October 28, 2022

In the latest Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune, Jamie Kalven wrote about the dire need for more civic attention on the legacy of the Watts scandal, and what society owes the victims of abusive policing in public housing:

Next month, seven years will have passed since the video of the police murder of Laquan McDonald was released, precipitating a cascade of events that transformed the civic life of Chicago. For the better part of a decade now, there has been a broad consensus that police reform is an urgent priority for the city. Yet hopes for a fundamental paradigm shift have not been realized. The reform process has proved bureaucratically opaque and now appears stalled. Increasingly polarized, public discourse churns but does not advance. Civic morale is fragile, as anxieties about crime threaten to eclipse concerns about police accountability.

Most important, the ultimate metric — the lived experience of those most directly affected by our form of apartheid justice — has not discernibly improved.

While not losing sight of the limited areas in which progress has been made, it’s important that we acknowledge the extent of the failure. This is not only a failure of leadership. While sharp criticism is certainly warranted, it’s not sufficient to blame the mayor, the police superintendent and the various oversight agencies. Nor are the inevitable catchphrases “code of silence” and “cover-up” adequate to take us to the heart of the matter. There is something deeper that must be confronted: We have proved incapable as a society, as a polity, of learning from experience and acting on what we have learned, making it inevitable that avoidable harms will recur in the future.

Among the most telling instances of this dynamic is the human rights disaster commonly referred to as the “Watts scandal.” Here are the basic facts:

For the better part of a decade, then-Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of the gang tactical team under his command were an integral part of the drug trade in public housing developments — primarily the Ida B. Wells Homes — on the South Side. They have been accused of operating a protection racket, exacting a “tax” from drug dealers, as the buildings that constituted the developments were being demolished one by one as part of the city’s Plan for Transformation. Throughout most of this period, they were the subjects of open-ended investigations by the Chicago Police Department’s bureau of internal affairs and the FBI that dragged on and on.

In pursuit of their criminal ends, Watts and his team routinely planted evidence and fabricated drug and gun charges against those who did not cooperate with them, prosecutors have said. Since I first reported on their criminal activities in 2016, 183 people have been exonerated and some 220 convictions have been overturned.(Some exonerees had more than one conviction.)

Caught in an FBI sting in late 2011, Watts and his partner, Officer Kallatt Mohammed, were convicted on a single charge of stealing government property — the $5,200 used as bait in the sting — and were sentenced to 22 months and 18 months, respectively.

The criminal sentences served by Watts victims who have thus far been exonerated come to more than 450 years.

Despite these stunning facts, the Watts scandal is only partially and intermittently visible. Neither the scale of the suffering inflicted by these officers nor the downstream implications for the city have been recognized and acknowledged.

Imagine living your life and raising your children in a community where Watts and his team are the face of civil authority. Imagine they are free to prey on the community with impunity, while you and your neighbors have no means of redress and no sanctuary. Such conditions bear comparison to life under the most repressive, rapacious regimes.

How has the city responded?

Apart from the light sentences given Watts and Mohammed, not a single officer has been charged or disciplined. After the first group exoneration in 2017, CPD put 15 officers on desk duty pending investigation of their involvement in Watts’ criminal enterprise. Today, five are collecting their pensions after retiring, while the rest remain on the city payroll.


October 26, 2022

Publishing Opportunity

October 24, 2022


2023 marks the ten-year anniversary of Black Live Matter (BLM), a grassroots and decentralized political/social movement seeking criminal justice for African Americans.  BLM which began in 2013 as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, evolved into street demonstrations against police brutality in 2014 following the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  In the subsequent years, in light of the deaths of numerous African Americans by police actions, many demonstrations, rallies, and die-ins were organized by BLM across the United States.  What began as an online platform with a set of goals seeking criminal justice for African Americans, quickly expanded to a national network of over 30 chapters by 2016.  The most notable demonstration of BLM movement occurred in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.  An estimated 26 million people participated in the 2020 BLM protests in the United States, calling for criminal justice reform, as one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. In 2021, BLM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  

The Internet, not only was responsible for the expansions of the BLM movement across the United States, but also was credited for garnishing global solidarity around the world.  People in many countries organized demonstrations in support of the BLM movement in the U.S.–Germany, Japan, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.  BLM’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination was submitted by Norwegian Parliament member, Peter Eide.

Given the significance of the BLM movement, at its tenth anniversary, it is important to reflect on what the movement has accomplished in the past 10 years, as well as to project what the movement could attain in the future.  More importantly, it is crucial to examine what political/social movements in the U.S., as well as those around the world, could learn from the BLM movement.  It is with these goals, my colleagues and I are editing a volume, Black Lives Matter, Ten Year Later, and we are seeking your contribution.  If you are interested in contributing to this volume, please send Shing-Ling Sarina Chen ( a 750-word (no more than 1000 words) abstract of your work by November 15, 2022.  Please note that original research, empirical or theoretical, utilizing any perspective is welcomed.  Topics to address include, but not limited to:

BLM and the decentralized grassroots organization

BLM and the Internet/Social Media

BLM and African Americans

BLM and the legislation

BLM and counter movements (White Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, etc.)

BLM and political/social movements in the U.S.

BLM and political/social movements around the world

BLM and non-profit fundraising

BLM and misinformation

BLM and the popular culture

BLM and the children

BLM and education

Thank you for considering our call.  Looking forward to hearing from you.


Shing-Ling Sarina Chen


Dept. of Communication and Media

Univ. of Northern Iowa

Under the Tree: Episode # 59

October 19, 2022


October 12, 2022


October 11, 2022

If you haven’t yet heard the amazing podcast MOTHER COUNTRY RADICALS, here are a few accolades to encourage you to do it now:

“Best Podcasts of the Week – a show that’s personal, insightful and hugely considered.”
– The Guardian

“Best Podcasts of 2022”
“The interviews that Zayd collects to construct these episodes are remarkable… What emerges is a robust portrait of an American era that was equal parts harrowing, volatile, and filled with genuine political imagination. Listening to the series right now provokes all sorts of feelings about where we are today, and where we might go.”

“Mother Country Radicals is a remarkable document. It’s detailed and layered and tricky at many turns. Zayd walks listeners through the experience and evolution of the group, carefully placing them within the context of its historical moment. He portrays the young people in the movement seriously and empathetically as ordinary people responding extraordinarily to the political problems of their time. And he’s largely successful, helped in no small part but the sheer strength of his recorded interviews… A vivid window into a historical moment when ordinary Americans looked upon the intractable problems of their time and radically reimagined how things could be… It’s hard to listen to these stories and not be stirred.”
-NPR, Fresh Air

“[Dohrn] combines poignant personal memories and political postmortem in a kind of oral history of the ’60s underground.”
– Buzzfeed

“A sensational and informative podcast”

Top Podcasts of 2022
“A wonderful investigation into the origin of activism and radicalization.”
NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands)

“Great story, even better executed… such an irresistible pitch that you just have to listen. [Dohrn’s] personal approach yields remarkable material.”
-De Standaard (Belgium)

“Zayd is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, so the writing is understandably strong; the series is also nicely produced, with lots of archival clips interspersed throughout and a well-chosen soundtrack.”
– Stuff (New Zealand)

★★★★★ “Fascinating… Playwright and screenwriter Zayd Ayers Dohrn can tell about The Weathermen like no other ‘from the inside’. The insane true story of bombings, prison breaks and a dramatic final attack on a money transport in 1981 ultimately revolves around rock-solid principles and unshakable beliefs – and the price you pay for them.”
– De Volkskrant (Netherlands)

“Whether you’re a student of the history of American counter-culture, or you love a celebrity-family-history writ large, this is a long and decisive account of some of the most iconic figures in American history. Mother Country Radicals is a history written at the PhD dissertation level… Despite the dark and difficult questions that Zayd asks, there’s a shorthand familiarity to it all, which gives it levity and bounce. And to do this while shedding a giant spotlight on his family’s radical past and consider what it all means, with balanced journalism, historically accurate facts and actual footage, in a place where family legend and lore intertwine with misinformation and propaganda, is quietly huge.”

Top Picks this Week, What We’re Listening To

Best Podcasts this Week, Society & Culture Editor’s Picks
-Amazon Music

Best Podcasts of September “Offering a deep-dive into The Weather Underground (a radical activist group from the 1960s) and its role in America’s cultural and social revolution, this podcast is a personal, politically charged exploration of those who wanted change, by any means necessary.”

“A window into an extraordinary time in American history.”
-ABC Australia

“The podcast is compelling, as it combines the host’s own memories of his parents supplemented by interviews with them with historical accounts and recordings. It’s one of those “I was there” kind of podcasts that is a classic example of why some people love the medium so much: good stories.”
-First Draft

“This fascinating documentary series sees playwright and screenwriter Zayd Ayers Dohrn look back over his unusual childhood which was mostly spent on the run from the FBI.”
-Yorkshire Post (UK)

“I listened to the first three episodes of Mother Country Radicals at 1x speed (a rarity for me) because it’s so rich and detailed and I didn’t want to miss a nuanced breath or small detail… This is an unusual, important story well-told, and gives a voice to radical politics and the strategic extremes people will go take to change the world.”
-Podcast Newsletter

“A powerful, almost irresistible chronicle of the era of the US war against Vietnam and the Black Liberation movement… [part of] an essential context for truly understanding what happened and why – and can help with an understanding of what could happen again.”
-Hollywood Progressive

“Fascinating and insightful”
-Cincinnati Business Courier

Best Podcasts
Pehal News (India)


October 8, 2022

October 8, 2022

On October 8, 1965—57 years ago—I was arrested with 38 others disrupting a US military draft office in a militant, nonviolent direct action. We turned over furniture and destroyed files. We were protesting the US invasion and occupation of Viet Nam. The peace movement was tiny then, but determined, and we grew quickly. Over the next few years we organized and took action, and I was arrested again and again. Every week that the war dragged on, 6000 people were murdered in Southeast Asia by our government. By 1968, a majority of Americans—and a super-majority of the people of the world—opposed the US war. And still the war dragged on and the killing continued.

On October 8, 1969, SDS led the Days of Rage, a demonstration to, as we said, “Bring the War Home.” We would not remain quiet while our government committed mass murder; we would not keep our eyes closed to the horror. And increasingly we wanted to stand unequivocally with anti-imperialist fighters and revolutionaries around the world—Viet Nam, Cuba, South Africa, Chile, Angola, Congo, and everywhere people were fighting for self-determination and freedom.  Over the next four days hundreds of youths fought the police in the streets of Chicago. I was arrested, of course.

It’s always the right time to rise up for peace and freedom, joy and justice.


October 7, 2022

Under the Tree: A Seminar on Freedom

October 5, 2022


October 3, 2022

 12th International Conference on Education and Justice, Oct 6-8, online,