Chicago: America’s Police Repression Capital

Stephen Lendman, Contributor
Activist Post

A personal note. Chicago’s my home. I live north of the Chicago River. It’s the traditional North/South dividing line. I’m close to where protests occurred on the Michigan Ave Bridge and nearby.

Cops were everywhere. In partial lockdown, my building was affected. Some residents felt unsafe to go out. With well-armed police in riot-gear, knowledgeable Chicagoans know the risks of getting in harm’s way.

Anyone can be targeted for any reason. Cops are notoriously brutal. They have carte blanche authority to operate with impunity. They take full advantage.

Victims pay dearly. They’re harassed, abused, beaten, detained, and falsely charged. From Friday through Monday, affected areas reflected battleground conditions. Sunday was worst of all.

I’ve lived here since 1969. Several months after arriving, police and FBI agents murdered Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark while they slept.

December 4, 1969 remains a day of infamy. It wasn’t the first or last. In his book FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Expose, M. Wesley Swearingen quoted FBI agent Gregg York saying:

We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black niggers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

Before he died, Hampton said: “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”

In his 1980 doctoral dissertation titled “War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America,” its co-founder Huey Newton wrote:

How many people’s lives were ruined in countless ways by a government intent on destroying them as representatives of an ‘enemy’ political organization.

“Enemy” ideas included full employment, decent housing and education, justice, peace, and ending police brutality.

It continues relentlessly. Tactics include beatings and torture. Chicago cops may be worst of all. From 1972 – 1991, detective Jon Burge got away with torturing over 200 detainees. Instead of dismissal and prosecution, he was promoted.

Dozens of victims complained. Suits followed. Finally, after 21 abusive years, he was fired. Community outrage stopped a March 1993 Fraternal Order of Police plan to honor him with a float in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

On October 21, 2008, he was indicted on two counts of obstructing justice and one count of perjury. On June 28, 2010, he was convicted on all counts. He’s the exception that proves the rule.

It took decades for partial justice. Few police are prosecuted, almost never one of high rank. Burge rose from street cop to detective commander. Over two decades, he got 13 commendations and a Justice Department letter of praise.

His crimes were well-known. A code of silence hid them. He was honored until his luck ran out. He got off mildly. He received four and half years in prison. Speaking for the Black community, Mark Clements said:

This is ridiculous. This is a smack in the face once again to the African-American community. This is a complete injustice.

He wasn’t charged with torture. With time off for good behavior, he’ll likely be freed next year. What about other victims of Chicago’s tortured past? Blacks and Latinos are most harmed. So are street protester activists.

For over 40 years, the People’s Law Office documented and “successfully (fought) for the civil rights of victims of police brutality, wrongful convictions, false arrests, and other government abuses.”

They defend activists wrongfully targeted for their political beliefs, organizing, and social justice activities. They and others spoke out against police tactics during NATO’s Chicago summit.

On May 21, a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) press release said:

Police instigated “unprovoked violence.” Mostly it occurred on Sunday. It was largely at the so-called NATO security perimeter. Video footage documented it.

NLG estimated at least 60 arrests and over two dozen “serious injuries.”

Most needed hospitalization. Cops show no mercy. Chicago ones prove it regularly. According to NLG’s Sarah Gelsomino:

Police completely overreacted to protesters approaching the security perimeter and unleashed a violent attack on them without an ability to disperse. 

Many of the injuries from the police attack were serious, including several people who sustained baton blows to the head.

Victims had head injuries, broken bones, and teeth knocked out. Those arrested were mostly nonviolent. Nonetheless, charges made include disorderly conduct, reckless conduct, resisting arrest, and failure to disperse from public streets they’re legally entitled to be on.

On May 22, the Chicago Tribune headlined “Summit ends without giving Chicago a black eye,” saying that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said:

We have reached another milestone in Chicago history. By hosting NATO….we have reinforced, reaffirmed and revitalized Chicago’s role on the world’s stage….(W)e’ve shown the world that we are a world-class, first-class city.

The city “didn’t devolve into 1968 redux,” said the Tribune. “It wasn’t the combustible” battle in Seattle. Police brutality victims have other views. Nonetheless, the commentary said “Chicago’s turn as host of the NATO summit could be declared a success.”

It “proved a one-weekend blip on the radar of a major urban metropolis used to crowds, conventions, dignitaries and hoopla.”

Chicago spent tens of millions of badly needed dollars hosting NATO. Last May, Emanuel announced draconian budget cuts. After one year in office, they mostly affect the city’s poor, public workers, schools, teachers, general services, healthcare, public housing and transportation.

His transitional report announced hundreds of millions in planned cuts during his first term. Pensions were cut for new hires and current employees. Their underfunded total approaches $15 billion.

Poor communities suffer grievously. They resemble underdeveloped nations. Black infant mortality matches the West Bank. Life expectancy replicates Egypt. Over one-fourth of Chicagoans have no health insurance. Black poverty and unemployment rage out of control.

Latino residents fare almost as poorly. The city’s dynamics favor its privileged much like most elsewhere across America.

At the same time, privatizing city services continues. Public schools are affected. Chicago remains business friendly. Ordinary Chicagoans lose out. More cuts are planned. Emanuel increased police visibility. They’re mandated to maintain order by any means.

Last May Garry McCarthy was appointed new superintendent. “Garry is ready to lead,” said Emanuel. His “experience spearheading innovation will bring new ideas to the Chicago Police Department.”

Previously he headed Newark’s police department (NPD). Last May, the US attorney said his administration was being investigated for excessive force, detainee mistreatment, discriminatory policing, and retaliation against individuals involved in monitoring police conduct.

In September 2010, the ACLU submitted NPD misconduct complaints to the Justice Department. It requested federal oversight. It said Newark paid $4.8 million since 2007 to settle 38 charges brought by city residents. Dozens of lawsuits were filed.

Emanuel likely wants Chicagoans treated the way Newark residents were under McCarthy. Perhaps he earned his bona fides during NATO summit weekend.

Chicago’s poor and minority populations already suffer enormously from deepening economic, social, and political hardships. The city’s privileged benefit greatly.

The other Chicago faces growing poverty, unemployment, home foreclosures, lack of affordable housing, appalling public schools, and police brutality.

It’s also the nation’s youth murder capital. In January, the Community Renewal Society said “more than 530” young people were killed since 2008. In Q I 2012, the toll rose 50% year-over-year.

Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected. Chicago’s homicide rate more than doubles New York and Los Angeles.

A new “sit-down/shut-up” ordinance increased fines for nonviolent civil disobedience. Peaceful protests are included. Other provisions mandate jail time and strict permit guidelines to demonstrate.

Organizers must provide descriptions of “any sound amplification or other equipment that is on wheels or too large to be carried by one person and description of the size and dimension of any sign, banner, or other attention-getting device that is too large to be carried by one person, to be used in connection with the parade.”

Enacted for NATO summit weekend, Emanuel declared it permanent. After one year in office, he’s already Chicago’s worst mayor.

He declared war on working Chicagoans. His draconian budget cuts are policy. So are privatizations and deregulation. Chicago’s run by marketplace rules.

Police brutality rages. Get tough on crime mandates reassigned 1,000 cops to largely poor Black and Latino neighborhoods. Disadvantaged Chicagoans never had it worse.

Step out of line and taste violence Chicago-style. Bad as things are now expect worse ahead. Publicly challenging city mandates risks cracked skulls, fines and jail time.

On Monday, a Chicago Tribune editorial said “(w)ell done, CPD.”

Despite locking down the city for days, disrupting life for downtown residents, excessive police brutality, false arrests, charging three innocent victims with “conspiring to commit domestic terrorism,” and overall police state thuggishness, Obama praised city officials during a Monday press conference, saying that Chicago “proved (it) knows how to put on a world-class event. (He) could not be prouder to welcome people from around the world.” Chicago showed “extraordinary hospitality” during NATO’s summit.

Street protesters attest to battleground conditions they faced. Residents, including this writer, experienced abusive disruptions.

NATO’s invasion was unwelcome. It is undisciplined and violent wherever it shows up. Brutalized Chicagoans experienced it firsthand. They won’t soon forget.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War

Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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