A Guantanamo in Chicago?

I have a perception – from the other side of the Atlantic – that race relations and especially the relations between the police and the black community in the US have deteriorated under Barack Obama. The number of  black people reported killed by police seems much too high. Deaths of black people in police custody seems also unnaturally high. Again my perception is that Obama is dangerously risk averse both domestically and in foreign policy. He has not addressed this issue forcefully. I suspect a certain lack of capability and an undue fear of action.

Chicago is as close to Obama’s “home city” as any. Moreover the current mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel is a close friend of Obama’s and was his former Chief of Staff (2008 – 2010). So one would expect that Chicago would lead the way in race relations under the first “black” president of the US. But it seems that Chicago has been running its own Guantanamo-style facility (Homan Square) in plain view. It also seems that during Rahm Emanuel’s term the use of the facility against black suspects has been maximised.

Chicago Homan Square arrests via The Guardian

Chicago Homan Square arrests via The Guardian

Of course The Guardian leans very heavily to the left and has a tendency to be rather sanctimonious, but their report – even after being discounted for their “goody-goody” bias – is rather disturbing. It does not speak well of what Obama and his friend have achieved in their “home city”.

It seems a real shame that under the first “black” president of the US, race relations, especially between the police and the black community, have apparently deteriorated quite badly.

The Guardian:

At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal.

Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police.

Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system.

The Chicago police department has maintained – even as the Guardian reported stories of people being shackled and held for hours or even days, all without legal access – that the warehouse is not a secret facility so much as an undercover police base operating in plain sight. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is no different at Homan Square,” the police asserted in a March statement.

But an independent Guardian analysis of arrestees’ records, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shows that Homan Square is far from normal: 

  • Between September 2004 and June 2015, around 3,540 people were eventually charged, mostly with forms of drug possession – primarily heroin, as well as marijuana and cocaine – but also for minor infractions such as traffic violations, public urination and driving without a seatbelt.
  • More than 82% of the Homan Square arrests thus far disclosed – or 2,974 arrests – are of black people, while 8.5% are of white people. Chicago, according to the 2010 US census, is 33% black and 32% white.
  • Over two-thirds of the arrests at Homan Square thus far revealed – at least 2,522 – occurred under the tenure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former top aide to Barack Obama who has said of Homan Square that the police working under him “follow all the rules”. ……….

Read the report

The Obama legacy will certainly show that he was the first half-black president of the US. More than that, history may only record that “he was one who could have, but didn’t”.

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