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Reading Blog - July 2023

Tags: books

Chicago, museums, and jury nullification

My Chicago (Jane Byrne, 1992; 2003 edition)

Byrne was the mayor of Chicago from 1979 to 1983. Some mayors are fixed in Chicago lore, but I was unaware of Byrne until a news story (more on this later).
Local PBS station WTTW and Wikipedia are kind to Byrne's legacy, mentioning her inclusive hiring, gun ordinances, and opening Chicago to filming The Blues Brothers.

The book also serves as a local history, which picks up a personal touch when Byrne's ancestors arrive in the 1850s. This is the Irish Catholic history of Chicago, with some old and new legends (of note: the north side Germans vs. south side Irish, unions and the Great Migration, Schock Bigford and Co. re-opening the day after the 1871 fire). I can picture an HBO-style show about a city recovering from this apocalyptic event, industry titans Field and Pullman, Streeter and his houseboat, etc.

The senior Mayor Daley plays a huge role from the prologue, when Byrne is first called to meet him. He berated her for being part of the Kennedy campaign yet spoke highly of her work. This mixed messaging would continue with Daley elevating Byrne to Cabinet and campaign roles, while remaining distant and feeding the Chicago political machine. Weights and Measures was a good fit for an efficient and incorruptible Byrne, but it could have been intended as a 'safe' place to add a woman to the Cabinet?

The later parts of the book around a taxi rates scandal, Byrne's dismissal from City Hall, and return as mayor can be a bit tedious. She knows that commentators looked down on her single term, and anecdotes are picked mostly to defend herself and to debunk bad press - such as whether Mrs. Daley was properly invited to meet the Pope.
A highlight was Byrne's three weeks living in the Cabrini–Green housing project. This was recently relevant in 2022 when a gubernatorial candidate vowed to see Chicago’s problems by moving into the John Hancock (a luxury skyscraper). Byrne was deeply moved by conversations with children in the towers, found it brought accountability to several departments, and held a street fair to make children cross gang lines. Unfortunately it did feel like a stunt, and her later decisions and appointments to the Chicago Housing Authority would lead to Byrne losing support from Black leaders.

Wiki features Byrne's support of gay rights - her photo there is from a Pride parade - yet she never covers this in the book.
She was unimpressed with Presidents Carter and Reagan (I subscribe to Carter is mean; in the book he snubs Daley at the DNC).

A recent Reddit thread about whether North Side Irish / South Side Irish continues to be a divide in Chicago:

Some local accounts of Cabrini-Green:

ChiHackNight video on legacy of Cabrini-Green:

Voting "Not Guilty": A Toolkit on Jury Nullification (2022)

A learning resource and collected stories for the general eligible voter. DO NOT pass this to an active juror.

The document argues that an abolitionist, when given the opportunity to serve on a criminal or grand jury, should accept but then vote "not guilty". Unlike other theories of nullification (such as pushing back on rules about abortion, drugs, and protest), this focuses on the whole system lacking credibility and fairness. Historically juries were limited to white men, and current voir dire methods continue to limit access and leverage stereotypes.

There's also text about other abolitionists who might refuse to participate in a jury on principle. The general sense here is that your resistance is impactful, and you can agree to an impartial role without bringing up your intent, or political view of the prosecution, to a judge or other jury members.

I learned a bit about serving on a grand jury. The argument here is that in the absence of the defense, you can ask pointed questions to witnesses; the transcript could be valuable to the defense and help them challenge those witnesses in trial.

Curating Under Pressure: International Perspectives on Negotiating Conflict and Upholding Integrity (Editors: Janet Marstine and Svetlana Mintcheva, 2021)

Mentioned in my April travel read, Museums and the Working Class. I was expecting this would be about museums amidst political unrest or covering history post-conflict. Surprisingly the focus is "self-censorship" which jumps from suppression of art in China, to protests of controversial art in the UK art world, to curation of candid photos of children.

I was interested in a few sections:

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