Police Watch

(Justin Bianchi, ArtistJ/flickr)

95th and Dan Ryan is the end of the line. The farthest point south on the map of the ‘El,’ it is also where Michael Pleasance was killed in 2003. He was unarmed and standing in place when a police officer shot him in the head.

On New Year’s Day, one of the many Occupy offshoots, Occupy the South Side, organized a demonstration at the ‘El’ stop to protest police brutality and intimidation of minorities. Occupy the South Side was acting in solidarity with their counterparts in Oakland, California, where a similar protest was held.

“Are you here for the action?” Mark Clements wanted to know. It was hard to tell which of the people standing in the station on New Year’s Day were there for the protest, waiting for a bus, or just standing around. After exchanging a few glances, a small circle formed and the logistical details were hashed out. The protestors split into two groups, on either side of the station, and joined the shuffling crowd coming up from the south.

“Indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” they shouted in unison, carrying banners and picket signs. One sign read “DON’T TASE ME BRO.” Among the 60-plus protesters were a middle-aged radical bookseller, a twenty-something bakery worker and political activist, and a street preacher. The demonstrators huddled close by the walls of the entrance to battle the freezing temperatures and keep a corridor open for CTA customers to pass.

“We are not here to be disrespectful,” a woman representing Occupy the South Side declared, talking into a microphone. “We are here to be powerful.” She spoke out against the violence and racial profiling committed by Chicago police, and read out a proposed New Year’s resolution for law officers, that they might protect and serve without torture or terror, and report incidences of police misconduct without delay.

Clements stepped up to tell his story. As a teenager, he was beaten by police until he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. After 28 years in prison, his conviction was finally overturned. A little later, Emmett Farmer took the mic. His son was shot by a police officer last June. “We want justice! It’s on video, it’s on tape. We gotta stand together.”

The protesters demanded more accountability among those on the force. One woman asked the police to adopt the slogan that the city asks its residents to abide by: “If you see something, say something.” If they ask non-uniformed citizens to “snitch on our neighbors to make our communities safer,” she wondered why law enforcement officers aren’t reporting wrongdoing among their ranks.

Surveillance was a common thread in their speeches, as they called for greater vigilance among everyday Chicagoans to halt the abuse. It’s not without complications, though–according to one speaker from the Campaign Against Police Sexual Assault, when a woman recorded her discussion with two investigators on her BlackBerry to support a sexual harassment complaint against another officer, she was charged–but not convicted–with criminal eavesdropping. The case underscores the conflict between the watchful eye of the law and the citizen-watchdogs who denounce abuses of power, which the Occupy movement as a whole has brought to the fore, Images of clashes with riot police from the Occupy demonstrations around the country have become ubiquitous, capturing the misuse of force in high resolution.

As the rally wrapped up, a leader thanked the Chicago Police Department for not arresting them. A few officers stood in a line, watching the protesters disperse.