More on Chicago’s black sites

Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian has been all over the story about Chicago’s ‘Black Sites’, a kind of Guantanamo on the US mainland whose location is in a drab building complex known as Homan Square, where people were taken and effectively disappeared from sight while they were being abused and interrogated. If there is one thing that we have learned in the last few months, it is that the willful disregard of people’s constitutional rights, especially if they are poor and minority, is endemic in the US and that this kind of knowledge is shared within the police system so that the revelation of an abuse in one location is usually a predictor that similar abuses are occurring elsewhere.

In a new article Ackerman recounts the stories of people who were taken to this place and effectively disappeared from view for days on end, not able to talk to lawyers or family or friends.

A Chicago man says he was confined for three days – shackled, interrogated and fed only twice, his whereabouts unknown – inside the police “black site” at the epicentre of public outcry over allegations of abuse said to focus on minority citizens.

Four black Chicagoans have now come forward to the Guardian detailing off-the-books ordeals at the facility, including another who describes being detained in “a big cage” with his wrists cuffed to a bench so he couldn’t move.

Ackerman describes the efforts to hide the fact that the Homan Square building was being used as a secret detention facility.

More recently, around February 2014, Nellis said he got a tip that his client – 19 years old, black and from the west side of Chicago – had been taken to Homan Square in connection with a drug investigation. When he got to the warehouse on Homan and Fillmore, he asked a woman “wearing a police uniform” what the unfamiliar building was.

“What I recall her saying is, ‘Oh, I don’t know what this is,” and walked off,” Nellis said. Another attempt at flagging down officers in the Homan Square docking bay, during which he identified himself as a lawyer seeking to see his client, resulted in them telling Nellis: “This isn’t a police station, we don’t hold people here.”

When combined with the increased paramilitarization of the police and the abuses by the police against ordinary people, this shows the encroachment of civil liberties that the twin wars, the war on terror and the war on drugs, have created.

In another of long article detailing more cases of abuse, Ackerman uses the case what happened to Prexy Nesbitt, now 70, when he was a young man to illustrate the fact that abuse by Chicago police has been long standing.

Nesbitt, then in his late teens, had put his Checker Marathon between a police cruiser and the vehicle of a woman he saw a cop harassing. The white officer, evidently dissatisfied, drew his gun and pointed it at Nesbitt’s left temple. Later taken to a police station, Nesbitt ultimately got out of the situation unharmed, he remembered, because his schoolteacher father and pediatrician uncle were well respected in their Lawndale neighborhood – where, then as now, the red brick towers and warehouse complex now known as the Homan Square police facility marks the skyline.

“The class position of my family was the only reason I wasn’t thrown in jail,” Nesbitt, now 70 years old, remembered. “Otherwise, I might even not be here telling the story.”

Nesbitt and others with a sense of Chicago’s history – lawyers, activists, an ex-cop, everyday Chicagoans – consider Homan Square to fit within an ongoing, racialized legacy of police abuse and civil-rights denial whose roots are deep, wide and old.

“The subtle message in the department is white supremacy, white male supremacy,” said Pat Hill, a Chicago police officer from 1986 to 2007 who led the African American Police League.

“A monopoly and application of the use of illicit violence is the modus vivendi of the Chicago police department and of governance in Chicago,” Nesbitt said

“Violence and the use of illicit violence versus people of color, particularly blacks and Latinos, is as routine in Chicago as traffic lights.”

A group has taken the issue of police abuse in Chicago to the UN Committee Against Torture, that is already looking into what happened in Ferguson. This internationalizing of the case may well be necessary since one cannot expect the city of Chicago, led by an arrogant, authoritarian, oligarch toady mayor like Rahm Emannuel, to even acknowledge it, let alone do anything about it.

The case for legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, the use of recreational marijuana is a complex one. Some oppose it out of fears that it is a gateway drug that can lure people into using more dangerous drugs. But one of the biggest arguments in its favor is that the police have used the war of drugs as an excuse to harass people in search of minor amounts of marijuana. Since many people use it recreationally, this has enabled police to justify a whole host of abusive practices such as random searches of cars, stop-and-frisk. and the like, to confiscate people’s property, throw them in jail, and in many other ways destroy the lives of people who were never at risk of harming society.


  1. hyphenman says


    Alarm bells went off in my head when the community of Lawndale was mentioned. This is the community that Ta-Nehisi Coates focused on in his cover story for The Atlantic in The Case For Reparations.

    I can’t believe that the proximity of Lawndale and Homan Square is a coincidence.


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