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A dialog between Sun-Times opinion writers and our readers

The bloody idiocy of stand-your-ground laws

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Whatever one might think about the jury's verdict in the case of Trayvon Martin, in which George Zimmermann was acquitted of murder and manslaughter, the stupidity of "stand-your-ground" laws is ever more self-evident.

As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday, such laws arguably contribute to "more violence than they prevent."

Stand-your-ground laws, which have spread to as many as 25 states, essentially erase the common sense behind a practice enshrined in common law for centuries -- when in the face of imminent danger, retreat before resorting to deadly violence.

Under stand-your-ground laws, to quote from the Florida statute, people in public areas have the right to "stand their ground" and "meet force with force, including deadly force."

That sounds terrific, we know. Very John Wayne. As Tom Petty sings, "No, I won't back down."

But such laws in practice, as Holder said, "Try to fix something that was never broken" and "sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."

There is no dishonor -- and we'd like to think John Wayne would have agreed -- in using the better part of caution -- retreat when possible -- before pulling the trigger and leaving somebody dead.

Florida's stand-your-ground law was invoked again last November when a 45-year-old white man, Michael Dunn, pulled alongside an SUV at a gas station in Jacksonville and asked the four black teens in the van to turn their music down. After an exchange of words, Dunn fired 8 or 9 shots at the SUV, killing 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis.

Dunn's defense? He felt threatened and stood his ground.

Though the four teens were not armed. Though they never got out of the SUV. Though Dunne could have driven off.

Stand-your-ground laws make sense in a Road Warrior movie, not a civilized society.

And now Dunn sits in jail, charged with first-degree murder.

Fracking bill in Illinois still on track

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A protester against fracking attends a rally after a House Committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol on May 21. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)


Word was going around over the Memorial Day weekend that a bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois was in trouble because it had lost the support of key environmental groups.

Fracking opponents were saying the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Illinois were switching their support from the regulatory bill to a two-year moratorium.

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Gov. Pat Quinn (John White~Sun-Times)

A concealed carry bill that would wipe out all Chicago and Cook County gun laws sailed through the Democrat-controlled Illinois House today by an 85-30 vote, even though it was opposed by many of the state's top Democrats.

Here's what Gov. Pat Quinn said after the vote:

"This legislation is wrong for Illinois.

"It was wrong yesterday in committee, it's wrong today, and it's wrong for the future of public safety in our state.

"The principle of home rule is an important one. As written, this legislation is a massive overreach that would repeal critical gun safety ordinances in Chicago, Cook County, and across Illinois.

"We need strong gun safety laws that protect the people of our state. Instead, this measure puts public safety at risk.

"I will not support this bill and I will work with members of the Illinois Senate to stop it in its tracks."

Keep going, Chicago bd of ed members

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Knocking off four of the 54 schools on CPS' closing list is a sign of progress.

But it's only a start.

It's now up to the Chicago Board of Education's six members -- who vote Wednesday on the remaining 50 closures -- to keep whittling down that list.

Late Tuesday, a source told the Sun-Times that Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is dropping four elementary schools from her closure list: Garvey in Washington Heights, Manierre in Old Town, Ericson in East Garfield Park and M. Jackson in Auburn Gresham. She also decided to delay for one year the closure of Canter Middle School in Kenwood and against subjecting Barton School in Auburn Gresham to a reform measure called a turnaround.

The Sun-Times editorial page had highlighted all four of the spared schools, including lengthy editorials on Manierre and Garvey. Those reprieves are well-deserved and encouraging.

But more schools are worth saving.

Quinn discusses Springfield's concealed carry bills

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QUINN.JPGGov. Pat Quinn talks with the news media after an address to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano's Banquets, Monday. l John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Could there be a version of the concealed carry bill so bad Gov. Pat Quinn just won't sign it?

Quinn ducked that question Monday in a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, saying, "I would much rather see both houses [of the Legislature] debate the issue."

But the question won't go away, now that an effort led by state Sen. Kwame Raoul came up short of the needed 30 votes Friday (it wasn't even called). The House speaker's staff is drawing up an alternative said to be much closer to the NRA's position, which would allow concealed carry around the state with no provision for limits set by local governments.

Nuclear waste plan poses risks for Illinois

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A man in a protective suit works next to a locomotive Monday in Wetteren, Belgium, where hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and exploded last week. Some environmentalists worry about a similar scene in Illinois involving radioactive waste. (Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images)


Back in the 1970s, then-Illinois Attorney General William J. Scott kept vowing he would not let Illinois become the "nuclear dumping ground of the nation."

But a proposal in the U.S. Senate that would create "centralized interim storage" sites for nuclear waste has some environmentalists worried that Illinois could become home to much more radioactive waste and also vulnerable to spilled waste if freights carrying it through the state derail. A discussion draft is open until May 24.

Critics have said the plan would make Illinois the "bulls-eye" for nuclear waste.

Why fracking pact is stalled in the Legislature

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FRACKING-1.JPGOutdoor enthusiasts, tourists, climbers and backpackers at Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area near Herod, Ill. Southern Illinoisans have hopes and fears surrounding the high-volume oil and gas drilling that may be starting in the Shawnee National Forest. (Seth Perlman~AP)

UPDATE 11:15 AM MAY 21, 2013: The Illinois House Executive Committee unanimously passed the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act (Senate Bill 1715).


After a year of negotiations over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois, a compromise that could be a model for the nation is snagged over a simple question.

What exactly is fracking, anyway?

Burge torture investigations take a step forward

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Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge departs the federal building in Chicago on May 24, 2010, (Charles Rex Arbogast~AP)

No one wanted to handle the alleged Jon Burge torture cases. Not Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Not the state appellate prosecutor. Not the state's attorneys of 12 counties.

So on Tuesday, Cook County Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel Jr., back to Square One, appointed retired Judge Stuart A. Nudelman as special prosecutor to handle the state's side of the cases. If there is a sense of deja vu here, it's because Biebel previously - back in 2009 - also had appointed Nudelman as a special prosecutor in different Burge-related torture cases. (A number of those cases have been disposed of since then.)

But more than 100 men still claim they've been languishing in prison because of statements extracted through torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Burge and his Midnight Crew in the 1970s and 1980s. The process of investigating these men's claims, though, had ground to a halt.

Tuesday's ruling will get things moving forward again in two ways.

Arboretum's messages for Chicago

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The Morton Arboretum had messages for Chicagoans fluttering from downtown trees Friday. The tags are put up volunteers and staff from the arboretum and BMO Harris Bank.

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Privatization oversight ordinance stalls again

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Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media photo


A proposal to add some oversight to city privatization deals was still being kept pretty much out of sight this week.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) introduced the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance last November, but it has languished in Ald. Dick Mell's (33rd) Rules Committee since then.

The ordinance, for which a majority of the City Council members have signed on as co-sponsors, would require a hearing on privatization proposals involving an asset valued at $250,000 or more. It also would require a cost-effectiveness study, competitive bidding and other reforms. The city's disastrous parking meter privatization has provided impetus for such a reform.

But the ordinance wasn't on the Rules Committee agenda Wednesday, and Mell didn't say when it will be placed on the agenda, if ever.

"My belief is there is a desire for it not to go any further," Ald. Sawyer said Wednesday in an interview with WTTW.

Watch the WTTW video here.

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