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SIU forward Marcus Domask (1) celebrates after scoring what would be the Salukis’ final points in a 70-53 win over Evansville at the Banterra Center on Feb. 20 in Carbondale. Domask led the Salukis with 19 points.

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One detained, others pepper-sprayed Sunday after Carbondale Police ticket protester for graffiti

CARBONDALE — After seeing video showing a Carbondale Police officer pepper-spraying a small group of demonstrators after a march Sunday, dozens gathered Monday to denounce what they saw.

A group of about 30 people marched Sunday to celebrate Pride and to protest police violence. During the two-hour demonstration, it was alleged that one of the members of the protest spray-painted a wall.

Amber Futch and Devarsi Iris said it had been a good day.

Futch and Iris were among the small but lively Wrath 2020 Queer Anti-Cop protest that meandered through Carbondale’s neighborhoods Sunday.

“We all got together, we met on Gay Street. It was just generally fun,” Futch said Monday.

There were bubbles, music and even sparklers, which Iris said were great at keeping people socially distant.

“It was as gay as we could make it,” Iris said.

Futch described it as a two-hour “roaming block party” that went until the batteries ran out — literally. The portable sound system that kept the march marching ran out of juice, so the tired revelers ended the event.

At about 8:30 p.m., Futch said they were tired and looking forward to heading to the bar with friends to celebrate the successful end to their march — no one got hurt, no one got harassed. As Futch and a few friends were walking to their cars, Futch said they saw a Carbondale Police cruiser pull through the grassy lot in the 400 block of South Washington Street, and Futch said officers got out and, in an attempt to ticket their friend Cat for for criminal damage to property, slammed her into a police cruiser.

Police arrested Cat, who police identified as Thomas Bruefach, 20, of North Carolina, in a Monday news release from the Carbondale Police Department. The release said a witness informed an officer monitoring the demonstration that they had seen Cat spray-painting a retaining wall near a fraternity house in the 500 block of South University Avenue. Carbondale Police confirmed to The Southern that the writing in question said “be gay do crime.”

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler The Southern 

Suspected graffiti in the 500 block of South University Avenue in Carbondale is seen on Monday.

The release states that Bruefach was cited for criminal damage to property and was also ticketed for resisting a peace officer. Both are city ordinance violations, which typically are enforced with a ticket.

Futch said an officer told three or four people to get back, though Futch said they weren’t sure where to go — they were filming the incident. When the group didn’t get back far enough, Futch said an officer pepper-sprayed them.

Futch said it took more than two hours in the shower to get spray off, and, on Monday, they were coughing up blood.

The news release said there were no injuries reported associated with the incident. People who saw the incident questioned how Bruefach couldn’t have gotten hurt and those who had been pepper-sprayed, Futch included, were not treated for their injuries.

Sgt. Doug Wilson with the Carbondale Police Department responded to these questions.

“A use of force review is being conducted as a part of the full investigation into this incident. There were no reported or known injuries as a result of this incident,” he wrote in an email to a Southern Illinoisan reporter.

As for those who had been pepper-sprayed, he wrote, “It is policy to arrest and decontaminate subjects who are pepper sprayed, when possible and when safe to do so for all involved. As the video clip shows, police left the scene as soon as the suspect was in custody." Wilson also said that further arrests and decontamination efforts were not made at the scene in order to avoid further conflict.

Futch wasn’t the only one filming. A video was posted to the WTF? Carbondale Facebook page Sunday night by Dan Milam, who said he captured the video not long after protesters walked by Italian Village. The video shows a group of about four people gathered near two Carbondale police cruisers — one of them was detained against the car.

In the video, Milam says he saw a Carbondale officer “slam that girl into the car, face first into the car.” In an interview with The Southern, Milam said this happened moments before he started filming.

Several seconds after Milam makes this exclamation, a Carbondale officer sprays what appears to be pepper spray into the group of three people, some of whom were filming the arrest and shouting “Let her go.”

A second video posted by Justin Lee shows officers driving away, but before the vehicle carrying the arrested person could depart, a demonstrator appears to hit the vehicle with the end of a flag pole. At this point, the gathering of demonstrators appears to have grown to six or seven. It is unclear how much time elapsed between the two videos.

“Seeing how peaceful these people were only minutes before, I don’t understand why the police got so violent with them,” Milam said.

This was the sentiment at Monday's response rally. Futch and Iris as well as many others took to the bullhorn to denounce the bigotry they see in Carbondale's police community.

“A lot of us are hurt and angry,” Iris said of the local LGBTQ community and its supporters.

She said a complete rebuild of law enforcement would be needed to rebuild trust in the community, and that people in her community have to fight for the simple validation of being accepted and this incident proves to her that there’s more work to be done.

“I guess we just have to change the world,” she said.

Photos | Carbondale protesters respond Monday after 1 detained, others pepper-sprayed Sunday

Photos | Carbondale protesters respond Monday after 1 detained, others pepper-sprayed Sunday

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'Food is Love:' De Soto chef Lasse Sorensen to host new show on PBS station

DE SOTO — For Danish American Master Chef Lasse Sorensen, food is love and it connects all of us.

On Monday, July 13, his new television show called “Food is Love” will debut on Nine PBS out of St. Louis.

Sorensen, who owns and operates Tom's Place in De Soto with his wife, Maryjane, said it all started with a call from an old friend that resulted in him appearing on a national television show in July 2018. That “old friend” was Julie Chen Moonves, host of “Big Brother” and “The Talk” on CBS. After his cooking segment on “The Talk,” he got a lot of encouragement to do a television show.

He received a call from Nine PBS, and they asked him to do a television show on the network.

Also, at about this time, he also met Jason Pinkston, a filmmaker and Southern Illinois native. “Jason always wanted to a food documentary type of show,” he said.

Sorensen will visit some of St. Louis’ most popular restaurants, but the show will be more than cooking. Viewers will get a glimpse of the different cultures represented in the city’s food scene, as well as Sorensen’s philosophy of food.

“Today people argue about everything," Sorensen said. "I’ve noticed that once they are at the table with food and a glass of wine, they can have a conversation.

"Food is a peacemaker."

Sorensen said the real stars of the show are the people he interviews. “They are chefs and I’m a chef. Being in the food business, we kind of speak the same language,” he said.

He believes people will be surprised at how diverse the food in in St. Louis. He said when Tom’s Place is closed, he can find any type of cuisine he wants in St. Louis.

One of the restaurants he features in this first season is a Korean restaurant that features Korean fried chicken. “I am hooked now,” he said.

He believes the show is more relevant now than ever. He hopes people will see it and try different types of cuisine. He also hopes some fans of the show will make the drive to De Soto to try Tom’s Place.

The 13-episode series is written and produced by Pinkston, along with support from Executive Producer Julie Chen Moonves.

“Lasse has an approachable way about him that makes others comfortable opening up to him, especially chefs, but also people who have had the same struggles he had when he first came to America,” Pinkston said. “I really feel like this series is a breath of fresh air because at the heart of it, it’s about love, positivity and appreciating the heritage of others.”

“Food is Love” will air at 7:30 p.m. on the 9 Network PBS St. Louis following “Living St Louis.”

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SIU addresses racial issues in virtual 'Conversations of Understanding'

During a virtual conversation hosted Monday evening by Southern Illinois University, student leaders from Edwardsville and Carbondale said that racial tension is a significant part of student life on both campuses. They also offered administrators solutions for addressing it.

Steven Gear, a doctoral student at SIU Carbondale, said that he’s been on campus for a decade earning multiple degrees, and has found that racial tension has escalated more recently. He cited a decline in the African American student population on campus, and a “lack of support from the administration” to address issues of racism and discrimination when they arise.

“I do believe that racial tension is significant at SIUE as well,” said Maddy McKenzie, an undergraduate SIU Edwardsville student who serves as diversity officer on the Edwardsville campus’ student government organization. She cited a 2017 incident in which a note containing the n-word was left on a student’s door, as well as a more recent controversy stemming from the university’s response to racist comments made on one of its Facebook posts.

Monday’s two-hour conversation about systemic racism in higher education was the first in a planned “Conversations of Understanding” series sponsored by SIU and the system’s Diversity Advisory Council. Participants included SIU President Dan Mahony, System Executive Director for Diversity Initiatives Wes McNeese and Randy Pembrook and Austin Lane, chancellors of the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses, respectively.

McNeese started the conversation by reading a definition of systemic racism: “Biases pervading systems and institutions at all levels of society, detected in processes, attitudes and behaviors which wittingly or unwittingly harm and disadvantage certain minoritized racial groups.” McNeese said there are several definitions of systemic racism, and that this one was open to comment and discussion. The conversation was moderated by Todd Bryson, SIU Carbondale's chief diversity officer. 

McKenzie offered several suggestions for SIU to consider to create a more welcoming, anti-racist environment for students of color. She said that all students should be required to learn about racism and its profound effects, much like students are required to receive education on sexual violence and reporting options and obligations.

She encouraged students to speak up about injustices they see on campus and call out microaggressions in addition to the blatant racism. That includes inappropriate jokes or behaviors that marginalize or exclude people and make them uncomfortable. She also said that student leaders are obligated to examine whether the clubs and organizations they oversee are inclusive to all students, and make changes if they are discriminatory.

Gear said that on the Carbondale campus, administrators need to do a better job of not only recruiting minority students, but also retaining them. Some students, especially those who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds, are left to “fend for themselves” without adequate guidance to choose the right field of study or ensure they have the resources they need to graduate, he said.

Much of the conversation also centered on the need to increase the diversity of faculty at both the Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses. Mahony, the college president, said that recruitment of diverse faculty requires aggressive effort, and an honest look at all job advertisements and selection processes to weed out bias that may systematically exclude underrepresented groups. Retention and promotion policies also have to be closely scrutinized, he said. Mahony said the university is committed to doing this work in the months ahead.

Chancellors Lane and Pembrook also addressed recent incidents of racism involving both of their campuses, and SIU’s response to it. Pembrook said SIU Edwardsville has newly empowered those who monitor comments on its Facebook posts to “move much more quickly in terms of taking hurtful comments down.” This policy change comes on the heels of its controversial handling of racist replies to a Facebook post SIU Edwardsville made about the “Rock” on campus being painted with a “Black Lives Matter” message. It is a longstanding tradition for students to paint this rock with various messages, and the original post by the university was supportive. The controversy started when the university asked a commenter to modify his post that called another commenter a racist, saying direct attacks violated its policy. Though, the individual had made racist comments, including one comparing Black people to animals. At the same time, some of the racist and racially charged comments made by various individuals disparaging of the Black community were not immediately removed.

The university cited a policy disallowing direct name calling in the former, but said that some of the offensive comments were protected by the First Amendment. The university has since changed its stance. 

Lane, the incoming chancellor of the Carbondale campus, also discussed two videos with hate-filled messages that have circulated recently on social media featuring two different students using the n-word and making derogatory comments about Black people. One of the students was a baseball player who graduated this May. Though a senior this year, he was eligible to play another season because COVID-19 cut the spring season short. But he will not be returning, according to the university. In that video, the student filmed himself repeatedly saying the n-word, and apparently shared it with several others on Snapchat framed by a Martin Luther King Jr. Day filter. The video only recently surfaced publicly on other social media accounts. 

The videos are not related. In recent days, people on social media have called on SIU to take disciplinary action against the other student filmed saying the n-word and expel him from school. In that video, a student is filmed saying, in part, that he hoped that Donald Trump would win the presidential election because he wants to "get the n----- out of here, bro." The newspaper was not able to determine when the video was made or posted, or any other details surrounding its circumstances as of deadline Monday. A spokeswoman for the university said she was unable to provide any additional details at this time, citing student privacy requirements.  

Lane said that to have two videos featuring Salukis making hate-filled messages surface within a month is “very disheartening.” As an African-American man, Lane said it hurt him to have to watch them. SIU has faced criticism in recent days for not acting more swiftly or publicly in response to the second video that surfaced several days ago.

Lane said he could not provide specific details Monday night. But generally speaking, Lane said he wanted the greater campus community to know that the incident, and any other brought to the university’s attention, will be aggressively investigated and acted upon in keeping with the Student Code of Conduct. “For those that may think we’re not moving fast enough, we apologize, but we are moving and we will address those things counter to the culture we are trying to create,” he said.

Southern Illinoisans hold demonstrations in response to George Floyd's death

Photo & Video | Southern Illinoisans hold demonstrations in response to George Floyd's death

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Policy group report: Illinois was ill-prepared for pandemic

SPRINGFIELD — A new report from an Illinois think tank says the state was ill-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily because of a pre-existing shortage of nurses, and that the pandemic has left state even more vulnerable in the event of another public health crisis.

The report, by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization with strong ties to organized labor, also argues the state would be in a better position if nurses at more hospitals were unionized and if the state adopted a law requiring mandatory minimum nurse staffing levels, an idea that was proposed in the 2019 legislative session but was not adopted.

But while the Illinois Health and Hospital Association agrees there is a nursing shortage, it argues the lack of preparedness was more of a federal problem, and that the nursing shortage did not diminish the quality of care patients received. It strongly opposes legislation requiring minimum nurse staffing levels at hospitals, and disputes any correlation between the quality of patient care and the presence of a nurses’ union in a hospital.

The report notes that even before the pandemic, Illinois had a shortage of about 20,000 nurses statewide and that the shortage will likely be exacerbated in the coming years because about half of the nurses practicing are older than 55.

“Even prior to the pandemic, more than 75 percent of registered nurses reported that insufficient staffing levels adversely affects their job satisfaction,” the report states, citing a national survey of nurses in 2019. “COVID-19 has the potential to exacerbate the nursing shortage if registered nurses feel even more overworked and stressed.”

The report examines patient care data from all 169 hospitals in Illinois, 14 of which are unionized and 155 of which are not. All but four of the unionized hospitals are in Cook County and include some of the largest health care facilities in the state.

Across all levels of care, it noted, nurses in unionized hospitals were able to spend more hours per day treating their patients. They also had lower turnover rates and lower vacancy rates for registered nurses.

The report does not draw specific connections to staffing levels, or union presence, and patient outcomes during the pandemic. Frank Manzo, the institute’s policy director, said it’s difficult to say with certainty the extent to which the nursing shortage contributed to the severity of the pandemic in Illinois.

“What we can say is that we could have had more infection prevention and control staff,” he said. “We could have had better turnover rates and retention rates for nurses and lower vacancy rates and that would have made us better prepared for the pandemic.”

Last year, Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, introduced House Bill 2604, which would have required hospitals to have at least one nurse for every four patients in medical-surgical units; one for every three patients in intermediate care; and one for every two patients in intensive care. The bill passed out of a House committee but was never voted on by the full House.

“If the legislation had been fully implemented, Illinois would have had between 17,500 and 19,100 more registered nurses – which would have eliminated the shortage of registered nurses,” the report states.

But Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, strongly disagreed that hospitals weren’t prepared for the pandemic.

“First of all, we've been drilling and doing exercises on pandemics before the pandemic hit,” Chun said during an interview. “Every hospital in the state, as you know, has an emergency preparedness plan for disasters of all kinds – mass shootings, traffic accidents, biochemical, biohazard, flu epidemics or pandemics. In the city of Chicago last year in the summer of 2019, Chicago hospitals did an exercise, a drill with the Chicago Department of Public Health on this exact issue – pandemics. And we were directly involved in a lot of the planning and discussions back in January, February, March where hospitals got ready for the pandemic.”

Chun said hospitals were directly involved in discussions with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration in the early stages of the pandemic to plan mitigation efforts, including the decision to cancel or postpone nonemergency surgeries and procedures in order to free up hospital resources for COVID-19 patients.

“Look at the numbers. We flattened the curve,” Chun said, referring to hospitalization data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which have shown a consistent downward trend since May in hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and ventilator usage by COVID-19 patients.

If there was any weakness in preparation, Chun said, it was with the federal government and its failure to maintain a national stockpile of personal protective equipment as well as open supply chains with China, where most PPE is manufactured.

Enacting a law requiring minimum staffing levels, Chun argued, would not solve the state’s nursing shortage and would likely harm many smaller hospitals as well as safety-net hospitals in urban areas that wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements.

“You have an existing shortage of at least 21,000 nurses in Illinois,” he said. “Simply requiring hospitals to have a certain number of nurses does not create new nurses. In and of itself, ratios don't do anything.”

Chun argued that to address the nursing shortage, the state needs a multi-pronged strategy that includes more scholarships for nursing students, incentives to keep nurse educators in the workforce, and policies that would make it easier for nurses licensed in other states to practice in Illinois.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Coming together while we're apart: Southern Illinoisans show support, love from a distance

Coming together while we're apart: Southern Illinoisans show support, love from a distance