Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Social Justice Reporter

Juanpablo covers substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A new program is promising free legal and advisory services for Illinois residents with marijuana convictions looking for a fresh start.

New Leaf Illinois is a state-sponsored program that aims to provide Illinois residents with resources to expunge their records of marijuana convictions. Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy said it’s the first step towards addressing the casualties from the war on drugs.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the climbing positivity rate of COVID-19 in Winnebago County, this week the Rockford Mass Transit District is implementing restriction on some of its services.

 

 

Last month Rockford city bus drivers went down to City Hall to call for improved safety precautions on the buses. This month RMTD responded with some slight changes, but Jodi Williams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1333, said she’s still worried. 

 

The Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force submitted its investigation into the shooting of an unarmed man by a Rockford police officer to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney. 

 

 

It’s been just over a month since the shooting of Tyris Jones by Rockford police officer Dominik McNiece. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said her office will now review the task force’s completed investigation. 

 

Connie Kuntz

Rockford health care facilities are feeling the strain of COVID-19 related hospitalizations. 

 

 

Officials at all of the local health care systems say that they have been seeing significant increases in COVID-19 admissions.  Dr. Sandra Martell from the Winnebago County Health Department said the region could see cascading consequences.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Protests continue in Rockford since the death of George Floyd. Officeholders and activists are looking for pathways to improve police and community relations.

“I feel great. I think I've never been more optimistic about the work that the City's doing to build relationships,” said Rockford’s Mayor Tom McNamara. “Improve our community and the quality of life of our citizens.”

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

There are conflicting reports about the shooting of a Black man by a police officer earlier this month in Rockford.

Nenye Uche is the lawyer representing the man who was shot, Tyris Jones. Uche held a news conference in front of City Hall calling for increased transparency from the Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force. The group is investigating the shooting by Rockford Police officer Dominik McNiece.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford Police Department is unveiling a first response pilot program aimed at addressing mental health crises. 

 

In response to emergency calls that involve a person experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, RPD, Rosecrance and several other agencies are partnering to develop an alternative to traditional law enforcement.

 

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says it could help de-escalate situations.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The family of a Rockford man who last week was shot by a Rockford police officer is calling for a more substantial investigation.

 

 

The family of Tyris Jones and their lawyer, Nenye Uche, held a press conference in front of City Hall this week. Uche wants the Winnebago County state’s attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation of the officer, Dominik McNiece. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 

 

A group of protesters have been camped outside of Rockford City Hall since Sunday, calling for officials to release the name of the officer who shot a man several times in the back last Friday. 

 

Skye Gia Garcia is an activist and camped outside of the City Hall. She said, “The opportunity is here for the community to humanize someone instead of criminalize them and dehumanize them.”

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

As COVID-19 positivity rates in Rockford continue to rise, school bus drivers are dealing with their new normal. 

 

Catina Barnett is president of the school bus drivers’ union Local 1275 in Rockford. And she’s coming up on her first anniversary in the role. 

 

“It's been quite busy. Without a doubt, very busy," she said. "Things have transpired from COVID taking out an entire world  to people being laid off from their job and the world coming to a standstill.”

 

Paul Carpenter 2020 Website

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross is defending her decision to dismiss an assistant state’s attorney who is also a current candidate to succeed her in the office.

 

 

Hite Ross removed Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Carpenter from his post over the weekend. She said all employees in her office are employed "at will" which means they can be dismissed at her discretion at any time.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

This week, the Mercyhealth campus on Rockford’s West Side officially got the green light to permanently shut down its mental health unit.

 

 

On Tuesday, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 5-0, in favor of allowing Mercyhealth to shutter its mental health unit at the Rockton Avenue campus. 

Danielle Angileri is with the National Alliance on Mental Health of Northern Illinois. She said these services are more vital than ever. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

SEIU Local 73 confirmed that its bargaining units reached contract agreements with the University of Illinois at Chicago after more than a week on strike. Workers returned this morning.

SEIU member Alicia Uwumarogie confirmed, “The strike is over and that we are leaving the picket lines victorious in so many areas.”

The “wins” in the new agreements include increases in shift differentials, bilingual pay for hospital workers and the workers of the division of specialized care for children.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Organized workers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford continued their strike this week as contract negotiations continue.  

Carmen Garcia has worked for the UIC division of specialized child care for more than 20 years. She says she and her coworkers just want a fair contract like other staff are already getting. 

WNIJ News

 The DeKalb Police Department may be sporting body-worn cameras sooner than anticipated.

 

The DeKalb City Council unanimously approved a contract with Axon Enterprises, Inc. to purchase body-worn cameras for the police department. DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says it’s a step in the right direction.  

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford couple says authorities broke through their door during a botched raid. Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco has more:  

 

 

On August 20th, members of the State Line Area Narcotics Team used a search warrant for the property on Hancock Street to enter the home of Travis Legge. The Rockford Register Star confirmed later that the search warrant was based on information that illegal cannabis sales occurred at the listed address.

 

Fiat Chrystler Automobiles

There’s new information known about COVID-19 cases associated with the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere. 

 

Health officials from the Boone and Winnebago county health departments have been working closely with Fiat Chrysler to identify cases of COVID-19 at the Belvidere plant. The goal is to determine whether cases among workers were through community spread, or if there was an outbreak within the plant itself.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Labor Day parade in Rockford was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some local organizers came up with another way to support workers.

 

 

In Midtown Rockford, the northern Illinois chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America organized a special Labor Day rally. They’re calling for support of the post office and postal workers. That's amid a string of controversial operational changes at the post office that have contributed to longer wait times and delayed mail. 

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Renters facing eviction are now receiving new federal protections through the end of the year. 

This week the Trump administration announced a temporary halt in residential evictions for those struggling during the pandemic. The latest eviction ban, which goes through December of this year, comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In Rockford, some frontline public library workers are asking for more safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

 

Alice Mitchell, a children’s librarian at the Rockford Public Library’s East Branch, said that returning to work hasn’t been easy. “It's been immensely stressful," she said. "Everything is stressful. every single minute of the day.”    

 

Peter Medlin

The City of DeKalb is selling the old City Hall building and using some of those funds to buy body cams for police in an effort to increase police transparency.

Between the dash cam footage of Elonte McDowell’s controversial arrest late last year and the recent protests that followed the death of George Floyd, DeKalb community members have been calling for leaders to reimagine not just the culture of local policing but how police are funded.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Northern Illinois Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organized two separate rallies on Friday in Rockford and DeKalb calling to save the United States Postal Service. 

Alyson Broman Conn, a retired nurse, stood outside of the Rockford post office holding a sign that said “Fire DeJoy,” referring to the Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy recently rolled back some controversial operational changes at the post office.

Broman Conn said that DeJoy isn’t the guy for the job.

 

Yvonne Boose

The United States Postal Service will halt several controversial cost-cutting moves until after November’s general election. 

 

 

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced that the postal service will re-instate overtime hours and end the removal of mail-sorting machines among other measures related to its operations.

HomeStart

This week, Governor Pritzker and the IDHA announced that the deadline to apply for rental assistance has been extended by one week to August 28th.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

 

Health officials are investigating cases of COVID-19 associated with the Fiat Chrysler plant in Belvidere. Several local health departments are involved, including Boone and Winnebago counties.

While there are a number of cases associated with the plant, health officials have not confirmed if exposure to the virus occurred there.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

14 protesters were arrested Friday during a demonstration organized by the May 30th Alliance outside the Rockford City Market. Upwards of 50 protesters gathered across the street from the market at the Joe Marino Park and called for solidarity. 

 

 

Tensions escalated during a “Back the Blue” rally held Saturday on the west side of Rockford. In all, 17 protesters were arrested at that and other events over the weekend. 

 

 

The rally drew hundreds of law enforcement supporters to the Winnebago County Criminal Justice Center. Dozens of counter protesters also gathered to disrupt the rally.

 

Rockford Police Department

The Rockford Police Department announced that the use of force at a police protest in May was lawful and justified.

 

 

After reviewing 120 hours of video footage and 90 police reports, the Rockford Police Department concluded that its use of pepper spray, tear gas and less lethal munitions during the May 30th protest were within proper procedure.

Mayor Tom McNamara said the decision was unanimous.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In Rockford, a parade of cars filled the streets for a demonstration against schools reopening during the pandemic. Quetzia Ramirez is a parent liaison at Jefferson High School and her sign read, "25+ Students In One Classroom Cannot Social Distance."

The car parade began at 10:00 a.m. at Rock Valley College and included upwards of 50 cars. The cars were covered in signs and writing that expressed concern with schools reopening in the fall. Ramirez said that’s why she joined the car parade in the first place. 

 

 

Farmworker & Landscaper Advocacy Project

The Farmworker & Landscaper Advocacy Project just this week collected upwards of $30,000 in grant money to address the impacts of COVID-19. The group’s mission is to improve working conditions in low-income households including farmworkers, restaurant workers, and meat and poultry workers.

 

To date, the organization has distributed more than a half million dollars in direct cash distributions in the form of one-time $500 cash donations to more than 1,000 Latinos in the region.

 

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