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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

Rockford Activist Calls for More Transparency with Local Law Enforcement

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
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Sign for Tyris Jones outside of Rockford City Hall

In the wake of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Rockford activists continue calling for transparency in local police encounters.

 

For some the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial hasn’t provided the resolution they were hoping for. Rockford activists say they’re still reeling from the list of deadly encounters with the police since the death of George Floyd in their own back yard. For Leslie Rolfe, an activist with the May 30th Alliance, the guilty verdict hasn’t translated to improved police accountability in the city. 

 

“In Rockford specifically, one of our biggest issues is that nobody knows about these things happening,” said Rolfe. “Whether it be inside of Rockford or [in]side of Winnebago county or outside, you know.” 

 

 

Rolfe said he’s concerned about the way law enforcement frames these incidents when releasing information to the public. He cited the case of Faustin Guetigo, shot by a Winnebago County sheriff’s deputy. Body cam footage was edited with a voiceover from Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana. 

 

“They like to have a narrative,” Rolfe said. “They don't want to just tell you, they don't want to just put out this what happened and put out all the information and let you decide they want to shape the story that they give to you.”

 

A spokesperson for the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department confirmed plans to release full tapes of the incident down the line. Winnebago County State's Attorney Jay Hanley says the investigation into the shootings will take months. Rolfe and other activists said they’re not going anywhere, and are already planning to resume the weekly protests outside of the Rockford City Market.

 

  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.