a “How you doing, man?”

But within 15 minutes, the debate had devolved into a series of endless interruptions, with Biden, seemingly unable to complete a sentence, finally blurting out, “Will you shut up, man?”

It was a chaotic and unusually bitter first presidential debate of the 2020 general election, made all the more unusual by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There was no friendly handshake to kick things off, no room full of supporters in each candidate’s court. Instead, the debate played out before a socially-distanced audience of about 100 people in a makeshift debate hall built in an atrium that had been previously set up as an emergency hospital for patients with COVID-19.

Even without the pandemic, the 90-minute faceoff was jarring.

Trump came out of the gate looking to challenge Biden and badgered him throughout the debate, drawing a string of rejoinders from the Democrat, including a plea to “just shush for a minute” at the half-hour mark.

At other points, the two candidates dialed down their rhetoric, only to resume their interruptions once again. When Trump was fielding a question about a report that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, Biden was the one interjecting: “Show us your taxes. Show us your taxes.”

Roughly 50 minutes into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace’s frustration came to a boil as he tried to regain control.

“Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why should I be any different than the two of you?” Wallace said, drawing some muffled laughter from both sides of the otherwise mostly quiet room.

Trump blamed Biden, but Wallace firmly pushed back to the president, “Frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting.”

The reaction from the mask-wearing crowd, warned not to make a sound, was inaudible on television, though there were several moments when they could be heard laughing or jeering inside the atrium — including when Biden used his “shut up” line.

But was no discernible response when the former vice president called the sitting president a “clown” and told him to “keep yapping.”

The television cameras also eliminated the difference in speaking volume between Trump and Biden that made Trump seem even more combative. Inside the atrium, Biden was sometimes hard to hear and spoke far more softly than Trump, who often yelled, and even Wallace, who repeatedly tangled with Trump as he tried to get the candidates to abide by the no-interruption rules their campaigns had agreed to.

The debate was hosted by the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in the 27,000-square-foot (2,500-square-meter) atrium of the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion on the clinic’s Health Education Campus. Notre Dame, the original debate host, withdrew because of the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the building had been transformed into a temporary, 1,000-bed surge hospital, named Hope Hospital, for expected coronavirus patients. Though it never ended up needing to be used, the floor where the debate stage was built was not long ago lined with beds for patients and copper piping to bring in oxygen.

This time it was turned into a makeshift debate hall with a stage, red carpeting and elevated platforms for cameras. About 100 people watched, all of whom were tested for the virus and sat with plenty of distance between them. Guests were required to wear masks, though some — including members of the president’s family — didn’t. Seats were set with programs and antibacterial wipes.

Most in the crowd did abide by the social distancing and mask-wearing rules. At least one audience member even wore a bright red “MAGA” face mask, technically a violation of rules prohibiting campaign paraphernalia.

Some in Trump’s section tried to greet the first lady with a standing ovation as she walked in, but with the sparse crowd it didn’t quite come together.

The emptiness of the room only made the sharpness of the candidates’ verbal slugfest, which often took the tone of a schoolyard squabble, more notable.

“The fact is that everything he’s saying so far is simply a lie,” a flustered Biden snapped when Trump suggested that the vice president stole the nomination from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’m not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he’s a liar.”

After just over 90 minutes, the faceoff was done — but not without more interruptions.

“This is the end of this debate,” said Wallace, as Trump continued to boom his objections. “We’re going to leave it there, to be continued,” the moderator said as he finished what he deemed an “interesting” debate.

Cause of death of Iroquois County inmate released

WATSEKA — The cause of death of one of two Iroquois County Jail inmates who died in August has been released.

Autopsy results show that Andre J. Maiden’s Aug. 26 death was due to an overdose of fentanyl and heroin, according to Iroquois County Coroner William M. Cheatum. Maiden, 24, of Hoopeston, was found unresponsive by deputies at approximately 11:15 a.m. Aug. 26 in his jail cell. Maiden was later pronounced dead.

A day before his death, Maiden talked by phone with his brother Miles Maiden, according to Kankakee attorney Robert Regas.

In an interview with Champaign TV station WCIA, Miles Maiden said Andre told him he was sick and throwing up.

Andre Maiden was being held on charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault using a deadly weapon. His next court date was Aug. 31, according to online records. Maiden’s was one of two deaths reported just one day apart at the jail in August.

Jason P. Fancher, 47, of Milford, was pronounced dead at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana on Aug. 27 after being found unresponsive by Iroquois County Sheriff’s deputies at the jail.

According to online court records, Fancher was being held in jail with three open cases. Illinois State Police were requested by the Iroquois County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the incidents. The investigation continues.

Kankakee schools set in-person schedules for 2nd quarter

KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 will require all students on blended learning schedules to come to school for at least two days per week starting in the second quarter, which begins Oct. 19.

For the first quarter, blended learners have been coming to school to get support from their teachers as needed.

The Kankakee School Board heard Monday how principals are planning to shift their schools to permanent schedules while Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois reopening plan remains in effect.

Schedules for the second quarter will vary by building, but all students in the district will be expected to be physically present in school at least two days per week unless they are on a fully remote schedule.

At Kankakee Junior High School, for example, seventh-graders will attend school Tuesdays and Thursdays and eighth-graders will attend Wednesdays and Fridays.

Parents should notify their child’s school if they can’t make their scheduled in-person day because of COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.

Students will still be able to come to school for additional support beyond their scheduled in-person days.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said parents should not have been discouraged to send their children into school buildings for support. The district will clarify its message moving forward, she said.

“If parents, students or teachers are saying a student needs to come in, regardless of their level of engagement, no teacher, principal, or anyone should be discouraging them from coming in,” she said.

Walters said that while the district can’t accommodate all 5,200 of its students for seven hours a day five days per week, both remote and blended students can request additional in-person support.

Board member Christopher Bohen said that even students with high levels of engagement need the socialization and other benefits of being in school.

He said a number of parents have told him they were “actively discouraged” from sending their kids to school, which should not have been the case.

“Second quarter, my hope is that [the message] is flipped and we say we want your kids to come into the building and we assume they will come, unless you are opting for remote or opting for safety reasons otherwise,” Bohen said.

Board member Angela Shea added that the reason for needing to schedule time with teachers should be more clearly explained to parents.

“They need to have an appointment because we need to control the number of kids in the building,” she said. “We can’t just say, ‘Come on in if you need help.’”

Walters said the district is measuring levels of student engagement by the number of completed assignments, and these numbers are lowest at the junior high and high school.

For example, recent data at the high school showed that 42 percent of courses were reaching engagement levels of 2 or 3 (where 61 to 100 percent of work is completed).

“I don’t want anyone to misunderstand; our engagement at the junior high and high school is low,” Walters said.

Walters said that students with engagement levels of 0 or 1 (with 0 to 60 percent of work completed) should be called in to work with teachers at school to increase engagement.

If students are not attending school or completing assignments as required, either remotely or in-person, and their parents are not supporting intervention efforts, the principal will report the child as truant to the regional office of education.

“Even if they are checking in on the computer but refusing to do the work, we consider that truant,” Walters said.

Barnetta Harris, assistant principal at Kennedy Middle School, said the school resource officer recently conducted a home visit to speak to a parent about her child’s lack of engagement. The parent responded, “So?”

“I didn’t know what to tell [the resource officer]. Her flat out answer was ‘so,’” Harris said. “It stumped us that we have parents that are still not concerned about their children not being engaged.”

Schools will continue limiting sections of the buildings to 50 adults and students during the second quarter.

“I don’t want to ever go fully remote,” Walters said. “The only thing we wanted to do is we wanted to go in slowly so we didn’t have to quarantine an entire building the first week.”

When Region 7 experienced additional mitigations last month due to rising COVID-19 positivity rates in Kankakee and Will counties, the district took extra precautions and reduced capacity in sections of the buildings to 25.

“When the governor rolled the number of people that could congregate back, we were conservative in terms of the kids and adults that are in the building,” Walters said. “We are ready to move on now.”