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Groups address police brutality [25 June, 2008]

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Chicago recently became a finalist in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics.  An umbrella group of local activist organizations and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) is using this media attention to highlight Chicago police brutality.  At a June 19 press conference outside Mayor Daley”s office and an evening community forum at the Broadway United Methodist Church in Boystown, the group argued that Chicago did not have a right to host the Olympics given its record on police brutality, especially towards members of the LGBTQ community.  Sponsors of the events included queer groups Amigas Latinas, Equality Illinois, and Gay Liberation Network.

A central case is that of Alexander Ruppert, a gay man who alleges that he was severely beaten by police officers in June 2006.  Ruppert received 16 stitches to his left eye, and his injuries, photos of which were displayed prominently at the press conference, include a fractured nose.  Ruppert could not be present because of his medical condition, and was represented by his attorney Jon Erickson.

According to Robert Schultz, a field organizer for AIUSA, the Ruppert case is only one of many that create a “pattern of abuse” against LGBTQ people.  Wendy Park, of the American Civil Liberties Union, called for “meaningful reform.”  This includes changing a police union contract provision which prevents the Independent Police Review Authority from investigating anonymous complaints about “anything short of criminal conduct” on the part of police officers, even though anonymous citizen complaints against citizens are routinely addressed.  Schultz said, “Chicago is a global city and we take pride in that— but that brings responsibilities and obligations.  One is the rule of law, which should apply to both police and civilians.”

Is using the Olympics to highlight police brutality a symbolic gesture, and will the group go so far as to ask the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to reject Chicago”s bid on grounds of its history of police brutality?  What about human rights abuses in other finalist cities, such as Rio de Janeiro?  Schultz”s responses to these questions were non-committal; about the IOC, he said: “We”ll take whatever steps are necessary.”  The evening forum featured panelists who made it clear that they could and would take those steps.

Jon Erickson spoke again about his client, while Frankie Brown described being dragged from his home in Markham, Illinois, by police officers who entered his home insisting that he had drugs on the premises.  According to Brown, the police repeatedly called him a “fag.”  The panel also discussed the tensions between youth of color and police in and around the Center on Halsted in Boystown.  Ambrose said that he and his friends have been constantly harassed and picked up.  Recently, 4 youth were put in jail for 24 hours, according to Ambrose and “This happens on a daily basis.”  Youth advocate Father Tommy Avant-Garde, also known as Tommy Sampson, said that adults and youth “were trying to be pro-active so that we don”t have incidents of harassment.”

Joey Mogul, an attorney, and Pat Hill, from the group Black People against Police Torture (BPT), addressed the local and international frameworks around Chicago (and U.S) police brutality and the Olympics.  According to Mogul, those most abused tend to be transgender or non-gender conforming people of color because police officers see themselves as enforcers of normativity.  For instance, a black butch lesbian arrested in Boston for disruptive behavior was handcuffed more tightly than required.  When she asked an officer to loosen the handcuffs, she received the response, “If you want to act like a man, I”ll treat you like a man.”

Such cases of intimidation are, according to Mogul, the reason why “the experiences and stories of survival of LGBT people do not come to light.” Mogul also said that, “[w]hile we struggle as advocates, organizers, and activists, we lose sight of the fact that LGBT people of color are also victims of police violence.  In the queer community, mainstream LGBT organizations are not dealing with the racist, transphobic violence that queers are facing.”

Mogul advocated using international human rights treaties to publicize the ways in which local law enforcement failed to follow the same.  In 2006, she was part of a contingent that testified on Chicago police torture cases before the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which monitors compliance with the U.N.  Convention Against Torture.  Mogul said that this testimony was part of the reason why the U.S.  Attorney’s office “has subpoenaed 10 officers to the Grand Jury.”

Hill said that “Chicago does not deserve to host the Olympics.”  Citing the Jon Burge case, she said that BPT has issued a statement opposing the Olympics in Chicago because the city has “failed to prosecute the police officers and officials who committed acts of torture, and the United States has engaged in numerous human rights violations [as documented by the United Nations].”

Originally published in Windy City Times, 25 June, 2008


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