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Chicago-Style set-up

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Asst. Editor- | Last updated: Dec 18, 2012 - 5:05:07 PM

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Black youth targeted by police

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Photo: MGN Online
(FinalCall.com) - The stories of torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib are well known. Though talk has died down a bit, the controversial Guantanamo Bay detainment and interrogation facility of the United States military located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba is still a contentious topic for many.

In a recent report to the United Nations in compliance with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was reported the U.S. military detained over 200 Afghan teenagers, holding them in detention near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, as suspected “enemy combatants.” Most of them were about 16 years old, according to the report.

Many human rights groups have spoken out against these questionable practices overseas. However, with each passing day, more and more information is revealed about America’s questionable practices and sordid legacy of torture on its own soil.

It is a reality that those living in Black and Latino dominated urban areas are already familiar with, however following a 60 Minutes segment that aired Dec. 9, questions are being raised after Chicago was dubbed “The False Confession Capital of the United States.”

According to the report, Chicago leads the country in documented false confession cases. The prevalence is so great the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating its methods of interrogation.

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States Attorney Anita Alvarez
Earlier this year, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez set up the Conviction Integrity Unit, described by her office as “a specialized unit within the office that will bring a new emphasis and focus on the review of cases involving questionable convictions.”

Calls made to the office of State’s Attorney Alvarez were not returned by Final Call press time, however, according to her campaign’s website, upon announcing the formation of the new unit, she said, “With the creation of this unit I am demonstrating my commitment to bringing our very best efforts to ensure that only guilty people are convicted here in Cook County. And if we have any reason to believe that we have prosecuted or are prosecuting someone who is actually innocent, we will continue to take immediate steps to investigate the matter fully to see that justice is served.”

Torture, abuse, and corruption

The Final Call has closely followed and reported on the dreadful acts of members of the Chicago Police Department under the direction of Cmdr. Jon Burge which resulted in many young Black men being tortured, confessing to crimes they did not commit, and as a result having their lives altered being forced to serve decades in prison.

Though Burge’s January 2011 conviction brought a measure of comfort for some, analysts say the tactics used then still appear to be in the law enforcement playbook.

Recently footage was aired of Chicago police officers intentionally taking an alleged gang member into the turf of a rival gang and allowing him to be threatened and taunted by members of the rival gang. The officers responsible for that action were reportedly reassigned to administrative duties.

Hip-hop activist Viva Fidel says those types of tactics don’t surprise him at all. In Milwaukee where he was born and raised, police harassment, conducting illegal strip searches out in the public and use of excessive force is common and expected, he said.

“The police have become so crooked and corrupt now, it’s like, they’re not even looked at as law enforcement anymore,” Viva Fidel told The Final Call. “People are pretty fed up with the system in general, it’s just a matter of time before it gets blown wide open and exposed here too,” he added.

In November of 2007, a University of Chicago Law School research team focused on analysis of statistical data dealing with systemic controls and disciplinary oversight of officers accused of misconduct. The study found most complaints were lodged against special operations units assigned to Black and Latino communities.

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One well-known group of rogue officers called “The Skullcap Crew” was accused of terrorizing Chicago residents for years. According to the research, residents described seeing members of the Skullcap Crew “planting illegal drugs on innocent people; stealing money from and protecting drug dealers.”

According to 2012 research from the New York Civil Liberties Union, an overwhelming amount of those subjected to “stop and frisk” tactics, 87 percent—were Black or Latino.

Amir Khalid A. Samad, President of the International Council for Urban Peace, Justice, and Empowerment said this pattern of behavior is simply the outgrowth of decades of those within the media and within law enforcement “criminalizing communities of color.” With his 25-year career in law enforcement, including a decade as a member of the Cleveland Police Department’s gang unit, he is aware of the challenges faced on both sides.

“What took place in Chicago is what I call the criminal/prison industrial complex on steroids,” Mr. Samad noted. Pressure to sign plea bargains, false confessions, implicating others in crimes ran rampant in the 80s and 90s, and while it has not stopped completely, it is now “more sophisticated and not as blatant and overt,” he added.

Now working full-time nationwide as a gang intervention specialist, when asked why he believes many men sign false confessions, Samad said fear, intimidation, and one major factor that is often overlooked.

“Another reason I think is the lack of adequate legal representation,” said Mr. Samad. “Some of the public defenders are called public pretenders,” he said adding that many legal representatives sound a pessimistic tone to their clients charged with crimes, convincing them they don’t have a chance or that their case is “hopeless” and that they are “without viable options.”

The CATO Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project maintains an aggregate listing of incidents in which law enforcement officials have violated standards of justice and/or broke laws they were sworn to uphold. Unethical behavior by law enforcement officials does not appear to be limited to one city, state, or region. For example:

• Recently in Camden, New Jersey, a retired police sergeant was sentenced to eight months in federal prison after admitting his role as a supervising officer of a corrupt anti-drug squad that stole cash, conducted illegal searches, planted drugs and falsified reports. Importantly, about 200 convictions of suspects arrested by that unit from 2007 to 2009 have been reversed.

• A former Nassau Bay, Texas police officer was accused of stealing money and tampering with narcotics evidence in the department’s property room and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

• The Department of Justice announced on Dec. 5 that its civil rights division is investigating allegations that members of the Houston Police Department used excessive force against unarmed suspects.

• In Contra Costa County, California: The now-former drug task force commander pleaded guilty in federal court to a number of felony charges stemming from a police corruption case. Among the charges were narcotics possession, distribution, and sales, theft from a federally funded program, and civil rights violations including illegal search and seizures.

Already facing criticism because of the highly publicized violence recently making national news, the Chicago Police Department faces another controversy, as a 38-year-old man died Dec. 14 after being tasered twice and reportedly “becoming combative.”

For his part, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has been highly visible since he took the post in June of 2011 and recently shook up his command staff. When questioned regarding the 60 Minutes report, he told reporters the department is moving forward ensuring that what happened in the past does not happen on his watch.

Following the controversial Dec. 9 broadcast, State’s Attorney Alvarez wrote a letter to CBS News Chairman, Jeff Fager, expressing her displeasure. She accused the 60 Minutes producers of distorting her position and intentionally omitting critical facts.

“Disappointed does not even begin to describe my reaction to the one-sided and extremely misleading story that aired on 60 Minutes,” Alvarez wrote. “When my office was contacted by the producers of this segment nearly one year ago, we were told that you intended to tackle this very difficult and complicated subject with a balanced approach that would include all sides of the story enabling viewers to come away with a better understanding of this topic and engage in an intelligent discussion. What a gross misrepresentation that turned out to be.”

Searching for solutions

Wallace “Gator” Bradley, President of United in Peace, Inc., has long fought for justice on behalf of the wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. He has repeatedly called on Alvarez to free those languishing in prison resulting from documented police misconduct.

Referring to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Supt. McCarthy, Bradley says he is “not at all satisfied” with their efforts to rectify this decades old issue, nor is he happy with their efforts to end police misconduct, nor their “so-called strategies” to reduce violent crime in the city.

“They refuse to sit down and listen to others that know what to do,” Mr. Bradley said.

And as for State’s Attorney Alvarez, “She should free Gerald Reed and George Ellis Anderson and the other three men who the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission determined were tortured by Jon Burge after an independent investigation … she can prove that she is not the animal that 60 Minutes perceived her to be.”

On behalf of Black People Against Police Torture, human rights Attorney Standish Willis, crafted the language of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Act. The lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate was Sen. Kwame Raoul. Then with Rep. Art Turner as its lead sponsor in the House, it passed in May 2009. Governor Pat Quinn signed it into law in August of 2009, and the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission began full operation in summer of 2010.

The commission represents hope for many men claiming to have been convicted based on torture and coerced false confessions, but may have exhausted all rights to hearings and appeals granted to them by Illinois law. Six months ago, the commission lost its funding but remained intact and recently received a $160,000 grant to continue the work of examining remaining cases and claims. Mr. Bradley said he was generally pleased with the work of the commission, and that he and many other social justice advocates will continue to monitor their results until the men receive justice.

Justice for wrongly convicted

There are many legal advocates fighting on behalf of the wrongly convicted. As more abuses and violations are revealed, legal advocates remain hopeful that a measure of justice can be obtained for these victims who are unable to regain those lost years in prison.

• The Chicago-based People’s Law Office currently represents two of the men who were featured in the Dec. 9 CBS 60 Minutes program, Terrill Swift and Jonathan Barr. Both are seeking financial compensation for the time they were unjustly confined behind prison bars. G. Flint Taylor, founder of the People’s Law Office has a 40-year record of fighting for civil and human rights.

• Thirty-six innocent men and women in Illinois have been exonerated due to the legal efforts of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

• The New York-based Innocence Project is responsible for 300 exonerations through DNA testing.

On numerous occasions, Abdullah Muhammad, director of the Nation of Islam’s Prison Reform Ministry said his work on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is to represent the voice of the voiceless languishing in prisons, or in some cases are afraid to come forward to declare that police have wronged them.

“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan taught us that fear restricts the will. Most people lack the knowledge of the true God-Allah, so they succumb to the force and power of the wicked to the detriment of themselves,” said Mr. Muhammad.

Police are not trained to search out the truth for the purpose of freeing the innocent and the millions of dollars in settlements does not make up for the time they have lost, he noted.

“Most police are egotistical and are like a gang themselves with a code of silence where they cover each other’s abuse of authority. Most of the police have no concern regarding the destruction of family ties and they don’t care if the parents of the innocent die while they serve unjust sentences,” he added.

(For more info regarding the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, go to www2.illinois.gov/itrc)

Related news:

Top torture cop sentenced, justice still elusive (FCN, 02-02-2011)

After 20 years in jail, Burge accuser walks free (FCN, 09-28-2010)

Activists want ex-cop accused of torture jailed, police torture outlawed (FCN, 06-12-2010)

U.S. political prisoners have endured decades of abuse, many face death in prison (FCN, 04-25-2010)

Police torture victim released from jail after 23 years (FCN, 01-25-2010)

New hope for alleged torture victims in Illinois (FCN, 08-31-2009)

Alleged torture victim gets new trial (FCN, 06-01-2009)

Torture: The American Way? (FCN, 05-15-2009)

Farrakhan: Give justice to victims of police torture (FCN, 05-13-2009)

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