Chicago: An Epidemic of Police Brutality

Revolutionary Worker #927, October 12, 1997

As October 22 approaches, a new wave of police brutality has touched off outrage and protest among the people in Chicago, especially in the Black and Latino communities. And the political establishment has had to respond. The city council said they will hold hearings on police misconduct, the mass media focused on "problems" in the police department, and the police superintendent promised he will "look into" charges that cops assaulted people and used racist slurs.

A Brutal "Street Interview"

On September 26, 18-year-old Jeremiah Mearday was walking down a West Side street. He'd had an allergic reaction from seafood, and he was on his way to the drug store to get some Benadryl. Suddenly, a police car made a U-turn and stopped. Jeremiah's father, Lee Carter, told the Chicago Defender what happened next. Two white officers "come up beside him, drew their guns out and told him to `get up against the wall, n****r'." The cops claimed they were conducting "street interviews." Jeremiah told the cops, "You don't have a reason to pull your gun on me. My father sent me to the store."

According to Lee Carter, "After that, [the cop] put his gun back into the holster and said, `m-f n****r, you're too goddamn smart. I didn't ask you all that' and started beating him with a flashlight." The Chicago Tribune quoted Carter as saying, "Jeremiah said he thought they were going to kill him. He told me he's never seen hate in someone's eyes like that."

Witnesses at the scene began questioning why the cops were beating Jeremiah. Carter told the Defender that the cops "handcuffed him and dragged him into the car and took him to a fire station. They took their badges off, got out and washed their hands, dragged him out of the car and left him there."

Jeremiah was taken to the Norwegian American Hospital and later transferred to Cook County Hospital. His father had gone to the police station, trying to get some information on his son. "But," he said, "they wouldn't tell me anything."

When Carter finally saw Jeremiah at the hospital, "I didn't know my son. He was a bloody mess. He had two holes knocked in the top of his head, his five front upper teeth, along with the gum, severed and a broken jaw. They stomped him in his stomach and there was trauma to his back."

The police tried to justify what happened by saying that Jeremiah had swung at one of the officers and struggled with them when they attempted to arrest the young man. But they could not explain why Jeremiah was stopped in the first place. And a police spokesman made the outrageous claim that Jeremiah received his serious injuries after he was released from Norwegian American Hospital. But this lie was exposed when it became clear that he had been taken directly from this first hospital to Cook County Hospital. The two cops who beat Jeremiah remain on duty.

On October 1, over 100 residents from the West Side gathered to protest the beating of Jeremiah Mearday and other recent cases of police brutality. Rev. Paul Jakes Jr., a former West Side NAACP president, declared, "We are tired of being mistreated. We are sending a message to the mayor and the police department that we will not tolerate this abuse." Other mass meetings and protests are being organized. Police brutality has been a major topic on local Black talk radio stations.

The Beating of a Church Deacon

Ryan Corey Norris, 19, is a former University of Illinois student and an ordained deacon. On October 1, a week after cops assaulted Jeremiah Mearday, Ryan was driving with a friend on Chicago's South Side. They were pulled over by cops, who told Ryan that they were going to search his car. When Ryan asked why, the cops pulled him out of the car. The cops then forced him into the back seat of the police car. One of the officers hit Ryan three times with his fist.

"I was told by the police that I was under arrest but when I asked why, no one would tell my friend or me why I was under arrest," Ryan said. As many as 10 other officers arrived on the scene. According to Ryan, the cops taunted him with racist language. One of the cops said, "Let me have a piece of him."

Ryan was taken to the police station. He suffered from a broken jaw and dislocated shoulder, but he received no medical attention until his father, Rev. Julius Norris, arrived. Rev. Norris said, "The police never contacted us and we didn't find out about our son until his friend returned from the scene and contacted us." Ryan was released after being held overnight. He was never once read his rights or allowed a phone call during that time.

Ryan's father is a chaplain for the Cook County Sheriff's Office and a member of the state parole board. He also works as a drug prevention specialist and mental health consultant. Ryan said, "No matter how upstanding the citizen, the police always seem to get away with abuse."

The Norris family said they intend to push this case as far as they can. Rev. Norris told the Defender, "It's a matter of principle, the police cannot be allowed to get away with abusing people."

Outrage in the
Latino Community

It was a few hours after the September 14 Mexican Independence Day parade in the Pilsen neighborhood. Esteban Montano and Ricardo Ruiz, like many others in the city, were holding up Mexican flags. They were suddenly set upon by cops. According to witnesses, the officers grabbed Montano's groin. When Montano tried to defend himself, the cop beat him across the lower back with a flashlight, seriously injuring him.

Normally, such an incident would just be hushed up by the official machinery. But they could not do that in this case--because it was caught on videotape, just like the LAPD beating of Rodney King. The videotaped assault on Esteban Montano put a spotlight on the daily brutality that Latino people face from cops.

The Pilsen community has also been in an uproar over a racist "strategy memo" approved by the local police district commander, Thomas Kuroski. This memo was part of the "community policing" efforts of the district. The memo claimed that Mexican-Americans "accept" domestic violence--and that such common activity as sitting on the stoops or other public places drinking beer, playing loud music and talking led to crime!

Before this memo became public, Kuroski had been praised by officials and some Latino politicians as being sensitive to community concerns and nurturing good relations with residents. When the memo was leaked to the press and controversy broke out, the police department was forced to demote and transfer Kuroski. But the memo is an exposure of how the police really look at the people.

Empty Promises of "Investigation"

The series of recent police brutality cases and exposures of racism have put the city's police department in the spotlight. Articles in the local press talk about a "rash of problems plaguing the police department." Some aldermen are calling for city council hearings on the police department. Part of this controversy involves the case of a cop who was paralyzed from the neck down after he was shot over a year ago. There is debate among officials over whether he should be allowed to return to work for the department--and the media focus on him is clearly meant to create sympathy for the "cops on the beat."

But the beating of Jeremiah Mearday and other recent incidents have brought the issue of police brutality to the forefront in Chicago. Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez even felt compelled to threaten discipline against cops who use racist epithets or assault people. Mayor Daley and other officials have promised investigations into the beating of Jeremiah Mearday and other cases.

But past practice shows that such official promises are nothing but empty lies. From 1993 to 1995, the Chicago Police Department's Office of Professional Standards looked into 8,620 citizen complaints. During that same period, only 13 cops were fired for brutality. This means that in only one case out of every 660 citizen complaints is an incidence of police brutality considered serious enough by the department to result in the firing of a cop.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote: "How many of these [13 cases] do you suppose resulted in criminal battery charges being filed by the Cook County state's attorney's office? None. And though there have been a handful of prosecutions for brutality here in the past several decades, the chances that the officers accused of gratuitously beating up Mearday will face trial, even if the department finds that they did it, are essentially zero."

Clearly, it is going to take determined protests by the people to win justice for Jeremiah Mearday and others brutalized and abused by the police.

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