Police Vengeance Raids
at Robert Taylor Homes

Revolutionary Worker #972, September 6, 1998

Justice in Amerika has always had two standards. One for the oppressor. One for the oppressed. The system's police beat and shoot, its judges and prosecutors carry out frame-ups and railroads, its prisons are designed to degrade and break--and it's all good to the authorities. But touch one hair of an enforcer--let alone kill one--and the powers-that-be howl like stuck pigs and strike back with cruel vengeance. That ugly truth was recently brought home to hundreds of residents at three highrise buildings at Chicago's Robert Taylor housing project, a massive housing development that stretches two miles through the heart of Chicago's southside Black community.

At 3:30 a.m., on Saturday, August 15, a white rookie cop was hit by gunfire while hiding in some bushes, staking out what police termed suspected "drug activity" at a nearby Taylor highrise. While a week passed before the cop died, the police response was immediate, taking out their revenge on hundreds of residents.

It was around 4 a.m. on that same Saturday morning when Betty (names have been changed) was awakened by the pounding and kicking on her apartment's front door and windows. It was the police. "What did you hear?" they demanded. "What did you see?" Nothing, was her reply, and the detectives soon moved on to the next apartment.

Hours later, at 8 a.m., more detectives arrived. This time the police hauled off Betty's 28-year-old son to the station for the typical "give and take" police interrogation. They ask the questions--he tells the cops he don't know nothing--and then they beat him in the face.

By late evening, Betty's son was back home and the family attempted to relax in front of the TV. That wasn't to be allowed. Once again, police detectives came to her door. Without even a knock, or a pause to ask permission, two cops just marched right into her apartment as if it belonged to them. Looking for guns, they explained, as they proceeded to tear up one of the bedrooms. A record player was sent crashing to the floor, with clothes, personal belongings, shoeboxes and even the mattress flipped and dumped like somebody else's trash. No guns were found. Her nephew, on a visit, was arrested for trespassing. Her son was once again put out. Despite being informed that she was sick with diabetes, police made Betty leave her apartment as well, making it clear that they could care less about her health. For added measure, the detectives threatened to toss people into the building's incinerator.

The police visit to Betty was repeated at apartment after apartment in three neighboring Robert Taylor highrise buildings. Sometimes the cops just asked a few questions and moved on, sometimes they barged in and ransacked the apartment, and sometimes they took a large metal battering ram and knocked down the door. And that was just the beginning.

Police Occupation

"They had so many police--it was more police down here than I've ever seen in my life."

Taylor resident

Starting August 15, three Robert Taylor Homes buildings came under what amounted to a military occupation. Residents counted 50 cop cars on Saturday, August 15, alone--marked, undercover, state police and paddy wagons. One long-time resident remarked that she "never seen anything like it." Young men were forced to kneel at gunpoint. There were death threats from police, "Muthafuckas killed one of the cops," one cop barked, "we should kill one of you muthafuckas." Police were calling young men `animals' and `n*ggers', and young women `b*tches' and `ho's'. Beatings were common, with some so severe, according to some residents, that the victims were left with broken bones.

Along with the nightstick came the denial of simple basic rights. Many residents reported that people with friends and family visiting had their guests removed, and even arrested. If you left your building without an ID, you couldn't come back in to your own home. People would have to holler up for someone to bring it for them. One woman was told she couldn't even stay on her porch without an ID - her husband decided to carry the lease with him whenever he leaves out the apartment, just to be safe. Purses and grocery bags were subject to search. Even the most innocent activity was forbidden. A half dozen detectives rolled up on residents holding a Sunday back-to-school barbecue. Residents were ordered inside, and a group of men waiting by the elevator, lunch plates still in hands, were taken away by police.

Estimates from residents range from 100 to 200 people rounded up over the first few days, and dozens more in the days that followed. 24 hours in custody was the usual, though residents reported people being held 72 hours, with some still remaining locked up without charges. People were being arrested if they didn't have an ID for living there. People were being arrested even if they had an ID--especially if they were a young black male teenager or young adult. One man's brother was arrested twice, just for walking outside. One woman's sister was taken from her own apartment. Another woman's brother had arrived at Taylor early in the morning to work on the food program and was hauled away later in the day by police. Many people began to stay inside to avoid arrest. "When they (police) not around," commented one woman, "people are outside. When they around, you don't see nobody." A neighborhood filled with life began to resemble what another resident called a "ghost town."

Will, a young man of 22, told the RW that he didn't condone the killing of the cop but said, "The fact is you don't come around here harassing innocent people. You don't come knocking down doors to innocent residents. You don't come beat up people who's coming to see their family, who's coming to see their friends. It's not against the law to have visitors, you know what I'm saying. So how you gonna come here and tell us we can't have no visitors. This is not Statesville (prison), this is not Dixon Correctional Center." Many other residents felt like this and after three days of this treatment, residents protested.

On Tuesday, August 18, dozens of Taylor residents, mostly women, marched in the area, with a smaller group carrying the protest down to the police station. There was slim coverage in the mainstream media. Not a whisper in the press, just a few brief pictures and words on the local evening news--and an insulting comment from the Mayor berating residents that they weren't concerned enough about the cop who was shot.

So far, seven people have been charged in connection with the cop's death--five young men for the shooting, two young women for "intimidating" witnesses. Four of the men have been denied any bail. The supposed "triggerman," a 16-year-old, has effectively been declared guilty by the press, police and politicians alike--even though many witnesses have stated he was at a party at the time of the shooting. The youth's past run-ins with the law have been treated as "evidence" of his guilt. The press began speculating about whether the prosecution would seek the death penalty. And a judge who, prior to the shooting, had not detained the youth for a probation violation, was raked over the coals.

There is a strong sense among many Taylor residents that a racist double standard is at work. People feel that the police would never pull the kind of things they're doing in Robert Taylor Homes if a cop was shot in a rich white north shore highrise, nor would they be so outraged if the victim was Black. Will told the RW he thinks the bottom line is that a white cop was shot in a Black neighborhood and from the cops' point of view, someone has to pay for it.

Will said, "The police know that the guys that they got in custody ain't the trigger men. They know that. But like I said before, this is election time, and they got to have somebody to answer, to pay for what happened to that white officer, they got to have somebody. So they go get a young 16-year-old who got past records of having a gun, selling drugs, stolen automobiles. So they say, `Well he got this record, so he's capable of doing it, he's capable of shooting this cop. So we're gonna bring him in and we gonna charge him with first degree murder.' Then they're gonna get some other kids, they beat them up, and basically force them to say this was the trigger man."

While the police department denies that any brutality or coercion has gone on during their assault on Robert Taylor, the experience of one man who was picked up speaks to the truth of the kind of "proper police procedure" that went down. He was hauled to the station after the shooting. First came the insults--being spit on and called n*gger. Then followed the threats. "If you don't tell us who done it," said the police, "we gonna beat the hell out of you. And matter of fact, we'll put the murder on you, if we can't find nobody to put it on." Sinking even lower, the cops boasted that while this young man was in jail they'd "fuck his wife" and sexually abuse his child. It's no wonder that many Taylor residents view any claim by the police with suspicion.

The shooting put Robert Taylor Homes in the public eye once again--and many residents are tired of the way the media constantly portrays Robert Taylor Homes as a place "full of thugs, full of gangbangers, dope dealers, dope users." In conversations with the RW, many residents described their community of buildings as a good one, with a lot of good people living there, who try to do things for each other, and especially for the kids. Since the shooting, a number of residents fear that their community's days are numbered. When police left Betty's apartment, they gave her a threat. Betty said the police told her they weren't gonna quit fucking with people until the buildings are torn down. The threat is more than simply hot air--a number of Chicago housing projects, Taylor included, have been targeted for demolition. A number of residents suspect that the shooting of the cop will become another excuse to quickly move ahead with plans to push them from their homes.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)