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.

Ways to Connect

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.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Governor J.B Pritzker was in Rockford Thursday to encourage everyone in northern Illinois to take the census.

 

He announced that Rockford is running a percentage point behind the rest of the state in its census response rate.

 

Rockford's average response rate is 65.5% compared to 66.9% for the state. And that number ranges within Rockford with some neighborhood neigborhood response rates below 35%.

 

Belvidere is currently well above the state's response rate with 73.1%.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 

Rockford University announced a new scholarship this week aimed at Black students interested in pursuing business.

 

Between Rockford University and the Puri Foundation, twelve Black students per year will be able to pursue a business degree and graduate with zero debt. That’s thanks to a new scholarship, named after Rockford’s first Black mayor, Charles Box.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Rockford’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners voted unanimously to dismiss a formal complaint against the city’s police chief.

Commissioners found no probable cause to proceed to an evidentiary hearing over a formal complaint alleging that Police Chief Daniel O’Shea violated policy by showing bias and discrimination.

The complaint arose over a comment O’Shea made in May during a news conference.

Pixabay

 

This week the Illinois minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10 an hour.

The increase is part of the state’s path to a $15 minimum wage by the year 2025. Jason Keller, the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Labor, said workers putting in 40 hours a week should expect about $30 extra dollars a week.

“You know, the intent of the bill is put more money back into the economy when you put it into the workers pockets," said Keller. "They'll spend it in the local economy and everyone will benefit.”

 

Jenna Dooley

 

Conversations at the DeKalb County government’s second virtual forum on race relations broadened this week. Demands for improved housing agreements took center stage.  

 

Jacob Maas voiced concern about uneven housing conditions and agreements that he says are prevalent in the county. 

“You know, we live in a community where it's not uncommon for people who rent to go without hot water, clean water, heat in the winter air conditioning in the summer,” said Maas.

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

This month, people across northern Illinois came together in Rockford to celebrate Juneteenth. They also used the gathering as an opportunity to protest police brutality. Rockford Youth Activism organized the event.

 

But what exactly is Juneteenth? Here is a brief history as told by those who gathered at Ellis Elementary on June 19th, 2020.

 

Those are the voices of Aija Penix, Laura Bates, Carolyn Cadigan, Aaron McAllen, Harlan Johnson, Toni Thomas, and Minister James Davis.

Jenna Dooley

 

Some DeKalb residents want the city’s Mayor Jerry Smith to be more specific on plans to address police brutality.  

 

The mayor spoke at a town hall Thursday night at Hopkins Park. The gathering was a forum on reforms related to justice and equality. Smith expressed support for its aims, but said he couldn’t talk details at the forum. 

 

Rockford United Labor has canceled the Labor Day parade due to concerns over the coronavirus.

 

This will be the first time in the parade’s 66-year run that it is altogether canceled. Jay Ferraro, who is a delegate on the Labor Day Committee, says that putting together a parade in the middle of the ongoing pandemic felt impossible. 

 

Connie Kuntz

It's been more than two weeks since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis. One police officer is charged with murder and other officers face charges related to the death. Floyd's killing has spurred protests around the country including northern Illinois.

 

   

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s office released a statement in response to accusations of mistreatment of inmates at the county jail.

 

The 815 Mutual Aid Network is a Rockford-based collective dedicated to providing resources in the surrounding area amid the pandemic. It alleges that on June 2nd a group of Winnebago County Corrections officers assaulted several inmates, leading in one case to a broken arm, and then shot tear gas into their cells. 

 

City of Rockford

After over a week of protests in Rockford, Mayor Tom McNamara has released a statement with a working list of four steps designed to address police brutality and misconduct.

 

Mayor McNamara has signed onto the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance which promises incremental police reform via “common-sense limits on police use of force with feedback from the community.”

 

 

Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus gathered Friday at the Booker Washington Community Center in Rockford to preview a new working list of demands.

As part of a planned statewide tour, members of the caucus say they understand the frustration behind the recent protests over the death of George Floyd. In some cities, there has been looting. Rep. Carol Ammons says it’s time to think about the root causes.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

This week in Belvidere, autoworkers are returning to the assembly line for the first time since Fiat Chrysler shut down operations in March amid the coronavirus outbreak.

WNIJ spoke with William Vergara, an autoworker at the Belvidere Assembly Plants going back to work this week. Vergara says he's been taking every precaution when it comes to social distancing.