CHICAGO, ILL: The National Forum on Police Crimes was held in the International House of the University in Chicago in May, 2014. I was privileged to attend on behalf of Project SALAM – Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims.
The Forum was organized by the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), a group founded in 1973. The Forum brochure described the NAARPR:
The revelations started in 1971 when “the Citizen’s Committee to Investigate the FBI” removed secret files from an FBI office and released them to the press . . . This, plus the congressional investigation led by Senator Frank Church made the American public aware for the first time that agencies of the government, theFBI and state and local police had moved outside the laws they were sworn to uphold. The create secret and systematic methods of fraud, surveillance, violent force and yes, even methods of assassination (as in the case of the murder of Fred Hampton). The entire operation was known as the Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO . . .”
Frank Chapman opened the conference by outlining the extent of the issue of police crime, emphasizing that police crimes are not just a local issue, but a national issue. Lennox Hinds moderated the conference. All of the speakers were powerful in their description of police crimes, noting the number of people shot by police in Chicago (120 killed by police in Chicago in 2012), to the targeting of people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
The John Burge torture scandal was often referenced. Burge was the former Chicago Police Department detective and commander who gained notoriety for torturing more than 200 suspects between 1972 and 1991 in order to force confessions. One speaker referred to Chicago as the “false confession capital of the world.”.
Jeff Baker, a candidate of Chicago City Council, spoke about a proposed “Civilian Police Accountability Council” (CPAC), which calls for an elected civilian board to control the police, which would, among other items, appoint the police chief. Though this particular legislation is proposed for Chicago, Mr. Baker urged people to have this legislation passed through out cities and towns in the US.
Muhammad Sankari of the Arab-American Action Network spoke about the targeting of Muslims, and outlined a particular case – that of Rasmea Odeh, a leader of Chicago’s Muslim and Arab communities. Clearly targeted for her beliefs and her activism, she goes on trial on June 10 in Detroit, Michigan. Rasmea is facing 10 years in prison, revocation of her citizenship and then deportation.
Bernadine Dohrn explained more about the racial disparity of people in prison – its “OK for white kids to have marijuana, but not black kids.” How over-charging of crimes leads to plea deals, and that there are 10,000 people in the Cook County jail, which is located just two miles from the Forum. Ms. Dohrn described the long history of police crimes in Chicago, from the police beating of protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention, to the assassination of Fred Hampton, to the John Burge torture scandal. There have been successes, however, including elimination of the death penalty for juveniles, the closing of two juvenile prisons and of the infamous TAMS prison, among others.
Crista Noel spoke about how she brought the issue of Chicago police shootings to the UN Human Rights Committee. The issue of Chicago police brutality was included in the UN Human Rights Committee Report. Ms. Noel went to Geneva to testify at the UN.
After the first panel discussion, where the issue of police crimes was described in detail and some solutions offered, we broke out into workshops. I attended the workshop entitled “The National Movement to Stop Police Crimes Against Peace and Solidarity Movements,” facilitated by Muhammad Sankari and Joe Iosbaker. We had a very lively discussion and learned more about the campaign to support Rasmea Odeh during her up-coming trial.
During the workshop, one of the youngest participants raised the issue of fear of being targeted for her activism. And, of how can an activist support herself financially, while at the same time, work on these issues. For example, the first day of the Forum was held on a Friday. Many people work during the day, and have a difficult time taking time off during the day to attend. Also, the issue of supporting Rasmea Odeh during her possibly two to three week trial. Young people working one and two jobs are not able to take off this amount of time to work on justice issues.
Joe Iosbaker described his experience of having his house raided by the FBI, and how 25 FBI agents spent twelve hours in his house. He and his wife, Stephanie Weiner, were two of the twenty-three peace activists whose homes were raided by the FBI in September, 2010, and were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. All of the peace activists refused to appear before the grand jury. A national campaign was organized to support the peace activists.
Our workshop resulted in offering two recommendations to the Forum: 1) to support Rasmea Odeh and 2) to stop the targeting of people for their political and religious beliefs.
After the Forum ended for the day, I had time to speak informally with people attending the conference. I was very pleased to see Gregory Koger again, in person, in good spirits and out of jail. Mr. Koger had suffered an unjust prosecution by the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago in a case that was so crazy, it hard to believe. But, its true! Mr. Koger was arrested for taking a video of Sunsara Taylor speaking at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. The legal battle lasted for four long years, and ultimately, Mr. Koger spent nearly a year in jail. For taking a video.
I also met Stephanie Weiner from the Revolutionary Lemonade Stand, and one of the 23 peace activists whose home was raided. Below is a photo of her pointing to her name on the Project SALAM wall of names.
The conference was two days – I will write about the next day soon.
posted by Lynne Jackson from Chicago, Ill