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On Day of Action Against Police Brutality, Grassroots Group Presents Report on Chicago Police Violence

A grassroots organization set up to bring attention to the “voices and experiences” of young people of color most targeted by police violence in Chicago issued a “shadow report,” which has been submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

The group, We Charge Genocide (WCG), was formed in June after a young African-American man named Dominique Franklin was killed by Chicago police after a taser was used on him three times. He was already in handcuffs when police used the taser and hit his head on a metal pole, which put him in a coma. He later died.

Franklin had known organizers, and one lead organizer in Chicago named Mariame Kaba recognized a feeling of disempowerment among youth, according to Page May, who is a part of WCG. kaba decided youth needed an “outlet” for addressing the injustice being experienced and put out a call.

The name of the organization “comes from a petition submitted by the Civil Rights Congress to the United Nations in 1951, which documented 153 racial killings and other human rights abuses, mostly by the police.” It was delivered to the UN by Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson under the title “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.”

The United States government worked to thwart the civil rights leaders’ efforts to bring evidence related to tens of thousands of lynchings that had occurred since slavery was abolished. Patterson arrived in Paris and found that copies of the petition he had mailed to London and Paris had never arrived. Patterson was retaliated against for making these allegations against the US government and became the subject of national security state efforts to discredit and label him as disloyal to America.

May presented the report, which WCG put together over the past few months. It was submitted to the Committee Against Torture in Geneva as part of the periodic review process that stems from being a party to the Convention Against Torture.

“We know that there is this long tradition of documenting human rights violations. But as far as we know this is the first youth of color led one which is really important,” May declared.

Civil society organizations are invited to submit reports in addition to what the US government provides. This gives the UN an opportunity to hold the US government accountable by asking questions about issues that officials may not want to discuss openly.

The report examines harassment, use of excessive force, use of deadly force, sexual assault, mass arrest and detention, and inaction and impunity. Data and examples related to this abusive conduct is filtered through the language of articles in the Torture Convention to make the case that the Chicago Police Department is committing routine violations.

“Not only is harassment and abuse taking place,” May explained, but “invasive and degrading harassment is happening at really alarming rates. We’re seeing intimidation. We’re seeing invasive and abusive searches. We’re seeing theft of property. We’re seeing verbal abuse.”

“Between 2002 and 2004,” the report states, “Chicago residents filed 3,837 illegal search complaints. Only 0.03% of these complaints were sustained and only one resulted in a meaningful penalty (defined as a suspension of a week or more). This confirmation of stop-and-search abuse is especially powerful in light of the CPD’s fundamentally inadequate documentation protocol.”

“The thing about Chicago is that it’s really hard for us to document sort of the daily grind of harassment that people of color are experiencing in this city. I think a really common thing that people think of when they think of harassment is stop and frisk, and we know that happens in Chicago.” But, the way that the city documents “encounters between police and civilians doesn’t allow us to find out how much stop and frisk is happening,” May added.

When the police have any encounter with just a regular person and it doesn’t lead to an arrest, they have to fill out something called a contact card. Now, an example of this, is when you involuntarily stop someone and search them. That is just one of many different kinds of encounters that can be reported on this piece of paper. However, the way that it works is you fill out here’s what happened, here’s their name, and there’s this description box. It doesn’t explicitly ask you to indicate was this person involuntarily stopped and frisked. So there is no way to figure out if it was a stop and frisk or some other kind of encounter. So we have this huge database of encounters but we don’t know how many of them are involuntary. And then if it leads to arrest we don’t have a documentation system that determines that they were arrested as a result of an involuntary stop and frisk.

“There’s a lot of violations taking place, but I really want to point out Article 11, which say there needs to be a systemic federal level database and standards for what kind of information is being collected,” May suggested. “All police departments need to be able to show how many involuntary searches and stops are taking place. The US has been called out on this repeatedly and are refusing to do it. And we are going to make sure that they get called out again when we’re there.”

WCG collected testimonies from young people and then examined data to confirm that these stories reinforced statistics related to policing in Chicago.

For example, organizers collected this harrowing story from a 22-year-old Black man, who described how he was physically assaulted by police. They caused him “permanent bodily injury that will impact the rest of his life.”

And so last year, I flame up the blunt, they hit the sirens…I come out, put my hands behind my head and, “Get on the ground, get on the ground!” Cool, I get on the ground. Next thin I know, I wake up in the back of a police station, and I don’t even know what happened to me to be honest with you, that’s how bad they beat me. I guarantee you. I’m sitting in the Cook County Jail…with twenty-two stitches in my tongue, two facial fractures, bruised ribs, scrapes all over my body. I still can’t talk right to this day. I can’t eat certain things…I had an orbital fracture, a nasal fracture, like, say that had to stitch my tongue back together. I almost didn’t have no tongue. Like it was literally hanging on by a thread, I could feel it, like, I could feel my tongue at my chin…Yea it’s stuff that I shouldn’t have done but at the same time, I came out willingly. I came out with my hands up, giving myself in. There’s no reason to use force like that…now I can’t even go back and file reports or sue the police officer, get the badge numbers or nothing. Like they scarred me outta my whole life.

It is but one example of abuse or brutality in the report.

WCG raised funds to send eight organizers to Geneva in November. They will have someone read a two-minute statement to the committee on police crimes, which will incorporate details on Chicago police from their report but include details from other organizations as well.

The goal is to convince the UN Committee to: “(1) identify the CPD’s treatment of young people of color as torture and CIDT [cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment] as defined by the Convention (2) request and demand a response from the CPD regarding the steps it will take both to end this treatment and to fully compensate the individuals, families and communities impacted by this violence; and (3) recommend that the US Department of Justice open a pattern and practice investigation into the CPD’s treatment of youth of color and seek the entry of a consent decree that requires the CPD to document, investigate and punish acts of torture and CIDT and implement other necessary reforms.”

*Here are four clips of Page May presenting the report in Chicago this morning and providing additional explanation on how they go about arguing police violence violates the Torture Convention.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."