Friday, February 27, 2015

Elections and torture go together

     The April mayoral election is the only story in Chicago for the next six weeks.
     Unless it’s the April mayoral election AND the secret Chicago Police black site at Homan Square
     Did I leave out “supposedly”? Good for you for noticing. “Supposedly at Homan Square.” Because I don’t quite buy it.
     (“Of course you don’t,” some of you say, “because you’re The Man.”)
     The Man would get paid better. I’m just skeptical. The Homan Square allegations, as outlined in the original article that started the fuss in The Guardian, is pretty little spread pretty thin. One of the NATO 3 protesters told the British newspaper he was handcuffed there for a half a day. One suspect died there. And the mother of a teenager said she had trouble tracking down her son.
     Taken together, these three episodes, even if true, don’t exactly add up to Guantanamo Bay. Reading the article, I kept asking myself, “If this is common, where are the victims?” And then my answer came, not from The Guardian, but on The Atlantic’s website: We jackals in the media, filled with hate and solidarity for the cops, ignore the victims, stopping our ears to the cries of the disappeared and the tortured, muffled by the thick walls of the secret prison that the cops — half Gestapo, half SAVAK — are running on the former Sears warehouse.
     “Why wasn’t the press covering it?” The Atlantic asked Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project.
     “I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police,” he replied. “They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police. They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police — a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism.”
     Really? Of course he thinks that, and probably considers himself generous for allowing that there might be a few cops who don’t itch to clamp a typewriter cover over every black face they see.

     It’s the standard lazy, wear-a-Guy-Fawkes-mask-and-go-larking view: There are no decent individuals involved in government, business or the media, no honest professionals making independent decisions, trying to do what they consider right, only a vast nest of co-conspirators, receiving their marching orders paper-clipped to a check.
     I could say it’s nonsense, but then I’m one of them, aren’t I? Though the truth — for those who care — is that my boss would be deliriously happy were I to dig up any halfway convincing piece of evidence of police torture, as opposed to exercising my usual off-point interests. Though I doubt that, on my most daring, gotta-find-something day, I could with clear conscience take this lattice of supposition and find the significance that The Guardian does, or tries to.
    But enough of that. If it’s true, let the victims speak. If not, well, that won’t stop those inclined to believe; nothing does.
    Back to the election.
     Rahm Emanuel, in his post-humiliation speech, said something surprising. “For those who voted for someone else, I hope to earn your confidence and your support in the weeks to come.” And I hoped for a pony for the children, but it never happened. Were I him, I would spend less time worrying about the 10 percent of voters who thought Willie Wilson should run the city and concentrate his attention on the 66.3 percent of Chicago’s registered voters who didn’t bother to vote for anybody.
     This is the key question: Did they not vote because they figured Rahm would win anyway, and were reluctant to waste their time joining the throng of peasants waving their caps as he paraded past to another inevitable triumph?
    Or did they not vote because they figured Rahm would win anyway, and why bother adding their puff of support to the sails of one of the barks of his future trivia question opponents?
     I can’t answer that. Politics makes absolutely no sense at all to me. Here the state of Illinois just elected a multimillionaire governor whose arrogance and elitism make Emanuel seem like Woody Guthrie. And then the Chicago mayor is being pilloried because he acts like the city is teetering on a financial cliff, and does things like closing 50 half-empty, underperforming schools without spending a lot of time holding the hands of the parents, staring dolefully into their eyes and telling them that he feels their pain.
     Let’s set aside politics, for a second, because it clouds people’s minds. Let’s say you went to a doctor, and he said, “Look, you’re 100 pounds overweight. Your blood pressure is 220/120. You’re going to die. I’m putting you on this diet right now.” Would you say, “Oh sure, Doctor Rahm, easy for you to say. You went to New Trier. I’m shifting over to Dr. Garcia, who promises me I can eat all I want 24 hours a day and I’ll get thin through magic crystals.”
     I suppose some would do that. Whether 50.1 percent of Chicago voters would do that, well, we’ll find out April 7, won’t we?

21 comments:

  1. Excellent points all around, Mr. Steinberg, especially about the Woodie Guthrie comparison. I love the dry wit.

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  2. Rahm is worse than a Nazi. Defeat him in the election, then arrest, indict, convict, and imprisn him along with all Chicago cops.

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    1. I think Rahm is better than a Nazi. I hope he wins, and I hope the day after the election he closes another 50 schools.

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  3. Neil seems to believe the CPD deserves benefit of the doubt. Guessing Burge and Cosby agree w him.

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    1. I think there's space between "benefit of the doubt" and "permanently guilty of the worst thing you ever did." Maybe it's my own personal bias showing.

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    2. I think the lack of victims is the key -- contrast the plethora of them accusing Bill Cosby. I'm sure a few will surface now and their credibility can then be assessed.

      A little known fact: violent crime has been steadily decreasing almost everywhere. Why? Nobody knows. The cops and Rahm might as well take credit for it.

      John

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  4. It appears someone here was sick the day they taught Godwin's Law, in English composition class.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I think some of us took English composition well before Godwin formulated his law, however.

      John

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  5. I'm inclined to agree with your assessment of the Guardian story, Neil, but hope some local reporters are assigned to get facts that separate truth from fiction. Either Chicago's intrepid crime reporters have overlooked a major scandal right under their noses, or some out-of-towners have been sold a bill of goods by people with very big axes to grind. It would be nice to know which. The Guardian write-ups have been masterpieces of innuendo, but reading the comments from readers, with their willingness to accept it as gospel, has been discouraging. It's like Al Capone still walked the earth, the gun-smoke hadn't yet cleared from that little incident on St, Valentines Day, and Jon Burge was still torturing Blacks on the south side.

    Tom Evans

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    1. Or like Detective Richard Zuley of the CPD had been torturing prisoners at Gitmo a decade ago. And Chicagoans throughout his career, if the allegations are true.

      (Zuley's entire complaint history is currently under investigation by Conviction Integrity Unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. The articles in the Guardian from earlier this month on him are sickening, as well, if their allegations are true. Here's a link to their articles from a few weeks ago: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/18/guantanamo-torture-chicago-police-brutality)

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  6. I'm a Rahm supporter, but I don't think the people who voted for Garcia did so because they believe there's a painless fix to the budget mess. I suspect most voted for two understandable and/or logical reasons: 1) ethnic identity politics and 2) shift the bulk of the fiscal sacrifices onto other people. To revise Mr. Steinberg's doctor analogy, #1 is "If I'm going to be told I'm obese and need to go on a strict diet/exercise plan, I'll have one of my own tell me." #2 is "Wait...you mean I can skip the diet/exercise and have liposuction and someone else will pay for it? Where do I sign up?" #2 is legit - Garcia just isn't honest about it. He's not going to tax the burbs/CBOT (partly because legally he can't). But he can put more of the burden on commercial real estate and homeowners, shift police resources from north side neighborhoods, sell Midway and do a Daley (directing the money to CTU and other pension funds), etc. I think this is a bad way to go, that it will create more middle class flight than his partisans claim (not to mention Garcia might well let teachers and other city workers out of the residency requirement), but I can see how people in other circumstances are better off shrinking the pie but getting a bigger slice of it.

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  7. Maybe the victims haven't come forward because they're precisely the kind of people that no one would believe. Neil, you seem awfully dismissive that someone died there, and you completely ignore the defense attorneys who corroborated the Guardian story.

    I don't think that local reporters are in on some kind of conspiracy. I think they're embarrassed that they got scooped, and they're responding with a lot of handwaving or outright silence.

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    1. It's only a scoop if it's true. People die in Macy's -- that' doesn't make it a secret torture site either. The point of the story is that this is some kind of hellhole prison. There isn't enough evidence to make that claim. "The kind of people no one would believe" -- what does that mean?

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    2. I would think the NATO protesters were there because someone higher than the CPD was interested in them. The guy that died? We all die somewhere...what was the cause? A lost kid in the system? I'm sure most of the kids that are run through there WISH their parents wanted to know where they were. And if it's so F'in secret, why do we know where it is? Wouldn't they put the black hoods on the criminals and shepard them over there in the panel van??

      RC

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  8. "The kind of people no one would believe" means poor people, usually black, who have been in trouble with the law.

    The Macy's crack was ridiculously sophomoric. You know better than that. People who die in Macy's are not in police custody.

    You seem unwilling to ask yourself a basic question: Why does this site exist? Why are people detained there? The city is covered by police precincts, each with its own station. Why is it necessary to maintain an interrogation site unconnected with any precinct?

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    1. And you seem unwilling to ask yourself, "Why do I want to believe this site exists? Couldn't this just reflect the normal operating of a huge police department? Doesn't the CPD have enough certified, proven moments of shame, without the need to manufacture spurious ones?"

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    2. What exactly is "normal" about a freestanding interrogation site, unconnected to any precinct station house, where suspects are brought for no apparent reason? I've never heard of any police department, small or large, operating that way.

      The fact that the CPD has had "certified, proven moments of shame" does not imply that this one is spurious, at least to me. It indicates that they should not be given the benefit of the doubt, which you seem unaccountably ready to do.

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    3. Good points, Bitter Scribe.

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  9. Boy, I think you were off the mark here. This is a site where, yes, the press knows about it's existence. But it's also a site where lawyers have said that this is where their clients are interrogated without them having access to them.

    It's a place where the CPD may interrogate without giving suspects their basic rights. There is credible, to me, evidence that this is taking place at Homan.

    That's scandalous, and all WBEZ said about it was that it happens all around the city. That makes it even worse.

    I don't see how the evidence suggests that is manufactured. I don't understand your contempt for the story or its allegations. But I think you're off base here.

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  10. Back to the election, I think the bitter cold Tuesday kept many at home elderly or especially those with no car who have to stand outside for busses.

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  11. “For those who voted for someone else, I hope to earn your confidence and your support in the weeks to come.” There seems to be a lot of talk since Tuesday about the fact that Rahm needs to roll out a kinder, gentler simulacrum of himself in order to become more palatable to those who focus on personalities more readily than policies.

    After watching him be interviewed by Phil Ponce on "Chicago Tonight" last night, all I can say is, if he plans on doing that, he hasn't started yet. Phil did a pretty good job of trying to pin him down, though it's an impossible task, but when asked about whether he'll try to be nicer, or whatever, Rahm just kept repeating that his strength -- hard-nosed, outcome-oriented tenaciousness, essentially -- is also his weakness, in that it can turn people off. He never gave a hint that he might try to modify his personality for the benefit of those who think he's a jerk.

    Personally, I'm not at all convinced that he needs to change anything in order to win in April, though it should be interesting to see how things go. And I DO think he seems like a jerk, but one that's doing a pretty good job, all things considered. As you point out, Neil, and as is usually the case, which voters show up on election day will be determinative.

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