Pritzker declares “red alert” in south suburbs, admits “mistake” in Metro East approach.
Buildings burn while a Black man shot by police lies paralyzed
Gov. J.B. Pritzker declared a “red alert” Tuesday for Will and Kankakee counties while issuing his coronavirus crackdown on the region due to rising COVID-19 testing positivity rates.
And as three state senators from the far south suburban region slammed what they viewed as an “inconsistent” state response, the Democratic governor acknowledged the lighter restrictions he imposed a week earlier on the similarly resurgent downstate Metro East region were a “mistake.”
“This is a red alert for everyone who works and lives here, and it demands a renewed effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Joliet, the seat of Will County.
Indoor dining and bar service is banned in Will and Kankakee counties beginning Wednesday, a state “mitigation” effort that’s the result of the region reporting three consecutive days with an average testing positivity rate of 8% or higher. Experts use that number to gauge how rapidly the virus is spreading.
The Metro East region crossed that threshold last week, but local health officials argued against a full indoor dining ban, according to Pritzker. The governor’s health team obliged, instead imposing tighter capacity limits and shortening hours of operation.
“Let me just say it was a mistake, in my view, ultimately, to make the adjustment that we made in Region 4 [Metro East],” Pritzker said. “We wanted to listen to them and try to follow the suggestion that they had made . . . . I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and that it appears now that we want to put those mitigations exactly in place as we had originally intended.”
For now, the initial, more lenient Metro East mitigations are in effect for another week, as that region has soared to 9.8% positivity.
The south suburban restrictions will last for at least two weeks. They’ll be rolled back if the region dips below 6.5% — or tightened even further if it’s still over 8%. Will and Kankakee are up to 8.4%.
As in Metro East, party buses are banned, and most venues, including casinos, have to close by 11 p.m., with capacities limited to 25%. That doesn’t apply to schools.
Before the governor’s mitigation mea culpa, two Republican state senators had claimed Pritzker “decided to place partisan politics above science” with the disparate mitigations in the south suburban region versus Metro East.
“Why the double standard? Because Democrat elected officials from that region pressured the governor to change this stance,” GOP state Sens. Sue Rezin and John Curran said in a joint statement. Their districts both include parts of Will County. “Backroom political deals should not be how public health decisions are made. The same rules should apply to all regions, and they should be based on science, not politics.”
Criticism came from within the governor’s own party, too.
“These inconsistencies in public policy between similarly positioned institutions place our local businesses and their employees at a disadvantage,” state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, said in an open letter to Pritzker. “It is one thing to suffer through an initial pandemic shutdown this spring. A second shutdown — with no guaranteed reopening period will be devastating, and some will never recover.”
Pritzker said “this is not a political choice on my part. I’m not sitting around coming up with, you know, ‘this number makes the most sense.’ This is truly a reliance upon the doctors and their view of the data that’s coming out of each region.”
The statewide testing positivity rate actually inched downward, to 4.1%, as the Illinois Department of Public Health announced 1,680 more people were confirmed to be carrying the virus among the latest 40,859 tested.
Health officials also said COVID-19 killed 29 more Illinoisans, including a Winnebago County woman in her 20s. That raises the state death toll to 7,917, among more than 223,000 who have been infected since March.
Chicago’s testing positivity rate increased slightly to 5.4%, as the city updated its travel quarantine list to remove Arizona and North Carolina. Travelers arriving to Chicago are still ordered to self-isolate for two weeks after visiting any of 19 states considered hot spots, now including South Dakota.
As of Monday night, 1,549 Illinois coronavirus patients were hospitalized.
Members and supporters of Ironworkers Shop Local 853 staged a small protest Tuesday outside a Bedford Park company, complaining its owner failed to honor a contract he agreed to in principle and then fired workers in a ruse to bust the union.
They were confronted by the owner, John Kot of All Steel Iron Works, who would not address the substance of their complaint but accused the union of being interested in dues and of trying to control his company. “You guys are imposing your will on me,” Kot said angrily, calling one protester a socialist.
Union leaders said Kot agreed to tentative terms of a three-year contract then would not sign the final version. Instead, he laid off members of the ironworkers union in January, saying he was closing the plant. Remzi Jaos, business representative for Local 853, said the Bedford Park site has remained open with nonunion hires and is shipping products to construction sites throughout the region.
“I have never seen an employer so disrespectful toward his workers,” said Jaos, who has 30 years of experience in labor negotiations. “This guy is completely off the rails.” He said the dispute involves 10 workers who voted to unionize in 2019.
Jaos said the union has filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board, including a charge of failure to bargain in good faith, but that the cases have yet to be heard by the federal agency. “He’s basically trying to bust the union,” Jaos said.
Reached by the Sun-Times before the union rally, Kot declined to comment.
He told the protesters the union contract provided workers lower compensation than he was paying. Jaos said that wasn’t the case and that the deal provided workers health insurance and pension benefits for the first time.
The Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of the pro-labor group Arise Chicago, called Kot’s actions “completely immoral and despicable.” Mike Barkowski, a former worker at All Steel who said he was laid off after five years, commented, “What he’s doing right now is not right.”
During an angry exchange about his alleged failure to live up to a contract, Kot told a protester, “You’re gonna have to take that up with your state representative.’’ Arise Chicago streamed the encounter on Facebook.
Two images are seared in our minds: A Black man shot by the Kenosha Police lying on the edge of death or paralysis in a Milwaukee hospital.
Buildings in Kenosha burning in the night.
The two images are irrefutably linked, cause and effect impossible to deny, as much as we deplore the arson and violence. We are outraged by the conflagration, but every bit or more by the spark — another disturbingly questionable police shooting of a Black man — that set it off.
We say this because we woke up on Tuesday morning, scanned our Twitter feed and were struck by a disconnect. Dozens of people who expressed fury about the damage done to businesses and vehicles in Kenosha, sharing our own view, seemed to have little to say — certainly nothing approaching the same level of concern — about the shooting of Jacob Blake.
Need to know more
This editorial page’s own response to the crisis in Kenosha must begin with the many questions surrounding that shooting.
What happened between Blake and the police before the brief part of the encounter that was caught on a cellphone video that’s since gone viral? What threats or warnings were made? Did Blake, who had been charged in July with thirddegree sexual assault, have a knife, as some have claimed? If so, where is that knife?
Why were the Kenosha police not wearing body cameras, which might have recorded the full story of the encounter?
Clearly, a full and independent investigation into the shooting cannot happen soon enough, a point we wish Kenosha officials had stressed themselves at any point on Monday. Instead, they essentially went silent as their town burned again that night.
The video itself raises other questions, the most basic of which goes like this: Why did the police shoot a man in the back, seven or eight times, who was getting into his own car, where his three kids were in the back seat, whether or not there was a knife?
And then there’s this terrible question that must always be asked, whether the person injured or killed is Laquan McDonald, George Floyd or Jacob Blake:
Would the police have reacted in just the same way had the suspect been white?
It’s often said, most recently by speakers at the Republican National Convention this week, that racism is really not much of a problem in America anymore, and police officers who cross a line are the few bad apples.
How many more Black men must become victims of excessive police force — shot, kneed or choked to death — before that delusional thinking is put to rest?
The sad truth is that too many police officers in the United States — in big cities like Chicago and smaller towns like Kenosha — are not sufficiently screened, trained and monitored to guard against the kind of racial bias, often unrecognized, that leads to the discriminatory treatment of Black and Brown people.
The sad truth, as well, is that we ask the police to do too much. We asked them to handle unruly kids in school, mentally ill people sleeping under viaducts, emotionally distraught teens threatening suicide, hungry people who steal to eat and angry couples who could use a marriage counselor instead of a cop.
We send them into the streets with guns and body armor, but not with the body cameras that might protect them, as much as anybody else, from false and scurrilous narratives. Bodycams, which Kenosha had balked at buying because of the price, should be standard equipment for every law enforcement officer in the United States, subsidized by the Justice Department.
No defending violence
There is no defending the violence and destruction we have witnessed in Kenosha this week, and we support Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to send in the National Guard. Those who set fires, destroy property and loot should be arrested, jailed and charged with felonies. Many of them, we suspect, don’t live in Kenosha — a town of just 100,000 residents, about 11% of whom are African American.
But nobody should confuse the provocateurs of violence with the many other protesters — undoubtedly the great majority — who are demonstrating peaceably, if in righteous and frightful anger, for greater racial justice. That is the American way.
After the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the center of national protests against police violence was Chicago. After the killing of George Floyd, it was Minneapolis. Now it’s Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Who’s next? Where next? Peace and justice go hand in hand.
If Donald Trump’s sister is right that he “has no principles,” he does at least have a few enduring instincts. Perhaps the most persistent is his conviction that American greatness is threatened by voluntary economic exchange, the most powerful engine of peace and prosperity in human history.
Each of us has a fundamental right to the fruits of our labor, which includes the right to exchange the money we earn for products and services. When governments respect that right, mutually beneficial transactions replace interactions that forcibly transfer resources from losers to winners. The value of those voluntary transactions does not depend on where buyers and sellers happen to be located.
Trump’s rejection of those principles pervades the second-term agenda he unveiled this week. He promises not only to “create 10 million new jobs in 10 months” — which itself betrays a basic misunderstanding of the president’s powers and the way a market economy works — but also to “keep jobs in America” through “Made in America” tax credits and “fair trade deals that protect American jobs.”
Even keeping jobs in America is not enough to satisfy Trump, who also wants to dictate who can fill those jobs. He would use immigration law to “prohibit American companies from replacing United States citizens with lower-cost foreign workers.”
Notwithstanding his rejection of the “socialism” he ascribes to the Democrats, Trump believes the government must manipulate the economy, which means overriding the choices Americans otherwise would make, to ensure his preferred outcomes, down to details as mundane as the location of air conditioner and washing machine factories.
In Trump’s mind, trade is not a right to be respected but a process to be managed by politicians.
Ignoring the principle of comparative advantage as well as the self-evident benefits of transactions that both parties freely choose, Trump believes Americans should not be using oil, pharmaceuticals or medical supplies produced in other countries. To “end our reliance on China” and “bring back 1 million manufacturing jobs,” he would provide tax benefits to companies that “bring back jobs from China” and deny federal contracts to businesses that “outsource to China.”
Trump’s obsession with stopping Americans from buying Chinese goods is at odds not only with his party’s former support of free trade but also with its avowed resistance to tax increases. Taking into account retaliatory tariffs as well as the taxes Trump imposed directly, his trade war with China is costing American consumers an estimated $57 billion a year, on top of the costs borne by U.S. farmers and manufacturers caught in the crossfire.
In contrast with his positions on, say, abortion or gun rights, Trump’s beef against free trade is longstanding and seemingly sincere. No matter what pointy-headed economists say, he knows in his gut that money spent on foreign goods is wasted, and that something nefarious is going on whenever imports from a particular country happen to exceed exports.
“You only have to look at our trade deficit to see that we are being taken to the cleaners by our trading partners,” Trump wrote two decades ago in a book that likened peaceful economic exchange to warfare.
When Trump ran for president in 2016, the Republican platform likewise bemoaned “massive trade deficits,” even while paying lip service to “open markets.” This year, the party decided to forgo a platform, saying it stands for whatever Trump has in mind.
Whatever that is, we can be pretty sure it will ignore a wise warning from the 2016 GOP platform.
“We are the party of a growing economy that gives everyone a chance in life, an opportunity to learn, work, and realize the prosperity freedom makes possible,” the Republicans said then. “Government cannot create prosperity, though government can limit or destroy it.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker
John Kot, owner of All Steel Iron Works in Bedford Park, argues with protesters Tuesday who accused him of unjustly laying off workers to bust their union.
Mike Barkowski says he was laid off from All Steel Iron Works after five years.
A flag flies in front of a Department of Corrections building in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that was set ablaze Monday.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2019.