Chicago: Under Fire at Cabrini Green

Residents testify: The real story of police shootings and rampage and how the people resisted

Revolutionary Worker #898, March 16, 1997

"He didn't give no warning, he just turned around and shot her."
--Eyewitness to the police shooting in Cabrini Green

Tuesday, March 4, 1997--the news flashed across Chicago that an unarmed Black woman, Fernanda "Shaunnay" Royal, had been shot by a cop in the Cabrini Green housing project.

The TV news showed dozens of cops crouched behind their cars and reported a firefight between police and someone in the highrise apartments at 534 W. Division. Three more residents were shot. And heavily armed police squads rampaged through the 534 building--beating in doors with sledgehammers and a battering ram.

On March 4, the outside world saw the kind of disrespect and brutality that people in Chicago housing projects get every day from the police. Like the Rodney King beating, these facts must not be covered up.

Officials quickly announced that Shaunnay Royal had been part of "a mob" who had threatened the cop, Roland Pace, and grabbed for his pistol. Officials claimed that as Pace struggled to protect himself, the gun had "discharged" accidentally, shooting Shaunnay Royal.

LeRoy O'Shield, the chief of the Chicago Housing Authority police, claimed that his cops came under fire in the project that night, adding, "There were no reports of any CHA police or any Chicago police officers that were returning fire."

In short, the authorities immediately put out their usual story: Everything the police did in Cabrini Green that day, they announced, had been completely justified. These official lies quickly fell apart.

The people of Cabrini Green have justice firmly on their side. They stood up for themselves that day--righteously--in the face of naked brutality and massive armed force. They have demanded that the mainstream reporters interview them so that they could tell what has been done to them. And they eagerly told their story to activists of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) so that the truth can be told through the Revolutionary Worker.

Here is the story of March 4 at Cabrini Green, largely drawn from the eyewitness accounts of the residents themselves.


It was 5 p.m. on Tuesday in the Cabrini Green housing project. People were arriving home from work or from grocery shopping. Kids were out playing and people were hanging out.

Suddenly police appeared and some of the youth started running. The cops chased them.

An eyewitness told the RW: "These cops are constantly harassing the youth. They came to the building with their guns out. It started over there. Boys ran over here. They have no choice but to run. Police harass them so bad. They put rocks on these boys even when they know they not drug dealing."

One cop caught up with Shaunnay Royal's 24-year-old cousin, Suava, in front of one of Cabrini's highrise apartments--at 534 W. Division Street. An eyewitness told the RW: "He was someone they were trying to frame. They were beating him over there in the dirt." After beating Suava, the cop cuffed him and put him in the squad car.

Several women gathered round, asking the cop, Roland Pace, what he was doing to Suava. CHA police chief O'Shield would later describe these women as "a mob." In fact, these women were Suava's relatives--including his aunt Annie and her daughter, 26-year-old Shaunnay Royal.

Shaunnay is a lifelong resident of Cabrini, who had once spent three years working as a security guard in the projects. More recently, she has become a community activist and was elected president of her building by the residents.

An eyewitness told the RW: "Shaunnay walked up to this one police. `You're chasing these boys every day. Why are you beating my cousin?' He said, `Get out of my face.' " Several eyewitnesses told the RW that the cop was insulting. He called the women "black b*tches." Someone asked him, "Why are you being like this? We're just asking you a simple question." A witness told the RW that Pace, who is Black, shoved Shaunnay.

By this time, a crowd was starting to gather. Pace pulled out his gun. Annie thought he would fire a warning shot into the air. Instead, she told the RW how Pace carefully laid his right arm across his left forearm. He aimed his gun into Shaunnay and fired pointblank.

Shaunnay shouted, "I'm hit." Annie helped her ease to the ground. She lifted Shaunnay's shirt and saw the bleeding gunshot wound in her abdomen. Annie rushed Pace and started hitting him with her fists. Annie told a reporter, "He shot my daughter for nothing!"

At the hospital, Shaunnay underwent surgery, and lost part of her kidney. She was in critical condition for days. Roland Pace's bullet remains lodged next to her spine--too dangerous to remove.

One friend talked about Shaunnay: "She's a part of the community. She do a lot of community work. She's the building president. She's a positive person and I just don't understand how they would do something like that. What was his problem? Why he shot her?"

Contrary to the police story, eyewitnesses said no one "grabbed" for Pace's gun. One woman said, "The girl was in no kind of way a threat. She wasn't standing that close to him and she didn't have a coat on. So it wasn't like she could have been concealing anything."

At the hospital, Shaunnay's aunt Melody Royal told the media "They just think they're bad and can treat those people any way." She added, "They're not going to go down to the white folks' neighborhood and act like that."

Fed Up

Word spread that a cop had shot Shaunnay without reason or provocation. The surrounding buildings emptied out and hundreds started to gather around. People worked to keep Shaunnay conscious until the paramedics arrived.

There was a mood of resistance in the air. People are sick to death of the daily insults and brutality they get from the CHA police. Police harassment has been escalating in recent weeks; the authorities are pushing through new plans to destroy the projects--and people say they are simply fed up.

As Shaunnay was taken away in an ambulance, about a hundred Chicago police arrived, brandishing shotguns in a major show of force. Three helicopters clattered overhead.

But the residents were also there in force. People refused to disperse--they loudly denounced this brutal shooting and the constant mistreatment from cops. "Why did you shoot her!?"

The police opened fire to disperse the people. The RW was told that the shooting was intense, as people scattered into the buildings. Eyewitnesses told the RW that most of these first police bullets were fired down, into the ground--but not all. Shaunnay's 16-year-old cousin, Quincy Royal, was shot in the thigh by a police bullet--while he stood in the entrance to 534.

Suddenly, someone opened fire from inside the 534 building--answering the police gunfire in kind. The terrified cops crouched behind their squad cars and then opened fire again--this time, right into the crowded and occupied apartment building, endangering everyone in it. At least two more residents were hit by police shotgun pellets.

Tina Wilson described for reporters how a police bullet flew through her window as her kids were watching TV: "It hit the ceiling right there and it went right there to that wall, and it hit back that wall right there."

Phyllis Southward, another resident of 534, said: "The first thing I did was I got on the floor." She crawled out into the hallway with her children. A bullet had shattered her 11th story window and lodged in her ceiling. Her son, Stephen, said: "It almost hit my mother."

Police Totally Run Amok

Once the shooting had died down, people poured out of the building, defying the police again. More police, including state police, had arrived. The surrounding streets were cut off. Everyone leaving the building was frisked. A police helicopter hovered outside, shining its spotlights into people's apartments.

Squads of police started rampaging through the building--looking for snipers and guns. The marauding cops often didn't even wait for people to open their doors. They simply beat down apartment doors with sledgehammers or their battering ram--and burst in, heavily armed with vicious K-9 police dogs.

One outraged woman said: "I'm standing out here and they bumrush and go on into my house with dogs." Another showed her busted door and said: "They heard me tell them `here I come, here I come.' They did not have to do all that."

Once inside, the cops ransacked people's apartments.

One television broadcast tried to justify the police behavior saying that they were only barging into "apartments known to be drug dens." This is a typical insult to the people of Cabrini Green.

TV news later reported that police only found one pistol during this whole rampage.

A resident told the RW: "When they pounded on the door there were eight kids in the house. They came in with their guns drawn. One police was standing in the middle of the floor. I said, `Put your guns away.' He said, `Shut the fuck up.' I said, `Shut up for what? All I asked you to do is put your gun away. Look what you're exposing our kids to!' "

One woman said: "I'm concerned about my house being shot in and me being treated like a criminal."

Kaveen Davis and her four-year-old child were leaving the building and the cops asked if they had any guns. The kid says, "Yeah, we have a gun in the house." The mother explained that her daughter was mistaken. But police stormed upstairs and tore the apartment to pieces--then walked out carrying only a child's water pistol. CHA and Chicago cops had ransacked Kaveen Davis' clothes and flipped over her mattresses in her tenth floor apartment. Kaveen said: "They destroyed everything. They dumped out trash all in my room."

A white maintenance worker, Larry Campbell, told reporters: "I've been with CHA 30 years as a carpenter and I haven't seen a mass kick-down of residents' doors like this." The TV news showed the authorities delivering a shipment of new doors to the building the next day.

In one apartment, there had been nobody home, and after destroying the door, the police had left the place wide open. Resident Charles Wells described how everything was gone when the family returned--their dryer, their TV, their stereo.

It is Right to Rebel

Even while the raids were going on, the people's resistance continued. According to the Chicago Tribune, hundreds of residents confronted dozens of cops in front of the 534 building, protesting the Gestapo-style tactics. The people shouted: "We're not animals. Don't treat us like animals. You treat us like criminals. We are not criminals."

A leaflet quickly appeared signed by the Revolutionary Communist Party, Chicago Branch. Its headline reads: "Jail the Killer Cops! Justice for Fernanda Shaunnay Royal!"

The leaflet said:


The response of the residents to the police shooting was righteous and just. The Chinese revolutionaries under Chairman Mao used to say, "The emperor can burn down whole villages, but the people aren't supposed to even light a candle!" This vicious and cowardly police attack is part of a pattern of systematic terror against the residents of CHA. The people were more than justified in defending themselves. Right was on their side. We uphold the people's courageous response.

This RCP leaflet quickly passed hand to hand throughout the projects. It was posted in many places, often alongside a leaflet issued by the residents' Local Area Council listing demands on the city government.

This Time the
Usual Lies Didn't Work

The authorities tried to cover up this brutal incident--the way they do every day. They even formally charged Shaunnay Royal with "obstructing a police officer"--as she lay in the hospital fighting for her life.

CHA chief cop O'Shield announced that the police had not really shot into the 534 building, and he even tried to claim that the cops had not had shotguns at the scene.

When that lie failed, Chicago police chief Matt Rodriguez claimed that his cops had carefully followed regulations--and only fired on a "clearly visible" target in the building's windows. The authorities announced that investigations into the incident would be carried out by the Chicago police department.

The authorities were pumping out one flimsy, embarrassing lie after another. This part of their police operation shows how the officials routinely lie to cover up police abuse and how they portray the victims of police attack as brutal criminals.

As the police lies started to crumble, the media tried to claim there were "too many different stories" for anyone to know the truth. A Chicago Tribune editorial said: "The public may never get a definitive account of who did what to whom Tuesday outside the Cabrini Green public housing complex." As if the dozens of eyewitnesses to these police outrages don't count.

This time the usual police cover-ups just aren't working. The shooting of Shaunnay Royal was such an obvious injustice. People gathered to protest--right up in the face of the armed police. Eyewitnesses courageously stepped forward to challenge the police and reveal the truth. One resident, Jacqueline Kimball, sought out reporters to say: "He shot her in cold blood. It ain't no `different story.' It ain't, `he telling a different story.' That man was standing there and he shot her!" Even TV reporters had to point out that the ground was covered with empty shotgun shells--and that the police were obviously firing into people's apartments.

Knocked Back by the People's Resistance

Above all, the powerful outrage and resistance of the people shocked and rocked the authorities.

The next day, Wednesday, the CHA authorities announced that they would meet the demands raised by the Cabrini Green Local Area Council (LAC)--a body elected by residents of the housing project.

CHA police chief O'Shield announced that all 28 of the CHA police at Cabrini Green would be immediately withdrawn "to stabilize the situation." The plan is to replace them with CHA police from other projects.

The authorities also announced that any future investigation would include the representatives of the residents.

And finally, it was announced that any future police force would get special "sensitivity training."

This was a confession that the police had no justice on their side. Their brutality and disrespect had been exposed. They even decided to drop all charges on Shaunnay.

More To Come--
The System Takes Aim

The fact that the authorities had to pull out the 28 CHA cops was a sign of how badly the police had been exposed.

But at the same time, the system shows no sign of remorse and no sign of giving real justice: Roland Pace was not even suspended from duty--he was simply reassigned to some other duty. The public cries for jailing these brutal cops for their attack on Shaunnay were not even reported in most of the mainstream press.

In fact, the authorities continue to insist the police actions were justified. Mayor Daley openly defended the way his cops opened fire on the 534 building and ridiculed the CHA cops for not standing and shooting along with the Chicago police. After high-level endorsement of hard-line Gestapo tactics, can anyone believe that a few hours of "sensitivity training" will reduce police brutality in this city!?

The powerstructure quickly started a public debate over how to step up attacks on Cabrini Green residents and to strengthen police powers.

Suddenly, on March 4, the Chicago police showed their brutal, racist nature in public. After an unarmed woman was shot down by police in front of her home, the cops opened fire on a crowded apartment building. And then, the whole power structure scrambled for days to justify the police and contain the anger of the people. Now the power structure is calling for stepping up the destruction of people's homes and giving more firepower to their brutal enforcers.

This shows the ruthlessness and brutality the system uses against the people of public housing and the inner city ghettos. This cannot be allowed. Everyone who cares about justice must take their stand with the people of Cabrini Green.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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