Kicking the Pigeon #2: The Setting

Diane BondView of Stateway demolition

Stateway Gardens, the community where Diane Bond has lived for the last twenty-seven years, is one of the high-rise public housing developments being redeveloped by the Chicago Housing Authority as part of its “Plan for Transformation.” Bounded by 35th and 39th Streets and State and Federal Streets, Stateway originally consisted of six seventeen-story and two ten-story high-rises on 33 acres. It provided 1,644 units of family housing. Under the redevelopment plan, private developers will build a “mixed income community” consisting of 1,315 units of housing, 439 of which will go to public housing residents. This “new community” will be called Park Boulevard.

The Stateway numbers—a net loss of 73% of the original public housing units—reflect the essential trajectory of the Plan for Transformation. City officials and developers speak of this massive reallocation of public resources to private hands in highly moralistic terms. Public housing developments, Mayor Daley has remarked more than once, lack “soul.” The new communities to be built on the land cleared by demolition will, so the logic goes, restore the soul of the city.

In a display that was part of an exhibition on the Plan for Transformation at the Chicago Historical Society last year—more an exercise in public relations for the CHA than historical inquiry—Stateway Gardens was described as “isolated.” This characterization is consistent with the prevailing social scientific discourse on urban poverty. It is not, however, consistent with geography. It would be more accurate to say that Stateway, like most of the CHA archipelago, is not isolated but abandoned. Now that the rest of the Stateway buildings have been razed, Diane Bond looks out from her eighth-floor apartment, over the Bridgeport neighborhood and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, at the downtown skyline. To the west, on the other side of the Dan Ryan Expressway, she can see White Sox Park. To the east, she can see De La Salle High School where both Mayor Daleys went to school. And just out of sight, blocked from view by the eastern tier of her building, located three blocks away at 35th and Michigan, is the administrative headquarters of the Chicago Police Department. As I have observed elsewhere, the question posed by this landscape is: who has isolated themselves from whom?

* * * *

“It’s like a nightmare,” Bond told me the day after her encounter with the police. “All I did last night was cry.”

When I knocked on her door, she was cleaning up. She gave me a tour and showed me the damage—the shattered picture of the Last Supper, the damaged frame of Willie’s high school graduation picture, the broken drinking glasses, the clothes and objects strewn around Willie’s room, the one room she had not yet cleaned up.

I had at that time known Diane Bond for several years. In my role as advisor to the Stateway Gardens resident council, I worked out of an office on the ground floor of 3544 S. State, the building in which she lived. Every so often I would see her in passing, most often going to or coming from her job as a public school janitor. I didn’t know her well but formed an impression of a cheerful woman in coveralls who moved through the turbulent scene “up under the building”—at once drug marketplace and village square—with an easygoing, friendly manner.

Diane in front of old building

In September of 2002, 3544 S. State was closed in preparation for demolition. Residents were given the choice of taking a housing voucher and moving into the private housing market or remaining on site. Bond opted to move to 3651 S. Federal. When the day came, the CHA provided moving vans for Bond and other residents relocating on site. At the end of the day, I encountered her, in a characteristically ebullient mood, ferrying the last of her possessions across the development in a shopping cart.

Diane's apartment

Her apartment in 3651 S. Federal is deeply inhabited. Two large, comfortable sofas, arrayed around a coffee table, dominate the living room. The top of the television cabinet functions as a sort of household altar for religious objects and family photos, among them pictures of her three sons: Delfonzo, now 30 years old, Larry, 29, and Willie, 21. Working as a janitor, Bond raised her boys as a single mother. She expresses pride in the fact that they have largely managed to stay clear of trouble in an environment where that is no small achievement. For the last three years, she has been involved with a man named Billie Johnson. Quiet and gentle in manner, Johnson labors in the economy of hustle—repairing cars, helping maintain the Stateway Park District field house and grounds, doing odd jobs for his neighbors.

* * * *

At my urging, Bond went to the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) of the Chicago Police Department to register a complaint against the officers who she said had assaulted her. As it happens, the OPS office is located at 35th and State in the IIT Research Institute Tower, the 19-story building visible from her apartment that stands like a wall of glass and steel between Stateway and the IIT campus to the north.

OPS investigates complaints of excessive force by the police. It is staffed by civilians and headed by a chief administrator who reports to the superintendent of police. When someone makes a complaint to OPS, an investigator takes down his or her statement of what happened. The individual is asked to review the statement and to sign it. In theory, OPS conducts its own investigation, interviewing the police officer(s) involved and any witnesses, then renders a judgment. In the vast majority of cases, it finds that the complaint is “not sustained”—i.e., the investigators could not determine the validity of the allegations of abuse. In a small number of cases each year, OPS sustains the complaint and recommends discipline for the officer(s) involved. An officer facing discipline may appeal to the Police Board, a body composed of nine civilians appointed by the mayor. The board has the power to reduce the punishment recommended by OPS or the superintendent and to reverse OPS altogether.

OPS has long been sharply criticized by human rights activists who argue that it functions not as a vehicle for holding the police accountable but as a shield against such accountability. They cite the numbers. For example, from 2001 through 2003, OPS received at least 7,610 complaints of police brutality. Significant discipline was imposed by the CPD in only 13 of those cases—six officers were terminated and seven were suspended for 30 days or more. In other words, an officer charged with brutality during 2001 – 2003 had less than a one-in-a-thousand chance of being fired.

It is, thus, extremely unlikely that an OPS investigation will yield any meaningful discipline for the officers involved. Yet it does not seem unreasonable to hope that a pending OPS investigation will at least serve to deter the officers named from further contact with the person who filed the complaint. That, at any rate, is what I told Diane Bond by way of reas
surance.

Building at Stateway overlooking police headquarters

3542-44 S. State Street being demolished with police headquarters in the background.

To be continued…