Category: Police Brutality

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:

Feb 15 2015

‘We Must Love Each Other:’ Lessons in Struggle and Justice from Chicago

The national protests catalyzed by the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson last August continue even as many (including the mainstream media) have moved on. Some critics have suggested that the uprisings/rebellions are leaderless, lack concrete demands and/or are without clear strategy. Each of these critiques is easily refuted so I won’t concern myself with them here.

In Chicago, many have used the energy and opening created by these ongoing protests to re-animate existing long-term anti-police violence campaigns. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at the Chicago Temple to show our love for police torture survivors on the day after Jon Burge was released from house arrest.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

The gathering was billed as a people’s hearing and rally in support of a reparations ordinance currently stalled in the Chicago City Council. Politicians, faith leaders, and community activists spoke at the event. Poets exhorted the crowd. But the most impactful, poignant and powerful words came from the Burge torture survivors themselves.

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

Read more »

Feb 07 2015

Image of the Day: #ReparationsNOW

Yesterday evening, I joined friends from the Chicago Light Brigade for an action at Rahm Emanuel’s house. We brought a message to him and made sure that it was in lights so he wouldn’t miss it.

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

Jan 25 2015

Chicago #TrainTakeOver For #BlackLivesMatter

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you will be unsurprised at young Chicagoans’ consistent and constant creativity in protests. Over the past few months, young people in Chicago have led several protests against state violence.

On Friday, some of these young people organized a #TrainTakeOver. Below is a terrific video by Kuumba Lynx documenting the action.

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

Jan 23 2015

118 Claps: Struggling For Reparations in Chicago

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… 118

It took a while. We clapped 118 times while our comrades died in at City Hall.

photo by Ayanna Banks-Harris (1/21/15)

photo by Ayanna Banks-Harris (1/21/15)

One clap to represent every documented case of torture by Jon Burge and his fellow Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers. On Wednesday, we were over 40 people clapping together, raising our voices together in support of a reparations ordinance for police torture survivors.

It’s been 42 years since Burge began torturing African American people at Area 2 police headquarters. It’s past time that the survivors of this violence are compensated for the harm. So on Wednesday an intergenerational, multi-everything group of Chicagoans went to City Hall to demand that Mayor Emanuel and our alderpeople set a hearing and vote on reparations now.

“What do we want from Rahm? Reparations now!”

We came to City Hall in solidarity with those whose will was broken and whose bodies still need repair. We came to remind those in power that we have not and will not forget. We came for more justice and some peace for the still caged and the living. Until then, we vowed “No Justice, No Peace.”

Two hours after we arrived, one of the chief sponsors of the ordinance, Alderman Brookins finally rose to say that it deserved a hearing. He then turned to those of us sitting in the gallery to introduce us. We stood and clapped again this time as an exhortation rather than in protest.

photo by Tom Callahan (1/21/15)

photo by Tom Callahan (1/21/15)

It feels urgent to me that we win this struggle. The men who survived Burge’s torture are getting on in age. The sense that the clock is ticking is palpable to me. Burge will be officially released from his half-way house on February 14, Valentine’s Day, after having spent 4 years in prison. He has offered no apology, shown no remorse and will get to keep his police pension. The Mayor has a chance to show some heart before February 14th by giving his full support for the reparations ordinance and urging the City Council for a hearing then a vote. Until then, we will continue to fight and demand reparations now.

photo by Page May (12/16/14)

photo by Page May (12/16/14)

Please add your voices. We have a simple way for you to reach out to the alderpeople who have yet to support the reparations ordinance HERE.

Jan 20 2015

Raise Your Voice For Reparations NOW…

Last Thursday, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, about 50 people gathered at City Hall to sing for reparations.

As the Chicago Sun Times editorial page called yesterday for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to compensate survivors of Jon Burge’s torture, it’s clear that pressure is building on the Mayor to get on the right side of history. I’ve written briefly about why I think reparations for police torture survivors are important:

For me, the reparations ordinance is a memorial for the living. The ordinance’s stubborn insistence that people (no matter what they have done) should be compensated for torture is a little earthquake. It shakes up and re-configures the normalization of punishment. To say that the state needs to formally apologize for harm done is important too.

I’ve been heartened to see the recent interest that young people in particular have taken in this issue. Many of the people who have been supporters of the Burge torture survivors are older by virtue of the prolonged nature of the struggle. I hope to see many more young people join organizing efforts around the reparations ordinance and more. The fight needs their creativity, ideas and energy. We also need older people to participate too. We need everyone to win.

So this is another call to action. Please join us as we press forward to pass the reparations ordinance for Chicago police torture survivors. Here’s how you can help:

1. THIS Wednesday January 21st at 10 am is the Chicago City Council meeting and we would love a roll call of supporters who could attend in solidarity with survivors of police torture.If you can attend, please email niapoetry@gmail.com by 5 pm today to let us know and for more information.

ChiCityCouncilmeme

2. Please contact the alderpeople who have yet to support the ordinance and demand that they support it. Call, tweet, email them. You can find all of their names and contact information HERE.

NEWAlderpeoplelistmeme

3. Call Mayor Rahm Emanuel at 312-744-3300 & do it every day. Demand that he offer his full support for the reparations ordinance and that he tell the City Council to hold a hearing on it and VOTE.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (City Hall, Sing-in for Reparations, 1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (City Hall, Sing-in for Reparations, 1/15/15)

4. If your alderperson is a supporter of the ordinance, call them and thank them.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

5. Follow the Chicago Torture – Justice Memorials on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest news and for information about upcoming actions.

sophreparations

noahreparations

Jan 18 2015

“Free Us All:” Love in Action in Chicago

It was Dr. Martin Luther King’s actual birthday on Thursday and Chicago was in the mood to celebrate through study, action and protest. As part of an effort to #ReclaimMLK, Chicagoans demanded reparations for police torture survivors, gathered to discuss the radical roots of the Black Freedom Movement, called out a list of the system’s crimes against those most marginalized and finally marched by the hundreds in solidarity with a youth-led protest on the near Westside of Chicago.

Listen to these words offered by Kaleb Autman, a 12 year old student at Village Leadership Academy & co-organizer of the ReclaimMLK march and by Page May, a young organizer with We Charge Genocide who helped VLA students bring their vision to fruition. Listen to their words to better understand the current rebellions led mostly by young people of color taking place across the country.

I was invited to speak at Thursday’s rally and march. I had jotted down a few words but when it came time for me to speak I decided to focus on what was in front of me rather than on what I had planned to share. You see, by the time I was called to speak, we were in front of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (Chicago’s youth jail) and I could hear the children who were locked in cells insistently pounding on their windows.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

Their message to us on the outside was urgent and unequivocal: “Free Us.”

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez  (1/15/15)

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez (1/15/15)

I turned and looked to my right. I saw my friends of the Chicago Light Brigade holding light boards spelling out “Free Us All” as they projected the words “Indict the System” on the side of the courthouse. I struggled to hold back tears.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

It was the vision of a group of Black elementary school students that we march 2.5 miles from their school to the juvenile jail to underscore how close they are to being funneled through the pipeline to prison. My friend Kelly Hayes, who helped organize the march, wrote beautifully about the proximity of incarceration for these students:

VLA student Jakya Hobbs told us, “It is this system that keeps us from the world.” Her use of the word “us” was very intentional in this context. These student organizers see no distinction between themselves and the incarcerated, and rightly believe that as long as black and brown children are criminalized and caged, no young person is truly free. In elementary school, they understand what it took me decades to comprehend: Prisons don’t simply confine prisoners. They confine hopes and ambitions, and dampen the faith of those who might otherwise dare to believe in better things. Living as a black or brown person in a country where the prison industrial complex cages over two million of our brothers and sisters means walking through the world with the knowledge that, while you may have eluded the slave catcher, many of your people will not.

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Over 600 people braved the Chicago cold to march alongside the young organizers of the protest. I was so proud to live in this city as people of all ages, genders, class backgrounds and races responded to their call to action. I felt hopeful.

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

One of the children in the jail scrawled out the words “I <3 You” on his window. It read crystal clear to those of us standing outside of the jail. People responded by calling out and signing their love in kind.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

Thursday’s #ReclaimMLK march was a manifestation of love in action. It’s that simple and that complex. If these uprisings and rebellions are to develop into a movement, love will have to be centered alongside power. This is a truth gleaned from past movements and leaders:

Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Source: pp. 324-325 in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson (1998).

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

In the end though, I will remember three words from this action: “Free Us All.”

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

These words will ring out as we continue to struggle and fight for a more just and peaceful world. “Free Us All” is our North Star helping us to find our way in our journey toward liberation.

Jan 15 2015

For the Living…

This morning on Dr. King’s birthday, I’ll be joining friends and comrades at City Hall to sing in for reparations. This action is the third one in a month and is focused on pressuring Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations ordinance for police torture survivors. Over half of the council has expressed their support for the ordinance, the Emanuel administration is the current obstacle to passage.

My Goddaughter recently asked why it is important to pass this reparations ordinance. I gave a number of reasons having to do with fairness, restitution, decency, morality and more. Above all though, I told her that it would be one way to concretize the meaning(s) of #BlackLivesMatter. As political philosopher. Joy James has said: “Black lives matter because we make them matter.” Insisting that black people who are tortured by the state be compensated for this harm is one way that we can make Black lives matter.

As protesters around the world have taken to lying down in public spaces, staging “die-ins,” I’ve been uncomfortable and mute. I’ve been screaming inside though: “The system already wants us dead. Living is resistance.

I saw a photograph on Twitter a few weeks ago. It was of a young black woman lying on train tracks as a “die-in” protest against police violence.

diein

The image has haunted me. I’m over dying in. I hate death.

But I have kept my mouth shut because who cares, really, about what I think of a particular protest tactic. There are plenty of tactics that I disavow but I don’t use my small platform to do so publicly. And besides, plenty of people think die-ins are symbolically effective.

For me, the reparations ordinance is a memorial for the living. The ordinance’s stubborn insistence that people (no matter what they have done) should be compensated for torture is a little earthquake. It shakes up and re-configures the normalization of punishment. To say that the state needs to formally apologize for harm done is important too.

At City Hall today, survivors of Jon Burge’s torture will once again speak of it loudly, publicly and with courage. And those of us who are there to listen and demand restitution will sing. It’s a live-in. Join Us.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (12/29/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (12/29/14)

Jan 08 2015

Video: #BlackLivesMatter Chicago

I thought that I would be able to ease into the New Year. Hahaha jokes on me. I am busier than ever so I won’t be able to blog regularly for the next couple of weeks at least.

I am happy to say, however, that the work that I get to be part of feels promising. We’ll see.

In the meantime, my friend Kelly put together this wonderful short video documenting some of the #BlackLivesMatter actions in Chicago. It’s inspiring so I thought I’d share it with you. You can also read Kelly’s post about some of the Chicago-based protests and actions that inspired her in 2014 here.