Revolutionary Worker #899, March 23, 1997
Fernanda "Shaunnay" Royal, a 26-year-old Black woman, was gunned down late afternoon on March 4 by a Chicago Housing Authority police officer. As residents of Cabrini Green public housing project gathered to confront police over this shooting--the area became a battleground. Chicago police opened an intense barrage of gun fire on one of the highrise apartment buildings of Cabrini Green. As police bullets pounded into occupied apartments, some of the residents responded in kind--firing down on the police. Three more residents were shot by police bullets.
It was a night of courage and righteous resistance for the people of Cabrini Green. And it was a night of heartless brutality by cops from the Chicago Housing Authority and the official Chicago police force.
The people of Cabrini Green were eager to tell the Revolutionary Worker about what they experienced that day. Names have been changed to protect the people.
On the evening of March 4, after a young man, Suava, was busted and beaten by cops, women from his family saw this go down, and gathered around to confront Roland Pace, a Black CHA cop. They demanded to know why Suava was being taken away. Pace insulted the women, calling them "black b*tches." Eyewitnesses say Roland Pace shoved Shaunnay.
By this time a crowd was gathering, and Pace pulled his gun. Shaunnay's mother Annie told the RW that Pace coldly aimed his gun and shot pointblack into Shaunnay's abdomen. Witnesses say that after he shot Shaunnay, Pace holstered his gun and coldly said, "I told you motherfuckers to get back."
People were outraged. Shaunnay was a community activist and the elected president of the 534 building. She was obviously unarmed. And she was clearly justified in challenging the treatment of Suava. And yet, she had been shot down in cold blood!
People worked to keep Shaunnay alive until the medics arrived. Women stepped forward from the crowd, speaking out angrily: "We can't let them treat us like this! We are not animals!"
Not content with shooting Shaunnay, the CHA posted guards outside her hospital door and prevented any contact with her family for two days. As her sister, Venus Royal, later stated in a press conference, "We were told that we could not see her, that no members of the family, no one was able to see her. When my sister went into surgery, before she went into surgery, we the family was not there, to even let her know that we were there. All my sister saw were doctors and police officers."
After Pace shot Shaunnay a small army of Chicago police poured into the area--not to help Shaunnay, but to control the growing and angry crowd.
Jackie told the RW what it was like: "When the police came, they were so happy. They finally had some fighting going on. They were not panicky. They were all hyped up and excited. Instead of coming to the scene to try to find out and ask questions, they came to the scene on the offense. They came indignant, belligerant: `Get back!' Like if they could, they would have just kicked the people back. They came on the scene like--`the nerve of us to be mad about this shooting.' One woman asked the cop, `Why did you shoot her? You didn't have to do all that.' He said, `I have a job to do. How did I know she didn't have a weapon on her?' At this point Shaunnay was still laying on the ground -- and the same woman said, `Look at what she has on.' It was a type of stretch pants over those tight pants leggings. She didn't have a coat. `Where could she be hiding a gun, with the clothes she had on?' "
Residents described how Roland Pace sat there in his squad car, protected by the other cops, with this ugly smirk on his face. Jackie told the RW, "The crowd was telling the other police, `He did this. What y'all gonna do?' And he was still there calm as a cucumber, like, `Look at these silly muthafuckers--all excited just because I shot a n*gger.' This is just what his attitude was! He had an expression like, `Ain't nothing gonna happen to me.' He was not worried at all. Honor among killers. And the other police were like, `Get back. We'll take care of this, just go home.' They got indignant, 'Go HOME!'"
The crowd refused. Jackie said one angry woman stepped forward, calling on others to stand strong. "That's what's wrong," she said, "Y'all been being quiet too long. They're telling y'all to shut up and go home. That's y'all problem right now, y'all been shutting up too long."
Jackie described how the cops opened fire on the people, and on the building with all its crowded apartments: "That's when they came with no warning. And let me say this: they did not state, `Get back, we're gonna start shooting.' They didn't give any warning. None! It was a total surprise. They did not utter a word. They just started blasting."
People scattered--many packed into the lobbies of the surrounding buildings. Bullets flew everywhere--including into apartment windows. Shaunnay's cousin Quincy was shot as he stood on ground level at his building's entrance.
People aren't clear exactly when, in the confusion, it started. But this much is clear: someone opened fire on the side of the people, answering the police in kind, from high in at least one of the buildings. The police cowered behind their vehicles, and continued to pour fire into the 534 building.
Before the shooting ended, three more people were struck by gunfire. Shaunnay's 16-year-old cousin, Quincy, was shot in the thigh, and two other residents were hit by blasts from shotguns. With shells from their guns littering the streets, police at first denied firing their weapons. Despite TV footage of cops carrying shotguns, police denied they had shotguns.
"The police jumped behind all the cars and started shooting right up [into the building]. There was a lot of people out. How they gonna just shoot up?" asked Toni, who has lived at Cabrini for 20 of her 25 years. "They don't know who they was shooting at. Kids were on the porch. They could have shot one of the kids. When they heard the shots, they were trying to run upstairs. So up on the porches, that's where all the kids were at. It was real lucky none were hit."
Carolyn spent most of her 24 years growing up in Cabrini. Though she moved out of town to stay with her mom, family ties take her back to Cabrini where her sisters still have apartments in the highrise project. It was one of those visits that put her in Cabrini when Officer Pace gunned down Shaunnay, someone who Carolyn grew up with. Carolyn describes what happened when the Chicago police opened fire on the building.
"Next thing I know I heard shots. They had just started shooting at the building. I heard gunfire, then I heard more gunfire." Carolyn hit the ground. It was a dangerous situation with no real place to hide.
"They had shotguns, standing in front of that building. They said they didn't. They were lying. Everybody know they had shotguns.
"It didn't matter if the kids were on the ramp or in the house, bullets come through windows and walls and your child could be hurt. It was wrong. A person could have been running, trying to get away from the bullets, and they could have fired and killed him.
"To us--the police, the CHA police, and some of the security guards--they like gangbangers with a uniform. And they can legally walk around with their guns. They're just a bunch of bullies to me. People feel that they're worser than the gangbangers. If something happens, the gangbangers will try to help you. They know how the police is. Nine out of ten bangers got beat up by the police before for just standing by themselves. People who go to work every day been pushed around by the police and harassed by them. When they saw that the CHA police shot Shaunnay and that she was a good person, they got all worked up.
Carolyn took a positive view of those who returned police fire. "I feel that they were trying to protect the community too. We got to look out for each other, everybody look out for everybody. And the police is almost the No. 1 enemy over here.... If we don't never stand up, they'll figure they'll get away with anything."
Mary, in her mid-30s, has been living in Cabrini for three and a half years. "They all in it together. They all stick together, police. CHA, Chicago--all of them. They made it like it was just a shootout period, and she was caught in a crossfire. That's the way they portrayed it when it came on the news. That the people in the building just shot at the police and she had got hit accidentally.
"I want them to tell the truth, the way I seen it. The way the lady was laying there, people crowded around her, and people fighting the police. The way it looked to me."
As the shooting subsided, the door-to-door invasion of people's privacy and homes began. Cops and their K-9's went door-to-door "searching" for a sniper, busting into and ransacking apartments and threatening residents. They found no one. One carpenter said it was the biggest "mass kick-down" of residents' doors in the 30 years he's been with the CHA. Mary's was one of the apartments searched that night, by three cops. While her apartment was spared the battering ram, others had their doors knocked off their hinges. "I feel it was wrong, very wrong," Mary told the RW. "I feel they should punish all the police that was out there."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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