He never had a chance

Killings by Police-Chicago
This undated autopsy diagram provided by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office shows the location of wounds on the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald who was shot by a Chicago Police officer 16 times in 2014. A judge on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 ordered the city to release squad car dashcam video of the shooting. The officer has been stripped of his police powers, but remains at work on desk duty. (Cook County Medical Examiner via AP)

Today I’m going to the football game between Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Soldier Field. I’m wondering if there will be any crowd control issues, given all that has happened in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release. I certainly hope not, but my mind goes back to Camden yards in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray case. They played a game in an empty stadium, rather than serve as a target for what was going on in the streets at the time. That’s not going to happen today, so we’ll all have to wait and see what plays out.

I’m taking my cellphone to the game. If anybody wants to sign up for periscope, a twitter app that allows for videos to be broadcast live, and follow me @Rlincolnharris, I’ll put anything interesting online. I hope I don’t get that chance, but I’ll probably show something at some point, regardless.

But my larger point, which I may come back and revisit after this is all over, is that a kid like Laquan McDonald never had any chance of making it onto campus at either school. None whatsoever. He likely attended a school in the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS. I taught in CPS myself, many moons ago, and I left as quickly as I could find something else to do. And after years of being under-educated or merely just looked after, Laquan McDonald probably did the same thing.

At 17 when he was killed, it’s possible that he was still in school when he was killed, but I think I would have heard something about that by now if he was. My guess is that his crappy school, whatever name it was known as, had nothing to offer him, and so he left. No diploma, no opportunity to get a job (because those were shipped overseas a long time ago, or they never existed to begin with), no chance at anything but a life on the streets. It is preferable to death on the streets, but in time he would have found that, too. The officer who is being charged with Laquan’s murder just got there first. And the murder charge is all a show, too. It won’t stick, and when the case is dismissed or the jury refuses to convict, we’ll be right back here all over again.

I hope they play the football game today. And I hope something somehow changes so that a kid like Laquan McDonald can aspire to go to either school someday. The first could happen, but the deck is very highly stacked–overwhelmingly so–against the second.

Purple Pride, win or lose

NU Deering

Image from Flickriver.com

Last night I went to see my daughter in Romeo and Juliet. She’s an amazingly talented kid, and I marveled at her and the others in the cast. In just a few weeks, they’ve come together from all different places and brought this story to life. We give teenagers a bad rap sometimes, but knowing there are kids like this out there, who are willing to put their time and their energies into pulling this off–and without being paid to do it–leaves me very hopeful for the future.

As I was getting ready to attend opening night last night, I pulled on a purple Northwestern sweatshirt. I’ve always been proud of my alma mater, because it’s one of the best universities on the entire planet. Everybody says that about their own school, of course, but there’s evidence to support this, too. When people hear about colleges and universities, they usually associate the schools with their football team. Or maybe their basketball team. But the assumption–unless you’re MIT or an IVY League school–is that you’re only as good as your football team. Or maybe the school only exists to provide another college football team to the world. Neither of these is the truth, of course.

I didn’t put on my Northwestern sweatshirt to represent the football team, either. I’m genuinely proud of where I went to school, as everyone should be proud of the school they attended, wherever and whatever it is. Education is a sign of achievement, and if you’ve reached a level where a school grants you a degree or a diploma, go ahead and tell the world about it.

The football team was miserable when I was on campus in the late 1980s. When I was a senior, in the fall of 1989, they didn’t win a single game. So to see them resurrect the football program, under the masterful leadership of Pat Fitzgerald, has been gratifying to see. They’ve finally won a bowl game, even, and this fall should be one like I never thought I’d see.

I can’t wait to see what happens on October 5, when the B1G (or the Big Ten, for an old-timer like me) sees its game of the year played in Evanston when Ohio State comes calling. But win or lose, I’ll still wear the purple proudly. I’d much rather win, of course, but nobody wins all the time in life. Thank goodness nobody loses all the time, either.

Finding Lincoln, again

I’ve written about unexpected encounters with Lincoln before. I grew up in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, and I now live in Chicago, where he would have most likely returned to, had he lived to complete his second term. Lincoln seems to be everywhere, and yet I’m always happy when he turns up anew.

Last weekend, I was marveled at the recently-opened doors to the Deering Library on Northwestern’s campus in Evanston, Illinois. When the main university library opened up in 1970, the doors to the Deering Library–which was built during the 1930s–were closed up, until they were re-opened just a few days ago.

I worked in the Deering library as an undergraduate, so I knew it was a special place on the inside. But because the entrance was never used, the exterior was never really examined, by me or anyone else. We came and went through the main library entrance as Deering sat there, the hidden gem of the campus.

And then, a strange thing happened. A series of books about young wizards appeared, and they were all hugely successful. These books were then turned into movies, which were also tremendously successful. And the Deering Library, which seems as if would fit right in at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has now been reopened to the public. Not really a coincidence, if you ask me.

While wandering around the exterior of the building last weekend–taking it all in as I never did a quarter-century ago–I spotted a stained glass window containing Lincoln’s familiar visage on the second floor, facing out toward the main library entrance. The window was created when the library was built in the 1930s, but observing it for the first time was a joyous experience for me.

I took many pictures of my new find, wanting to capture the surrounding brick and the red ivy that adorned it. While the window had been for all the years that I was on campus, I only noticed it for the first time last weekend. But better late than not at all, which is also true for most good things in life.

The Lincoln movie is opening up later this month, and I’m sure that it will spark a revival of all things Lincoln. I’ve written many Lincoln pieces in this space, and entering “Lincoln” into the search bar of this blog yields quite a few results. This one is a special Lincoln find, though, and it comes with the added bonus of having a wonderful old library all around it. It’s well worth a look for any Lincoln fans who might be in the area.

Filling in the digital canvas

One of the things that I love about the internet is that the vast majority still needs to be filled in. It’s like a mostly empty notebook, with the pages in place, but nothing to turn them away from their original blank state. It’s the tabula rasa of the 21st century, at least.

The world of print has been around for centuries, and there are many, many, many books, photos, magazines, post cards, pamphlets, newspapers, and other forms of  materials in that medium. They’re still being created, and will continue to to exist for all time. But over the past two decades or so, the internet has also started to come along. My old handwritten letters to family and friends have probably been lost to history, but the emails that I now send to people will live forever, on some far-off server that I probably don’t know the first thing about.

The Library of Congress is now archiving all of the tweets that have been sent on Twitter. My tweets number in the thousands by now and few, if any, of them are worth being remembered by anyone. And yet, in this digital age that now feels like it’s always been a part of our lives, there they will remain. Newspapers turn yellow with age, but tweets will live forever, for better or for worse.

This blog, and the nearly 700 posts that I’ve written so far, are my contribution toward filling up the great digital canvas. These words and images won’t ever get lost, or thrown into a wastebasket. I’m sharing these parts of my life, in a form that I expect will live for centuries to come. Whether they’re worth preserving or not, I won’t hazard an opinion about. But they will be preserved, at least.

And with that in mind, welcome to my everlasting time capsule!

My second favorite place on earth

I grew up watching Cubs games on WGN in Chicago. It was a central part of my youth, just like the school I went to and the things I did to keep myself amused and out of trouble when I couldn’t watch or play baseball. I watched other shows on WGN too, like Bozo’s Circus and the Ray Rayner show. On some level, I considered myself an honorary Chicagoan, even though I had never set foot in the city and had only a vague idea where it was.

When the time came to go away to college, I always thought I would be going to Champaign to attend the University of Illinois. It was a good school, and a state school that was not exorbitantly expensive. Good enough for me, or at least it seemed that way. But something was missing. When I went to visit the campus, there were cornfields everywhere. I had seen enough of cornfields by that time in my life, and didn’t want to go spend even more time surrounded by them.

But going to visit my other option, Northwestern University in Evanston, was remarkably different. I loved the traffic on the expressways. I loved the setting of the campus, even though it was cold and gray and the Lake was obscured, though it was right there on the campus. But most of all, I loved the complete and utter lack of cornfields. It wasn’t Chicago–not by a longshot–but it beat Champaign in every way I could think of.

The financial aid office worked its magic, and I somehow had enough loans and grants and scholarships to make a ridiculously high-priced education possible. And, although it didn’t overtly factor into the decision, I would also be able to finally see the Cubs play in Wrigley Field. With these issues involved, it was really not much of a decision at all.  Champaign was going to have to get along without me.

My first game at Wrigley was the second home game of the 1987 season, the year that Andre Dawson came to Chicago. I sat in the bleachers, of course, and seeing the green grass on the field for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Like the Eiffel Tower, or Mount Rushmore, or the Grand Canyon, you can look at pictures all you want to, but seeing it with your own two eyes is something else altogether. And so it was for me on that day. At 18, I had done what the seven year-old me, and the ten year-old me, and the 15 year-old me, had always dreamed of doing.

I’ve lost track of how many games I’ve gone to at Wrigley since that day. It’s upwards of 100, at least. When I was in school, I would deliberately schedule classes so that my afternoons were open during Spring Quarter. After I graduated and moved into the city, I usually lived within a few blocks of Wrigley, so that even if I wasn’t at a game, I could still go by the field and take comfort in its presence. And today, I’m still in the city and only a short drive or a longish el ride away.

Wrigley Field is not my home, and for that reason it can never be my favorite place on earth. But, at the same time, I can’t imagine that the physical or emotional distance between my home and Wrigley Field will ever be too great. No other place I’ve ever seen or been to can have that sort of an anchoring effect on me, and for that reason Wrigley is, and probably always will be, my second favorite place on earth.