While her cops bust heads and kettle protesters, Chicago’s Black mayor Lori Lightfoot works behind the scenes with Trump’s “Operation Legend” agents to crack down on the inner city.
“This is What a Police State Looks Like”
Covid-era Chicago is a dystopian racist police state.
Two Saturdays ago, I headed down to the heart of historical Black Chicago on the South Side, to 45th and Indiana. I was looking for the two-thousand-person strong racial justice march that excited newscasters said was going to start at 47th and the Dan Ryan expressway (I-94 to non-Chicagoans) and make its way north to the downtown.
I stopped to check the march route on my phone across the street from the Chicago Police Department’s giant headquarters at 35th and Michigan. The building was surrounded by police in blue helmets and bullet-proof vests, heads bowed over their own smart phones.
A gaunt old Black man wearing a white beret rode up to me on a blue ten-speed bicycle. He spoke on what he called “the situation.” He talked about how differently COVID-19 is impacting the city’s neighborhoods by race and class. I told him about a pre-covid (2019) studyshowing that people live thirty years longer in the wealthy Near North Side neighborhood of Streeterville than they do in the deeply impoverished and 99% Black South Side neighborhood of Englewood. “Of course they do,” he said: “don’t need no study to show that!”
He found it amusing that the cops were bunched up by race: “They can’t even talk to each other! Go over to Wabash, it’s nothing but white cops over there.”
“The building was surrounded by police in blue helmets and bullet-proof vests, heads bowed over their own smart phones.”
Continuing south, I took a turn west on 43rd Street and happened by chance on a phalanx of all-white state police in full riot gear guarding a train bridge. There wasn’t a protester in sight, just me on a city bike, getting stared down by fifty downstate storm troopers with batons held crosswise above their knees. My mind flashed back to Jack London’s chilling dystopian novel The Iron Heel.
I found and joined the march. It was being led by a Black self-described rabbi who had no interest in fighting police. It was nowhere close to two thousand people. It was a hundred and fifty at most, by my count. It was surrounded front, back, and on both sides by the militarized police state, a police helicopter whirring overhead.
We said the usual chants and stopped every block or two to circle up for a “mike-check” to hear dramatic performances from the rabbi and some of his brethren. A young Black man told the story of how his life was changed forever when Chicago police killed his brother.
The rabbi became irritated by the presence of radicals in his midst, one of whom, a tall Black man from the Revolutionary Communist Party, was stealing his thunder by speaking eloquently about the need to de-fund the racist police state and then to radically confront the reigning system of race and class oppression. “Revolution, nothing less,” this leader said.
One of our chants was an old stand-by: “This what democracy looks like.” It felt ironic to say. The march was lined with gendarmes. Every step was hemmed in by cops on bikes. A police helicopter buzzed above, filming every move, like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451. Cops in SUVs with blue lights flashing rolled ahead and behind. Paddy wagons followed in case mass arrests were indicated. Big city Streets and Sanitation trucks blocked intersections east and west. The total city and state police deployment must have tripled the size of the march crowd.
“This,” I said to one my fellow marchers, “is what a police state looks like.”
“Every step was hemmed in by cops on bikes.”
Chicago spends more than $1.7 billion, nearly 15 percent of its total budget on a vast police force that is all about keeping the city safe for affluent whites for whom “shelter in place” has meant working from pleasant homes in good paying jobs with gold-plated insurance plans in comfortable neighborhoods with nice public parks and full-service grocery stores while poor Black people sink into escalated poverty, illness, and misery in hyper-segregated ghettoes of despair. The more the police arrest and incarcerate, the worse the life chances of young Black and brown people become in the neoliberal racist dystopia. The more their life chances are damaged, the more susceptible they are to engagement in illegal activities and thus to reincarceration after being released from prison. It’s a self-fulfilling vicious circle.
I walked a block ahead of the march after the communists left and the rabbi saw fit to smear them to his followers. As the march and its oversized police state escort made its way north into the gentrified Near South Side, I saw concerned white professional s faces in sidewalk taverns, coffee shops, and restaurants. They looked at the oncoming scene with contempt, as if to say, “what is this foolish nonsense about?” I was reminded of the Earth-colonizing aliens cloaked as urban professionals and businessmen in John Carpenter’s classic left- wing science fiction horror movie They Live.
I saw a white couple hurry into their renovated loft building, the husband saying “quick, honey, let’s get inside.” I felt bad for them. It was a peaceful march surrounded on every side by gendarmes. It had nothing to do with the late-night and early morning downtown looting conducted by organized gangs six days before. “Why are you in riot gear?” we had chanted one mile south, “I don’t see no riot here.”
The Financial District: “Whose Streets?”
This all occurred during the early afternoon. I had to get home (in the South Loop) and take care of some household matters. I left the march at Michigan and Roosevelt Road, where the rabbi was claiming holiness for letting a man in a wheelchair speak (a bit of able-ism that I found offensive). This was just a few blocks west of where Mayor Lori Lightfoot had recently been forced (by young Black and Latinx protesters) to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus, who kicked off Europe’s racist genocide in the New World.
I did not anticipate another confrontation with the police state that day. I was wrong.
After dinner, the whirring blades of the police helicopter above the statue of Ceres, the Roman Goddess of Grain, atop the Chicago Board of Trade building, reminded me that there had been another Saturday protest – a late afternoon march in the Loop led by young Black and Latinx activists calling for the de-funding of Chicago’s police state and the removal of Donald Trump’s nativist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from Chicago. These were the same kids who had forced the removal of the Columbus monument.
By the helicopter’s location, I placed the protesters in the downtown financial district. I Googled up “protests in Chicago today” and was soon looking at online images from the very chopper I could see hovering above the Loop from my front window. Peering down into the streets below the faceless Ceres through my computer screen, I could see that things had gone bad. Barely discernible whitish-colored figures that looked like tiny swimming larva through the helicopter lens could be seen running, turning down streets, coalescing, merging, and breaking up again. It was very Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, and Escape From New York.
It was obvious that a confrontation was underway. I donned my running shoes and headed north. At Dearborn and Adams, police were ubiquitous, blue lights and red ambulance lights coloring whole blocks. “What’s going on?” I asked an angry gendarme guarding an intersection. “Mass arrests,” he growled through a riot shield, “get out of here.”
“Police were ubiquitous, blue lights and red ambulance lights coloring whole blocks.”
I ran one block north and came down LaSalle Street, Chicago’s Wall Street. A young Latino told me what had just gone down. The kids had been trapped, hemmed in with nowhere to escape. They had been “kettled” – a police tactic where officers surround demonstrators before making mass arrests.
The young man was bleeding from police baton hits to his left leg and right arm. His skin burned from pepper spray. He was hoping to get his bike back from the police.
It was a major counter-offensive by the CPD. They’d been waiting for an opportunity to crack down ever since they got humiliated by youthful protesters at the recently amputated Columbus monument – and by the looters who had swarmed the downtown area the previous Sunday night. And they relished it.
By the time I got there, young Black and Latinx Chicagoans were being thrown in the backs of paddy wagons. Protesters’ bikes were heaped in two mangled piles on LaSalle.
A white police officer was seen using a marker to draw a hammer and sickle on the arm of a young Black arrestee. That cop is likely informed on current events by white-nationalist FOX News, where Trump’s Attorney General William Barr recently called Black Lives Matter activists “Bolsheviks”
A white-shirt police commander picked up his megaphone and said, “Whose streets?” This elicited loud laughter and raised fists from his fellow city gendarmes.
As readers surely know, one of social justice activists’ favorite chants is “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”
The commander was telling us that the armed force of the state, with its monopoly on legal violence, owns the city. I reminded this officer that Chicago is owned by the big financial institutions that loom over LaSalle Street and the rest of the Loop. “You work for them,” I told him: “These streets belong to Bank of America, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, US Bank and Wells Fargo. That’s who you serve and protect.” He didn’t seem to disagree.
Real Chicagoans Don’t Protest
A tall, muscular, and bald white man in expensive casual threads (and no mask) came up close to scream the following at me and some young Black onlookers: “none of you people are from Chicago!” He explained that “real Chicagoans don’t protest. Only outside agitators do.”
I guess he never heard of the Chicago Eight Hour Movement, The Great Chicago Labor Upheaval of 1877, the Haymarket Martyrs, the Pullman Strike, the 1905 Teamsters Strike, the Stockyards Labor Council, the Unemployed Councils, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (whose slogan was “Black and white, unite and fight”), the Memorial Day Massacre, the Chicago Freedom Movement, the Black Panthers, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the Black uprising that forced out Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the Laquan McDonald killing.
He demanded to know where I grew up, what schools I attended. As I started to answer, taking the bait, his wife snarled and aimed a can of Mace at my face.
White Amerikaner Trumpenvolk fascists are not just a rural, suburban, and exurban phenomenon. We have them in big blue (Democratic) cities too, especially in neighborhoods full of white cops like Mount Greenwood, the far Southwest Side home to many of the comparatively small number of Chicago voting precincts that went Trump in 2016.
Fascism Has Many Colors
They are aided and abetted by Chicago’s technically Black mayor Lori Lightfoot. Lightfoot is having nothing to do with calls to defund the police as she works behind the scenes with Trump’s “Operation Legend” agents to crack down on the inner city under the false pretext that Trump cares about Black-on-Black bloodshed.
A bunch of Lakefront Liberals thought that Lori was a progressive. How foolish of them. Lightfoot was a corporate lawyer who served white power by sitting on police review boards to side with racist cops under the One Percent mayoralties of Richard Daley II and Rahm Emanuel. Liberals are just perpetually identity-bamboozled by corporatist agents of class rule and racial oppression.
Fascism has many different colors: white, orange, blue, brown, and black. We must fight them all. The alternative is the dystopian right-wing police state that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us about before his assassination (or execution), which came one year and a half before the metropolitan and FBI police-state execution of the great young Black Panther Fred Hampton on the West Side of Chicago.
A Statue Recommendation
Fred Hampton – there’s another Chicagoan who doesn’t exist in metropolitan white nationalism’s official memory chambers. Earlier this summer, I attended a press conference in which local reporters asked young Black activists what they’d like to see instead of a statue of Christopher Columbus at Roosevelt Road and Columbus Avenue. After some silence, I blurted out “how about a statue of Fred Hampton?” the reporters had the deer-in-the headlights look. They’d never heard of him. The activists knew who Fred Hampton was and readily endorsed the recommendation.
Which reminds me: this can’t be released soon enough: “Judas and the Black Messiah.” I hope the rabbi gets to see it. It might help him with his problem with Marxists.
Peaceful Protest is Failing
Meanwhile, just 50 miles north, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, another one of the nation’s thousands of local racist police states paralyzed the young Black man Jacob Blake with seven vicious, totally unnecessary, and criminal shots in the back. The scenes of the predictable result, including significant rioting, have been positively dystopian as the National Guard arrives. I am guessing they’ll bring the usual detachment of Black Hawk Attack Helicopters, named after the great Sauk warrior, Black Hawk, whose people were butchered and ethnically cleansed from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin by white “setters” in the early 1830s.
The young man’s uncle has called for “peaceful protest” – the usual official statement from family members of police brutality victims. Good luck with that. Tens of millions have protested peacefully from coast to coast (in more than 2000 U.S. cities and towns) since after the murder of Breonna Taylor and the eight-minute lynching of George Floyd. The Amerikaner gendarmes rolled out the tear gas (a technically illegal agent of chemical warfare), “impact munitions,” pepper spray (also illegal), sound cannons (capable of piercing eardrums), kettling, paddy wagons, and batons from sea to shining sea. Racist pigs continue to murder and maim Black people. They just can’t stop themselves.
Mass peaceful protest has not made Amerikaners think that Black lives matter. It just hasn’t.
The fascist-racist police state must be de-funded and disarmed in Red State and Blue State America, in small red towns and big blue cities, from coast to coast.
Paul Street’s book Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books) will be available in mid-September.
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