Tomorrow The View From The Ground will resume publication of “Kicking the Pigeon.” This narrative inquiry into police abuses in Chicago public housing focuses on the case of Bond v. Utreras, et al, a federal civil rights suit brought by Diane Bond, a resident of Stateway Gardens, against five police officers and the City of Chicago. Ten installments have been posted. The final seven installments will appear over the next two weeks. Thereafter, we will publish occasional updates, as the Bond case unfolds.
Six months have elapsed since we posted the last installment of “Kicking the Pigeon.” In one sense, little has happened during this period. The case has progressed slowly. In another sense, though, a great deal has happened.
At the national level, Hurricane Katrina, like a great flash of lightning, illuminated the deep racism and structures of exclusion that deform American society. For those of us working in abandoned communities such as Stateway Gardens, the conditions exposed by Katrina were not surprising. Nor would anyone familiar with Chicago public housing policy be surprised by the way various interests seized upon those conditions, once exposed, as rationales for profiteering.
Yet Katrina was revelatory. The strength of the gale that forced perceptions (if only for an extended moment) of conditions of abandonment also made palpable the immense counterforce necessary to hold those perceptions at bay on an ongoing basis. It provided a measure, like the Richter Scale for earthquakes or the Saffir-Simpson Scale for hurricanes, of the energy that must be expended not to know what we know.
A central theme of the forthcoming installments of “Kicking the Pigeon” is how not-knowing is operationalized. The defendants in the Bond case—Officers Utreras, Stegmiller, Savickas, Schoeff, and Seinitz—deny they had any contact with Diane Bond on any of the four occasions she alleges they abused her. Several recent developments suggest that such an edifice of denial requires considerable maintenance:
On June 13, 2005, I received a subpoena from the City law department in connection with the Bond case. It demanded that I “produce copies of any and all documents, notes, reports, writings, computer files, audio tapes, video tapes, or any written or recorded item” in my possession regarding any of twenty-four named individuals (members of the Stateway Gardens community and police officers, as well as an expert witness for the plaintiff and her attorney) “and/or any allegations of misconduct by any police officer” at Stateway Gardens. I have refused to comply with the subpoena on multiple grounds; the First Amendment chief among them.
In the course of the discovery process in the Bond case, a host of issues have arisen between the parties. Ms. Bond’s attorneys charge that the City lawyers have pursued a litigation strategy designed to frustrate the possibility of meaningful judicial or public scrutiny of Chicago Police Department practices. The issues that have arisen in the context of discovery are now before Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys who has indicated he will rule on them within the month.
On September 7, 2005, the day before he was to be deposed by City lawyers, Diane Bond’s son Willie Murphy was arrested by a team of officers that included defendants Utreras, Stegmiller, and Savickas. According to Murphy, one of the arresting officers repeatedly beat him and two other men, all handcuffed, with a heavy extension cord, while making references to the whipping of black slaves.
In an emergency motion presented to Judge Joan Lefkow on February 4, 2006, Diane Bond reported that on January 31 she was stopped on the grounds of Stateway Gardens by a police officer who accused her of having drugs on her and searched her. When the officer told her name to a second officer, he replied, “Oh, Diane Bond—from ‘Kicking the Pigeon.’” The second officer ordered her to get into his police car and interrogated her. “You know too much,” he told her. “I could kill you right now.”
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In response to “Kicking the Pigeon,” readers have contacted The View and asked, “What can we do?” Spread the word, we have replied. Give us your critical feedback by participating in the comments section (recently redesigned by webmaster David Eads). Help us create a forum for sustained critical engagement with these issues.
I have sensed a degree of disappointment with this reply, as if patterns of abuse as grave as those described in the series demand large actions in response and anything less is token. With all due respect, this logic aids and abets not-knowing. Because there is nothing large we can do, we do nothing. Because we do nothing, we cannot bear the burden of perception and so turn away from what we know—from what is knowable—about assaults on human dignity in our time, in our place, in our name.
“Kicking the Pigeon” is part of an ongoing campaign that employs human rights reporting and strategic litigation to press for police accountability. Informed public discourse—sustained against the undertow of denial—is critical to the success of this campaign. We need your help. Together, we have the power to prevent human rights abuses that will otherwise occur.
So, again, we urge: If you find the reporting and analysis in “Kicking the Pigeon” persuasive, encourage others to read it. If you have information or observations to add, share them. If you find our work flawed, challenge and improve it.
Take care,Jamie Kalven
PS: In response to requests from a number of readers, we are resuming our old practice of sending the stories we post on The View concurrently to subscribers as emails.