NOW YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL THE POWER OF THE CHICAGO POLICE
It’s the night of April 28, 2004, at approximately 10:30. I’m in my car headed west on Montrose Avenue, just about to pass under the Ravenswood viaduct. Two blocks from home the car in front of me slams on its brakes and screeches to a halt, nearly causing me to rear end it. Before I even have time to react, from the backseat of the car in front of me two flashlights immediately train on my face, effectively blinding me. I hear all four car doors fly open, and the two flashlights split and move in opposite directions to the rear of my car. Once they pass I can see that four people have surrounded me.
To my right is a woman with a blond ponytail. Outside the driver’s window is a Latino man. Although I cannot clearly identify the two behind me, I can tell peripherally that all are wearing jeans, jackets, and bulletproof vests and carrying guns. It’s only then I realize that the car in front of me is a standard issue un-marked Ford police interceptor.
This is the TAC Squad.
“You like riding my back end?” the Latino TAC barks at me.By now, my heart is racing, and I’m scared. “You almost caused an accident,” I stammered.
He motions to the female TAC. “Let’s check the car,” he says.
She steps forward and opens my passenger door. The Latino TAC continues.
“Get out of the car and show me your license, registration, and proof of insurance. We need to take a look in your vehicle. Do you have anything on you you shouldn’t?”
I sit there and stare at him, frozen. It takes me a second to remember I don’t have drugs on me this time, haven’t done anything illegal, and have nothing to hide. When I do, I recover my senses,and realize that, for the first time, I actually have a choice whetherI will comply, or protest.
This realization is both empowering and exceedingly dangerous, because it’s only too easy to take advantage of it and push it too far. I had seen the Chicago police bend and break the law so much that I was unsure who was cop and who was criminal.They have such a total disregard for basic human decency that in Chicago the phrase “abusing authority” is a polite euphemism. I’m not going to take it this time. Since I know I haven’t given them anything remotely resembling “probable cause” to search my car, I refuse to comply.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not getting out of the car, and I do not consent to a search. You do not have ‘probable cause’ to search my car, and it was you who almost caused an accident.”
“Are you fucking serious?” He laughs. “Lemme explain to you now, you don’t want to do that, you won’t like the outcome.”
He then steps forward, sticks his face in my window inches from me, and sniffs at the air.
“I detect a strong odor of alcohol,” he says sarcastically.“Looks like you’ve been drinking. Now it looks like I have my ‘probable cause.’ See how that works? Outta the car.”
I refuse again, so he reaches in the window and grabs me by the throat with one hand. He opens the door with the other hand,and hauls me out of the car. He handcuffs me behind my back and shoves my face against the roof in the exact same place and manner as the gang-banger who I stabbed more than two and a half years earlier. The other two male TAC officers quickly move behind me, intentionally trying to stay out of my field of vision. My blood runs cold. This is quickly getting out of hand.
The female TAC with the blond ponytail begins tossing my car while the Latino searches my pockets. He pulls out my wallet, and tosses it on the trunk, telling one of the two TACs behind me to check it out.
“You don’t have consent for this search,” I keep repeating, but I realize I’m shaking. “This is an illegal search. You do not have consent.”
Behind me, the one with my wallet says, “Green Party! ACLU!Voting Official! A real citizen here.”
“You ever been arrested?” the Latino TAC asks me. I ignore him and repeat, “This is an illegal search. You do not have con-sent.” My teeth begin to chatter slightly, which he notices. He knows I’m afraid, and he’s wondering why.
“See who he is,” he tells the TAC with my wallet, who in turn heads for the squad car to pull up my record. This is what I’m afraid of. Once they see I’m a convicted felon, the entire situation is going to change for the worse.
From inside my car the female TAC emerges with a handful of fliers and other handouts that I had collected at various political meetings.
“Hey,” she says, waving the fliers at the Latino. “Is this them?”
In response, the TAC standing behind me says, “We got one of ’em?”
“You think cops are ‘dirty’ huh?” the Latino says, sardonically.
From the squad car I hear, “We got multiple hits: Burglary,drugs, half a dozen disorderlies. He ain’t no citizen, he’s a fucking punk.”
The Latino pulls me backwards off the car by my handcuffs,holding the back of my neck with his other hand. He begins to pull my body back and forth in front of him.
“Uh oh . . . looks like he’s resisting arrest,” he says, and then throws me onto the street behind my car, holding my arms behind me so I fall flat on my face. In the process he yanks my right shoulder out of the socket, which by that time, nearly two years after the initial injury, is in bad shape and dislocates easily. I scream with pain and then roll over and look up at him. He’s hovering over me laughing.
I scream at him, “I want a field sobriety test! I demand a field sobriety test! This is bullshit, you can’t do this! I demand a field sobriety test!”
“Hey,” Latino says to his buddies, “did you guys know we can’t do this?”
“No no . . . ,” one TAC says, “we sure can’t do this.”
The pain in my arm is so severe I scream again, and the Latino laughs and calls back to the others, “Looks like we got a ‘crazy’ here, better call for a transport!”
At this point I realize I’m going to be arrested. I stop screaming and roll myself into a position where my arm hurts least, and try to breathe through it. Within two or three minutes a paddy wagon arrives with another regular patrol car, so now there are three police vehicles blocking traffic on Montrose, making a huge spectacle of me.
The uniform cops exit their vehicles and together with the four TAC cops form a tight circle a few yards away. They begin laughing at me. Then, the Latino steps up to me, rolls me over on my chest, and puts his knee into the back of my neck, smashing my face against the ground. He leans down close to my ear and says quietly:
“Now you’re going to feel the power of the Chicago police.”
He yanks me off the ground by my handcuffs, unwittingly pop-ping my arm back into the socket. At this point I’m dazed and sweating and realize I cannot say anything else. I’m just so relieved to be out of pain. The two uniformed cops stick me in their paddy wagon and transport me to the Addison and Halsted Street station in Boys town, while my car is impounded. The Latino and the blonde with the ponytail are waiting when I get there. From what I can gather, the other two TACs are not present.
I refuse to answer any questions during the booking process. I remain completely silent. In my mug shot, I cross my arms in defiance, staring straight into the camera, clearly communicating This is total bullshit and you know it.
Later, while I sit cuffed to the wall in the TAC office on the second floor, another female officer, apparently at random, says tome, “You people think it’s fun to hurl bags of piss and shit at us?That’s what we have to deal with. You’re a bunch of cowards.”
I have no idea what she is talking about, or who she means by “you people.”29 What becomes abundantly clear, however, is that they think I am someone else, part of something that clearly threatens them, and this bust is their way of somehow retaliating.
I am charged with DUI, “Following Too Close,” and “No Proof of Insurance.” In the morning, after my prints clear federal BCI, I am released ROR on an I-Bond and informed by the booking officer that my driver’s license has been “summarily suspended” because I “refused a field sobriety test.”
It was only the beginning.
A PRIMER ON THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT
In 2007 the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School published a staggering condemnation of the Chicago Police Department. The formal study, The Chicago Police Department’s Broken System, concluded that, compared to the national average, Chicago police officers are the subject of more brutality complaints per officer, but that the Chicago Police Department is far less likely to pursue any disciplinary action.
This report by one of the world’s preeminent law schools opened with an unforgettable story that tragically has become all too common throughout the nation’s third largest police force:
“In 2003 and 2004, Diane, a fifty-year-old African American school janitor and mother of three, was subjected to multiple acts of abuse by a group of Chicago police officers. These officers were members of an elite tactical [TAC] team that patrolled public housing on Chicago’s south side. Known as the “Skullcap Crew”to local residents, they had a reputation for racist and sadistic behavior. Over the course of the year that they targeted Diane for abuse, they forced her, on two separate occasions, to disrobe and bare the most private parts of her body. They threatened her with a loaded gun, needle-nosed pliers, and a screwdriver, leaving her convinced that they planned to rape and kill her. They beat and choked her. They hurled racial and gender-based epithets toward her. They tore up her home. They desecrated religious objects sacred to her. They threatened to plant drugs on her and to falsely arrest her. They beat her teenage son. They brought a middle-aged African American neighbor into her home and forced her son to beat the older man for their amusement. Diane was subjected to these assaults on multiple occasions, despite initiating complaints with the Chicago Police Department (CPD).The officers denied any contact whatsoever with Diane, and the CPD failed to sustain any of her complaints.”
The Mandel Clinic spent six years on the study, working closely with a local author/activist named Jamie Kalven and the residents of the Stateway Gardens public housing community where Diane lived. Their goal was to document the countless human rights abuses by the Chicago Police and offer an “advocacy and self-help program focused on issues of police accountability.” 30
What they found was that poor blacks in Chicago experience“ a different Constitution from that which we studied in our class-rooms,” one that made them subject to constant and unending“ aggressive stop and frisks, street interrogations, and the searches of community members’ homes.” These abuses were justified (at least in the minds of the police) by the War on Drugs, which the report states, “created the context for human rights abuses on a grander scale” such that “police misconduct that would constitute a dramatic and newsworthy event in . . . many of the [predominantly white] communities from which we came was a routine reality at [housing projects like] Stateway.” 31
A year before they released their report, the Mandel Clinic filed a federal lawsuit against the CPD, resulting in a detailed federal probe. The investigation revealed that more than 600 officers had more than ten complaints filed against them during a five-year period. The number of police abuse and misconduct reports the CPD was fielding was astronomical, and soon there was such a backlog that it required hiring outside investigators to help catch up.32
In an attempt to placate growing public rancor, the CPD offered up its most egregious and least protectable offenders, an “elite” drug and gang unit called the Special Operations Section (SOS). TheSOS were already under federal investigation on charges ranging from burglary, robbery, home invasion, and armed violence to liter-ally thousands of false arrests.33 It was easy for Daley the Younger to single them out as a “rogue operation” and use the old “bad apples” argument, but the move was so transparent.34 The truth was becoming undeniable: the CPD was rotten to the core.
Of course, this ability to see and comprehend the truth about the CPD (or most other major metropolitan police forces) remains obscured and distorted at the class level. Most middle-and-upper-income people, particularly if they are white, routinely express shock, disbelief, and outright denial of the exhaustively documented patterns of police brutality and misconduct. Most middle-and-upper-income people are more than happy to have them around.
Such reactions of course make sense, even though they directly support the assertion that the police exist to protect private property and enforce the class system, rather than the naïve belief that police exist altruistically “To Serve and Protect.” Even those who do join law enforcement out of a sense of altruism quickly dis-cover the abuse, racism, and corruption that is endemic in the police state.
If there’s one central theme here it’s that challenging or maligning the police is some seriously risky business. Although this critique is not meant as a blanket indictment of police, writ large, it’s important, when reading through this, to keep in mind a few essential details.
Two generations of the American middle class have grown up with the omnipresent specter of crime as a central feature of the media landscape. This myth of the “dangerous city” relies on the constant inundation of Black and Latino mugshots as symbols of this crime. Consequently, even though most cities are statistically safe when we look at crime as a whole, they are still considered violent and dangerous places. This media- and politician-driven myth is used to justify and excuse these unconstitutional police state policies.
The truth is that crime levels peaked in the mid-1970s and early 1990s, and have since steadily declined.35 The only exception are nonviolent drug crimes, which have multiplied exponentially. By 2009 homicides in major metros like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Dallas were at their lowest levels since the early 1960s.36 In most American cities the bulk of violent crime is either domestic or gang related, the latter concentrated in a few densely populated, disproportionately poor neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, ask your average single white female living in a big city what her #1 fear is and it is being assaulted while alone on the street. Ask her to describe her possible assailant, and odds are she’ll point to some nearby homeless black guy.
There are also two strata of police in most major metropolitan departments: the regular uniformed officers, who handle beats, direct traffic, give speeding tickets, and answer domestic complaints; and the drug and gang tactical officers and detectives, who exist in a wholly separate culture. I have known many cops in my life, and they come in all shapes and sizes and belief systems, but the one commonality amongst virtually every Chicago TAC I have ever met or crossed paths with was a pronounced tendency for sociopathic behavior. In short, they lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and torture and are often more violent and dangerous than the criminals they target. They are little more than a well-armed and protected gang, and as you will see, they will stop at nothing to cover their asses.
SOME LESS THAN FLATTERING HISTORY
Although they have never been considered choir boys in their hundred-plus years of existence, the contemporary image of the Chicago Police Department begins in 1968 with Daley the Elder’s“shoot to kill” order during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Apparently, not enough rioting Negroes were killed to appease the rabid Daley, so he chided the police for what he considered “excessive restraint.”37 This public humiliation, along with a growing cultural schism, set the stage for the police riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention that August. By any account this was a malicious and premeditated act of cultural warfare.38
That atrocity was followed a year later by the assassination of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Working at the behest of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover under the auspices of COINTELPRO, the Chicago police stormed Hampton’s home and shot him and Clark to death while they slept. AnFBI informant working in the Panther inner circle had drugged Hampton and Clark first to ensure they could not fight back. The police lied and claimed they were engaged in a “defensive gun battle” with Hampton, and then engaged, along with the district attorney’s office, in an elaborate and thoroughly preposterous coverup.39
That was Chicago’s darkest period. To this day the police have shown no remorse about the Democratic Convention riot. In fact,in the summer of 2009 a group of former cops on duty the night of the police riot held a 40th reunion (a year late) that was advertised on a website called ChicagoRiotCops.com. They portrayed demonstrators as “scum” and “Marxist street thugs” and told ridiculous tales of “bags of urine and feces, and bricks that were thrown at them, . . . heavy glass ashtrays dropped on them from hotel windows high above . . . nail-spiked rubber balls left behind their car tires and sometimes thrown at them.”40
Thankfully, and almost shockingly, the media still manages to keep the record straight about Chicago ’68 for one important reason: the police also turned on the press and beat them too,committing their fatal mistake.
Over the next 20 years, as the city struggled to recover its image, crime began its steady upward climb, as too did the struggle for justice within the black community. In response, the Chicago police would beat, torture, and falsely imprison hundreds of mostly African American men, abuses that eventually led to a case being brought before the Human Rights panel at the Organization of American States.41
During most of those years, the police commissioner was the repugnant sociopath John Burge. Burge applied to the almost exclusively African American group of murder suspects torture and interrogation techniques he had learned during the Vietnam War, which were originally used on Vietnamese POWs. Electric shock applied to a man’s testicles was his favorite method. Although Burge was forced into retirement in 1993 after the Illinois Supreme Court investigation concluded that he and his men had carried out years of “systematic torture,”charges were never filed against him, and any attempts to bring him or his cohorts to justice were thwarted. He spent most of his retirement in Florida on a full police pension, courtesy of the taxpayers of Chicago, while the police union paid all of Burge’s legal bills.
A 2006 report by the Special State’s Attorney of Cook County, considered to be the definitive opinion on the Burge case, concluded that there were “some” torture cases for which they could justify seeking new indictments, and that Burge was guilty of such abuse, but the issue was moot since the statute of limitations had expired decades ago, and no prosecution could be brought legally.
On October 21, 2008, however, Burge was arrested at his home near Tampa on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a civil case filed by a group of his torture victims. After avoiding the light of accountability for nearly two decades, he finally took the stand for the first time to answer those charges on June 17, 2010. He denied ever laying a hand on any suspect, and pumped out a few crocodile tears for fallen comrades.42 Indirectly, the perjury conviction was a legal admission that Burge did in fact torture.43
The following week, some measure of justice was finally achieved when Burge was found guilty on all counts. He was eventually sentenced to four and a half years of Federal time. He is now currently known in the Bureau of Prisons register as Federal Inmate #50504-018.
In the late 1990s, the Chicago police developed an interesting habit of shooting unarmed black motorists. An Amnesty International report issued in September 1999 states:
“In June 1999, LaTanya Haggerty, a 19-year-old passenger in a car pulled over by Chicago police after a short chase, was shot dead when officers mistook the cell-phone in her hand for a gun. . . A day after the Haggerty shooting, Chicago police officers shot dead Robert Russ, a former college football player, after he refused to get out of his car after a pursuit. He was shot when an officer smashed the car window and pointed his gun directly into the car . . . Both Haggerty and Russ were black.44 ”
The year before the Amnesty report was released Chicago police officers shot 71 people, the highest annual total in a decade, despite a significant fall in homicides. The report went on to state that most of the officers committing these shootings or other similarly extreme abuses of authority either never faced charges, were acquitted, or had their sentences reduced after the fact, presumably when the incidents had faded from public memory.
Also in 1999, the Medill Innocence Project, based at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, exonerated death row inmate Anthony Porter, starting a chain reaction that raced through the entire American capital punishment system. Within a year then-Governor George Ryan emptied Illinois’s death row and declared a moratorium on the death penalty. In dispute were many of the convictions highlighted in the John Burge case, whose trails led inexorably to former attorney general and then-Mayor (until 2011) Richard Daley the Younger.
The intersecting issues that led to Chicago’s culture of police brutality are the legacies of racism and segregation that have characterized this city since its founding, inculcated to multiple generations. So deep were the racial divisions ingrained into our collective psyches that they became manifest when Richard Daley the Elder bore the policy into the earth and laid out the new interstate highway system along racial boundaries, dividing the city into ethnic enclaves.Across the Dan Ryan Expressway from their beloved Bridgeport, in what used to be the vibrant Bronzeville strip, the Daley clan then watched as the behemoth Robert Taylor housing projects rose. Into these vertical egg crates were crammed more poor African Americans per square foot than anywhere else in the nation.
Over time, Chicago developed an institutionalized process of containing and managing poor blacks in what would become a majority African American city. In order for a new generation of developers to step in and begin rebuilding the bombed-out city with private capital, the current residents had to be viewed as an infestation to be removed. Crime and the War on Drugs were the justifying factors that set into motion a total retooling of the police department into a systematic brutalizing force. They would eventually grow to such a position of cocksureness that they would begin pushing the limits of their own credulity, as my case would quickly show.
In the aftermath of my assault and false arrest, I was somewhat panicked. I didn’t exactly know what to do, but one thing I did know was that I needed a lawyer. My friend and fellow activist Bryan Brickner recommended Peter Vilkelis, a Chicago criminal defense attorney who handled mostly drug cases. Pete was also a member of the legal advisory council of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He was Chicago through and through, born and raised, and had a comprehensive understanding of the cops and the courts. In a milieu replete with sharks and cash-and-carry slimeballs, Pete was a refreshing breath of consciousness.
When we met to discuss my case, he figured out the deal quickly.
“Seems clear to me these cops were trying to teach you a lesson.They see you’re connected to some activist group they got a beef with, and they decide to send a message through you. It’s gonna be a tough one with your record, but it would be my pleasure to take this case, pro bono.”
Pete set about getting ahold of the police report. When the paperwork finally arrived in his office he called me and told me I had to see it myself to believe it.
The Latino officer who assaulted me was named DeJesus. In the original arrest report written on the scene, DeJesus states:
“Above subject stopped for a traffic violation. As A/ODeJesus was speaking to driver, A/O smelled a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on subject’s breath. A/O instructed subject to exit vehicle at which time subject stated “FuckYou–You have no rights over me based on the Constitution.”Subject then exited vehicle, stumbling as exiting. Refused field sobriety test. Placed in custody and advised of Miranda.Name check clear via computer—Has I.D.”
The report also states that I identified myself as “Freedom Fighter” and then refused to volunteer any further information.
“You didn’t seriously say your name was ‘Freedom Fighter’?” Pete said, laughing.
“You don’t seriously think I did?” I responded.
Pete continued. “The report initially stated that you did not resist arrest. Then, that was scratched out and ‘Yes’ was checked and circled.”
“That’s certainly interesting, and definitely bullshit.”
“That’s not all.”
He pointed to a tiny, hastily scribbled line sandwiched in between two other lines. It read:
Subject pulled away several times as A/Os attempted to place him in custody.
“It’s pretty clear to me,” Pete said, “when you look at the next report that that line was added later, and the box for ‘resisting arrest’ was changed then too. Here’s what the next report states. It was written later at the station.”
He hands me a much cleaner document, written in the same handwriting, by Officer J. DeJesus:
“Subject Following A/O’s Vehicle too close breaking suddenly to avoid striking A/O’s. Traffic stop ensued and subject had strong odor of alcoholic beverage on breath.Subject instructed to exit vehicle but refused and stated “Fuck You—You Have No Rights Over Me Based onThe Constitution.” Subject then exited vehicle falling down & stumbling. Refused Field Sobriety Test. Placed in Custody for DUI-Alcohol. Subject attempted to pull away several times. Subject began yelling “Hale had the Right Idea—You have no authority over me—Fuck the Government.”
I looked up at Pete and could see he was visibly amused by this.
Don’t fuck with the Jesus, man, I mumbled to myself.
“It appears that with each successive report, you get drunker, and more dangerous,” Pete said, “which I love because apparently this is you so drunk you can’t stand.”
He tossed me a copy of my mugshot, and just as I stated earlier,I’m staring at the camera, arms crossed in defiance, with a very clear expression of This is total bullshit and you know it.
“You were so drunk you couldn’t stand, so they placed you in custody, and then you tried to pull away in your car. But my favorite touch is the ‘Hale’ line.”
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” I said. “You mean like Nathan Hale? I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country?”
“That’s what I thought at first, but then I remembered something that happened the day before your arrest. I think they mean Matt Hale.”
“You gotta be kidding me?”
“These guys are obviously not scholars.”
There are but precious few moments in life when you hold in your hand proof that those with authority abused it and lied to cover it up. This was one of those moments. All those TACs needed to do was claim that they pulled me over drunk, and I refused a sobriety test. With my previous record of drug convictions, there’s no way a judge would believe me if I disputed the charges. But for some totally unexplainable reason, they chose to fabricate this ridiculous tale, and in their ignorance of politics and current events, they set themselves up for one hell of an embarrassment.
Permit me to explain.
Matt Hale is a white supremacist and former Southern Illinois University law student who founded the white separatist “World Church of the Creator.” In 1999 Hale was denied a license to practice law in Illinois when the Bar Committee refused to certify that he had the “requisite moral character and fitness to practice law in Illinois.” It was clear his racist views were the reason he was denied.
Two days after the Bar ruling a follower of Hale’s named Benjamin Smith went on a shooting rampage in the Chicago area, killing nine Orthodox Jews, a Korean student, and Ricky Byrdsong, the beloved African American coach of the Northwestern University men’s basketball team. Hale used the subsequent media frenzy to cement his status as “one of the best-known leaders on the far right.” He stated that America should be inhabited by only whites, and that there must be a race war to cleanse the continent.45
Around that time Hale had become embroiled in a trademark dispute with an Oregon church that bore the same name as Hale’s church. The federal judge who presided over the case was Joan Humphrey Lefkow, a liberal judge appointed by Bill Clinton. Lefkow ruled Hale had to stop using the name “World Church of the Creator” and ordered the destruction of all their printed materials. Hale then counter-sued Lefkow, claiming her order violated the Constitution. While their case was pending, Hale solicited his bodyguard, an undercover FBI informant, to kill Lefkow.46 Hale was arrested and charged. On April 26, 2004, two days before my run-in with the TAC squad, he was found guilty, and a year later was sentenced to 40 years. He is serving his term in a prison inColorado, where he is prisoner number 15177-424.
“It’s pretty clear to me,” Pete says, “that these guys are figuring that any judge you go before will read what you supposedly said,that you support a Neo-Nazi who tried to have his judge killed, and they will drop the hammer on you.”
“Hence the ‘fuck the government . . . you have no rights over me based on the Constitution’ nonsense?”
“I think so.”
There is only one other TAC listed on the report, an officer “N. Isakson.” The report does not indicate if this was the female, or one of the two other males. Two go unaccounted for, and we have no idea who they are.
“Was there anything left in your car when you got it out of impound? Any of those fliers?”
“No. It was cleaner than I left it.”
“I suppose that’s one small benefit of the grand it took to get the car out.”
“I had an unopened bottle of champagne in the trunk and they took that too.”
“Well, that doesn’t surprise me.”
“So what do we do?”
“At the very least, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove you’re not a white supremacist. Let’s just hope the judge in this case doesn’t share the same feelings about activists as these yahoos.”
The police assault once again left me completely violated. The incident re-triggered a deep post-traumatic response, and set my healing progress back a long way. The bogus police report was the coup de grâce. Whatever amusement I felt over the attempted Matt Hale connection was sufficiently exhausted by my rage at their arrogance and the way they flaunted and abused their power. What drove my blinding anger was that I was innocent. I was innocent,and it didn’t matter. Every single word in that police report was a lie, and yet, the burden of proof fell upon my shoulders, and odds were I was going to lose, because I had a conviction record.
It wasn’t just the specifics of my case that enraged me, either. It was our cultures’ pervasive illusions about our justice system. I was amused that DeJesus included the line about having given my “Miranda warning,” a legal advisement of rights. In all my experiences with police I have never once heard a cop say, You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . . .
The Miranda Law only exists on television series like Law & Order, and in paperwork like this. I very much doubt anyone has ever gone free because they did not receive their Miranda warning. Yet many middle- and upper-class whites believe this urban legend,which began with the vigilante films of the 1970s like the DirtyHarry and Death Wish series. These were popular with the “tough on crime” crowd, and the intention of these highly reactionary films was to create a climate of opinion that “criminals” had “too many protections” and were “getting away with murder.”
The ultimate goal was to implement harsher and more punitive criminal justice codes, while steadily eroding basic constitutional protections. Not because “crime,” per se, was out of control,but rather, the American system itself seemed to be crashing and burning, and there needed to be increasingly harsh measures implemented to maintain order.
In the 1970s crime was escalating as a result of desperate economic conditions—a stagnant economy and increasing inflation known as “Stagflation”—and an institutionalized culture of violence and criminality that was permeating society from the topdown. It was those in the highest positions of power who had most abused the protections of the law. These were the people who, under a shield of legalese, murdered millions of poor people in Southeast Asia, fomented coups in Chile, Brazil, and Argentina,and assassinated dozens of political opponents at home, like Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Martin Luther King Jr., and John and Robert Kennedy.
As the economy grew worse and worse (a consequence of official policies) the government took it out on the poorest sector of society, who were the worst affected, and the most angered. Things were bad all over, but we blamed the victims, who were increasingly destitute and turning to crime. Polite society quickly grew both tired of their plight and afraid of the rising crime wave.This was only too easily manipulated by a government that needed public support for harsher and harsher methods of containing this unruly, but justifiably unruly, underclass.
The same pattern repeated itself in the late 1980s and early1990s, following the crack cocaine epidemic, where piecemealing low-level street dealers and gang members were portrayed as kingpins with endless resources. Once again policymakers, like Los Angeles City Attorney Kenneth Hahn, promoted the idea that offering these gang members any sort of legal protection “under the guise of upholding the constitution” would only result in “deadly blight.”47
The truth about the police is simple enough to find, if you care to look. Psychologists will tell you there is little difference between the cop psyche and the criminal psyche, because when you strip away the labels of cop and criminal what you are left with isa collection of sociopaths. If that assessment seems harsh, after all you’ve read here about the Chicago police, perhaps the following may finally cement your opinion.
THE ASSASSINATION OF MAY MOLINA
On May 26, 2004, one month after my arrest, the activist community in Chicago was dealt a devastating blow when May Molina-Ortiz, a 55-year-old, wheelchair-bound diabetic/asthmatic grandmother, died in police custody after her home was raided byTAC Squad officers from the same Addison and Halsted station as the lovely Officers DeJesus and Isakson. Although Molina had no history of involvement with drugs or drug dealing, the police claimed to have found 80 tinfoil packets of heroin in her home.
Molina was an activist and founder of Families of the Wrong-fully Convicted. Her son, Salvador Ortiz, had already served 16 years of a 47-year sentence for a murder he did not commit. In the month before she died Molina had opened an office on Chicago’s West Side as part of a larger campaign she was launching to draw public attention to police misconduct and wrongful convictions.48
On the night of my assault by the police, among the fliers found in my car were those belonging to Families of the Wrong-fully Convicted and Comite Exijimos Justicia (We Demand Justice Committee). These were what apparently caught the eye of theTACs. For several years these two groups had accused the Chicago Police Department of systemic brutality, misconduct, and the wrongful convictions of scores of innocent Latinos.
Following her arrest, protests ensued first outside the Addison and Halsted station and then outside the Belmont and Western lockup after Molina was transferred to await a bond hearing.Sometime within the next 28 hours she would die. Initially police and the coroner claimed her death was caused by “six undigested packets of heroin lodged in her esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.” No one from the police or coroner’s office could explain how someone in police custody for more than 28 hours could have had tinfoil packets of heroin lodged in her throat. A cursory study of anatomy shows that the esophagus is an involuntary reflux muscle, and things either go up or they go down, but do not remain stuck unless they were inserted postmortem.49
On June 16, 2004, Michael Ortiz, Molina’s other son who was arrested with her, was released by a judge who said none of the tinfoil packets had tested positive for any narcotics. The alleged “heroin” was actually wax found amongst candle-making supplies, which police claimed they mistook for drugs.50
The revelation was inconsequential. Molina was already out of the way,mission accomplished. A whole three months later a toxicology report conveniently surfaces claiming Molina was “intoxicated with heroin” at the time of her death, corroborating the bogus coroner’s report. Her death is eventually ruled “an accident.”51 Everyone who knew Molina denounces any insinuation that she used heroin.
Family and fellow activists claim Molina died from police mis-treatment. The implication is clear that the police, in their effort to cover up her death and support their heroin charge, forced the bags of heroin down her throat after she had been either killed or found dead. No charges were ever filed, and no one was ever investigated or reprimanded for what was done to her.
In late November of 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court ordered anew trial for Salvador Ortiz based on new eyewitness testimony. It was then revealed that in 2003 May Molina had discovered a new eyewitness to the crime.52 Her fatal mistake was taking it public too soon. It was this that the police were trying to thwart when they stormed her home and later killed her. The best her family has been able to do is file a wrongful death suit in federal court. It remains pending.
May Molina’s murder struck terror into my soul. I was absolutely convinced now that the police would stop at nothing to keep the depth of this scandal hidden. This meant that it was equally possible that they were going to do something drastic tome, to shut me up. So long as anyone had anything on them, they were vulnerable. This may be why they went to such ridiculous extremes as the “Freedom Fighter” story. What I did know was that I was scared, and I started to think it might not be such a bad idea for me to get out of Chicago for a while.
28 The Century of the Self, Part Three: “There Is a Policeman Inside
All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed” (BBC, 2002).
29 One thing that becomes immediately noticeable if you spend anytime in the direct action world is the prevalence of tales of “bags of urine and feces” that seem to proliferate in police departments around the country. These tales are told about protestors in the1999 WTO protests in Seattle. They have become as apocryphal as the tales among city doctors and nurses of fat women showing up in the ER complaining of abdominal pain who were unknowingly pregnant and in labor. These are crude attempts to demonize all demonstrators, as I would experience myself over the years as this bugaboo kept popping up wherever the protest movement
30 Craig Futterman and Melissa Mather, The Chicago Police Depart-
ment’s Broken System, Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, Univer-
sity of Chicago, November 14, 2007.
32 David Heinzmann and Steve Mills, “Cop Agency Seeks OutsideHelp to Deal with Backlog of Complaints,” Chicago Tribune, Jan-uary 16, 2008.
33 Libby Sander, “Chicago Revamps Investigation of Police Abuse,but Privacy Fight Continues,” The New York Times, July 20, 2007.
34 “List Documents Chicago Police Complaints,” Associated Press, July 18, 2007.
35 FBI Uniform Crime Statistics 1960–2008, www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm
36 “Many US Cities Record Lowest Homicide Totals Since 1960s,” City-Data.com, January 6, 2010 (cites multiple news reports).
37 “Chicago Examined: Anatomy of a Police Riot,” Time, December 6, 1968.
38 The 1968 Democratic Convention riots were exhaustively documented in David Farber’s book Chicago ’68 (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1994) and in Haskell Wexler’s film MediumCool, shot on location at the Convention protests. Much ofWexler’s outtake footage ended up in Brett Morgen’s 2007 docu-mentary, Chicago 10, which shows incontrovertible footage ofpolice attacking peaceful demonstrators.
39 Jeff Cohen and Jeff Gottlieb, “Was Fred Hampton Executed?” TheNation, November 30, 2009; The Murder of Fred Hampton, DVE,directed by Mike Gray and Howard Alk (1971; Chicago; Facet,2007) Chris Steele, “Panthers: The Truth About Fred Hampton’sMurder,” Denver Progressive Examiner, February 11, 2009; “TheMurder of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr. by Chicago Police andF.B.I.,” RGB Street Scholars, February 2010.
40 “Chicago Cops from 1968 Convention Hold Reunion,” Associ-ated Press, June 27, 2009; Murial Kane, “1968 Chicago Riot CopsSet to ‘Celebrate’ Mass Beatings,” The Raw Story, June 18, 2009.
41 “Probe Demanded into Alleged Chicago Police Torture,” Reuters,August 29, 2005; “Chicago Cops Tortured Blacks, Human RightsPanel Told,” Associated Press, October 14, 2005.
42 “Repeated Denials—and Sobs—As Burge Finally Takes Stand,”Chicago Tribune Breaking News, June 17, 2010.
43 “Burge Found Guilty of Lying About Torture,” Chicago TribuneBreaking News, June 28, 2010.
44 “United States of America: Race, Rights, and Brutality,” a reportby Amnesty International,
45 “Matt Hale Found Guilty of Soliciting Murder,” ADL ExtremismUpdates, April 27, 2004.
46 Jodi Wilgoren, “White Supremacist Is Held in Ordering Judge’sDeath,” The New York Times, January 9, 2003.
47 Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press (London; Verso, 1998),p. 77.
48 Nicole Colson, “Chicago Police Brutality,” ZNet, June 4, 2004.
49 Ibid.; Charles Shaw, “The Creeping Police State,” Newtopia, Feb-ruary 2005; Gerald Emmett, “Did the Chicago Police Murder May Molina Ortiz?” News & Letters, July 2004, www.newsletters.org
50 “Did the Chicago Police Murder May Molina Ortiz?”
51 David Heinzmann, “Activist’s Death Tied to Heroin,” Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2004.
52 Steve Schmadeke, “New Trial Ordered for Man in 1992 Lakeview Slaying: Inmate’s Late Mom Crusaded for Conviction’s Reversal,”Chicago Tribune, November 20, 2009.