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Commentary

New Face of Police Terror

by Stephanie Weiner |
September 1, 2003
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Chicago, IL - Philip Cline, Acting Superintendent of the Chicago Police, was asked about Mayor Daley’s policing plan in the African-American Harrison District. “It makes our job easier,” he said, “like shooting fish in a barrel.”

That same night, a Chicago cop, firing through the open window of his squad car, shot and killed Shurron Grant, a 23-year old Black man. Family members say Grant was unarmed and leaving a party. The angry Englewood neighborhood crowd threw rocks and bottles at the police cars. The police retaliated with more gunfire and arrests. For the first time in memory, police dogs trained to attack were brought to the scene.

By Saturday morning, the area was locked down. Church leaders were calling on residents to stay inside, while a delegation of Grant’s family and activists went to the police station. Two people were arrested for standing outside the station door!

These events are a part of the true story behind Chicago’s famous murder rate and what Mayor Daley is doing about it. 665 homicides have made Chicago known as the top murder city in the nation. Daley wants to reduce this number in order to lure suburban, white, upper and middle-class people back into the inner city, after a 35-year trend of their moving out. He spent the last city dollars on a handful of trophy schools, flower boxes, high-end park sculpture and music festivals. Finally, Daley stood at the city border with corporate free-ride money offers.

At the same time, Mayor Daley has the same job as every other big city mayor - in the eyes of the ruling class, the people who are locked out of the wealth must be controlled. The Black Panthers called the police an ‘occupying army’ for a reason. Chicago’s Black community - 37% of the city’s population and hit hardest by exploding unemployment and cuts in services - is a tinderbox in Daley’s eyes. The Black middle class is offered small buy-offs and everyone else is given the police nightstick.

To keep African Americans and Latinos down, there is an all out criminalization of the youth of those communities. By the year 2010, the Justice Department projects that 7.7 million people will have served prison time. The projection says that Black males will have a 1 in 3 chance of doing time, compared with 1 in 6 for Hispanic males and 1 in 17 for white males.

Mayor Daley is using the same police model that New York used. This model, or something like it, is now used in Detroit, Minneapolis, and even exported to Mexico City. In a very public event in June, the mayor sent out 100 officers in a Targeted Response Unit to the Harrison District. This is on the city’s West side, with the highest rate of murders. Some weekends over 200 people were arrested in a night. The racism of this plan is that the city uses the word ‘crime’ to justify its locking up the Black youth of a community that the city has ignored or robbed of all but police services.

To make the racism even clearer, the arrestees were sorted. The people arrested for buying drugs were given misdemeanor charges. The white teens arrested were sent back to the suburbs without a word about the war on drugs. In fact only three of one week’s 60 drug customers arrested actually lived in the Harrison district.

The Black youth, however, are being prosecuted to the fullest extent. There are new surveillance cameras ($20,000 each) that will be used to nail cases in court. Judges now have a 24-hour fax system that will allow instant subpoena and warrant abilities. The New York strategy includes court reporters driving with officers to transcribe the words of people in the street to be used against them in court later. It is no coincidence that the chief architect of the New York ‘arrest the squeegee men’ plan is in the top three of the new police superintendent choices here. He rose to the top for his handling of a Washington Heights neighborhood where he had police block off and question everyone that entered.

Summer 2003 was the summer of the rebellion in Benton Harbor. It was the summer that saw the ruling class rush to write mini-checks to diffuse that situation. But Chicago is a city on a much bigger scale. The county and the state budgets are being asked to shoulder the price of warehousing all of the city’s surplus labor of an economic system in deep decline. And they can’t sign that check. The state of Illinois corrections budget has grown 110% from 1985 to 2000, while the budget for higher education has been slashed. With the economic crisis, the politicians and the rich don’t want this expense.

It was a summer where the politicians increasingly spoke about prison guard understaffing and work release programs, because the prisons are full. Meanwhile, the city cops in new riot outfits do sweeps - mass arrests - nightly, telling the residents to be afraid of crime. In truth, Chicago has the lowest overall crime rate in 30 years.

The Chicago police are not concerned about crime in the African American, Puerto Rican or Mexican neighborhoods. They are targeting those neighborhoods to drive down the oppressed even further. The lies of Mayor Daley may fool some for a while, but the truth is becoming clear. And events show that oppressed people will fight back.

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