County officials near Chicago recently upped the ante amidst a federal probe of the cities police. Their grievances, however, don’t revolve around the slaughter of yet another unarmed citizen, which provoked initial inquiry. Instead, Cook County officials have united in an effort to highlight Chicago PD’s controversial detention facility– Homan Square. Despite the scale of crimes committed inside the compound’s walls, calls for investigation may or may not see DOJ endorsement.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin made news after putting Chicago PD’s facility on blast. With the Department Of Justice drawn by the blood spilled when officers gunned down Laquan McDonald, it seemed now or never. Mainstream media didn’t appear to take a bite, despite quality efforts by outlets like the Guardian and Fifth Column. It wasn’t long afterward that Boykin began debating with colleagues over whether Cook County could help.
Homan Square was first disclosed by the Guardian, who eventually peppered it with FOIA requests. Over several months dozens of eyewitnesses were interviewed regarding their experiences inside the facility. Former detainees reported being held for days at times, denied lawyers, phone calls, and sometimes food or water. Several recounted being restrained in unusual ways, such a crucifix-like positions or being placed in a cage. Some described beatings and temperature manipulation, resembling military rendition, or torture, techniques.
Lawyers were also routinely denied entry, often times by the facilities undercover officers. One attorney recounted seeing military-style vehicles inside, as well as passing by what officers called “the wire-room.” A ballistics lab and SWAT unit also operate inside and out of Homan Square, a facility Chicago Police assert isn’t secret.
Boykin involved himself once the possibility of DOJ side-stepping the facility became apparent. Despite criticism, Chicago Reader reports, the commissioner secured unanimous county support for a resolution supporting an investigation. “I was going to get it done one way or another”, says Boykin in confidence. The Cook County Commissioner also hand delivered letters to high level politicians in Washington DC, amongst them Eric Holder. The former attorney general, according to the Chicago Reader, did not oblige the people of Chicago with a response.
“I’m very passionate about making sure that the constitution is being upheld”, says Boykin to press. “I mean, if we say we are the leaders in democracy, then we ought to act like we are the leaders of democracy. We can no longer afford allegations of a Gitmo or Guantanamo Bay on the west side of Chicago.”
The choice, really, is up to the Department Of Justice regarding how it conducts its own probe. Boykin’s resolution, although heavily supported, is non-binding, and DOJ already announced Homan Squares’ absence in review. Other Cook County officials also were dubious as to their jurisdiction over the greater city of Chicago. Some fell political retaliation is a possible consequence for meddling in Chicago’s affairs. With skepticism over DOJ’s seriousness in tackling police misconduct city by city, not investigating Homan Square would be foolhardy.
It took a journalist-spearheaded transparency lawsuit to out concrete information regarding the facilities detainee records. Until that point, most of what anyone knew came from the mouths of convincing, though dispersed, sources. Following this, the Guardian reported 7000 detainees in police records, 6000 of whom were black. Of that massive number, the Guardian reports, only 68 were allowed access to a lawyer. In almost all cases, police made no effort to give public notice of the detained. Additionally, at least one unexplained death has occurred inside Homan Square. John Hubbard died of a heroin overdose inside the compound after it’s undercover officers reportedly posed as drug dealers. How Hubbard obtained heroin in police custody is unknown, though one detainee reported being threatened by officers with the narcotic during an interrogation.
“If accounts of the activity taking place inside Homan Square are correct”, exclaims Boykin to the Guardian, “then the very existence of the facility is unconstitutional, and the civil rights violations that take place there are numerous and ongoing.” “Ongoing” is correct, the facility continues to operate and, as of yet, no one has been held accountable for its activities. No one has been able, or willing, to disclose the identities of officers involved in the square, likely due to the many undercovers it houses.
Perhaps the Department Of Justice’s reluctance to investigate the facility can be understood as a move of self-preservation. If DOJ investigated Homan Square in Chicago, then it would also need to determine whether or not similar facilities exist elsewhere. If similar facilities exist, and thus far no reports have surfaced, then a federal policy mandating their operations becomes a possibility. Only recently was it uncovered that FBI required departments to sign non-disclosure agreements upon accepting Stingrays. So-called “secret arrests” have occurred elsewhere in the nation, making further evaluation of said phenomenon of priority.
What’s more, it’s difficult to explain away how Homan Square does not qualify for automatic investigation by DOJ. It was a violent act against a member of a persecuted, marginalized population that attracted federal investigators in the first place. If 6000 of the 7000 detainees at Homan Square were black, then how’s it not related? Justice remains unserved for John Hubbard, as if another dead addict means little. Nothing appeared about his death other than a few sentences in a Chicago obituary. Any evaluation of Chicago Police Department practices and conduct is incomplete, if not a farce, without mention of Homan Square. If DOJ ultimately refuses to conduct a serious probe, then it only implicates itself in the crimes known to have occurred inside the Square.