Chicago: Voices of Protest
Break the Blue Wall of Silence

Revolutionary Worker #1013, July 4, 1999

On Friday, June 5, LaTanya Haggerty, 26, was killed by Chicago police on her way home from her computer analyst job in the downtown Loop. The car she was riding in was stopped by police--supposedly for double parking--and the incident escalated until, minutes later, LaTanya lay dead from a police bullet.

Only hours later, 22-year-old Northwestern University student Robert Russ was shot to death in another police traffic stop.

Mayor Richard Daley called on people to trust the police to investigate themselves. But people were not having it. Two promising young lives snuffed out for nothing--on the same Friday night. It was just too much. In both cases, the two young people were not involved in anything but "driving while Black."

Outrage swept over Chicago, especially its Black communities. And the city has not been quiet since.

Angry protests have confronted city officials day after day. And, in this climate of public debate and defiance, many people stepped out to expose police lies about these two killings and tell about other cases of police brutality and murder. In the glare of this crisis, the police coverups started to fall apart. Many different kinds of people have come out to demand justice.

The reactionary press impatiently calls this furor "the issue that won't go away." In fact, the people have refused to let it go away. From this ongoing struggle, millions of people have gotten an eye-opening glimpse of the abuses, murders and routine cover-ups that police carry out.

The Unraveling of Routine Coverups

"Every detail of these incidents will be made public and every appropriate action will be taken in response."

Mayor Richard Daley

"Mayor Richard Daley and Police Supt. Terry Hillard now vow a thorough probe of the Haggerty and Russ killings. But those reassurances keep getting blurred by the daily drip of contradictions and apparent misstatements by the police."

Chicago Tribune, June 18

"Unsettling disclosures about the deaths of the two unarmed Chicago victims suggest that police were less than candid in their initial rendition of events. A variety of witnesses have offered accounts that differ considerably from the official stories in both shootings. Without protesters applying street heat, it's doubtful these discrepancies would have been disclosed."

Columnist Salim Muwakkil, Chicago Tribune, June 21

"This just simply shows the pattern. In my son's death they did the same thing. He was this and he was that. This is the usual crap that they put forward about anybody, and now the truth is coming out. People are beginning to see that there's a pattern of lying and covering up that takes place when somebody's murdered by the Chicago police."

George Morris of the October 22nd Coalition
and the Stolen Lives Project

When the cops shot Bobby Russ and LaTanya Haggerty, their official reports were written to justify the murders. The cops said that the drivers in these incidents did not do exactly what they were told by police--and that the cops considered themselves to be in danger.

The cops claimed that the cars in these incidents had been used as deadly weapons to threaten the cops. It was said that the cops smashed a rear window of the car to get a clear view of Bobby Russ' hands. It was said that Russ then grabbed a cop's gun with both hands and caused his own death. It was said that after a frantic car chase, LaTanya's cell phone was mistaken for a gun. And on and on. The official reports boiled down to a simple argument: That the cops should not be blamed for the deaths of these two young people. In fact the police department openly argued that the killing of Bobby Russ was "justified."

But as eyewitnesses stepped forward and documents leaked out--these cover stories have fallen apart.

Raymond Smith, a friend of LaTanya Haggerty, was driving her home from work. In a statement through the lawyer for the Haggerty family, Smith revealed how police came up to his car in an abusive and threatening way, as he was double-parked in Chicago's South Side Black community. As one cop demanded his papers, the other cop yelled, "Move that piece-of-shit car, you stupid muthafukka." Smith moved on, and the cops pulled him over a block later, again demanding his papers. Frightened, Smith tried to slip his papers through a crack in the window--and the cop yelled: "Put that window down before I break the window and snatch your ass out of the car."

Smith said he panicked, afraid they were about to beat him--and pulled out suddenly. When the cops hemmed him in several blocks later, Smith put his car into reverse and backed out of the roadblock.

Several accounts revealed that three of the cops actually opened fire on Smith's car at this point--and then kept that crucial fact out of their reports.

Smith was terrified at the way the confrontation was escalating. He says that the only thought in his mind was to drive to a place where friendly people would be able to witness what the cops did to him. He was frantically calling his parents to decide where to go. He headed for his uncle's office, pulled over, raised his hands, left the car and submitted to arrest.

Smith says he was on the ground, being beaten and kicked when he heard a gunshot go off. His friend, LaTanya Haggerty, was shot to death by one of the cops.

Witnesses stepped forward to say that LaTanya had been stepping out of the car, with her arms raised, when she was executed.

The police have talked endlessly about how they feel a "justified fear" during ordinary traffic stops--but it was Smith who felt the "justified fear." Police escalated a simple traffic stop into an outrageous street execution.

Meanwhile the police explanation of Robert Russ' death also fell apart. A secret police report was leaked to the press. It revealed that police had opened the unlocked passenger-side door of Bobby's car--and had him in full sight, when he was shot from the rear. In other words, their official story of smashing his rear window to see him was a lie. At least three cops endorsed the falsified version of events. And so did Police Superintendent Terry Hillard--who argued during four hours of public testimony that the police felt they were in danger because they could not clearly see Russ. Meanwhile the police department knew that the door to Russ' car was wide open--and the cops at the scene knew he posed no threat.

George Morris of the Chicago's October 22nd Coalition and Stolen Lives Project told the RW what many people are saying about Hillard: "How can you trust somebody that's pissing in your ear and tell you it's raining. How can you trust somebody that's lying to you?"

Bobby was killed in a deserted stretch of highway. The cops who killed him are the only witnesses. But this much is clear: the heart of the police story was a lie.

In both cases, groups of police fabricated cover stories to justify murder. It shows how routine such lying is. Without intense public scrutiny, these murderous cover stories would probably have been embraced by the media and official investigators--as countless similar cover stories have in the past.

Routine Police Killings Continue

On June 13, the police shot Agenor Roman in a North Side housing project. Police claimed he was armed and threatening them. Witnesses in the projects say he was unarmed, and had trouble raising his arm because he suffered from cerebral palsy. Agenor is reportedly fighting for his life in a local hospital.

Meanwhile a young Cuban-American, Juan Oviedo Torres, was found dead, hanging in his jail cell at Area 5 headquarters. Police claimed it was a suicide hanging. Eyewitnesses said the police strangled him and then wrapped his shirt around his neck to fake a hanging.

On June 14, Gregory Riley, 31, died after being arrested for drug dealing by police on Chicago's South Side. The city and the media tried to respond with "business as usual." Mayor Daley again demanded that people wait to hear all the facts, and added, "Narcotics is the No. 1 issue in the city of Chicago.... Let's allow the Police Department to do their job." A Sun-Times columnist wrote: "This may sound cold, but I can't dredge up a bit of sympathy for a drug dealer who was killed during a scuffle with police."

Many people were furious at the blunt suggestion that the police have the right to execute young Black men in cold blood--simply because they are accused of being drug dealers.

Witnesses stepped out to report that the cops handcuffed Gregory and then a cop put his knee in Gregory's back and strangled him with a chokehold. A witness said the cops stood and watched him die, and then, as an ambulance pulled into view, started giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In the glare of this ongoing police scandal, the Cook County Medical Examiner ruled that the death of Gregory Riley was "asphyxia due to compression of the neck and chest."

The People Speak

"Two weeks. Four shootings. Two strangulations. Four deaths. One victim of violence abandoned by police to bleed in the streets. If that isn't a pattern, what is? The problem IS the pattern!.... The recent epidemic of police killings are not `rules violations.' They are murder."

Neighbors Against Police Brutality

"We have given police torturers a pass."

Jeffrey Haas, People's Law Office

"We cannot live like this! We cannot rely on politicians to change this for us. We can only rely on ourselves--our protest, our resistance and our determination. We can't and won't stop now. We have to turn UP the heat. ...JAIL THE KILLER COPS!"

October 22nd Coalition to
Stop Police Brutality, Repression and
the Criminalization of a Generation,
Chicago Committee

"Those officers put themselves in a criminal place, and they should be treated as such. They should be locked up and serve time to the highest degree. They should be penalized for the things that they did. That was straight up a senseless murder and they should be accountable for what they did. Mayor Daley should be accountable. The government of this America should be accountable for the actions being perpetrated on us--which is urban cleansing."

Beauty Turner, New Black Panther Party
supporter from the Robert Taylor projects,

People of many different nationalities have stepped forward to demand justice and an end to police brutality. And with it has come an ongoing debate about how to end this brutality and murder.

There have been militant demonstrations--right up in the face of police and officials--almost every day. The largest mobilized 600 people for a march to central police headquarters on June 17. About 15 UPS trucks rolled down Canal Street blowing their horns with signs saying "Stop Police Brutality" showing prominently in their windows.

Bill Nolan, the president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), revealed the mentality of cops by arguing that police should not be second-guessed when they have made a "professional judgment" to execute people on the street.

Meanwhile, Chicago's mayor and police superintendent are clearly worried that hundreds of protesters could become thousands and that the outrage over police murder could challenge their control over the city. Both Mayor Daley and Supt. Terry Hillard constantly insisted that only a "few bad apples" among the police "break the rules of police procedure." They argued that people "need" the police--and should be careful not to harm "police-community relations."

As the authorities mobilized their loyal forces--the "reform proposals" they offered became increasingly bizarre. Hillard emerged from one meeting to announce that the police would, from now on, bring a minister along when they informed people that cops had murdered family members. Plus, he added, the police promised to no longer use the word "justified" when they officially excused a police killing.

Chicago's City Hall issued a list of "CAP TIPS" for avoiding execution at traffic stops. This bilingual list of do's-and-don'ts instructed the people of Chicago in techniques usually used by soldiers surrendering to a hostile army--keeping hands in view, meekly complying with every directive, etc.

Some police officials argued that the CPD's problems are caused by the retirement of "mature" policemen who joined the CPD in the 1960s. Do they think no one remembers that the Chicago police in the 1960s were notorious for racism, brutal beatings and "shoot to kill" orders?

A member of a police district advisory board was brought to City Hall to suggest that victims of police brutality should join the CAP community policing programs. She did not explain how becoming a snitch would reduce police murder.

Dorothy Tillman, an often militant-sounding Alderwoman from Chicago's Black Third Ward, suggested that recruiting more Black and Latino cops "at all levels" is the solution. But in fact the cops who murdered LaTanya Haggerty and Robert Russ were both Black--and this murdering police department is already headed by a Black cop, Terry Hillard. In fact, these killings show, once again, that Black cops cannot solve the problem of racial profiling by the police department and more Black cops will not change the fact that a big part of the function of the police force is to keep Black people as a people down in society.

"Serve and Attack?
We're Not Having That!"

"What we're gonna do now is we gonna take this out to the communities and to the people and we're gonna expand on these demonstrations. We gonna take this to the people cuz this is a grassroots movement and we're gonna take it to the people where it belongs. This doesn't belong...with the politicians; this is a people's issue because the people are the ones that are being murdered. And that's where we're taking it to. We're taking it to the streets."

George Morris, Oct. 22nd Coalition
and the Stolen Lives Project

On June 24, the Chicago City Council hearing on police brutality was packed with angry people of all nationalities. People had stories that demanded to be told. The aldermen running this hearing tried to limit what the victims of police brutality would be allowed to say, but they were forced to back down.

One young Black man, JC Taylor, described how he was beaten by police on June 16. Michelle Thomas told how cops stopped her for making a wrong turn downtown in 1993--they punched her and kicked her as she lay, facedown, in a puddle. Her official complaint was dismissed.

And so it went, for seven hours. Dozens of people gave moving testimony. And for seven hours Police Superintendent Terry Hillard was forced to sit there and listen.

When a preacher testified that only "bad apples" were involved, and openly praised Hillard, activists in the audience raised a banner covered with a thousand names of people murdered by police and the crowd roared, "Let the victims speak!" The Sun Times later reported: "The hearing was halted for nearly 15 minutes by chanting protesters who lifted a banner reading `Stolen Lives--Killed by Law Enforcement."'

Among the people, there are many different views of what will end police brutality--but throughout this struggle there has been widespread support for the demand to "Jail the Killer Cops." And there is much impatience with the many attempts to defuse the struggle.

The day after this City Hall hearing, Arriba Jue, spokesperson for the RCP, Chicago Branch, told the RW, "We cannot allow these police to keep beating and murdering the people. Our Party pledges to be down with this fight and to see it through no matter what it takes. These police will never change their brutal nature--because they serve a system that is based on oppressing the people. We strongly support the demand to jail those killer cops who murdered LaTanya Haggerty and Bobby Russ. And we are working for the day when the masses of people overthrow this dog-eat-dog capitalist system that puts these armed killers with badges on the mean streets of America."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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