Forgetting in Real Time

Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnigan, left, and Timothy McDermott with an unidentified Black man they claim to have arrested for marijuana possession (there is no record of any arrest).
Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnigan, left, and Timothy McDermott with an unidentified Black man Finnigan claims to have arrested for marijuana possession (there is no record of any arrest).

Anytime someone sends me a message that reads, “Have you seen this yet?” with a link to a news story about the Chicago police attached, I hold my breath a little before I tap my screen. That’s what I woke up to this morning – one of those messages, and this photo. In the coverage of the newly released image, much was made about the fact that former officer, Timothy McDermott, is still appealing the police board’s decision to fire him for posing in this picture. After all, four out of nine police board members didn’t see this photo as a fireable offense, and thought a mere suspension would have sufficed.

I’ll say that again: this very literal expression of the reality of American policing – a Black man dehumanized and brought to the ground by heavily armed white cops – was not sufficient cause, in the minds of four police board members, to remove McDermott from his position.

While I don’t wish to give this white police officer more attention that he’s already received – with some actually lamenting that he now has to drive a truck to support his family – I do feel the need to point out the irony of his punishment. McDermott was fired for creating a caricature of the violence police perpetrate on our streets on a regular basis. While he certainly deserves his punishment, the conversation his actions should provoke, however, is not about the two fired cops in the picture (one of whom was fired long before the photo’s release for leading unlawful raids and robbing area residents), but the culture of policing that it depicts. But that’s a conversation that many of us have attempted to have many times, and I must admit, I’m tired.

I’m tired of snuff films of police killing people of color. I’m tired of photos and text messages that reveal the racism of police being dismissed with a chorus of “not all cops” nonsense. I’m tired of hearing how they “risk their lives every day.” Do the people who repeat that tired refrain realize that policing doesn’t even rank in the top ten most dangerous jobs in this country? Do they realize that plenty of people work in high risk situations, in actual helping professions, without the option of killing people if things get scary? Are they aware of the actual death toll, or the demographics in play?

I’m tired of worrying, every day, that people I care about will come across cops like officers Finnigan and McDermott, and I am tired of people being told they’re “lucky” when the only damage done by such brutes is psychological.

Abolitionists often refer to the fact that modern policing stems from Indian Constables and slave patrols, but photos like this one very clearly connect the dots. I won’t delve into the arguments of McDermott’s attorney, who actually suggested the Black man in the photo may have been a willing participant in this horrid display (“What’s to say this individual wasn’t performing at a Christmas pageant in the district and was dressed as a reindeer and had taken the reindeer suit off?”), and that the rifles might have been wooden props (not that they “were,” but that they “could have been”) because his words don’t even deserve space here. What I want to address is forgetting.

The privileged have a way of forgetting the past, and distancing themselves from it. You hear it in the voices of those who defend the likes of Darren Wilson, saying things like, “It’s 2015, not 1915,” just as the white racists of the 1960’s would point out that they weren’t living in the 1860’s. We now live apart from that history, they insist, and need to get over it (read: forget it) and move on. But in a world where we are constantly bombarded by images of police murdering people of color, with text messages and emails that are slathered with anti-blackness, and where we hear daily stories of harassment, dehumanization, and abuse, our inability to fully isolate ourselves from this barrage of very real harm means that separation requires something more than historical distance. It requires the ability to forget history as it unfolds, in real time.

I’m not talking about those who quietly smirk over photos like this one. They are the same types who would have purchased lynching photos at the local gas station during the last century. There is no arguing with someone who understands exactly what all of this means, and delights in it. But there are many white people whose skin probably does crawl upon seeing images like this one. There are many who wish to separate themselves, and their willingness to play along with the oppressions of this system, from the reality of what this photo depicts. And in order to separate themselves, successfully, they need to push away the thought of horrors like this one. No matter how steadily they manifest themselves, each case must be some kind of aberration. Most police are good, they tell themselves. They insist that these are just the cases that get sensationalized, when in reality, these are just the stories that happened to get noticed.

Those who feel protected by police generally hail from more privileged classes, so when we attempt to raise the awareness of such people, we are in fact asking them to act against their own interest. Police enforce social norms that benefit their way of life. Martin Luther King Jr. relied on the shock value of state sanctioned brutality against peaceful Black protestors to provoke white people to question the structures that benefited them at the expense of others. The sight of fire hoses, batons, and dogs being turned on everyday Black people, dressed in their Sunday best, was enough to challenge the complacency of white America. But we live in a different time, when examples of police brutality and state sanctioned inhumanity rain down on us daily. It’s all at our fingertips.

It was literally the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning.

So how do you shock the conscience of people who have learned to forget in real time? How do you provoke a different reaction? Because Black and Brown people are tired of waiting for white people to acknowledge that the available evidence is sufficient to indict this system. We are tired of waiting for you to question your own comfort. We are tired of waiting for you to admit that the legacy of slavery and the shadow of genocide still color our efforts to survive on this stolen land. We are tired, and we will not continue to beg you to recognize our humanity. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in, “Lose Your Mother”:

“The apologetic density of the plea for recognition is staggering. It assumes both the ignorance and the innocence of the white world. If only they knew the truth, they would act otherwise. I am reminded of the letter that James Baldwin wrote his nephew on the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. ‘The crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen,’ he wrote, ‘and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundred of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.’”

Black Lives Matter has demonstrated that there is a widespread rejection of the notion that we need to play by the rules and hope for the best, while appealing to the consciences of those who benefit from white supremacy. At a recent protest in Chicago, where attendees expressed solidarity with the uprising in Baltimore, I was particularly moved by the words of Damon Williams, of the #LetUsBreathe collective, who said, “You will no longer use the names of our martyrs to shame us into pacifism.” I felt the earth move with those words as he spoke. As a direct action trainer, I find community conversations about violence and nonviolence very important to my work, so I followed up with Damon to ask if he might expound upon his words at the event.

“As I was preparing for the rally,” he explained, “I looked to see what the major criticisms of the uprising in Baltimore were.” In addition to the usual, hypocritical hand wringing that such moments provoke, Damon noted that, “You see the establishment repeatedly trying to manipulate our sympathy for those most affected while exclaiming, ‘there is no excuse for such behavior’. And I disagree. Shattered spines and skulls without consequence are plenty excuse to fight back in various ways. It is the desire of the system to continue operating as it is, and for Black people to passively accept their oppression. But we have reached a point of collective resistance and will no longer tolerate our systemic destruction.

Black and Brown communities are tired of being admonished for pushing back. They are tired of videos, words, and photos that emphasize and re-emphasize whose lives matter, and whose lives do not. But most importantly, they are tired of waiting for you to believe your own eyes. If you choose to disregard the reality that others are forced to live, do not expect your rules or preferences to govern their actions. As Saidiya Hartman said, freedom is “a glimpse of possibility, an opening, a solicitation without any guarantee of duration before it flickers and then is extinguished.” The Black and Brown youth, activists, and organizers of this country have seen a glimpse of possibility. It has come from within, and in spite of the rules, norms, and history of these United States. We are ready to build forward in a way that honors our debt to those we’ve lost and that embodies all that we might become. I invite you to stand with us, but we are done begging for your belief.

Rethinking Our Takes on Memorial Day: Hecel Lena Oyate Ki Nipi Kte

I’m very grateful for some of my friends today as I glance through social media. Too often, on holidays connected to military service, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of either all out celebration of service or anti-military angst. I understand both, but appreciate neither. To celebrate without also questioning what we’ve done to those who’ve served, or what they were commanded to do in our names, is unacceptable. But I am likewise averse to simply writing these days off with condemnation. To do so overlooks the complexities of surviving the oppressions of this society, and it erases a hard reality – that there are times when being of this society turns us all into something that we probably shouldn’t be.

With the consequences of military service in a time of perpetual war being so severe, I understand why people are protective of those who serve and those who have died. It is in our nature to defend and justify the actions of those we love and respect, and it is in our nature to assign meaning to loss. We want to believe in people and we want to believe that bad things happen for a reason. So, as a country, we tie ribbons around tragedies, and build heroes out the wreckage of the harm we cause. We throw confetti, and never address what warfare really looks like – the inhumanity it produces amongst our young, the rapes, the torture, the indiscriminant transformation of life to rubble, the ongoing tradition of decimating people of color for the sake of financial resources.

I don’t respect why we gloss over any of it, but I understand why it happens.

The other side is a bit harder for me to process, honestly. It’s always hard for me to process the vilification of the oppressed, and many, many people who enlist in the military are coming from a very oppressed place. Indigenous people in the United States, for example, are not only the most likely to be killed by law enforcement, and the most likely to commit suicide at a young age, but also the most likely to enlist in the military. The reasons why are both simple and complicated. Our reservations are not havens of opportunity. Just as the military vacuums up young people in depressed urban areas, it also sweeps up our Indigenous children. But there is, of course, more to our rate of enlistment than a lack of opportunity, because in truth, Indigenous people have a long history of rising to the fight. Standing up and offering to march into the fray is part of who we are, and that willingness is deeply embedded in many of our cultures.

Officials have said that if all races had enlisted during WWII at the same rate as the Indigenous, there would have been no draft. Think about that for a moment. Think about what was done to our people, and what they were still willing to give, and all that we might learn from examining the reasons why.

I remember being told, when I was younger that Indigenous men who returned from wars they fought in on behalf of the United States were often greeted with the same songs and celebrations that had greeted our Indigenous warriors when they were fighting on behalf of their own nations. Some of the women who were builders of community questioned this. The Lakota had long chanted “Hecel lena oyate ki nipi kte” for their departing warriors – it was a rallying cry reminding all that danger is faced, risks are taken, and lives are lost “so that the people may live.”

So that our people may live.

Obviously, there is a disconnect between those words and what it means to send people of color who have been starved of hope and opportunity to a foreign land to kill other people of color for the sake of the empire and its alliances. Women who recognized that disconnect wanted to reclaim those words for their attempts to heal their communities, both physically and spiritually, and they have. These words are now deeply connected to community efforts to treat the afflictions that literally take our lives. In a world built on your destruction and disposability, resilience is resistance.

As we challenge the narrative of days that elevate military service, we should remember those women and their work. I appreciate that some people post more thoughtfully than others, and I think challenging people to support our troops by refusing to send them into another pointless war is definitely a cut above most online discourse about days like today. But it’s not enough. We must be the builders of a different culture. We must address the lack of opportunity, the hopelessness, and the search for purpose and meaning experienced by those who are brutalized from birth in this country. We must address the humanity of those who are weaponized if we ever hope to dismantle the machine. We must do the difficult work of understanding one another, and seeing both the good and the harm that feed into the tragedy of so many oppressed people enlisting to violently serve the oppressor.

I realize these thoughts won’t be popular with everyone. I myself have a father I greatly respect – a proud Indigenous man who enlisted to serve in Vietnam. I do not think poorly of him, and I respect a number of the values that led him to that decision, but I want a world where men and women like him don’t serve this government. To get there, we need to understand why people make these decisions, and we need to re-center our conversations around the places that those harms begin. We need to remember that these are our people, regardless of what we think of these horrible wars.

We need to remember one another’s humanity.

Today, my heart goes out to everyone who sought opportunity, shelter, or purpose in a machine that was only meant to grind people like themselves under. If you have been trained to love and respect that mechanism, I love you no less for that. I understand that it is built to ensure that you are broken and rebuilt into a person who will pledge allegiance unfailingly, and I consider that a great harm and am sorry you experienced it, even if you are not. And if you did things, in the service of that mechanism, things that you struggle with or that haunt you, know that we all survive harm and cause harm, and are scarred by both. We overcome the recreation of those harms in other areas of our lives by coming to grips with the reasons these things happened, and addressing causation at the root. You can do this, if you choose to. You have a home amongst those who are challenging these structures, should you want it. Organizations like Veterans for Peace welcome those who are struggling with these issues, but so do people like me, who are simply building in community, around issues we care about, and learning to live with our own scars.

I too have harmed. I too have survived. And I am constantly learning and relearning not to re-weaponize the tools of survival that applied in some spaces, but that have no place in the life I want to live or the world I want to build. Please know that the places you’ve been, and the things that you have done and seen, are not the totality of who you are. There are other paths, and they are open to you, if you want them.

To everyone else, let’s build better. So that our people may live.

Dear Garry McCarthy…

A protestor at Damo Day hangs a loom made by an elementary school student outside the Walgreens where police began their chase of Dominique Franklin last year. The loom's imagery represents life and community overcoming state violence. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A protestor at Damo Day hangs a loom made by an elementary school student outside the Walgreens where police began their chase of Dominique Franklin last year. The loom’s imagery represents life and community overcoming state violence. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Today, Chicago’s top cop announced the commencement of his “listening tour” – a project inspired by events in Ferguson and Baltimore, that will involve McCarthy and his rank and file “asking what they are doing wrong, and what they can do better.” The idea of Chicago’s chronically abusive and largely inept police organizing an effort of this kind would be laughable if the issues involved weren’t so pressing, painful, and potentially deadly.

For starters, there’s no need. “Listening” is a skill that McCarthy and his people could have answered all of their questions with long before tensions boiled over in Baltimore. They have been presented with reports, they have been witness to speak outs led by community members, they have watched this city’s youth challenge them with words and imagery, and they have heard the families and the afflicted cry out for justice. I know this, because I see them at every single event, lined up against us, sometimes laughing, sometimes taking our pictures, sometimes swearing and snatching our fellow protestors – but always surveilling. They have heard our complaints. In detail. Paying attention is part of the police culture in Chicago. Sadly, giving a fuck is not.

But since McCarthy wants to play dumb, I’ll bite.

Dear Garry McCarthy,

I heard about your listening tour, and as it happens, I was just sifting through my photos from yesterday’s Damo Day protest. While a series of photos from that event isn’t exactly a verbal explanation of the ways your officers routinely let us down, you could learn a lot, if you cared to, from the young people in these photos, and what they are modeling in their communities.  This beautiful event, organized by the friends of a young man your officers murdered, captures a lot of what you’ll need to get right with if you expect a different attitude from those who have no reason to trust you and your gang.

As the leader of the most dangerous gang in Chicago – one that has shot more than 1,600 people since 1985, and that kills with impunity – you’ll have to understand that we take your public gestures with a grain of salt. We know that regardless of your speeches, young people of color will be harassed on our city streets today. Some will wind up in jail over nothing, some will have their lives ruined, and some may even be killed. And regardless of any complaint or evidence, you will support your officers.

Your gang is predictable.

We know your colors and your lingo and your protocols. We know exactly what to expect when your people roll through to enforce the social norms that comfort and benefit some, at the steady expense of others. We know you, and let’s be real – you know us too. You’ve watched as our young people have staged events highlighting the harms done by your police, and you are doubtlessly aware that when your officers killed Dominique Franklin, his friends built a case against your entire department, and took it all the way to the UN.

Were you listening when the UN Committee Against Torture agreed with those young people, and demanded that your police department address its ongoing human rights violations?

In any case, here’s a quick glimpse at what you’re currently feigning ignorance about, Mr. McCarthy. And here’s hoping the city doesn’t spend a fortune on your “listening tour” when it already spends far too much on your militant displays at nearly every protest organized by those who oppose your brutality.

Damo's friends and supporters of We Charge Genocide gather outside the Walgreens where Damo ran from police, just before being tased to death for stealing a bottle of liquor. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Damo’s friends and supporters of We Charge Genocide gather outside the Walgreens where Damo ran from police, just before being tased to death for stealing a bottle of liquor. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Protestor Brit Schulte recounts the story of Rekia Boyd, whose acquitted killer, detective Dante Servin, was recently defended by Garry McCarthy. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Protestor Brit Schulte recounts the story of Rekia Boyd, whose acquitted killer, detective Dante Servin, was recently defended by Garry McCarthy. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Damo's friends comfort each other as they tell stories about what he meant to them - including a narrative about how Damo (not the police) once saved a group of friends from being mugged. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Damo’s friends comfort each other as they tell stories about what he meant to them – including a narrative about how Damo (not the police) once saved a group of friends from being mugged. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
The community memorializes Damo at the spot where he fell after being fatally tased by police. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
The community memorializes Damo at the spot where he fell after being fatally tased by police. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Damo's father to the crowd, in the wake of a senseless arrest:
Damo’s father to the crowd, in the wake of a senseless arrest: “We have a right to be here. We have a right to be treated like human beings.” (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Note: Some of Superintendent McCarthy’s listeners were in attendance yesterday. Their contributions included a senseless arrest and one officer describing the memorial event as “pretentious.” I’m pretty sure “pretentious” is the kindest thing I’ve ever been called by a police officer, so perhaps that’s progress.

Solitary Expressions: Art You Won’t Find in Museums

I’m honored to share this guest post from my friend and fellow organizer Megan Groves, who is the Director of Development and Communications at the Uptown People’s Law Center. The Chicago Light Brigade recently collaborated with UPLC on an event that brought artistic representations of the world of solitary confinement to an exhibit in Chicago. Here, Megan shares her thoughts on that exhibit, and why the current fight against solitary confinement is so important.

“I had to drink this beer to get the taste of the cell out of my mouth,” Brian said, raising his bottle to the audience. A survivor of 12 straight years of solitary confinement at Tamms Supermax, he can still sometimes taste the concrete dust, and being in a room with a life-size model of a solitary cell wasn’t helping.

A full size model of a solitary confinement cell, constructed by the Chicago Light Brigade. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A full size model of a solitary confinement cell, constructed by the Chicago Light Brigade. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Brian went on to say that though his nametag said he was a “survivor” of solitary, he doesn’t feel like he has survived. More than four years after leaving his cell, he said, “not a day goes by that it’s not in my head.” The crowded room was quiet, and Brian’s eyes were wet as he talked. He has serious PTSD from what he went through, plus a lot of survivor guilt because of the guys he left behind, still locked in gray boxes of their own.

When I was organizing the Sentenced art exhibit, I knew it could be powerful, but I didn’t know just how powerful. Even the designer of the model cell, Jim Ginderske, didn’t realize how intense it would be to stand inside of the cell, until its completion. In the cell, everything is gray. You can spread your arms and easily touch both of the side walls, because the distance is only four and a half feet. Long ways, the cell is just nine. This is based on the reported size of the solitary cells in Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, 348 miles from Chicago.

Drawings and letters from men in solitary cover the walls of this exhibit, collected by Lisbet Portman of Architects/ Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility. These 17 people represent a small fraction of the 80,000 people currently held in solitary confinement in US prisons. There is also art from current and former prisoners in solitary that Uptown People’s Law Center has accumulated over the decades. This includes work by Tony, another Tamms survivor who spoke at the event. Though he lacks any formal training, his art shows tremendous skill. Some of Tony’s art is drawn on prison-issued handkerchiefs. The colors used in his work are from Skittles and M&Ms, because he was not allowed colored pens, pencils, or paints.

(Image: Tony Rodriguez)
(Image: Tony Rodriguez)

The piece with the most meaning to Tony is the last one he did while inside. It shows a man in a cell, wearing a clown mask, crying. The text simply reads: MAY 2011…I’M COMING HOME. Tony explained the symbolism of this work to a rapt crowd at the opening. He told us the crying represented his fears of returning to the outside world after so many years in solitary. The mask represents his feeling that his people don’t know the real him anymore: locked up at just 17 years old, after decades in prison, he is now a different person.

The skill shown in many of the works in Sentenced is astounding. This art is a testament to the resourcefulness of prisoners and their desire to express themselves, to feel human, even when treated like an animal. Worse than an animal, really—even zookeepers know better than to keep social animals alone.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Solitary confinement has been recognized as torture by the United Nations’ torture expert Juan Mendez. He has recommended that its use for more than 15 days be absolutely banned. Yet right here in the US, prisoners routinely spend months, years, and even decades in solitary.

I could tell you more about the long-term effects of solitary: the way it permanently changes one’s brain to not have any meaningful human contact. How the poor air circulation in the cells causes the prisoners to breathe in their own exhaled carbon dioxide, leading to brain damage from lack of oxygen. But we put together this exhibit so that the prisoners could speak for themselves. One piece of art reads:

“I received one book a week, which I would finish in one or two days, leaving the other six days of listening to the radio and to write. We received…a pen per week, which I would use up all of the ink prior to them reissuing a new pen. We lacked mental stimulation, which had me contemplating standing on the sink and jumping into a head dive into the concrete floor just to stop my brain…”

Part of the work of Uptown People’s Law Center is to try to give prisoners a voice on the outside. UPLC gets over a hundred letters a week from prisoners in Illinois, and we answer every one. We also visit prisoners, to hear exactly what they are going through inside—legal visits are afforded privacy from guards’ ears that regular visits aren’t, so prisoners can really tell us the truth. Because most prisons are very far from Chicago, we need money for gas, food, and sometimes lodging. If you’d like to support this, please click here.

Illinois releases about 35,000 people from the “correctional” system each year. Wouldn’t it be better for their communities to ensure they return untraumatized from prison? And people who commit crimes are still human beings—no matter what someone is guilty of, they don’t deserve the torture of solitary confinement. The US is supposed to be a civilized country. Illinois already banned the death penalty, and should serve as a role model for other states who still engage in that barbarism. It’s now time for Illinois, and all states, to stop the use of solitary confinement.

A young organizer poses with his hands extended through the model cell door's opening, as a prisoner would have to in order to be handcuffed before exiting the cell. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A young organizer poses with his hands extended through the model cell door’s opening, as a prisoner would have to in order to be handcuffed before exiting the cell. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Sentenced aims to bring voices of imprisoned people into the wider dialogue of the struggle to end cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment in the US. It was co-curated by Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) and Architects/ Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR). In 2012, ADPSR petitioned the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to change its Code of Ethics to respect human rights by banning the design of execution chambers and spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement. The AIA rejected this petition in late 2014. Follow UPLC on Facebook or Twitter to find out the date of the next public exhibit of Sentenced in Chicago at Art In These Times.

Megan Groves is a Chicago activist and Director of Development & Communications at Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC), a nonprofit that fights for the rights of tenants, disabled people, and prisoners. Uptown People’s Law Center has nine pending class action lawsuits regarding Illinois jail and prison conditions.

Reparations Won!

As this historic day unfolds, I find myself without many words. I’ve previously expressed my thoughts on the reparations ordinance, including my thoughts on what it would mean to win. Today, more than anything, I am simply grateful. I am grateful to have played my own small part, helping to build actions around this campaign in recent months, grateful to have friends who were willing to commit themselves to this effort, and to make further sacrifices had the fight required as much, and grateful to have been witness to such a hard fought victory. The torture survivors, and those who have stood behind them for decades, have my absolute admiration today, and I am so honored to have stood with them.

In the absence of more thoughtful words on the subject, I wanted to share a look back at some of the actions that brought us to this moment. While countless hours of planning, negotiating, and other labor went into this fight, direct action is the front I understand best, and it’s where I spend much of my time in heated campaigns like this one. Here are a few of the moments I will carry with me tonight as we celebrate this historic victory.

Outside Rahm Emanuel's house demanding reparations for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Outside Rahm Emanuel’s house demanding reparations for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
After holding up their message directly in front of Rahm Emanuel's home, activists crossed the street to make sure the mayor could clearly read the light banner from his window. Lights went on at the front of the house during the protest. Rahm Emanuel was reportedly home at the time. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
After holding up their message directly in front of Rahm Emanuel’s home, activists crossed the street to make sure the mayor could clearly read the light banner from his window. Lights went on at the front of the house during the protest. Rahm Emanuel was reportedly home at the time. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A group of young women who joined protestors at the 95th Street Station after hearing organizers explain the reparations ordinance. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
In February, on the eve of the mayoral election, a group of young women joined train takeover protestors at the 95th Street Station after hearing organizers explain the reparations ordinance. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Another commuter rejects Rahm Emanuel in support of the reparations ordinance. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A train takeover on the eve of the mayoral election in February. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A recent living memorial for victims of police torture under Jon Burge lined an entire city block. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
A recent living memorial for victims of police torture under Jon Burge lined an entire city block. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Brit Schulte)
(Photo: Brit Schulte)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Burge torture survivor Mark Clements leads a teach-in about the fight for justice for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Burge torture survivor Mark Clements leads a teach-in about the fight for justice for CPD torture survivors. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Visitors examine the photo section at the City Hall exhibition-in for reparations. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Students from The Village Leadership Academy stand in protest. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
At the close of the exhibition-in event at City Hall. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
At the close of the exhibition-in event at City Hall. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

And while this wasn’t exactly a direct action, I’ll never forget it:

Chicago organizers raising a glass to the struggle, and to the day's progress. (Photo: Brit Schulte)
Chicago organizers raising a glass to the struggle, and to a pending victory. (Photo: Brit Schulte)

Lifting Up Caged Voices: We Have Nothing to Lose But Their Chains

Friends, I’m reaching out to you today in this somewhat informal post to ask for your help in supporting a very important effort on behalf of Illinois’ abused prisoners. The Uptown Peoples’ Law Center (UPLC), an organization doing crucial work around prisoners’ rights, has only one day left to reach its fundraising goal – a goal that would allow attorneys to make monthly visits to Illinois prisons to gather first hand accounts of substandard medical treatment, solitary confinement induced trauma, and other human rights abuses.

Having been an intern at Uptown Peoples’ Law, I can tell you that the work they do is both under-compensated and positively essential. The efforts of its small team of employees are a labor of love, both for the invisibilized, and for the pursuit of justice itself. While there, I helped disabled individuals fight for the government benefits they desperately needed to survive, stay off the streets, and reclaim the dignity that poverty and an ablest society had stolen from them. The center’s work with prisoners is similarly grounded in a commitment to fight for those society has left behind.

As an abolitionist, I want to see the total deconstruction of the prison system, but for now, harm reduction is wholly necessary. In our day to day struggles against the injustices that we can see and feel for ourselves, we cannot forget the humanity of those who are caged and abused, because they deserve better, and our own humanity demands that we love and protect them, regardless of their guilt or innocence. They are human. We are human. As a society, we must decide what those realities are worth. To me, they’re worth an awful lot, because I believe in our decency, as well as our potential.

This week, my friends and I are building a mock up of a solitary confinement cell for an exhibit being put on by UPLC this Thursday. The Chicago Light Brigade has never tapped into our prop making toolkit for an exhibit that wasn’t also a direct action, but we feel this fight is critical, and that the  combined efforts of grassroots organizers and committed legal professionals, like the UPLC team, are essential to the fight against prisoner abuse. We hope you will join us on Thursday, but for today, we hope you will join us in making sure that attorneys are able to make their prison visits, to ensure that prisoners’ voices are heard.

As you consider clicking on the donation link, please remember what Assata taught us:

We have a duty to fight for our freedom.
We have a duty to win.
We must love and protect one another.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Volunteers paint sections of a full size model of a solitary confinement cell for an upcoming exhibit. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Volunteers paint sections of a full size model of a solitary confinement cell for an upcoming exhibit. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)