Submitted and written by Isiah Holmes
Living amidst an encroaching, ever more militarized authoritative presence sometimes leaves the modern American a stranger to “surprise.” We arbitrarily imagine the haunts of the world’s real boogeymen only in far away, unreachable lands. Their motives abstract, their actions the stuff of nightmarish expressions of crystal-pure inhuman atrocity. If you’re amongst that crowd consider this: what if that’s just what the boogeymen wanted you to think? What if you could, or even would, do something about it? Such is Chicago’s dilemma– where politicians hope to put a “GITMO-esque” police facility on blast before the Department of Justice (DOJ) and their countrymen.
The call to DOJ for a federal probe into CPD’s Homan Square recently rang from Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. Boykin, according to the Chicago Reader, asserts the city hadn’t “taken the opportunity to confront allegations of wrongdoing at Homan Square.” “So it falls to those of us in [the] Cook County government”, he continues, “to shine a light in dark places and confront this problem.” Commissioner Boykin announced his sentiments at Cook County Boards January 6th meeting.
Homan Square first crept into the story feeds of some media outlets at the end of last year, believe it or not. As Chicago, and the rest of the American Mid-West, road out a shrill winter, the London-based outlet “the Guardian” broke the should’ve-been headline. The facility was swiftly compared to Guantanamo Bay, or a CIA blacksite– places where the world’s “disappeared” might be traced if one could only find them. The blowback caused by the outlets coverage forced the facilities commander, Nicholas Roti, from power and put Mayor Emanuel on notice. Despite the national police misconduct and reform debate climaxing, Homan Square was scarcely reported in American media and the story faded. Roti’s resignation was buried in search cue options and the mayor traded that shame for other, more publicized, administrative crimes.
“We wouldn’t have found out about it if it wasn’t for the Guardian”, says activist group leader Frank Chapman, according to a more recent Guardian piece. “No Chicago newspaper whispered a word about it.” In fact, to this day the cities establishment continues to mobilize in as kind of P.R. coalition in defense of Homan Square. Lawyers and even local crime reporters decried the Guardian’s work as a mischaracterization of the apparently transparent facility. According to the Chicago Reader, CPD asserts that the facility had hosted several press conferences in it’s time. Other critics say Homan Square was hardly ever a secret.
All of these statements, however, more so defend the building itself rather than its operational function. As transparent as officials claim Homan Square is, it houses some of the most innately intransparent police units. Vice, SWAT, and several undercover units, the Guardian reported, operate out of the plane brick, dark windowed, former Sears warehouse. The compound isn’t marked outwardly in any way, besides the occasional parked police cruiser or two. More likely than not a passerby wouldn’t consider the seemingly vacant structure as being a CPD base of operations. Homan Square also has a reputation amongst lawyers for making it uncanningly difficult to find missing clients.
Civil rights attorney Flint Taylor experienced the bizarre nature of ‘business as usual’ inside the facility firsthand. Taylor represented one of the so-called “NATO 3” activists, Brian Jacob Church, in custody on trumped up terrorism charges. According to the Chicago Reader, Taylor located his client after a 17 hour, mind-numbingly convoluted trek throughout the city. Another of Churches lawyers, Matthew Dodge, recalls, upon arriving, having to surrender his cell phone upon arriving. Dodge, the Guardian reported, was led down a hallway by plain-clothed officers who seemed unprepared for deal with him. Meanwhile, Dodge attests to seeing military-style vehicles in garage storage and passing by what officers called “the wire-room.”
Church himself had a much more interesting time, according to the Guardians now year old piece. He reported a 17 hour ordeal wherein he’d been verbally interrogated in a windowless room with a single overhanging light. It was from here that Brian found himself inside a 12X12 floor-to-ceiling metal cage. Raised an eyebrow yet?
Many other individual stories, compiled by various independent outlets–spearheaded by the Guardian–consistently involved undercover officers. In addition to stories of undercovers essentially raiding homes and abducting family members, one man reputedly died within the facilities walls. The death of John Hubbard was covered by the Chicago Sun Times and the Guardian though didn’t get much lasting localized press traction.
Hubbard was reputedly acquired by undercover officers guised as heroin dealers. Exactly what happened to John on arrival is unknown to this day, as no records showing he was detained there are acknowledged to exist. What is known, however, is that he somehow overdosed on heroin after being in custody, allegedly, for hours.
The majority of detainees were and are, per usual, the most vulnerable and least represented city populations. Many are poor minorities, mostly young people, unprepared for the experience officers force upon them. Korey Wright, for example, was detained at Homan Square in 2005 for a minor drug charge. Wright, according to the Guardian, reports being zip-tied in a crucifix-like position to a bench and interrogated. This, he claims, was his first police encounter, “so when they took me I didn’t know I had a right to an attorney. I was just a poor black kid, and like a lot of poor black kids, we don’t have access to the correct information.”
In other words, Wright and countless others are uninformed of their rights, and thus make easy targets. Former detainee’s consistently report being pressured by officers to become informants, even if they hadn’t committed a crime. This form of informant work tends to be more dangerous for the citizen than the officers, thus making this particular variation morbidly unacceptable.
While their english colleagues pumped out a series of damning reports, New York-based Guardian reporters began filing Freedom Of Information Act requests. They demanded paper and video documentation of interrogations as well as a list of the “disappeared.” According to the Guardian, at least 7,000 people have been detained at Homan Square by Chicago PD officers without an attorney. It was countless tales like these which moved Cook County commissioner Richard Boykin to call on a DOJ probe of the facility.
The Department Of Defense is, in fact, currently probing CPD practices after a highly publicized police shooting. Boykin’s goal is to get DOJ to include Homan Square in its probe, which, Guardian reports, it maintains the right to do. The commissioner went as far as to travel to Washington D.C with US representative Danny Davis. Their objective– to hand-deliver a letter directly to Attorney General Eric Holder’s officer, Common Dreams reports. County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia expressed the point well: “In order to begin to restore faith in our criminal justice system, it is crucial that the DOJ investigate these allegations and include Homan Square in it’s pattern and practices investigation.” Commissioner Garcia went onto describe any probe without Homan Square “incomplete and woefully inadequate.”
Several former detainees, including Wright, testified at the county meeting on their experience inside the square. When tales of consistently unimaginable atrocity choked the minds of Vietnam veterans, and then Iraq and Afghanistan vets, they organized Winter Soldier hearings. Perhaps this is what we need to bring the police reform debate home, a city by city “Winter Officer” hearing where civilians and former police alike may share their experiences. If American police want to at least dress like and at most behave as soldiers, then they should get tried like soldiers. The very fact that it’s taken Homan Square this long to float to the round tables at CNN and others is a slanders all those true media producers, journalists, etc. When the story broke it was up to indi-outlets, clandestine reporters, and bloggers to tell and then distribute the information. Damage done, we can only move forward from here–so let’s shut that site down.