"Operation Looking Glass":
Police Raid at Chicago Housing Projects

The following is a correspondence from Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade members in Chicago.

Two van-loads full of cops in army-style flak jackets and helmets and armed with automatic rifles, backed by 15 to 20 squad cars. A police helicopter flying around your home. The cops in military formation, coming at your building from all sides, occupying the surrounding streets. From your window you see them in front of your building, forcing people down at gunpoint--a janitor is kicked to the ground because he doesn't get down fast enough. The police bully their way inside. Doors are forced open or kicked in. There's no way in and no way out of your building.

At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, May 5, this is the way it was as police raided the 534 W. Division building in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project. The police planned their raid for the time when parents were getting their kids ready for school or were on their way to school.

The police called their raid "Operation Looking Glass." They videotaped the whole raid--and then released the video to the media in time for midday newscasts.

As the police stormed into 534, dozens of people gathered at the building across the street--watching with seething anger, standing in not-so-silent protest.

RCYB members spoke to several residents about the raid. One woman told us, "15-20 police cars, a big ol' bus to load up. They came to a lot of people's houses uninvited, no warrants.

"It was terrifying, upsetting.. A crew barged in, four of 'em with vests on. They said, `Don't talk to me, talk to my sergeant. This is an investigation.'. They didn't want to talk, they just wanted to rough up somebody, tear up your house."

Another woman said her little niece shook her awake and wanted to know, "What's going on? Why are there all those police outside?"

The police claim they raided the building to look for drug dealers. They had been watching the building for months, taking photographs of people coming in and out or hanging around. And when the police descended on 534 and searched people's homes, they had only the photos they'd taken--no warrants or other official documents. They targeted people for drug-related "conspiracy" charges based on the photos. "They had no right to come into people's homes," said one woman, expressing the outrage of many others.

Like the people in Fallujah surrounded and attacked by U.S. forces, the people in Cabrini were trapped--unable to "get in or out," as several residents commented. Like the U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Chicago police kicked in doors and forced their way into homes, with completely bogus reasons for their actions.

One woman said that the police told her, "If you don't open the door, you're going to get evicted." The cops had battering rams, and she was forced to open her door. "I thought they were coming to kill somebody.. We was fearing for our lives. We didn't know what the hell they was gonna do. It violated us."

Another woman talked about the way her son was arrested in the raid. She found his door open and police inside with their guns drawn and their threatening dogs. At least one cop had an automatic rifle. She also witnessed her son's small children terrorized by the cops' guns and attack dogs.

Cabrini and the people living there are often demonized by the authorities and their mouthpieces, to justify the intense police repression in the projects. But as the woman who saw the cops terrorize her grandkids pointed out, this is a community of people: "It's one house, a house full of families."

One of those arrested in the raid had been unable to find work for a long time. People remembered that he was always saying he would get a job if he could find one--but with only a grammar school education, he couldn't get any work. "The police are not considering that by selling drugs the young men are simply trying to do what they can to look out for their families," said one resident.

Several women we spoke with said that the cops themselves allow, support, and organize the drug trade in Cabrini. One woman told us, "They get the drugs into the neighborhood, and let the dealer go into another building. The police got [dealers] serving for them.and [the police] won't get caught."

For years, the people of Cabrini Green have been fighting massive evictions and demolitions of their homes. The authorities fear a concentration of poor Black people near their city center. And they want the valuable land for profitable "development." Cabrini Green is now surrounded on all sides by new condominiums and townhouses that sell for prices starting at $750,000. (For more on the fight around housing at Cabrini Green and in Chicago, see the two-part RW series--"The Deconstruction of Public Housing: Cruel Plans, Cold Lies," and "The Drive to Destroy Public Housing in Chicago: People Removal in Cabrini Green"-- available online at rwor.org.)

The raid of the 534 building came at a time when people at 11 buildings in the neighborhood had just received letters telling them they had 180 days to evacuate their homes. As one resident noted, the police weren't "cleaning out drug dealers" from the area--they were "cleaning it out of residents."

Recently, a school principal who opened the school for community meetings was called on the carpet by officials. At "public meetings" held by the Chicago Housing Authority--aimed at getting tenants to move out of Cabrini--police stood in the doorway to block out tenant leaders and activists from the community (including members of the RCYB, who live in the projects).

The building at 534 W. Division has been one of the hotbeds of resistance in Cabrini Green. In 1997 police shot a woman in front of the building when she demanded that they stop beating her cousin. Shots were fired back at the cops, forcing them to retreat.

In 2002-2003, youth in the building marched in the front ranks of a number of protests after police murdered 21- year-old Michael Walker in the hallway of 534.

Michael Walker's mother told us that in February, the police stopped her other son in the building and threatened to kill him, telling him he was "coming into the building too many times." They took his car keys and his money and arrested him on charges that were dropped in court.

Michael Walker's brother was one of the people the police had a picture of when they raided the 534 building. He was "caught on film" because he comes in and out of the building to pick up his kids and visit his mother. His mother laughed bitterly at the police charge of conspiracy against her son and others: "Conspiracy-- yeah, conspiracy to stand under the building."

This latest police raid has deepened the identification that many in Cabrini feel with the people of Iraq. A young woman whose brother had been beaten by the police and then jailed for "assault on an officer" said, "They do us on the down-low. With them [people in Iraq] it's right out there in the open."

Another comment we heard, from a woman: "American soldiers are getting killed, but those soldiers shouldn't be there [in Iraq], like police shouldn't be here. They think they can treat them like dirt, like they think the people here are dirt. They think we're ashes. They want us under the earth. The similarity I see between Cabrini and Fallujah is that they're both poor. They think we won't fight back.but the truth is we got nothing to lose but our chains."

Youth from the neighborhood have taken part in protests against the U.S. war in Iraq--including youth organized by the RCYB who joined the march of 10,000 people that blocked Lakeshore Drive the night the U.S. launched the war in March 2003. On the first anniversary of the attack on Iraq, a young rap artist and his crew from Cabrini performed at a downtown rally against the U.S. occupation.

The hunger for a real road out of this rotten system shines through in Cabrini. We saw this when the RCYB took out the special May Day issue of the Revolutionary Worker . Women and men, young and not-so-young took up bundles of the RW to distribute. One man who took a bundle came back for more, saying that people need the paper to understand that there is a way out from under this mess. A middle-aged man described how his young neighbor helps him to study the paper.


As Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, pointed out, "The fact is that the police brutality and oppression of Black and Latino communities has increased after 9/11... The authorities were unleashed to increase harassment, to bend or ignore people's supposed civil liberties, to apply racial profiling with a vengeance, and in general to be even more aggressive in making many kinds of people feel the boot of this system on their neck. Everything that has happened after 9/11 is part of a declaration by the empire that this is a new day, and a new era--a declaration that the rulers of this country are not about to accept any shit from anyone. They are saying that they are now going to rule, unchallenged and unchallengable . And given the history of this country, how could that NOT also mean a renewed suppression of Black and Latino people?"

"Operation Looking Glass" is part of the "new normalcy" in this country that legitimates this kind of forceful, military-style bullying in society, starting with those who are most oppressed. It is a chilling example of the heightened domestic repression on many fronts at a time of unprecedented global assaults on the people of the world by the U.S empire.

These kinds of attacks on the people must not be allowed to go down without outrage and opposition. As one resident we interviewed put it, "The public needs to hear our side of the story."