Shades of the CIA: The Chicago PD’s black site
The Chicago police admire the CIA so much they’re trying to emulate them. What they like best about the CIA, of course, is their talent for bypassing and nullifying all those pesky legal rights that suspects and defendants are supposed to have.
“The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
- Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
- Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
- Shackling for prolonged periods.
- Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
- Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
- At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.”
Photo: Chicago’s Lubyanka Prison
You probably thought this kinda shit can’t happen in America. After all, we have constitutional rights, right? Let me tell you something, friends, those rights aren’t self-enforcing and are just scraps of paper until you sue. (Don’t expect cops to be prosecuted for violating your civil rights, even if they torture or kill you; that’s asking law enforcement to arrest themselves.) For decades, the ACLU has been in the forefront of protecting ordinary Americans from police bullies and other forms of unchecked governmental power. For some strange reason, anti-government conservatives hate the ACLU although that doesn’t stop them from running to the ACLU when they want free legal representation (see, e.g., ex-GOP Sen. Larry Craig).
Dogged investigative journalism — which increasingly is being done by independent journalists as journalism’s traditional business model collapses and what’s left of media and publishing consolidate under the control of giant corporations — also plays a key role in protecting our civil liberties, as do tort lawyers who sue cops who treat citizens like roadkill or pets — although their effectiveness is hindered by immunity laws and depends on the willingness of juries to make authorities who abuse citizens and violate their civil rights pay up. Not least are whistleblowers like Eric Snowden who expose government lies and covert violations of our rights and freedoms, who almost invariably pay a steep personal price for their selfish heroism (Eric Holder has taken the death penalty for Snowden off the table, but only because it’s the only way our government will ever get its hands on him).
The Bill of Rights is, at best, a blunt instrument. The abuses in Ferguson, Missouri, went on for years; are still going on; and it took a police killing of a teenager, and the protests and media attention that followed, to get anyone in Washington, D.C., to look at the problem. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU in federal court under civil rights laws finally shut down an extortion scheme practiced against highway travelers by a corrupt Texas town whose police literally kidnapped children and held them hostage to force their parents to hand over cars and cash, but no government ever intervened, nor were any town officials or police officers prosecuted even though they arguably violated federal racketeering laws. And of course Tenaha, Texas, is merely one of countless such examples that have turned small-town cops into cultural stereotypes.
The reality is that for many American citizens, especially those who are minority and poor, living in the United States is like being in a Third World country. In New York City, standing or walking on a public sidewalk can get you cited or arrested, if you have the wrong skin color. For many Americans, their constitutional rights are empty words. Clearly, they’re more aspirational than reality, and we still have a long way to go.
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