It’s an ominous, massive, non-descript, red brick warehouse replete with floodlights, razor wire fencing and cameras. Behind those walls, untold civil and human rights violations have occurred — for years, according to an investigation the Guardian.
It sounds like the description of some third-world jail, but it’s right here in Chicago — on the West Side, to be exact, and incidentally, down the street from where I reside.
Those of us who live in the area have some sense of what’s happening behind those walls, but it wasn’t until the Guardian published its expose on Homan Square earlier this year that many Chicagoans were alerted to what was happening. Even then, though, it was a topic that was conspicuously avoided in our most recent election cycle and even now, with ongoing conversations around police/community relations, Chicago’s ‘black site’ has been conspicuously absent.
Homan Square is Chicago’s version of Guantanamo Bay. The majority of arrestees brought to Homan Square are not Chicago’s most violent criminals. Instead, 75 percent of detainees were arrested on drug possession charges — heroin accounted for 35 percent and marijuana 22 percent.
These arrestees come from all over the city and more than half come from more than 2.5 miles away from the warehouse. However, no record of these arrestees’ presence at Homan Square is known to exist. That alone is frightening.
To date, 7000 people have been ‘disappeared’ at this off-the-books interrogation facility. There are no booking records generated there, which means it is difficult for relatives and attorneys to find someone there. Previous accounts from detainees, as documented in a previous article by The Guardian, described methods of torture used to coerce confessions and other information from detainees.
From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 (82 percent) of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. Of that 6000, only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts. This is a crucial fact, as the time when those detainees are ‘disappeared’ is the most vulnerable — when they risk incriminating themselves without an attorney present.
When taken together with the disproportionate profiling done in Chicago’s neighborhoods — where 72 percent of all stop and frisks in Chicago involved black men (most of whom weren’t charged with any crime) and where trust between community and the police has eroded to abysmal levels — it is a wonder that more public officials have not sought answers about what’s happening at Homan Square.
In addition, CPD severely underreported the number of detentions with no explanation as to why initial numbers they reported were so low. It’s taken a transparency lawsuit filed by The Guardian to pry open the wall of secrecy that prevents an accurate assessment of just what is taking place behind the wall.
This is not just an issue of dealing with criminals. Historically, abuses of power have a way of seeping out to encompass larger and larger numbers of people. If the culture of abuse of power is not cut off at the root, it spreads. This is especially scary when that culture spreads to state-sanctioned actors like police departments and police officers.
The constitution affords citizens basic constitutional rights. When those rights are violated with impunity, it is incumbent upon those tasked with upholding the laws of this country, state, county and city to speak up. We cannot laud our commitment to the rule of law, yet have instances where individuals are not afforded the basic protections of their constitutional rights.
What questions were asked of our public servants when the initial story broke earlier this year? Did anyone ask our mayor why the majority of detainees held at Homan Square has been within his tenure and why? Was the Homan Square black site brought up in any of the CPD Superintendent’s so-called ‘listening tours’? Has the increase in utilizing the facility led to a decrease in crime? Safer streets? With the latest crime statistics, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
We may not get all of the answers, but that should not prevent us from asking questions. We have an ongoing responsibility to root out abuse of authority, corruption, and human and civil rights violations — especially when they may be taking place literally in our own back yard.