Sep 19 2015

#FireDanteServin: An Abolitionist Campaign in Chicago

On April 20th, I was getting on a plane headed back to Chicago from Nashville when my phone started ringing. Friends who were in the courtroom as the judge acquitted officer Dante Servin for killing Rekia Boyd were calling to share the news. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother, was so gutted that he couldn’t contain his pain. He and others were temporarily detained by police. Rekia’s family, friends and community were devastated. Dante Servin was free. How long before he would again patrol the streets with his gun? How long before he might kill someone else? How long before the next Rekia? How long before Rekia’s mother could finally sleep soundly through the night?

I was not surprised that Dante Servin was acquitted. After all, it took months and years of community agitation and organizing to get him indicted in the first place. By all accounts, the prosecution’s heart was not in the case. More than that, as most now understand, police officers are rarely indicted and almost never convicted.

Rekia was still dead and Dante Servin still had his job and pension.

Martinez Sutton at a Vigil for Rekia at Depaul (5/12/15) - photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Martinez Sutton at a Vigil for Rekia at Depaul (5/12/15) – photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

A couple of days later, about 11 people representing several organizations including BYP 100, Project NIA, BLM Chicago, WAPB, FURIE, ISO, We Charge Genocide, and Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls & Young Women met on the Southside to brainstorm and discuss next steps in the struggle for justice for Rekia. Those in attendance identified as abolitionists, progressives, socialists and anarchists. Our goal was to develop a strategy to keep Rekia’s name alive and to continue to support her family.

It was unlikely that the country would come to know her by her first name: Rekia. She was young, Black and a woman. Of those identities, being a woman is a distinct disadvantage in the political economy of public memorialization. The names that we lift up (when we memorialize Black life at all) are usually attached to cisgendered heterosexual men: Sean, Mike, Eric, Rodney, Amadou… And yet, here we now are, also saying Rekia’s name alongside theirs. This didn’t happen by chance. Her family and local organizers have insisted that her life mattered. The meeting we held after the Servin verdict was a declaration that Rekia would not be forgotten and that her family would not be abandoned.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

By the end of the meeting, we had agreed to collectively organize several events and actions through the spring and summer. Groups and individuals volunteered to bottom line several projects. Project NIA & the Taskforce took responsibility for organizing a legal teach-in about the case that would take place the next week. That event sent Depaul Law School and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) into a panic. On the heels of the Baltimore uprisings, they deployed dozens of police officers to surveil and monitor attendees. Project NIA also took responsibility for coordinating a month-long series of events under the banner of “Black August Chicago.” These events, actions and interventions would focus on state violence against Black women and girls (trans and non-trans) and contextualize these experiences historically. Most of the groups at the meeting committed to organize an event/action/intervention during Black August.

image by Caira Conner

image by Caira Conner

BYP 100 committed to reach out to national groups to organize a National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls on May 21st. BLM Chicago, We Charge Genocide and WAPB decided to attend the next police board meeting to demand the firing of Dante Servin. Since that board meeting would be on May 21st, it worked out that the BYP 100 National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls local event would dovetail with the effort to #FireServin.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/21/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/21/15)

Since May, BYP 100 along with the other groups mentioned have consistently attended police board meetings to demand the firing of Rekia’s killer. The most recent action happened this past Thursday. The beautiful video below offers some highlights.

As a by-product of the community’s organizing, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) this week recommended the firing of Servin. CPD Superintendent McCarthy now has 90 days to offer his recommendation which would then go to the Police Board for a final vote. So there are more steps and work ahead. In the meantime, the relationships between individuals and groups organizing to #FireServin and against police violence more generally are deepening and the number of people joining the mobilizations is growing.

#FireServin (8/20/15) photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

#FireServin (8/20/15) photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

There has been some criticism about the strategic value of a campaign focused on firing one police officer. Isn’t this simply individualizing harm? Shouldn’t we be taking a systemic/structural approach to addressing police violence? These are certainly valid questions. After all, Chicago is a city where Black people (in particular) are killed by police in the highest numbers and with impunity. We are a city where the parents of young Black people shot by police have to crowdfund to buy a headstone for their sons and daughters. We are a city where grief stricken family and community members are arrested for disrupting the courtroom after a judge dismisses the charges against a killer cop. We are a city where the press ignored allegations of police torture for decades and continue to do so into the present. We are a city where the county prosecutors don’t hold killer cops accountable.

None of the organizers leading the #FireServin actions believe that his dismissal from the force will end police violence. Servin is buttressed and backed by a culture of impunity and by a history of Black-deathmaking in this city. He is one brick in a reinforced wall. Just a brick. Organizers know this. So why focus on Servin at all? I’ll share some reasons below:

1. The demand to fire Servin is consistent with abolitionist goals in that it addresses the issue of accountability for harm caused.
2. The demand to fire Servin is in response to the desire of a devastated family and community to see a modicum of justice for their daughter, sister, friend and fellow human being.
3. The demand to fire Servin exists within a broader set of mobilizations and actions that are about MAKING all #‎BlackWomenAndGirlsLivesMatter‬.
4. The demand to fire Servin has an origin story rooted in collective brainstorming and organizing. It has provided a tangible way to build power through the mobilizations.
5. The demand to fire Servin has provided an opportunity for some individuals and groups to collaborate more closely and to get to know each other in ways that will only strengthen our broader local struggle. If we learn to fight together, we can win together.
6. The demand to fire Servin has not and does not preclude others from pursuing and taking on their own campaigns to end police violence. Moreover, campaign organizers themselves are involved in more than just efforts to fire Servin.

In Rekia’s name, organizers in Chicago have launched a sustained mobilization seeking justice for all Black women and girls (trans and non-trans). It’s remarkable, really. All of the #SayHerName & #JusticeForRekia actions and mobilizations that happened across the country on May 21st had their roots here in Chicago. It has been rare in U.S. history to effectively organize at the intersection of race and gender. And yet, in part because of our work seeking #JusticeForRekia, there is some energy behind a focus on state violence against all Black women and girls. And this matters a great deal. The recent attention paid to Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna and the ongoing killings of trans Black women is partly owed to this mobilization.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/17/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/17/15)

A focus on how women and girls experience violence by the state pushes us to consider more than lethal force as harmful. We have to consider sexual assaults by police (inside prisons and in the streets). We have to include how women who are victims of interpersonal violence are criminalized by the state for defending their lives. Our lens becomes wider. Hence, the #FireServin campaign has not simply been about holding one officer accountable. It’s also been about making visible the neglected forms of violence experienced by Black women and girls across this country and beyond. By calling for CPD to #FireServin, organizers in Chicago have centered the state violence experienced by all Black women and girls and shone a light on what my friend Andy Smith accurately describes as an “entire system of harassment and surveillance that keeps oppressive gender and racial hierarchies in place.”

Apr 28 2015

On Showing Up, Erasing Myself, and Lifting Up the Choir…

photo by Bob Simpson (Chicago, 4/21/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (Chicago, 4/21/15)

It was unlikely that we would come to know her by her first name: Rekia. She was a 22 year old young Black woman when Dante Servin, a CPD detective, shot her in the head. In the political economy of memorials and public grieving, being a young Black woman is not advantageous. The names that we lift up (when we memorialize Black lives at all) are usually attached to cis heterosexual men. Sean, Rodney, Amadou, Mike, Tamir and now Freddie…

I was at the Nashville airport last Monday when my phone started ringing. Friends who were at Dante Servin’s trial were calling and texting to relay the news. Judge Porter granted the defense’s motion for a directed finding and dismissed the case against Servin. I was not surprised. I only felt sad for Rekia Boyd’s family. They did not get the justice that they sought. They waited three years for Servin’s day in court. They fought for over 18 months just for an indictment. No cop had been tried for killing someone in Cook County for 17 years. And last Monday, Dante Servin walked out of 26th & California a ‘free man’ ready to carry a gun and to patrol the streets again.

In Chicago, Servin’s acquittal led to a couple of small, heart-felt protests and some limited outrage.

A couple of weeks ago, I lamented how few people attended a rally on the first day of Dante Servin’s trial:

I can’t lie. I was disappointed in the turnout. I know, I know that there are hundreds of reasons people didn’t show up in numbers. A friend mentioned that perhaps the rain had kept them away. I stared at him. We both knew the truth. For all of the talk of Black Lives mattering, all evidence points to the opposite. Rekia’s life surely mattered to her family and friends. It matters to the small but determined group that showed up in solidarity with her family today. Beyond that though, no, Rekia’s life doesn’t matter in this country.

There is in fact a hierarchy of oppression as Black women, Black trans and gender nonconforming people have even less access to limited sympathy than do cis heterosexual Black men. To deny this is to be a liar. When we call out ‘who will keep our sisters?’ too often we are greeted with one or two lone voices in the wilderness but usually with silence.

Partly in response to my words & as a balm for my and others’ demoralization, some friends and comrades organized a beautiful show of support and solidarity for Rekia. My friend Kelly, one of the organizers of the light action, wrote:

But tonight, after a great deal of discussion and reflection, my friends and I decided to offer what we could to those who are mourning, discouraged, and in need of hope. We decided to offer a bit of light and action, in the hopes that seeing a message for Rekia projected in the night sky, in the heart of our city, might make them feel a little less disheartened, and a little less alone. It’s a small offering, to be sure, but it is one that is made with love, and with a great deal of hope.

photo by Kelly Hayes (4/10/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (4/10/15)

I was very moved by the light action. I have struggled for a couple of weeks to adequately convey my emotions. I found some words after reading a post titled “No One Showed Up To Rally For Rekia.” While the title suggested an absence of people at the rally, the post began with this sentence: “Last night in New York City’s Union Square, a modest crowd of between 30 and 50 people (depending on who you ask) showed up to rally for Rekia Boyd and Black women and girls who’ve been killed by police.” So, in fact, some people (albeit a small number) did attend the rally.

The title of the post grated. I thought of those few dozen people who took the time to show up for Rekia and her family. Perhaps they were members of the choir so to speak but they were definitely somebody. One of the organizers of the rally noted on social media that she was frustrated that those people who did show up (mostly black women) were being dismissed and overlooked. She suggested that this was both an erasure of black women’s labor as organizers and a discounting of the fact that we regularly show up for each other even when others do not for us. She was right on both counts.

I often remind others of the importance of lifting up the choir, of insuring that those who do show up know that we are grateful for and value them. I’ve lectured others on the importance of never taking the choir for granted. Yet as I struggled with my demoralization, I disregarded my own admonition. Those of us who show up matter and as Kelly has written: “…what we are doing together matters, and must continue.” In a sense, I had written myself out of the story of resistance against Rekia’s killing. I had erased myself as a Black woman who shows up for other Black women across the spectrum and who understands that I cannot live without my life.

There is a lot of pain and anger about the invisibility of Black women, trans and gender-non conforming people in struggles against state and interpersonal violence. Rightly so. It hurts to be erased and overlooked. But it’s important, I think, to simultaneously recognize those who do, in fact, insist on making these lives matter too. It’s always both/and.

Later today, some of us in Chicago will show our solidarity for our comrades in Baltimore and also for Rekia and others killed in our own city. Join us if you can! We’ll be lifting up the choir.

ChicagoTuesday, April 286 PM - Police

Apr 22 2015

Guest Post: The Dante Servin Acquittal

An attorney friend of mine was kind enough to break down the Dante Servin acquittal for me.  I am a lay person and not a lawyer. If you are like me, you were likely confused about all of the information that has been circulating regarding this case. My friend has generously agreed to allow me to post these thoughts anonymously. This helped me better understand the issues in this acquittal. I hope it helps others.

Update: If you are in Chicago, you are invited to the Legal Teach-in for Rekia Boyd on April 29th at 6 pm. Details are HERE.

The Dante Servin Acquittal

Issue #1: Judge Porter’s Decision to Grant the Directed Verdict is Shocking and Rare

Judge Porter granted the defendant’s motion for directed verdict at the conclusion of the State’s case.  This means that after the State closed their case, before the defense put on their case, the defendant asked the judge to find that the State’s case was so weak that the case should not move forward.  When ruling on a defendant’s motion for directed verdict, the judge must look at the facts presented in the State’s case in the light most favorable to the State, assuming inferences in the light most favorable to the State, and then determine that a reasonable person could not find that the State could prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  See People v. McCord, 46 Ill.App.3d 389, 392 (1977).  It’s a very high standard and motions for a directed verdict are almost never granted.  If a judge grants a directed verdict, the defense doesn’t even need to put forth their own evidence to challenge the State’s case.  The judge evaluates the case on the State’s facts only, in the light most favorable to the State, and then finds that it’s impossible for the State to succeed.  In a case involving the shooting death of a young female, it’s shocking that the judge granted the defendant’s motion for directed verdict, acquitting Servin of all charges.  The result was that Officer Servin did not have to testify and prosecutors were never able to cross-examine him.  This is unsettling both because the judge prevented the prosecution from supporting their case in cross-examination of the defense witnesses, and because he failed to provide the emotional benefit to the family of having Officer Servin explain his actions on the stand.

Issue #2: Judge Porter’s Legal Reasoning is Questionable

Judge Porter granted the defense’s motion for a directed verdict based on Illinois law that supports a bizarre outcome.  Even though this bizarre legal support exists, the judge had other options to support a different ruling.  I’ll first explain his ruling, then explore the other options.

The judge accurately noted that all of the charges the State brought against Servin required the State to prove Servin acted recklessly.  The judge then found that the State only introduced evidence that Dante Servin acted intentionally (not recklessly).  As a result, the judge ruled as a matter of law that the State could not succeed in their case because Servin acted intentionally, not recklessly.  The logic of this ruling is based on a technical matter of law; if someone intentionally shoots someone, they did not act recklessly, and vice versa (if they shot recklessly, they didn’t do so intentionally).  There is support for saying this is the law in Illinois.  See People vs. Sipp, 378 Ill.App.3d 157 (2007).  The bizarre outcome of the application of this law in this context is that a defendant (like Servin) could assert first degree murder as a defense to any charges regarding reckless behavior (freely admitting that he intentionally killed Rekia Boyd) and then be acquitted of all charges (more serious murder charges would then be prevented under double jeopardy).  This is obviously a bizarre outcome, particularly when considering that the law has long found that intentional conduct is more culpable then reckless conduct (intentionally killing someone versus accidentally doing so because of reckless conduct).

Although Judge Porter’s opinion is written to make it look like his hands were tied by the above law, the judge had several other options to deny the defendant’s motion for directed verdict.  First, the judge could have done what all lawyers are trained to do:  instead of rely on the cases that he relied on in his ruling, he could have distinguished those cases from the present case in front of him (if the judge wanted to find a hook, they are distinguishable).  For example, the legal issue in front of him was a directed verdict, whereas the cases cited in his ruling dealt with jury instructions.  Those are different legal issues and he could have distinguished those cases on that ground.  Similarly, the judge could have ruled that as a matter of law, if the defendant’s self-defense claim turned out to be unreasonable, “unreasonable self-defense” equates to reckless conduct.  In addition, the facts in the cases cited in his ruling are different than the facts in the Servin case.  For example, in the Sipp case, the defendant shot and killed his intended target, whereas Servin shot and killed an unintended victim. The defendant in Sipp also looked at the intended target as he shot him, whereas Servin shot over his shoulder and behind him while driving away.  He could have distinguished this case on that ground.  These are hooks that judges often use to distinguish prior cases from the present case to rule that those cases do not apply to the present case.  In the end, all he needed was something to say that a reasonable person could support reckless charges based on the facts of this unique case.

Read more »

Apr 11 2015

Guest Post: Court Day 1 #RekiaBoyd

My friend Crista Noel wrote a few words about the first day of Dante Servin’s trial for killing Rekia Boyd. Crista co-founded Women’s All Points Bulletin, a local organization focused on police violence against women. She has been a steadfast supporter of Rekia’s family for years. I appreciate that she has given me permission to publish this.

Court Day 1
by Crista Noel

For reasons unknown the rain reminded me of my grandfathers funeral.

Or maybe not


His death,

being shot in the head by the security guard he hired to protect the bowling alley he managed, was the revelation


My grandmothers old wives tale was true

when it rains on the day of a funeral

the Angels are crying

I was driving to a funeral,

and the Universe was storming.

As with all trials there is confusion and worry. They told Martinez it may be postponed because the Judges house flooded, but he did not disappoint.

The News crews filmed the family and the advocates, surrounding Martinez, they spoke passionately as I watched through the window.

Inside Angela expressed her grief, her anger barely subsided,

she will never forgive

or forget.

Mothers pain

Her sister sat quietly, as we all did, in the Courtroom as Dante’s face turned beet red as the charges and the punishment became real

to him

in that moment
and time


Icka testified she was angry that her sister was shot in the head and Antonio was only shot in the hand.

“How is that fair” she cried

They all ran from Dante’s bullets

and she cried

Over Rekia’s body

They wouldn’t let her ride to the hospital with Rekia

and Rekia hated being alone

She cried

For a moment Dante was alone with Rekia, talking on his cellphone when the cops arrived

What was he saying
How did he feel

This was caught on tape

Read more »

Apr 09 2015

Downpours, Videotaped Executions & Mourning Our Dead

I’m writing this for myself and not as social commentary. I am writing to make sense and meaning. I am publishing these words not to invite comment but because perhaps others are struggling to make sense and meaning too.

I’ll admit that I am currently battling demoralization. I arrived to a pre-trial rally/gathering for Rekia Boyd during a downpour today. The skies opened and the rain came down mirroring my mood. I arrived late because I was supporting a young person who is on trial in juvenile court this morning. I ducked out and drove to Criminal Court to support Rekia’s family for a few minutes.

It was a small group when I arrived. Martinez Sutton, Rekia’s brother who has been steadfast in fighting to bring his sister’s killer to court, had just finished speaking. People held signs and images of Rekia and other women killed by police.

Rekia's brother and mother  photo by @minkumedia (4/9/15)

Rekia’s brother and mother
photo by @minkumedia (4/9/15)

I can’t lie. I was disappointed in the turnout. I know, I know that there are hundreds of reasons people didn’t show up in numbers. A friend mentioned that perhaps the rain had kept them away. I stared at him. We both knew the truth. For all of the talk of Black Lives mattering, all evidence points to the opposite. Rekia’s life surely mattered to her family and friends. It matters to the small but determined group that showed up in solidarity with her family today. Beyond that though, no, Rekia’s life doesn’t matter in this country.

There is in fact a hierarchy of oppression as Black women, Black trans and gender nonconforming people have even less access to limited sympathy than do cis heterosexual Black men. To deny this is to be a liar. When we call out ‘who will keep our sisters?’ too often we are greeted with one or two lone voices in the wilderness but usually with silence.

The prosecution opened its case against Dante Servin, the detective who killed Rekia Boyd, by saying: “She didn’t see it coming; she didn’t have a chance.” And so it is that too many Black people in this country don’t have a chance to live our lives free from terror.

There’s another videotaped execution of a Black man circulating. Some are calling it ‘shocking.’ It is not. According to reports, the video shows a 50 year old Black man fleeing from a white police officer who shoots him eight times. When the man is on the ground, the cops check his pulse presumably to make sure that he is dead. The dead man is then handcuffed. The dead man’s name is Walter Scott and I refuse to watch his killing. I don’t want to participate in the spectacle. That’s my choice and it won’t be everyone’s.

The deaths are like computer wallpaper and serve as background noise on social media. The deaths are fodder for the continued traumatization and oppression of Black people. The deaths are daily terrorism. Who is next? Will it be a loved one? Will it be me? I’m opting out of the endless ghastly ritual to preserve my soul. Enough. I can’t control the circulation of images of Black death across the world. I can only resolve not to add to the trauma by sharing images myself.

Another Black person is dead at the hands of the police. I don’t care if Mr. Scott was armed or unarmed. I don’t care if he was a family man or a deadbeat parent. I don’t care if he had a record or not. I am gutted that he was killed. That’s enough. Now comes the contest, the fight to define & decide whether this is a Black person who can be, should be mourned. Perhaps some columnists or pundits (white or Black) will write that we should direct our grief to a more ‘worthy’ or ‘true’ victim. Those words will cause a minor uproar on social media that will quickly fade.

Some of us won’t easily move on from the deaths. Each one feels like a lash to our souls. Those wounds are always tender. They stay with us. They linger in our consciousness and hearts. Because this is true, we won’t be swayed by the attempts to humanize the un-human. We won’t spend time talking about dehumanizing the un-human either. We understand that the (white) gaze is unimportant so we don’t seek it out. We let them do their own work with each other. We welcome those who want to uproot structural oppression while understanding that we have all we need to save ourselves. So we focus intently on our own survival and we ignore the chatter about allyship in favor of co-strugglers. We make the daily decision to love each other as Black people even more and to protect each other by any means necessary. We worry about what it does to Black people to live always with trauma, to exist so precariously, to be always at risk of corpsehood. We remember to grieve within our communities of choice. We remember to take the time to mourn, for real. We embrace both the struggle and the love.

When the police repeat that ‘they are in fear for their lives’ every time they shoot and/or kill a Black person, I think that we must take them at their word. Blackness poses an existential threat which must be destroyed. History attests to this reality. How else are we to understand the relentless, consistent, unending obliteration of Black people by the state over decades and centuries? Even after being shot 8 times, checked to make sure we aren’t breathing, the cops still chain our dead bodies with handcuffs. That behavior can only make sense if we understand blackness to be a perpetual threat to whiteness.

Some will read my words and clamor for a 10 point plan. That’s all well and good they’ll say, but how do we “fix” this? To you, I say, come up with your own “fixes.” I am in mourning today…