By Frederick H. Lowe
Former Chicago 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran who voted with the city’s other black alderman to close mental health clinics in African- American neighborhoods where they were sorely needed, is headed for prison after pleading guilty earlier this month to wire fraud.
Cochran’s former ward included the Woodlawn Adult Health Center on Chicago’s South Side that treated black men as outpatients for mental illness.
The clinic’s closing burned in my mind that just because blacks elect African Americans to office doesn’t mean they will help their constituents or have any feeling at all for other black people.
Kim Foxx, the Cook County States’ Attorney, has had to overturn the convictions of large numbers of black men arrested by black Chicago cops who planted drugs on them if the men did not have the money to pay the cops bribes. The black cops worked with judges who sentenced them to prison.
I visited the Woodlawn clinic several times as a Social Justice Journalism Intern while reporting and writing articles for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Black men would calmly sit in the clinic’s open-area waiting room before meeting with psychiatrists or therapists to discuss their problems. The city’s black aldermen and alderwomen whom African American elected to help resolve their issues, however, went against turned away from their constituents, joining and instead joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who ordered the clinics closed.
“All of the black aldermen should be ashamed,” said N’ Dana Carter, a leader in the Mental Health Movement, said in 2012 when the closings were announced.
“They all knew about the closings. They are all thieves and murderers. They have supported everything [ Chicago Mayor] Rahm [Emanuel] has done to the black community.”
Woodlawn’s clinic’s closing drew the most attention, resulting in a very public fight over the policies of Mayor Emanuel, who received strong-black voter support in the 2011 mayoral election, and Bechara Choucair, MD/MS, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health at the time.
Before the closure, members of the activist group Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) barricaded themselves inside the Woodlawn clinic using steel pipes and quick-dry cement. Ultimately police armed with chainsaws and bolt cutters broke into the building and arrested 23 protestors. Chicago police also demolished a tent city erected in a vacant lot across the street from the clinic. The dismissed therapists had been using the tent city to continue to treat their patients ((http://www.northstarnewstoday.com/news/the-closing-of-the-woodlawn-mental-health-center-disrupted-the-lives-of-the-black-men-it-served/)
William Robinson, a Woodlawn patient, was afraid to leave his home on Chicago’s South Side because he suffered from schizophrenia and depression. He also was broke.
Jan Gilmore, his therapist, would pick him up, buy him something to eat before taking him to the Woodlawn Clinic for therapy.
During my reporting, I called Cochran, a former Chicago police officer, to ask him why he voted to close the Woodlawn clinic. He never took my call. One time, a young woman answered the phone, but it was clear that after a few minutes she knew nothing.call.
The cost of keeping the clinics open was minimal. The shutdown of the city-operated mental health clinics saved the city $2 million annually.
That was 1 percent of CDPH’s (Chicago Department of Public Health’s) $169.2 million budget or .03% of Chicago’s 2012 budget of $6.3 billion, according to an analysis of the city’s budget by District Council 31 and mental health activists. The report is titled “Dumping Responsibility: The Case Against Closing CDPH Mental Health Clinics.” The Mental Health Movement prepared the report, which was published in January 2014.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District 31, the union which represented clinic workers, reported that 61 percent of the clients were African American.
Many of the patients were indigent, union officials said.
David Mailey, 58, a former patient who was the founder and publisher of Woodlawn Connection, a monthly in-house newspaper for the clinic’s patients and employees, said he still goes to the clinic building although it is closed.
As we were standing outside the closed building on a snowy Sunday afternoon, Mailey told me, “I consider it home.”
The 66- year-old Cochran pled guilty to one count of wire fraud for siphoning money from a 20th Ward fund for charity and spending the funds on gambling and his daughter’s college tuition. He resigned from office.
A judge will sentence him on April 20. He faces 12 to 18 months in prison. However, when he closed the Woodlawn clinic, he sentenced its patients to a life of not getting needed help.