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Humbolt Park Fights Cop Frame-Ups

by Stephanie Weiner |
September 18, 2000
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Chicago, IL - There's no question that police targeted the Humboldt Park neighborhood this past summer. There's also no question that the Humboldt Park neighborhood fought back.

On July 19 a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting killed a 12-year-old bystander, Miguel De La Rosa. Police arrested Joseph Lopez for the shooting. Hours later there was already talk of him facing the death penalty. In response, his family and neighbors made their own flyer and held a press conference in front of their house to say that the police had arrested the wrong person. After 4 days of this pressure, Joseph Lopez was cleared of all charges and released while police turned their attention to other suspects.

Instead of an apology to the Lopez family, Mayor Daley blamed the community, stating, "The police's mistake was the fault of Humboldt Park residents for having a 'code of silence' towards the police."

Justice for Kevin Morales

That same night, a few blocks away, Chicago police shot, beat, and killed 17-year-old Kevin Morales. Witnesses say the final shots were fired after he was handcuffed. When neighbors came out to see what had happened, two youths trying to help Morales were arrested during the 30 minute wait for the ambulance. In the following days, police arrested at least 8 more people who were protecting the memorial of flowers, photos, and candles set up on the place where Kevin Morales was killed. At one point, police used mace and three police wagons to disperse the mourners.  

Sweeps - no way!

On August 5, police used the original drive-by death of Miguel De La Rosa to justify sending in an extra 100 parole agents to Chicago. The crackdown was so large that the Area 5 Police Station set up a mobile command center van to handle the hundreds of residents brought in for drug tests.

On September 9, the Humboldt Park community responded by holding a rally and march to the 14th District police station. Ruth Peña, a speaker at the rally, explained the reason for the increased police presence in her neighborhood, "Humboldt Park is a neighborhood fast being gentrified. We're being pushed out by the expensive Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood to the east and Logan Square to the north. But we won't be pushed out - not by realtors, not by police targeting all Latino and Black youth, and not by prisons looking to make a profit."

March to the station

Efrain Sierra, stepfather of Kevin Morales, confronted a police commander when the 100-plus marchers reached the police station. "I want the names of the officers who did this! I want them prosecuted! I want the medical reports! I want justice!" he said as he handed over the rally demands. The fight-back for justice was echoed by the family of Joseph Lopez, "We don't want this to happen to anyone else again."

Families speak out and win

Many families at the rally spoke about the frame-ups of young neighborhood men for murders they did not commit. The Comite Exigimos Justicia (We Demand Justice Committee) knows of 10 cases where Detective Reynaldo Guevara at Area 5 framed their family members. The committee has collected over 20 cases so far. In not one of the cases was there any physical evidence that connected these men to the crimes.

One of the men in those cases, Mario Flores, is now on death row. Esther Hernandez, who has one son facing a 100 year sentence and another son facing trial in November, said, "I have confidence that justice will be done in both my sons' cases." Ruth Peña, a founder of the Comite agrees. "My brother was framed by Guevara and convicted to 60 years." She smiles and announces to the crowd, "But we protested and we won! My brother's case was reversed and now he is free. There's more victories ahead."

"Whatever I can do for the people"

One week later, on September 16, Ruth's brother, the newly released Angel Rodriguez, attended a march to demand justice for Freddy Mason Jr., a gay black man who was raped by an officer while in police custody. Rodriguez says, "Finally, people are starting to fight back. They are starting to see how bad the system is. Whatever I can do for the people, that's what I want to do." He finishes with a message for the guys in jail, "Hang in there, the truth will come out."