Fifty years later, marching for another cause

Fifty years later, marching for another cause
Signs from Wednesday's march lay on the ground after the event wrapped up at Daley Plaza. Photo by Yana Kunichoff

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, brought attention to the disparities faced by African Americans in employment and education. On its 50th anniversary, Chicago activists took to the streets to protest another disparity–in how people of color are treated by law enforcement.

The idea behind The Peoples March on City Hall for Peace and Justice: that despite a supposed 50 years of progress, disenfranchised, unemployed and incarcerated people are “still not free.” Several hundred protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon near City Hall and ended the march in Daley Plaza. They carried signs with long-faded photographs of incarcerated loved ones and chanted against the criminal justice system.

“It’s not enough that we are hit by one economic disaster after another and the social savagery imposed by budget cuts but also unchecked and uncensored police repression,” read the Facebook message advertising the march. The marchers were demanding the creation of an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council to replace the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. The commission’s chief administrator is appointed by the mayor to investigate police crimes and recommend actions. Ilana Rosenzweig, chief administrator of the review commission, resigned in March.

Mark Clements, who spent 28 years behind bars before being exonerated. Photo by Yana Kunichoff

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed a committee to lead the search for her replacement.

It’s not a new issue. The Office of Professional Standards was shut down in 2007 because of complaints that it was failing to hold police officers accused of misconduct accountable. The Office of Professional Standards was part of the police department, but staffed by civilians.

Now, accountability advocates want to replace the current commission with an elected, civilian council, with the ability to prosecute police officers.

Kimberly Davila, right, says her husband Edwin Davila was wrongly imprisoned. He has been behind bars for 18 years. Photo by Yana Kunichoff

“We need a change” in how police officers who commit crimes are treated, said Mark Clements, who sat behind bars for 28 years before being exonerated in 2010. Clements was 16 when he was tortured into confessing to a murder crime he did not commit by officers under the notorious Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, he said.

“The change must come through legislation to properly investigate [torture] claims. We need a group that is more open to investigate … claims of misconduct of police,” Clements told The Chicago Reporter at Wednesday’s march.

Clements and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which organized the march, are demanding a significant change in Chicago’s police accountability policies.

Mary L. Johnson’s son has been incarcerated for 14 years, 8 months and 27 days. Photo by Yana Kunichoff

Currently, the review commission’s decisions are nonbinding, and its recommendations on charges of police misconduct must either be referred to the Chicago Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division or to the Cook County State’s Attorney for consideration of criminal charges. A 2012 investigation by The Chicago Reporter found that a group of officers with repeated misconduct complaints have remained on the police force, even when accused of violent acts.

It’s unlikely, if not impossible, that the commission or a body like it would be given the power to prosecute crimes, acknowledged Tracy Siska, executive director with the Chicago Justice Project, a non-profit that works on criminal justice issues.  But more transparency in the way police misconduct cases are handled would go a long way toward building the credibility of the review process, he added. “We need to know where complaints are coming from, and what happens to them.”

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman from the mayor’s office, declined to comment on the activists’ demands.

Meanwhile, those with family members behind bars say they will continue to fight for justice. Anabel Perez’s son has been in prison for 16 years, since he was 17 years old, she said. Jaime Hallad was tortured into confessing to a crime he has not committed, but has yet to get a hearing on his torture claims, Perez said as she held a poster with her son’s picture at the march. “I’m looking for some justice. And it’s not just my son. There are many others out there.”

Anabel Perez holds a sign with a photo of her incarcerated son, Jaime Hallad, and his daughter. Perez says Hallad was tortured into confessing to a crime he did not commit at age 17. Photo by Yana Kunichoff

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