Mar 06 2015

Video: Reparations NOW

Regular readers of this blog know that I and many others in Chicago have been engaged in a revived fight to pass a reparations ordinance for Burge police torture survivors.

Over the past few months, there have been protests, social media discussions, meetings, and other actions demanding #ReparationsNOW. Below is a new video edited by Tom Callahan with music by FM Supreme that captures some of the organizing of the past few weeks.

Mar 03 2015

Resisting the Blank Look of Defeat in the Second City

Last week, I stood beside a ‘peace’ table looking into the faces of some young Black men. I’m the featured speaker for a short Black history month program they’ve organized. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. All I know is that I have 5 to 10 minutes to fill. Sister Donna tells me to share inspirational words about Black culture. I’m at a loss. I wish that I had asked more questions about the event in advance. I rack my brain and decide to improvise. I talk about how I became politicized about the criminal punishment system. I tell a story.

As I talk, I stress the importance of affirming that Black is in fact beautiful. I talk a lot about resistance. I look into the eyes of some of the young men standing in a semi circle around me. I wonder if my words resonate. I end my speech with words written by Assata Shakur which have been popularized through the ongoing Black lives matter protests:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

We chant the words in unison. Our voices becoming progressively louder and stronger. I am finished. The young man who had introduced me then asks a question: “What stood out to you from Ms. K’s speech?” He quickly adds: “Or feel free to share any other thoughts.” He points to a talking piece on the ‘peace’ table and I hand it over to the young man to my left who promptly passes it on to the young man next to him like it’s a hot potato.

My stomach drops. I’m now silently dreading the responses. Then the young man holding the talking piece says that he appreciated my emphasis on the need to keep fighting to resist oppression. I feel my shoulders begin to drop from my ears. The tension in my gut dissipates as more people share their comments and thoughts. One young person says that he had never thought to connect Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for hours with lynching. He offered that dead bodies lie for hours in his neighborhood and that he would have a new perspective from now on. Another young man mentioned that he appreciates chanting Assata’s words which he has never heard before. More people speak. One young person says that he thought it was impossible to beat the system but that my opening story made him reconsider.

All of the young Black men in his group have been or are in conflict with the law. The program that they are part of focuses on using restorative justice as the basis for relationship-building and transformation. Some of the young men in the circle wear the blank look of defeat like a second skin. A few words won’t change that, I know. But I hope that a few sparks are ignited. I hope.

As I am driving North leaving Back of the Yards, my phone rings. It’s a voice that I know but can’t place: “It’s Jeff*,” the voice says. I’m taken back 3 years. Suddenly, I’m not in my car but sitting across from Jeff at Burger King. His sister is next to me. We’ve just come from the police station.

Jeff was arrested with a friend for basically being young and Black while standing on the street. When I arrive at the station with his sister, we’re told that he’s being released with an informal station adjustment. Those are still considered arrests that stay on one’s record. When we first see Jeff walking toward us, he appears to have shrunk two inches. Shoulders slumped and head bowed, he’s not looking at us. I ask if he is OK. He mumbles something indecipherable. I ask if he is hungry and he shrugs. I interpret this as a yes. As I stare at him across the table, he too wears the blank look of defeat. I wish that he would show a flash of emotion: anger, sadness, anything. But he just looks so tired, wrung out, resigned. He seems to have no fight left.

Jeff and the young men who I met last week are the victims of a police department in this city that routinely brutalizes and crushes black people. It’s the daily, relentless breaking of spirits and of people that is so routine it doesn’t garner a single paragraph in any local newspaper.

I am so happy to hear Jeff’s voice. I ask how he is doing and he replies: “I wanted to call to say that I’m not broken. I’m OK, Ms. K. I was thinking of you, I think of you often and I wanted you to know. I’m OK.” I’m on Lakeshore Drive and I need to pull over but I can’t. So I just sob on the phone. I tell him that I am so happy to hear his voice and to know that he is OK. We talk for a bit longer and promise to keep in better touch.

Yesterday, I stood in a semi-circle in the Chicago cold listening to mostly young Black people speaking about resilience, struggle, history, rage, and love. I look into their faces and there is no defeat in their eyes. I wish that the young men I spoke to last week were here, standing beside me. I wish they could hear Ethan’s clarion call of resistance. Shut it down, he shouts. We in the crowd yell back, Shut it down. We’ve gathered to protest ongoing Chicago police torture. We’ve come together to demand reparations for Jon Burge’s torture survivors.

This is beautiful resistance. Before we break for the night, we form two circles: one large one and one in the middle made up of those whose voices must be centered in this struggle (young black people, torture survivors, Native Americans, and more). We are holding hands and together we chant:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

photo  by Red Schulte (3/2/15)

photo by Red Schulte (3/2/15)

Mar 02 2015

Update on the Burge Police Torture Reparations Struggle

As many of you know, I am on the advisory board of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CJTM) and my organization Project NIA is also very involved in the current struggle to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance. Below is an update on the reparations fight written by CJTM. Join us in the struggle.

The movement to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance is alive and well and building momentum each and every day! We are excited to share with you several promising developments and invite you to join the struggle by attending an upcoming rally, series of teach-ins on the Chicago Police torture cases, and meetings at Chicago’s City Council.

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

Election Results

After Tuesday’s election, we now have two mayoral candidates in the race. Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia has endorsed the reparations ordinance. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, has not endorsed the ordinance. CTJM continues to demand that Mayor Emanuel fully support the ordinance and call for an immediate hearing on the ordinance in Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee. (#RahmRepNow).

Homan Square Exposed, Rally Tomorrow at 6pm

Since the election, the Chicago Police Department’s use of coercive, torturous and abusive tactics are being raised again in the media in response to a series of articles published by Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian about the disappearance of arrestees for excessive number of hours at the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square. Many in the media, including Chris Hayes of MSNBC, have noted Chicago’s troubled history with police torture, citing the Burge torture cases and Mayor Emanuel’s failure to provide reparations to the Chicago Police Torture survivors.

Today, in response to these articles and mounting public outcry to all acts of law enforcement violence, there is a rally, Reparations Not Black Sites: A Rally for a Run Off, at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington at 6 p.m.

Upcoming Events: #Teach Burge, City Council Hearings, and an Exhibition-In

Further, in support of the Reparations campaign and political self-education, CTJM and Project NIA are launching City Wide Teach-Ins on the Burge Torture cases, entitled #TeachBurge. We are calling on teachers, educators, organizers and activists to conduct teach-ins on the cases from March 9 through March 22, and we have created a series of materials for you to use here. One of the first Teach-Ins will be at the Hull House on March 10, from 4 to 6 p.m., please rsvp here if you would like to attend.

Members of CTJM, Project NIA and supporters plan to pack the City Council’s Finance Committee meeting on March 16 at 10 a.m. and the City’s Council meeting on March 18 at 10 a.m., and demand a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance.  The ordinance was filed in October of 2013, and it has sat in the Finance Committee for over a year and half without any action on it. The torture survivors and their family members have waited long enough to be heard and for justice.

Both meetings will be held at City Hall, 2nd Floor, 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois.  We are trying to get a head count on the number of people who can attend either or both of these meetings.  Please join us for one or both days at City Hall, and fill out this survey to let us know when you can attend.

Immediately following Wednesday’s City Council meeting, there will be a pop-up art exhibit on reparations. The Exhibition-In, March 18, 12 – 5pm on the 5th floor of City Hall, will address police torture under Burge and underscore the need for immediate redress through the Reparations Ordinance. Individuals and groups are welcome to attend.

CTJM_exhibition-inposter2

Support the Campaign

Finally, CTJM is comprised of all volunteers and this is a truly grassroots campaign seeking the passage of the Reparations Ordinance. While we have accomplished so much based on peoples’ power, creativity and generous in kind donations, we still are need of money to help support the work we do.  Please consider donating to CTJM here to help further support the campaign to pass the Reparations Ordinance.

With your support we know we can get the Reparations Ordinance passed! If you would like to get more involved with CTJM, please email justicememorials@gmail.com and for more information on the ordinance or the Chicago police torture cases check out www.chicagotorture.org.

Watch the 2/14 Rally for Reparations: A People’s Hearing below: