Crowd gathers outside facility at centre of claims of unconstitutional abuse
Anonymous and Black Lives Matter among groups represented
Homan Square protesters demand Chicago police ‘black site’ be shut down. Produced by Philipp Batta, Source: Guardian US
More than 100 activists and community leaders rallied in Chicago on Saturday to call for official investigations into and even a shutdown of Homan Square, the police facility at the centre of allegations over unconstitutional abuse and a growing protest movement known as #Gitmo2Chicago.
Less than a week after a guardian uncovered detailed accounts from Chicago citizens who said they were abused and detained without access to legal counsel or basic rights, demonstrators from groups including the hacktivist collective Anonymous and the Black Lives Matter movement chanted “freedom first” and pushed for open access to the secretive police warehouse.
The diverse crowd pressed most directly for answers from Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor who is facing a runoff election in an extended campaign in which police reform has featured prominently.
“Rahm Emanuel says, ‘Trust us, we are doing the right thing,’” said organizer Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network, referring to the mayor’s brief comments about the allegations on Thursday night. “But I’m sorry, Mr Mayor, you have lied to us about enough other things that we are not going to take your word for it that things are just hunky dory in the building behind us. We demand that you shut down this facility.”
Emanuel, who was engaged in a campaign initiative to meet 50,000 voters in a single day, did not address Homan Square on Saturday, as multiple protesters continued to compare it to a CIA “black site”.
This week, multiple witnesses and attorneys detailed to the Guardian claims of police holding people for long periods inside the Homan Square facilty without access to attorneys or their families. Many reported shackling and physical abuse.
Travis McDermott, one of the other lead organizers of Saturday’s protest, spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for the military detention of persons the government suspects of involvement with terrorism. McDermott said the NDAA was the primary reason sites like Homan Square remained in operation.
“The main issue,” he said, “is that when individuals are empowered by a contract” – the NDAA – “they have no threat of accountability, they can’t be expected to exercise self-restraint. They can deny and then it’s a battle of confidence between the people who have witnessed it and those protecting it.”
McDermott said he wanted real answers to the allegations about Homan Square, not quick dismissals.
“Our object is to get hard evidence,” he said, “because the burden of proof now [rests] on the Chicago police department.”
Brian Jacob Church, the first arrestee to come forward to the Guardian regarding his time inside Homan Square, could not attend the protest but requested McDermott read a statement on his behalf. One of the so called “Nato Three” who travelled to the city to protest a 2012 Nato summit, Church says he was arrested and held for 17 hours at Homan Square in 2012, before being charged and convicted and spending two and a half years in prison.
“Today you are standing here because basic humanity has been disregarded in the grossest fashion,” McDermott read. “We hear about things like this happening in other countries … but we never expect them to hit so close to home.”
Vetress Boyce, a candidate for alderman in Chicago’s 24th ward, said communities in the city had long been aware of the threat of violent treatment by police.
She said she stood “wholeheartedly” with protesters and supported a public investigation into what she called “torture” at Homan Square. “We hear a lot of what goes on in our neighborhood and in some cases we have stopped marching, we have stopped fighting for those that matter,” she said.
Reverend Gregg Greer, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called on more people who had spent time inside the facility to come forward. “If the Chicago police department hasn’t gotten anything to hide,” he said, “then open up the doors!”
The Chicago police have denied multiple requests for comment since the Guardian began reporting on Homan Square. In a statement issued to multiple media outlets on Tuesday, the department said it “abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility”. Without saying when records or attorney meetings took place, the police said: “If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them.”
On Saturday, protesters called for a public inspection of Homan Square. They also called for all people booked by Chicago police to be given access to a phone and a lawyer; for an opportunity for the public to ask questions pertaining to Homan Square; and for informational posters to be posted in Chicago police facilities informing people of their rights and including contact details for legal providers.
“I’m hoping you will be back again,” Greer said. “And next week, tomorrow, as long as it takes, we will shut this down if we have to. Because what do we need? We need freedom first.”
As the crowd began chanting Greer’s last phrase one police officer, who had seemed to be holding back laughter, shook his head and cracked a smile.
The crowd then dispersed. Many planned to return on Sunday, ahead of a planned Monday demonstration closer to Emanuel’s office, in an ongoing effort to seek reparations for longtime Chicago police abuse. As Anonmyous continued to push the Homan Square allegations, protests were planned around the country throughout the week.
One really has to wonder just how many of these holding cells are all over the country.