In the city of Chicago, already reeling from a scandal involving police racism, violence and corruption, the next scandal involving law enforcement is about to take center stage. On Tuesday, the first public hearing took place at City Hall to address Homan Square, the CIA-style interrogation facility maintained by the Chicago Police Department, in which over 7,000 people, mostly Black men, have been detained and abused, off the books and off the grid. Typically, these individuals were held at the warehouse facility without access to their attorneys and without public knowledge or contact.
As the Guardian reported, detainees, activists and legal advocates provided testimony at the meeting, which comes on the heels of the announcement by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into the patterns and practices of the Chicago police. The announcement came following fallout from the 2014 videotaped police execution of Laquan McDonald, the subsequent cover up, and first-degree murder charges filed against Officer Jason Van Dyke. The Justice Department investigation will focus on accountability by the Chicago police, the use of force and deadly force, and how the police addresses, or fails to address such cases, as CNN reports.
“The Justice Department’s investigation must take into account those systemic issues in the Chicago police department that go back decades,” Cook County commissioner, Richard Boykin said on Tuesday. “Homan Square is one of those systemic issues.”
“The shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of the Chicago police … and the 13 months that it took for the facts of that case to come to light, and for the wheels of justice to begin turning, have shown that the elected leaders who sit on the other side of this building — the city side — have not dealt with the issue of race, policing and civil rights in Chicagoland with the urgency the issue requires,” Boykin added. “Therefore, it has fallen to us on the county side of the building to shine a light in dark places. One of those dark places is Homan Square. The allegations of torture, sexual assault, denial of access to legal representation are very serious.”
“Some of the activities in Homan Square fit into the definition of torture, internationally, under the UN’s definition, and Homan Square needs to be looked at under that light,” said Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, longtime civil rights attorney whose clients are Homan Square detainees fighting for reparations.
The detainees’ lawsuit alleges they were handcuffed for hours in the dark, denied access to an attorney, deprived of food, water or bathroom facilities, and were threatened and subjected to racial slurs, according to Progress Illinois.
One of the alleged detainees who gave testimony, Marc Freeman, said he was held in Homan Square for several hours in October 2014 before being booked at the 11th district police station. Freeman said he was denied access to a lawyer or the telephone, and was never read his Miranda rights.
“Because of my experience at Homan, and not knowing the scope of where I was until The Guardian article exposed it, I’ve lost trust in the Chicago Police Department and trust in the city of Chicago,” he said, according to Progress Illinois.
“We’ve had people who have been there, and we’ve been told by city officials at Homan Square and other police districts that they did not know of any arrest of that person for hours and hours on end,” said Eliza Solowiej with First Defense Legal Aid, in her testimony at the hearing.
The Chicago police did not have representation at the hearing. However, the police department released a statement that day insisting Homan Square is not a secret facility.
“Most individuals interviewed at Homan Square are lower-level arrests from the narcotics unit. There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is no different at Homan Square,” said the statement. “The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, activists and members of the public call for the resignation of mayor Rahm Emanuel, who, as Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce noted, has had his “come-to-Jesus moment on his renegade police force,” but this has come far too late for him to escape complicity with the crimes they have committed. One poll found that half of the voters in Chicago believe the mayor should resign, as legislation has been introduced to pave the way for his recall.
It appears that whatever the death of Laquan McDonald does not accomplish in shining a light on the plague that is the Chicago police, Homan Square may very well finish the job.