Revolutionary Worker #1010, June 13, 1999
On June 14, Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade members AK Small and Shawn Wall go on trial in Chicago on charges of resisting and obstructing arrest. If convicted, the RCYB 2 face up to a year in jail.
The charges against the RCYB 2 stem from a protest on February 22, 1997 when 300 people disrupted the unveiling of Mayor Daley's "redevelopment" scheme for destroying the Cabrini Green housing project. The "uninvited guests" included Cabrini Green youth and other residents, tenant leaders, activists from the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and the RCYB. The bold action disrupted more than a meeting--it was a powerful challenge to the plans by the authorities to press ahead with the rapid destruction of Cabrini Green and attacks on the poor who live there.
AK, Shawn and the RCYB have just gone through the battle to defend the Brigade House at 1142 N. Orleans. For many months, the RCYB stood firm against the injustices of the system and the threats of their enforcers. The authorities targeted the Brigade House because it stood in the way of their moves against the Black community in and around Cabrini Green. These moves are part of a whole federal plan to eliminate 100,000 units of public housing nationwide by the year 2000--including 18,000 in Chicago. The Brigaders called on the people to "draw the line" with them and went out broadly to gather support. New activists came forward. Networks of support formed. New allies were found. Many people around Chicago heard a new perspective on the situation at Cabrini Green.
On April 20, the authorities evicted the Brigade and brought in the wrecking crew. But this defiant resistance to the "urban cleansing" plans of the system exposed the hateful, racist and greedy nature of the city officials, developers and their police. The voice of the people had been heard--and the official media was unable to portray this destruction as "progress for the community."
The case of AK Small and Shawn Wall should be seen in the context of this movement against the destruction of public housing and against the war on the poor. The RCYB 2 are revolutionaries and fighters for the people, and they must be defended.
A pretrial hearing in the RCYB 2 case took place this March. Right at the start of the hearing, the State's Attorney announced the dropping of the disorderly conduct charge on AK Small. This amounted to an admission that the original justification for the arrests--the "unlawful" disruption of the February 22 meeting--was phony. Despite this, the State's Attorney insisted on pressing ahead with the trumped-up charges of resisting and obstructing arrest.
As the first defense witness prepared to testify, the State's Attorney asked the judge to warn witnesses against "self incrimination." This was a flagrant and outrageous threat that by testifying for AK and Shawn, the witnesses themselves might face charges off of the February 22 protest.
The lawyers for the RCYB 2--Doug Shreffler and Reed Lee--argued two motions. One motion called for dismissal of the charges based on retaliatory and malicious prosecution. The defense presented evidence and arguments showing that the authorities tried to suppress the February 22, 1997 protest and specifically targeted AK. Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council President Cora Moore and educator Dr. Nehemiah Russell testified that Cabrini residents and community leaders were initially excluded from the meeting. They explained that the protest was organized to challenge the City's claim that the meeting represented the will of the community. They pointed out that while they and others took the stage and spoke out at the meeting, only AK and Shawn were arrested. They testified that the arrest of AK and Shawn were in retaliation for their role at the protest and in the movement against the destruction of public housing.
A dramatic video of the protest was entered into evidence. Shot by a Columbia College film student as part of her graduate thesis on public housing issues, the video shows in living color the defiance of hundreds of residents and supporters. The video makes clear how city officials first tried to exclude the masses from the meeting--and then desperately tried to stop a walkout which threatened to expose the meeting as a fraud. The video catches officials trying to divide the protest by red-baiting AK. The city alderman running the meeting screamed that AK was an "outsider" and demanded that the people not join him and other leaders in the walkout. The video shows the alderman moaning that they had lost control of the meeting to "the communists," and a housing department official adding that it was "the RCP." Finally, the video depicts the aftermath of the arrests--the city officials and the developers restarted the meeting and went on to promote their plans to carve up the community.
Lawyers for the RCYB 2 also argued a motion to compel the Chicago police and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to turn over documents that the defense had requested in discovery. They entered into evidence the "contact card" kept on AK by the police in their "anti-gang" computer database. The contact card lists AK's "gang affiliation" as "Communist Party." The database also sends out an "officer safety alert" whenever street cops enter AK's name in the computer. The political use of the contact card is documented proof that the police maintained illegal surveillance records on Brigade activists and singled out AK for arrest. AK's contact card had been obtained through discovery in a separate case involving the infamous Chicago Police Red Squad, but the police had not handed it over in this case.
The City rushed into court the official in CPD's record-keeping to testify that a search of their files did not come up with the contact card or any other political files on AK. As for the CHA, their officials did not show up for the hearing and did not offer any explanation whatsoever about why they had not turned over documents requested by the defense.
Much evidence was presented by the defense--eyewitness testimony, videotape, AK's "gang contact card" and other signs of political police surveillance of the Brigade. And the lawyers made compelling arguments citing legal precedents and constitutional issues. In the face of this, the judge ruled for the City and the developers and denied both motions.
The City is currently taking back control of the CHA, which had been under federal management for several years. City officials have announced new and accelerated plans for demolition of highrise buildings at Cabrini Green and other housing projects.
Chicago is infamous for its back-door politics of bribes and deals. As they carry out their plans for "urban cleansing," the city authorities are playing their usual games of "Let's make a deal" and "Divide and conquer"--making promises to some residents in exchange for an appearance of "public approval" for the destruction of public housing. City officials organize neighborhood meetings to claim "community backing" for their "redevelopment" plans and draw some community leaders into complicity with the attacks on the people. But promises have been broken over and over again, while the authorities claim to have "broad community support" for destroying the community.
This is not just happening at Cabrini Green. Hot controversy has erupted over "redevelopment" plans in other neighborhoods in Chicago. An important struggle recently broke out in Pilsen--the historic home of Chicago's Mexican community now in the target sights of big-money developers. It was exposed that the City had tried to shove "community meetings" down people's throats, without proper notice and without even providing Spanish translators.
The protest on February 22, 1997--and the more recent battle around the Brigade House--were examples of mass, militant and unified resistance that has the potential to defeat the system's plans to destroy public housing. They have made it much harder for City Hall to claim "community support" and deny that demolition of buildings causes intense hardships for the people. This is why the authorities have been determined to go after AK and Shawn--and why it is so crucial to defend them.
The Stop Urban Cleansing Defense Committee is mobilizing a campaign to defend the RCYB 2 as well as the Stop Urban Cleansing 5, who were arrested during the eviction and demolition of 1142 N. Orleans. The Stop Urban Cleansing 5 go back to court on July 13. A press conference and rally is being organized for the opening of the RCYB 2 trial on June 14. The Defense Committee is calling on supporters to send a flood of faxes to the State's Attorney--demanding that the charges in this two-and-a-half-year railroad be dropped immediately. Funds are also needed for legal defense. Contact the Defense Committee at: 3449 N. Sheffield, Chicago, IL 60657. (773) 528-5353.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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