This is part two of two-part coverage on the People’s Hearing on Police Crimes. Part one can be found here.
CHICAGO – In part one, I presented the July 21st People’s Hearing on Police Crimes, introducing two major categories of police crime discussed at the event, murder and systematic torture. I also covered a third, interrelated category that was a central focus of the program: the near total impunity granted to police officers in Chicago, allowing them to brutalize, torture, and murder without the fear of consequences.
In part two I build upon these categories with a look at testimony by victims of attempted murder, assault, and false arrest in Chicago. I also report on instances in which the Chicago Police Department has served as an active arm of state and political repression. According to testimony, the police have in instances exercised this role upon the same individuals who advocate for greater police accountability in our system.
The lack of enforcement in cases of police crime, coupled with the targeted repression of those who seek to bring equality in the application of laws, is thus an example of the “ruthless pragmatism of power which secretly laughs at its own principles,” as philosopher Slavoj Žižek describes Russia’s current attempt to stifle activists.
In the cases of political repression testified to, police officers and institutions alike were said to intimidate, inflict pain, suffering, and even loss of freedom so as to preserve the surfeit of legal advantages they enjoy.
I conclude with some brief reflections on the People’s Hearing and a glance at the movement that will address these significant issues.
Attempted Murder, Assault, and False Arrest
Rosalind Morgan, the wife of Howard Morgan, spoke on behalf of the Free Howard Morgan Campaign.
On the night of February 21, 2005, Chicago police pulled over Howard Morgan a block from his home for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Morgan had been a Chicago police officer for 14 years before becoming a railroad detective, a position he had held for 8 years.
Police claim that Morgan, off-duty at the time, exited his vehicle and opened fire on the officers with his service weapon. Morgan on the other hand “testified that he was ‘snatched’ from his van by the officers and searched, then heard ‘gun! gun!’ before a hail of bullets left him unconscious,” writes David Protess. Morgan’s version of events was corroborated by an independent witness during trial.
Chicago police officers shot Morgan 28 times, including 21 times in his back. Somehow, he survived. Officers proceeded to charge Morgan with attempted murder and others charges, including aggravated battery and discharging a firearm.
“Four white officers and one black Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad police man with his weapon on him – around the corner from our home – and he just decided to go crazy? No. That’s ludicrous,” said Rosalind Morgan in an interview with the Sun-Times.
Even though a jury in 2007 found that Morgan did not handle or fire his gun at any time during the incident, it deadlocked on the attempted murder charge.
“Mr. Howard Morgan was shot 28 times, a railroad police officer, a seasoned police officer, that did not commit the crime, found not guilty in the first trial, acquitted of shooting his weapon,” said Rosalind Morgan at the People’s Hearing.
Yet Morgan, 61, was retried in 2012 and, in a ruling that defies logic, was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Chicago police destroyed vital clues in the case, even crushing Morgan’s van before it was tested for forensic evidence.
“We are here today to let you know: if they can do it to Howard Morgan…” said Rosalind Morgan. “Double-jeopardy, take you back to trial, after you’ve been found not guilty for shooting your weapon, if you’re not guilty for shooting your weapon [...] then my god why does the first degree attempted murder still stand to your name?”
On the morning of Friday, January 13, 2012, Jess Caver was walking from his South Loop, Chicago residence to work at Rush Presbyterian Hospital, just as he had every other morning, when he was suddenly detained by a swarm of University of Illinois police. With Caver spread against a police car, surrounded by officers, a white female pointed at Caver from the back of a squad car and said “that’s him,” identifying Caver “as the man who came out of the building.”
“I’m thinking, ‘this is just a dream,’” said Caver on the surreal events of that morning.
Caver was turned over to Chicago Police and charged with criminal trespass. He was booked, strip searched, and held over the weekend for bond the next Monday. All charges were ultimately dismissed after a third court appearance in which the complaining witness failed to appear for a third time.
Fred Hampton Jr., founder of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee, appeared before the People’s Hearing with a visibly distraught woman who had witnessed Chicago police officers beat and taser her boyfriend, Antonio Hood, on July 19th.
“This situation happened 2 days ago on 79th and Laflin [in Chicago],” said Hampton. “I want to stress this because we wait until stuff is safe to talk about. I don’t want to sit here 40 years from now, talking about how bad it was. Let’s seize the time now. This is a situation that just happened. I am not talking about back in the 60s, I’m talking about 2 days ago, literally. Not Afghanistan, 79th and Laflin.”
After the beating, Hood was arrested and charged with obstructing justice.
Stephanie Weiner testified on behalf of her husband Joe Iosbaker and victims of a FBI raid in September 2010. Twenty-five federal agents working in conjunction with local law enforcement agents searched the home of Iosbaker and Weiner for 11 hours. Agents confiscated computers, searched their music collection, and systematically collected every piece of paper in the residence, including artwork by their children.
“They went through my teenage son’s t-shirt collection and put them into 2 piles, ‘controversial’ and ‘not controversial,’” said Weiner. “I can make you laugh about the craziness that happened, but as everyone here knows, it’s very real.”
Weiner and Iosbaker had spent years working on wrongful conviction cases and police accountability before turning attention to the peace movement.
“What they’re really trying to do is put the fear in the peace movement, and to slice-and-dice and to keep us busy,” said Weiner.
Neither has been indicted and all confiscated items have been returned.
Matt McLaughlin of Occupy Chicago spoke about police repression of the Occupy movement, culminating in the widespread police violence and targeted intimidation of protesters at the NATO summit in Chicago this past May.
“Across the country, the Occupy movement has faced massive amounts of police repression, everything from tear gassings to mass arrests,” said McLaughlin. “What’s happened in Chicago really hasn’t been much different. During the NATO summit, we saw mass beatings occurring to my brothers and sisters in the streets who were trying to highlight the fact that our mayor spent $60 million creating a police state in our city when many of our social services are being cut.”
McLaughlin spoke about the arrest of the NATO 5 just days before the summit, when State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez took the unprecedented step of prosecuting five young activists under a never-used before Illinois anti-terrorism law. Michael Deutsch of the National Lawyers Guild and the People’s Law Office in Chicago described the charges as “fabricated.”
“What happened was entirely predictable, as part of a script we see rolled out anytime people rise up and try to tell the powers that be that the world we live in needs to change,” said McLaughlin.
“They can all be facing life imprisonment for crimes that they didn’t commit,” he said. “They were set up much like the people we see set up every day on the south and west sides of this city.”
McLaughlin also spoke to the non-violent character of the accused, stating that the goal of the prosecution was to intimidate individuals from participating in peaceful political movements that seek change.
“These are great guys,” said McLaughlin, noting that Brian Church was a street medic and was attending college to become an EMT. “These were not the making of terrorists, they were good kids, they could have been just about anybody.”
Evelyn Johnson of We Care spoke briefly about the police intimidation she experienced after she spoke out against alleged Chicago police complicity in the murders of her three grandsons over a three year period. “I no longer live in Englewood because of intimidation by the police department,” said Johnson.
Muhammad Sankari of the Arab-Action Network addressed the militarization of municipal police departments and the targeting of Muslims under the pretense of anti-terrorism measures.
“The laws that they try to pass directly effect what happens on the south side of Chicago,” said Sankari. “One of the reasons why cops have armor piercing bullets and look more like military personnel fighting a war and not the people who are supposed to be serving and protecting the community is because they can use the lies of terrorism and false threat to beef up and pour millions of dollars into militarizing the police that are patrolling the streets right here.”
Khalid Abdullah of the National Jericho Movement spoke about the United States government’s COINTELPRO or Counter Intelligence Program, in effect from 1956 until 1971, when files on the extensive secret program were removed from an FBI office and distributed to the media.
Documents showed that the FBI had spied on civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., and individuals and organizations mobilized against the US war in Vietnam. Sources also show that the FBI was engaged in false arrests, intimidation, and actively sought to muddy the reputations of prominent activists.
“COINTELPRO was the ultimate police crime,” said Abdullah. “And I say that because, until this day, there are hundreds of people who have been locked up for no other reason than trying to put an end to the state of repression and tyranny that we suffer under today.”
According to Abdullah, COINTELPRO continues today in expanded, more secretive, and more insidious forms, despite claims that the program had been halted after its public outing in 1971.
Kamm Howard of the Amos Wilson Institute touched upon the fact that the existence of police institutions is a recent historical phenomenon, dating back only a few hundred years, instituted to “patrol the byways and highways to prohibit African people from freeing themselves from enslavement.”
“How is every interaction with the police nationwide for the last 200-plus years, where African life is lost, justified?” said Howard, citing figures from the Independent Police Review Authority, which sustained only 47 of the 9,000 complaints of Chicago police misconduct in the prior year. “It can only be justified if they’re doing their job,” which is to “thwart the humanity” of people of African descent.
In my work on the People’s Hearing, I felt a special affinity with fellow victims of police crimes and their families. Though we each have had a unique relationship to police crime, we share the experience as survivors and victims beseeching the system to adjudicate its own excesses, a process that itself becomes the system’s ultimate excess, replete with myriad juridical and legislative shrugs and silences that grant police officers systematic, pathological power in the form of radical impunity.
We drew considerable strength from each other.
The People’s Hearing, moderated by Cherese Williams of Cabrini-Green Legal Aid and Lew Myers of the Criminal Justice Program at Kennedy-King College, allowed individuals to courageously voice their experience with various forms of police injustice. Some had to overcome the shame and stigma of police crime victimization to speak out and demand change to a room filled beyond capacity.
Even elected officials present at the Hearing, such as 15th Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes, talked about the need for resilience in the face of the potential backlash for speaking out.
“If… If, they come after me… And I don’t know why, but sometimes you get a little call or something,” said Foulkes. “But I have to stand on what I believe. And what I was taught is that wrong is wrong.”
Frank Chapman addressed the need for change and spoke of the movement to come.
“The police are out of control,” said Chapman. “Maybe we don’t have the answer. But we do know that [IPRA] is not the answer. We need to fight against the police continually acting with impunity. They’re being criminal.”
Chapman added that the goal of the hearing was to build a movement to pass legislation for establishing a civilian control board of the Chicago Police Department to end the reign of impunity.
“This is an alliance. That means an organization of different groups, different nationalities. We are multi-racial, we are multi-national, and also we come from different political positions,” said Chapman. “So we can put those positions aside and fight for this one thing.”
Those who spoke agreed that the People’s Hearing was only a beginning.
“Right now, the Alliance and all of us have come together, we have spoken today, we must continue to galvanize our talents, get on the internet, find out what is going on, we’re walking in faith, because we stand to run this race,” said Rosalind Morgan. “If it happened to you […] will you turn your back to it and turn yourself in shame? No, turn yourself back around and say ‘today I will gain, where I have lost, I will gain. Where I was downtrodden I will stand up.’”
“This is not an event, this is a movement,” said Jeff Baker. “We are going to show that there is power in numbers.”