A liquor store? I am outraged.
There are many reasons for anger over last week’s 15-count federal indictment of 20th Ward Ald. Willie Cochran.
Voters should be angry that since 1973, 31 Chicago aldermen have been convicted for corruption.
We should be incensed that Cochran is charged with wire fraud, bribery and extortion. Prosecutors claim he ripped off a charitable fund he had established to aid needy children and seniors in his ward. He allegedly took $25,000 that he likely spent on gambling, and another $5,000 to cover his daughter’s tuition, federal prosecutors say.
We should be infuriated that, when it comes to crime, our public officials are leaders in their field. Illinois is “the third most corrupt state in the nation,” says Dick Simpson, the former alderman and political science professor at the University of Illinois. In 2015 alone, the state saw “27 convictions, 28 indictments, and the launching of 11 corruption investigations,” according to a report Simpson co-authored earlier this year.
Black folks, in particular, should be vexed that Cochran is the third sitting 20th Ward alderman to face federal charges. Cliff Kelley and Arenda Troutman were previously convicted and served prison time.
The predominantly black ward includes parts of Washington Park, Englewood, Woodlawn and Greater Grand Crossing. Many residents there are the left-outs and left-behinds, those who need honest and vigilant representation most.
But my outrage is reserved for that liquor store. The feds allege Cochran took a $3,000 bribe from a liquor store owner seeking to lift a moratorium on liquor sales in a two-block area of South Cottage Grove Avenue in his ward. The owner needed the change so that he could sell the store to another buyer.
Like every breathing human being in the black community, Cochran knows that liquor stores are a ubiquitous scourge.
Cochran should know that better than most. He’s a former Chicago police officer.
I grew up all over the South Side, moving from Oakwood to Bronzeville to Washington Park to Park Manor to South Shore. My mother was always seeking a little better apartment, a little safer neighborhood. Mama had one iron clad rule: She would not rent an apartment near a liquor store.
If you are looking for crime, dysfunction and the dregs of society, look for the liquor store. In our neighborhoods, it seems there’s one on every corner.
A searing memory of my teenage years is maneuvering past the creepy leers and ugly jeers from the drunks and miscreants hanging around those stores.
Today, swaths of the city’s South and West sides remain economic disaster areas. We need sit-down restaurants, boutiques, healthy grocery stores. We get fried chicken shacks, currency exchanges — and liquor stores.
Black folks are desperately seeking jobs, economic development, mental health services, even just a little peace from incessant violence.
We get a black alderman accused of greasing a dirty deal for a lousy liquor store, a magnet for the pathologies we fight every day. It’s the ultimate insult.
Cochran has adamantly denied the charges in the indictment. He vows to fight them. “I have never extorted money. That will be revealed,” he wrote Thursday in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I am a giver — not a taker.”
If Cochran is convicted, he could get a maximum sentence of 280 years in prison, reports DNAInfo.
That’s not nearly enough.
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