As a former police chief of two south suburban communities, Percy Coleman couldn’t imagine he would be speaking at a rally against police brutality.
But in December 2012 Coleman called police to help with his 38-year-old son who suffered a mental breakdown and got into an altercation at the family’s West Pullman home. Coleman wanted his son taken to a hospital. Instead, police took him to 111th Street lockup.
"Twelve hours later he was tortured, beaten and dead," Coleman said. “I’m still waiting on the video on what happened to my son in that lockup.”
Coleman’s story is not unlike others whose sons, daughters, brothers, and husbands were allegedly killed, beaten or falsely imprisoned by law enforcement. As a result, Coleman marched with 200 protesters Wednesday as they took to the streets and rallied outside Chicago's Federal Plaza, demanding justice for victims of police crimes
“There are two terrorist groups in the city of Chicago – one is the Chicago gangs. The other is the Chicago police,” he said.
Coleman joined the protesters in demanding that the City Council consider an ordinance to create an elected civilian police accountability council. The legislation drafted by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) seeks control over the police department, including the power to go after crimes committed by the police and to hire the police superintendent.
"What we are asking is that people in the community be empowered to hold police accountable for crimes they've committed in their community,” said Frank Chapman, CAARPR’s chairperson. “As a matter of democracy, people should have a voice in how their communities are policed.”
The would-be ordinance aims to replace the Independent Police Review Authority, which many at Wednesday’s rally called a “rubber stamp” that condones police brutality and torture.
Chapman cited Jon Burge as an example of that rubber stamp. Burge was a former Chicago police commander found guilty in 2010 of lying to federal investigators about police torture. Between 1970 and the 1990s Burge and fellow police officers allegedly systematically tortured suspects into making false confessions.
The city has shelled out some $70 million in settlement and legal fees to Burge victims. Burge now sits in a federal prison, but still collects his city pension while members of his crew are still on the force including Kenneth Boudreau and James O’Brien, who march organizers said have a combined 76 complaints of police torture against them.
“What raises a red flag in the city of Chicago,” asked Mark Clements, a Burge torture victim who spent 28 years in prison after being falsely convicted of arson. He contends Mayor Rahm Emanuel reneged on a promise to address police torture when he got in office.
“This has gone on for 40 years where the city of Chicago wasted all of these millions of dollars to cover up the mishaps of several police officers. This has to stop,” he said.
Shouting “No justice, no peace! No more racist police!” and “Now is the time Stop Police Crime!”, marchers snaked through downtown streets past City Hall and the Thompson Center stopping traffic along the way before ending the march at the Daley Center.
As they marched, they unfurled a banner with names of those incarcerated due to alleged police torture.
Here's more from the protest:
According to the CPD news affairs office, no arrests were made during the march.
Wednesday’s event took place on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. It was there that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic "I have a dream speech” seeking racial equality, jobs and justice. But march organizers said the latter has still not been attained by many victims of police torture.
"There has been a lot of progress as a result of the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s, but also there has been a lot of regress," Chapman said.
That regress, he explained, is the pervasive police crimes committed against Blacks and Latinos. He said the police have relentlessly used excessive or deadly force against children causing over 70 Trayvon Martin-like cases in the last four years. Martin was a Florida teen shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was later found not guilty of the crime.
“The difference is it is not vigilantes as Zimmerman was. It’s people operating under the cover of the badge,” said Chapman, a police torture victim who spent 15 years in a Missouri jail.
Bernetta Howell-Barrett, who attended the 1963 march in the nation’s capital, drew historical comparisons to police brutality and actions by law enforcement during the Civil Rights movement. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks were water hosed and had police dogs sicced on them. That physical and psychological abuse has not stopped, but the methods have changed, Howell-Barrett alleged, noting that taxpayers now foot the bill for these crimes.
“We wind up seeing taxpayer dollars wasted and literally thrown away by ... the settlements that have to be made to people who were tortured and imprisoned unjustly,” she said.
Action such as these are working says Crista Noel, co-founder of Women's All-Points Bulletin, an advocacy group that protects women against police violence. She noted that between 2009 and 2012, there have been 224 police-involved shootings in the city of Chicago, with 63 of them being fatalities. However, she said, fatal police shootings have declined since 2009 when there were 19 fatalities, except for in 2011 when there were 23 fatalities.
In 2010, there were 13 fatal police shootings, eight in 2012, and so far this year six people have been fatally shot by police. Noel said no women have been shot by police since Rekia Boyd’s shooting by an off-duty officer in 2012.
"Your voices are being heard,” Noel said. “We are making a difference. Keep marching, keep speaking out. They [the Chicago Police Department] went from shooting 23 to eight. That’s us. We make a difference.”
Image: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast