Revolution Online Edition, September 14, 2009
We received the following correspondence from Chicago:
Masses Rise Up Against Police Murder in Rockford, Illinois
September 10. Over the last ten days, hundreds of the Black people in Rockford, Illinois, have poured out in repeated marches and rallies, speak outs and vigils, town hall meetings, and church services, all expressing their outrage and demanding justice in the police murder of Mark Anthony Barmore, a 23-year-old African American killed by two white officers on August 24, 2009. Barmore was shot in the back by the two officers who pursued him into a local church and killed him in front of ten to twelve children in attendance at the day care center in the basement of the church.
According to the minister's wife, Sheila Brown, who is also the director of the daycare, Barmore was walking near the church after twelve noon that day. He was chatting with her because he was wanted in connection with a 911 call filed by a girlfriend in a domestic dispute and wanted Brown's advice. Brown then walked into the daycare center and she says that before the door could swing shut, Barmore ran into the building, shouting "They are coming after me." Brown said she was trying to shield the group of children, aged five to ten, when Officers Oda Poole and Stan North ordered Barmore out of a boiler room. According to Brown, he complied with their order. "Barmore had his hands up and his head down. He was totally submissive." But the officers went ahead and repeatedly fired their weapons into him, even as he lay face down on the floor, also endangering the lives of the children whose exit the police blocked. Brown and her 17-year-old daughter, who was also an eyewitness, deny the officers' story that Barmore had gotten a hold of the officer's gun, insisting that there was no such struggle. An independent autopsy done by the family of Barmore showed that Barmore was shot three times in the back, confirming the Browns' account and contradicting the police lies.
As news of the murder spread, family and friends of Barmore and others in the community converged at the church, quickly calling out the lies and demanding to be heard, especially angry that the Rockford police chief was declaring on the news that the officers' version was "the facts."
These two cops were known brutalizers. In 2003, Officer North shot Lataurean Brown during a traffic stop, claiming he had tried to back over him. In January 2007, his partner, Oda Poole, shot two men in a car and then also claimed that the men tried to run him over. A few months later, Poole shot and killed 66-year-old Louis Henderson, Jr, saying he approached with a gun – but it turned out to be a hammer in a sock. These previous shootings and the murder by these officers were all found to be "justified and appropriate" by the Winnebago County authorities, as was each and every case since 1992 of Rockford police using deadly force against people. In eight of these cases, people lost their lives at the hands of the police. In each case, the Rockford police officers were gotten off and allowed to go back out on the street. In response to an email from local media, Police Chief Chet Epperson admitted that this police force is trained to shoot to kill, "Shoot at center mass. We teach officers that when they are using deadly force they should continue on until the threat has been eliminated /minimized."
At one of the marches, hundreds blocked traffic on the city streets and proceeded three miles over the bridge from the predominantly minority westside of town (where racial tensions have built in recent months over a variety of issues) to end up at City Hall and police headquarters chanting, "The Blood is on the Badge" and "He Had His Hands Up." One woman expressed the sentiment of many people, "I just feel that enough is enough and something needs to be done." She drove an hour and half to be part of the demonstration, which was mainly Black but joined by whites and Latinos, including members of dozens of churches in Rockford. "This is a very worthy cause. I thought a church would be a refuge, that you would be safe in a church. He ended up in a church and lost his life." The tradition of taking refuge goes back to the Old Testament, according to Bishop John Senter of Faith Walkers Assembly. But Barmore was killed when he was running to a safe place. As one man at the rally put it, "There was no damned struggle, Barmore was surrendering! When is this gonna stop? Kids are getting killed!"
In response to this angry outpouring of the people, Rockford authorities for the first time called in a supposedly "independent" investigation by a task force composed not of the Rockford police but of investigators of the Illinois State Police and the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney. This is a sick joke and a crime in itself in light of the facts: that the Cook County State's Attorney justified huge numbers of police murders in Cook County; that they wrongfully convicted many an innocent man in other types of cases, and left them to rot on death row decade after decade until they won their own exoneration; that the Cook County States' Attorney helped unleash and covered up the outright torture by the infamous Area Two torture team and then gave honors to their commander, Lt. Jon Burge.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson soon entered the fray in this city of 150,000 people, which is 80 miles northwest of Chicago and has the highest unemployment rate in the state at over 15%. Jackson's involvement has called more attention to this terrible murder and has had the effect of many people in Rockford feeling that they have some backing in their demands for justice. But his overarching message (a la Obama) of declaring that both sides need to come together in a "positive healing of the divisions" (and for jobs and personal responsibility of Black people) has had the effect of channeling people's anger and determination to fight against the crime of police brutality away from the system which is the root cause and enforcer of not only this crime but of all the hardships of the masses in Rockford and the entire the planet.
Jackson is calling for a federal investigation to be conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. But thus far, the feds, through the DOJ Community Relations Service, have only come in to—get this—provide public relations services to the City of Rockford! They are also offering "mediation, conciliation, training and technical assistance." But the Community Relations Services and the relationships it cultivates with members of the Black community to "mediate racial tensions" were exposed as an intelligence source for government counter-intelligence operations, part of the larger operations that tapped phones, monitored bank and tax records, blackmailed, beat up and framed people, in order to disrupt, destroy, and at times even murdering those who dared to raise their voices in the movements of opposition back in the 1960s, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton being just two examples.1
Many progressive forces at this point seem to be falling for all this crap about reconciliation and the like, putting forward that now they are confident that things are turning positive and that justice will be done. But this is wrong and dangerous too, when the dogs are in the street! Yes, the cops are now mounting their own upcoming rally, demanding that the two officers be taken off administrative duty. (This is the standard procedure of the Rockford police in police murders—giving the officers administrative duty, meaning desk work, pending the usual finding that the murder was "justified.") A hue and cry is now being raised that these cops are somehow being unfairly persecuted in this way. And it gets worse. Right-wing reactionaries full of passionate intensity and genocidal intent toward Black people are calling in the local radio shows, spewing out their racist garbage: that it is a good thing that Barmore was shot in the back and too bad more of them (translation; Black people) weren't shot down!
Of course, many Black people on the westside are not satisfied with the so-called solution through "healing" in the face of all that has been coming down. Says Steve Muhammad of New Life National, "There is a trust issue. Black people in the city of Rockford—we are having a trust issue." And many want to keep on taking up the gauntlet that has been thrown down. Some, including members of Barmore's family, pledge to fight to their last breath to see these killer cops brought to justice in the case.
There is another march on Saturday, September 12 which will be going through the westside, picking up forces to then head downtown to the seat of power. Revolution will be coming back there, to join with the masses in this significant battle, and to keep on engaging them with the statement "The Revolution We Need…the Leadership We Have." We got going with this last weekend, making it the hub and pivot of our efforts as we visited Rockford from Chicago, going out with the photo display on the back of our truck of the lives stolen by the police, which was swarmed by the people, who then grabbed up the newspapers and the statements. Everyone we met wanted to engage about all of this and learn about October 22, the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation. From teenagers in the projects, to the ministers, church staff, and parishioners of the churches in the community, to family members and neighbors of Barmore, to the owner of a hair salon driving a late-model car, to the white proletarians walking through to the waterfront concert. We will go to the march with the display, featuring the Call for NDP, and the words from the statement:
"It is up to us: to wake up...to shake off the ways they put on us, the ways they have us thinking so they can keep us down and trapped in the same old rat-race…to rise up, as conscious Emancipators of Humanity. The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
And we will keep you posted as new things unfold.
1. The Age of Surveillance, The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System, Frank J. Donner, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980. [back]
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