Kicking the Pigeon #9: March 29 and 30, 2004

Stateway building

A question persists at the center of this narrative. Why? Assuming Diane Bond’s account is true, why did members of the skullcap crew repeatedly invade her home and her body? What possible rationale could there be for their conduct? The abuses occurred in the context of the “war on drugs.” That was the pretext for raiding her building, searching her home and person, and interrogating her. But does the enforcement of drug laws, in the absence of individualized suspicion (much less a search warrant supported by probable cause), explain the abuses? Does it make sense of the senseless, sadistic conduct alleged? This is not an easy question to answer. For it demands we entertain the possibility that the abuses were an end in themselves and the drug war a vehicle to that end: the possibility that members of the Chicago Police Department terrorized Diane Bond for the perverse pleasure of it.

I recall arriving at 3651 South Federal on a winter day in 2003, just as an unmarked police car was driving away. Once it was out of sight, the drug marketplace up under the building would reopen for business. Several people were standing outside the building, looking on. Among them was a woman known on the street as Betty Boop, who acts as a lookout for drug dealers to support her heroin addiction.

“You know what that crazy man did?” she asked me, referring to one of the officers. “He just walked up and kicked that bird for no reason.”

She pointed to a pigeon on the pavement. It was wobbly and disoriented—in obvious distress.

“Now why did he have to do that?” Betty asked.

The image comes back to me now, as I try to make sense of the patterns of the skullcap crew: kicking the pigeon. Casual cruelty can become a way of life in a setting where everything is permitted, where you enjoy de facto dominion over other human beings who are by definition not to be believed. Any account they might give as victims or witnesses is impeached in advance, for they are gangbangers and drug dealers. They are the mothers and grandmothers of gangbangers and drug dealers. They are residents of a public housing development that is seen less as a community than as a loose criminal conspiracy to engage in gangbanging and drug dealing. Some officers are made uncomfortable by the license this perverse logic confers upon them; they know if they don’t restrain themselves, nobody else will. And some exult in the power it gives them to toy with other human beings.

Seen in this light, it was not something threatening about Diane Bond that drew the skullcap crew to her. It was something vulnerable.

* * * *

In early March of 2004, ten months after her last encounter with the skullcap crew, I visited Bond in what is now the lone surviving building at Stateway Gardens. It stands at the center of thirty-three acres of vacant land. Waiting for her to answer the door, I was struck anew by how exposed her situation was: a woman alone on the eighth floor of a half-vacant high-rise in the middle of a desert of demolition. There was a hand-lettered sign affixed to the door:

Stop!!! Read Don’t Knock On my Door Unlest It For a Good Cause (Not Stupid)

The reason for the sign, she explained, was that the police had told her they would arrest her, if she let anyone they were after into her apartment.

I found Bond despondent. She was unemployed. She was broke. She had fallen behind on her rent. Her isolation had deepened because she could no longer afford a telephone. And her fear of the police seemed only to have intensified with the passage of time.

“I can’t stand,” she said, “that I’m scared even to open my door.”

She spoke of the gang rape she suffered in high school with startled immediacy as if it had occurred recently rather than thirty years ago.

“All these years,” she said, “I’ve been holding it inside.”

As I listened to her talk about her sense of exposure and helplessness, I was reminded of an image a friend once used to describe how people “recover” from traumatic violence. It is, she said, akin to the way the body responds to tuberculosis. One does not get over TB by excising it or expelling it from the body; rather, the body walls off the bacteria and contains them. Similarly, the victim of terrorizing violence rebuilds her world, containing but not erasing the virulence that has entered her life. In this sense, a traumatic event changes the underlying terms of existence. It remains present within one’s nervous system and soul as a continuing vulnerability. Even when one has rebuilt one’s life, the trauma may under certain circumstances be reawakened with the force and immediacy of the original assault. And so for Diane Bond, it appeared, her encounters with the skullcap crew had reopened the wounds of earlier violations. While the crew presumably wasn’t aware of her history of sexual violence, it’s not hard to imagine they had picked up the scent.

Diane Bond Portrait

Finding Bond in despair, I could see more clearly how gallantly she had responded over time to the cruelties she had suffered as a young woman. As the structure of a building is revealed by the process of demolition, so the design of the life she had built for herself after violence was poignantly evident. She had invested herself in her work and her family. She had found solace in religion; prayer and counting her blessings were part of her daily routine. And she had been deeply embedded in her community, moving through it gracefully without evident fear, enjoying the passing encounters and conviviality of the street. It was these structures of meaning and security, this hard-won sense of being at home in the world, that were now collapsing.

* * * *

At about 11:30 p.m. on March 29, 2004, Bond was descending the stairs from her apartment. In the stairwell she encountered Officer Robert Stegmiller and another officer. Stegmiller had a screwdriver in his hand. He ordered Bond to come with him and threatened to stick her in the neck with the screwdriver if she didn’t comply. The two officers seized her, threw her to the ground, twisting her arm behind her back, then handcuffed her.

“I screamed and screamed. No one came,” she said. “‘You know me,’ I hollered. ‘I live here. I’m Diane Bond.’”

The officers pulled her up off the ground and removed the handcuffs.

Stegmiller put a finger to his lips. He warned her not to say anything about what had happened.

After the officers released her, Diane went to Michael Reese Hospital where she was examined and outfitted with a sling.

The next evening, she encountered Stegmiller outside her building. She was wearing the sling on her right arm. He called out to her in a mocking tone, “What happened to you?”

Bond fled the building and went to the Stateway Park District field house. Clyde Johnson of the Park District saw that she was in distress. He talked with her and tried to reassure her. A man of considerable personal command, seasoned by sixteen years at Stateway, Johnson was struck by how terrified she was. In a sense, he saw her injury, her trauma.

“It kind of scared me,” he recalled. “She was actually shaking. Trembling. She was petrified.”

Johnson noticed she had soiled her pants. He let her take refuge in his office, amid the sports equipment, until the field house closed at 10:00 pm.

* * * *

The basis for this narrative is a series of interviews with Diane Bond, beginning on
March 30, 2004 and continuing to the present; an interview with Clyde Johnson; and the plaintiff’s statement of facts in Bond v. Chicago Police Officers Utreras, et al.

Officer Robert Stegmiller denies having any contact with Ms. Bond on the dates alleged.

To be continued…