The ACLU of Illinois announced a “landmark” agreement with the Chicago Police Department and City of Chicago over stop and frisks earlier this month. However, soon after, there were multiple activist groups, which were upset with the ACLU because they believed the settlement undermined their efforts.
In particular, local groups feel they were excluded from the process when the ACLU had claimed to want to collaborate because they too have an interest in holding police accountable. The local groups also contend that the ACLU should have given them credit for creating the climate, where the city and police felt pressure to settle in order to pre-empt any kind of lawsuit.
This week on “Unauthorized Disclosure,” Page May, a Chicago-based organizer with the local group, We Charge Genocide, talks about the ACLU and the settlement. She describes organizing against stop and frisks by Chicago police and how she believes the ACLU of Illinois essentially snubbed activists they had claimed to be working with. May reacts to the contents of the settlement and talks about an ordinance for addressing stop and frisks, which activists planned to introduce in the city council until the ACLU and City of Chicago forced the activists to delay introduction.
During the show’s discussion, the hosts talk about Israel’s skunk weapon which St. Louis police are stockpiling, various updates on news from Israel, the gravely ill Guantanamo prisoner, Tariq Ba Odah, who the Obama administration opposes releasing from the military prison, and we follow-up on last week’s episode where we talked about Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter activists.
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Below is a partial transcript of the interview.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: There is a big development, and some issues that need to be addressed in Chicago with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. This chapter negotiated a settlement related to stop and frisks in Chicago and came to an agreement with the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago, decided to go this route instead of a lawsuit. Your organization and other organizations in Chicago were not part of this process and have been protesting and calling attention to this. Will you talk about the issue with the ACLU?
PAGE MAY: To understand, we have to go back to last August, a year ago, when We Charge Genocide had just gotten started. There are a lot of people that had been talking about stop and frisk and wanted to organize around it—and did the work around stop and frisk in Chicago. So, we don’t mean to imply we are the first.
We got started when we had a hearing with young people in August. One of the main things we were hearing from young people consistently was that police violence looks like you walk outside, you get stopped, and you get harassed. And that really stuck with us, and in the report that we submitted to the United Nations, there’s a whole section called harassment and abuse, which is really about stop and frisk and how little data is being kept on this problem, that we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is a crisis.
I’ve talked about the delegation to the United Nations and how successful that was. I’ve also talked about what we did immediately after around reparations. But all the while we’ve been gearing up for this campaign, knowing that this was something we were going to want to take on.
We drafted up the STOP Act, much to the work of Sharlyn Grace and Joey Mogul. I really started working with Malcolm London to develop something called “ChiStops,” which was this youth-centered education and organizing effort led by young black and brown people. To really go out and talk to black and brown folk and say, just so you know we’re really working on this. And we know that this most affects you so we would love to know what you think, what your experiences with stop and frisk are, and we’d like to invite you to join us in this movement. So, we started doing that in the spring and we’ve been doing those presentations for months.
At the same time, [inaudible] we met with ACLU and let them know that we were working on this because we knew that this was something they were interested in based on the report that they had released after we already decided and launched our campaign that really showed the initial sweep of data that we do have access to, showing that what we have in Chicago is four times as bad as New York City.
At this meeting, we explained our intentions to file ordinance, that it was a city-based thing, that we firmly believed that how we won mattered, and that we were focused on movement building and centering black and brown people. They shared with us their intentions to stay at the state level. My experience I thought it was actually patronizing. There was a white lawyer man, who repeatedly would cut me off and repeat what I was already saying. It was extremely frustrating. And it kind of implied that we did not know what we were doing by taking on a city ordinance, that it did not make sense because you need Rahm on board. Which we knew. We knew all of this.
But they said that they supported what we were doing, that we would stay open. We recognized that we had different strategies, but we were going to work together to support each other’s efforts. And we stayed in touch with them. We let them know. We sent them know that the date we were filing we were having this big press conference—all this stuff. They even sent us edits for ordinance. So, they knew what was in it. All that happened, and we were doing the work, doing the work, doing the work. And some weird stuff started to happen.
The first is that we had, sort of separate from this, me and some other black leaders in the city had a chance to meet with Rahm Emanuel. We talked about the STOP Act at this meeting. He was very interested in it, and he asked to see it. Shortly after, we were followed up by Janey Roundtree, the director of public safety, who wanted to meet with us to talk about the STOP Act. An hour before that meeting it was canceled, and we knew that was a bad sign. Something was going on that was fishy.
Then, the day of our press conference—It’s packed. We get our hashtag trending in Chicago. There are like hundreds of people at city hall for this. We have all these young black people getting up to share their stories and we’re saying we are filing this ordinance and this is why it is important. We get a call. One of our alderman, Alderman Sawyer, gets a call from the mayor’s office after the press conference asking him to please delay filing the STOP Act for four days because there’s some negotiations going on with the ACLU.
We also get an email from ACLU saying we didn’t realize you were filing. If you had told us, maybe we would have told us about this thing we’ve got going on. So, then we realized that something big is happening behind the scenes. We get another call and are getting the sense that it very much affects the STOP Act and its ability to move forward. So, we request a meeting with ACLU. We finally sit down with them.
I’m already angry. I’m not going to lie. I was very open with my anger. I don’t think it makes sense to play the politically correct game and like pretend I’m not mad for some PR purpose. And we said tell us. We want to know what’s going on, and from what we already know we have two problems. One is that what you’ve already done has undercut the efforts of young black people who have been leading “ChiStops” and their ability to get a much more holistic reform package passed through city hall. Second, we are concerned about credit. Whether or not it is for We Charge Genocide or Black Lives Matter on the whole, we think it is absurdly disrespectful that you’re going to use this and get a ton more money from your fundraisers when you’re already this this huge elitist nonprofit. So at that time they explained to us what the settlement was.
GOSZTOLA: We’ll get to the settlement. First, I think people should recognize that your community of activists was directly responsible for passing the reparations ordinance for police torture victims, people who tortured by Commander Jon Burge. And I would imagine that you would follow a similar model in pursuing some kind of city council ordinance around stop and frisk.
MAY: Exactly. We were one part, I mean, one part of that fight that lasted decades, but we see that final six months was really something that was led by a coalition that included a lot of We Charge Genocide folks. We learned why we fought so hard for that. Mariame Kaba would always say we need to know how to win. We need to know how to win so that we know how to win, and so we learned a lot in that experience and how to pass things through the city council.
And we were building on that with the STOP Act, and, to be very honest, that I think the fact that it was that we’re getting smarter and better at these things, that we’re radical. That we’re at a point where the city is having to negotiate with us. And we’re bunch of young black folks that the city likes to pretend don’t exist or don’t matter usually. So I think it actually has a lot to do with we’re a powerful group of people, and we’re particularly a powerful group of young black people. That has a lot to do with how it went down the way it did.
RANIA KHALEK: Do you ever wonder if it is not just about the tactical stuff and the sort of like you just have power but instead the end goal? It seems like you all are invested in radical change whereas perhaps—And I like the ACLU for the most part but it’s more invested in reform.
MAY: Right, again, there’s two problems. What is the ACLU’s end goal versus ours? I suspect they’re very different. But, for me, my people are dying. My people experience anti-blackness on every single level of their lives. That is the problem. In order to change that, in order to get free, we have to have a shift in transformation power relations. We are not dying because there aren’t enough laws on the books. We aren’t dying because we don’t have enough data. We’re dying because the world is racist. The only way we can do that is if we redistribute power away from a racist state and the racist police and back into our communities. So, how we get new legislation and policies passed has everything to do with shifting power.
How we win matters because how we win is actually how we get free. That’s the problem here. If you talk to any person in Chicago, you will find out that stop and frisk is a problem, right? But people don’t listen to young people. What we did is we talked to young black people. We heard it was a problem, and we learned a few ways that we might be able to address some of the immediate harm that is going on with stop and frisk, recognizing that ultimately we are going to need data though in order to prove it to a wider audience because the wider audience is racist and won’t listen to these young black people. So, we needed data and we did want to address some of the immediate harm that young black and brown people are experiencing every day.
That was the impetus of the STOP Act. It was the first step in a much longer campaign to really redistribute power, right? And question the role of stop and frisk in even keeping us safe. Is it a useful tactic? I have my reasons to believe it’s not. I think it’s a very successful tactic in doing something other than keeping people safe.
For more, listen to the full interview.