The cops who attack our lives

May 1, 2012

Joe Allen reports on a press conference by opponents of police brutality in Chicago.

FAMILY MEMBERS of police brutality victims were joined by antiracist activists for an emotion-filled press conference April 26 outside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

"We are gathered here today on the two-month anniversary of Trayon Martin's death to protest the coordinated racist attacks on our schools, on our jobs, on our homes and the attacks by police officers against our lives," said Anton Ford, a University of Chicago professor, to open the press conference.

"This system is what killed Trayvon Martin, and it's killing people in Chicagoland. It killed Rekia Boyd, it killed Darrin Hanna, Ricky Bradley, it killed Stephon Watts. The Chicagoland police officers responsible for these killings have not been brought to justice, and we are going to demand that they be brought to justice."

The press conference came following reports in the media that an officer was suspended from his job after his pit bull killed another dog at Montrose Beach on the city's North Side. "The Chicago Police Department expects its members to demonstrate the highest standards of conduct on and off duty and will not permit wrongdoing to go unaddressed," the department said in a prepared statement to the media after the suspension.

Martinez Sutton, Rekia Boyd's brother, speaks with protesters outside Mayor Emanuel's office
Martinez Sutton, Rekia Boyd's brother, speaks with protesters outside Mayor Emanuel's office (Brit Schulte | SW)

As Ford told reporters, with shouts of "shame" coming from family members and supporters: "This is the type of city we live in--a city that values the life of a two-year-old dog over the life of a 22-year-old, innocent Black woman."

The Black woman Ford referred to was Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old African American woman shot in the head by off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin on March 21. Rekia and her friends had been hanging out in Douglas Park, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. She died the following day.

"This shooting appears to be justified," Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy told reporters shortly after the shooting. Servin, a detective, remains on the police force. The Independent Police Review Authority, which is appointed by the mayor, claims it is investigating.

Martinez Sutton, Rekia's brother, was among the 35 family members and supporters of victims of police brutality at the press conference. As he told reporters:

My sister Rekia Boyd was murdered--murdered on the street by an off-duty detective. Now the family has a lot of questions, but we are not getting answers. Nothing whatsoever. Now, a dog has seen more justice than my sister. We are waiting for the investigation to be finished. But an officer was dismissed because a little dog got killed by another officer's dog. What does that tell us about the quality of Black life in this city? My family feels disrespected. We are outraged. And we are still looking for answers.

SUTTON WAS joined on the podium by Rosalind Morgan, who talked about her husband, Howard Morgan, an African American man and former Chicago police officer who was working as an officer on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad in 2005 when he was shot 28 times by four Chicago cops. But incredibly enough, Morgan was charged, not the police who shot him--and with a whole array of crimes, including attempted murder of the four cops.

A 2007 jury acquitted Morgan of most of the charges, including discharging a weapon at a police officer, but it deadlocked on the attempted murder charge. The judge declared a mistrial. At Morgan's second trial, he was convicted of attempted murder, though the jury was not allowed to hear testimony regarding the earlier acquittal--a case of "double jeopardy," Rosalind Morgan declared. Howard was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Aaron Watts spoke next. He's the cousin of Stephon Watts, a 15-year-old African American boy with autism, who was shot and killed in his basement by Calumet City police on February 1. The police came to the house because Stephon's father made a non-emergency call for assistance.

"What do we have to do for justice?" shouted Watts. "Why do we have to march for justice? Why do we have to get angry for justice? Do we have to riot? Do we have to tear things down?"

Stephon's autism was well known to Calumet police, who had recently gone through autism awareness training. The Illinois State Police conducted an investigation of the shooting and cleared the officers of any wrongdoing--to the anger and dismay of Stephon's family. According to a statement by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, there will be no further investigation.

Next it was Mark Clements' turn. "These people should not have been executed by police," said Clements, a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Clements spent 28 years in prison in Illinois for a crime he didn't commit after Chicago police tortured him to extract a false confession. Since his release in August 2009, he has become one of Illinois' most prominent criminal justice activists.

"Why is Howard Morgan in prison?" asked Clements. "This man was shot 28 times. Howard Morgan was a pillar of our community, and I demand justice."

David Lowery, president of the Chicago Far-South Suburban Branch of the NAACP, followed Clements. "We have started looking at these cases, we are here to support you, and I challenge other NAACPs to stand up right now...and deal with system that's unfair to minorities," said Lowery.

WHEN IT came time for reporters to ask questions, Jim Williams, a veteran African American reporter with CBS Channel 2 news, challenged the whole point of the press conference. "What is a greater threat to the Black community, criminals and gang members on the street or Chicago police officers?" asked Williams.

From 1992 to 1997, Williams was the press secretary for former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. His former boss' tenure as Cook County State's Attorney in the 1980s coincided with the reign of torture carried out by former police commander Jon Burge, who was convicted in 2010 of obstruction of justice and perjury related to the torture cases. Daley and all his press secretaries over the years have deflected any questioning of the former mayor's role in Burge's crime wave.

Thus, Williams is hardly an "objective" reporter when it comes to the issues of police violence in Chicago.

In response to Williams' question, the assembled family members and their supporters angrily challenged him. One of Rekia's sisters, visibly upset, called the question "stupid." David Lowery took a different approach. "It's not a stupid question," he said after stepping to the podium. "The greater damage to the community is Black officers and white officers who continue to kill our children because they have positions of power."

Later that evening, after Channel 2 ran Williams' story, Walter Jacobson, the co-anchor of the broadcast said that Rekia Boyd died in an exchange of "gunfire with an off-duty officer." This is a total misrepresentation of the facts of the case. It isn't even the police version of events that led to Rekia's death.

Despite Williams' provocative behavior and Jacobson's irresponsible reporting, organizers saw the press conference as an important step in building a campaign against police violence in the Chicago area. More events are being planned.

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