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Today The View From The Ground resumes publication. It has been two years since we last posted a story. The reasons for this hiatus are personal. We certainly had not completed our mission. Nor had we exhausted the possibilities of The View. We were just beginning to grasp the nature of the tools that we, in collaboration with our readers, were developing.
We resume publication today in a radically altered landscape. Several years ago, I joked in print that the name of Chicago’s public housing strategy—“The Plan For Transformation”—was Orwellian: the Chicago Housing Authority, which had failed to provide “maintenance” and “security,” was now promising “transformation.” (Only as the process gathered momentum, did I realize that the truly Orwellian word was “plan.”) Yet the name has, in fact, proved accurate.
When we posted our first story in the spring of 2001, the Stateway Gardens public housing community, the ground from which we viewed the city, was largely intact. Today the “State Street corridor,” dominated by the Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens, has indeed been transformed. No other word will do. Once the largest concentration of public housing in the nation, it is now a post-apocalyptic landscape, block after block of vacant land. Of the twenty-eight high-rises that comprised Robert Taylor, two remain standing; of the eight Stateway buildings, one remains. At these and other former public housing sites throughout the city, developers have erected billboards proclaiming the names of the new “mixed income communities” they are building on the land cleared by demolition. Stateway Gardens, for example, has been renamed “Park Boulevard.”
Until recently, a billboard promoting Park Boulevard stood at the corner of 35th and State, the northern boundary of Stateway. The sign was a montage of photographic images: a boy blowing on a dried dandelion, a grandfather with his arm draped around his grandson, a little girl held aloft by strong, loving arms. Lightly superimposed upon these images were a series of words: “family, dreams, life, diversity, laughter, happiness, hope, fun, together, learning, independence, sharing, success.” Four words were in a darker font than the rest. They occupied the foreground and formed the phrase:
A Community Coming Soon
This message was meant to be read with reference to the acres of vacant land to the south of the billboard. It was intended to promote the idea that the developers would create on this blank slate a new community embracing the qualities evoked by the words on the sign. The inescapable, if perhaps unintended, subtext of this message was that those words did not apply to the generations of Stateway residents for whom this place had been home. The redevelopment process is necessarily blind to the forms of community they have created. It is a process of erasure rather than renewal.
For two years, The View reported from the Stateway community, as it contended with the forces pushing it toward invisibility. The words “the view from the ground” suggest both a moral stance and a methodology. Our understanding of what they mean has deepened over time. In our initial statement of purpose, we wrote:
The tradition of reporting from which The View takes its bearings seeks to create the means for those who are voiceless and caricatured within the prevailing discourse to be heard and seen on their own terms.
This is not to claim, as some have said, that The View “gives voice to the voiceless.” Those in abandoned communities such as Stateway, who are barred from full participation in the society by conditions of structural exclusion, do not lack voices. They lack the means of self-representation. Using the crafts and media at our command, we have tried to make immediate the voices of those who have told us their stories.
We have done so as friends, as neighbors, and, in some instances, as actors in those stories. For a number of years, we have been deeply engaged in the life of the Stateway community. How does our solidarity with those we report on affect our reliability as reporters? Does it distort our vision? Or does it perhaps afford us access to perception? These are legitimate questions. We leave them to our readers to assess. We make no claims to journalistic “objectivity.” We do aspire to intellectual rigor. As the British journalist James Cameron observed in his memoir Point of Departure:
I still do not see how a reporter attempting to define a situation involving some sort of ethical conflict can do it with sufficient demonstrable neutrality to fulfill some arbitrary category of “objectivity” . . . . I may not always have been satisfactorily balanced; I always tended to argue that objectivity was of less importance than the truth, and that the reporter whose technique was informed by no opinion lacked a very serious dimension.1
We have understood our work within the traditions of human rights reporting. This form of inquiry begins with the injury to human dignity in the individual case. Having established the reality and unacceptability of the abuse, it moves to interrogate larger systems. Is this instance part of a larger pattern? What is the extent of that pattern? What conditions contribute to the space in which such abuses occur?
This orientation is, for us, an essential aspect of the meaning of “the view from the ground.” We have sought to engage fundamental human rights issues by immersing ourselves in eight square blocks of the South Side–by staying close to the ground.
Today most of that ground, cleared and fenced, awaits redevelopment. Life persists amid the ruins. Some seventy-odd families inhabit the one remaining building, 3651-53 South Federal. Community members who have relocated elsewhere return to see friends, to hang out, to walk familiar streets. The Park District field house–known as “the center”–remains full of activity. Yet it would be false and sentimental to understate the extent of the damage.
The machinery for disappearing people and erasing places is stunningly effective. We published The View from an office in a first floor apartment in one of the Stateway high-rises, 3542-44 South State. I knew everyone in the building; everyone knew me. I wrote a good deal about that building and know many more stories than I have written. After the building was closed, I came back almost every day over a period of months, sometimes for hours at a time, to bear witness to the process of demolition. Yet if I stand today on the vacant lot where 3542-44 South State was located, it takes a large, sustained effort of imagination to remember what was there.
Whatever else might be said about Chicago’s vertical ghetto, you could see it. As you moved through the city, it was difficult not to see public housing high-rises. Even registered in passing at the periphery of your vision as you drove by at 60 mph on the expressway, they posed questions, unsettled the mind, and abraded the conscience. The invisible ghetto fast replacing the high-rises allows us to move through the city unimpeded by moral friction and relieved of the danger of colliding with fundamental issues of social justice.
This restructuring of the city, it is important to recognize, is also remapping the geography of our moral imaginations—what we can see and what we can think, how issues are constructed and the parameters within which they are discussed.
It has been said that the more effective a regime of censorship is, the less people are aware of it. Some struggles over freedom of speech
have taken the form of demanding that censorship be kept visible, e.g., that material suppressed from publications be shown by white space (in India during the State of Emergency) or by ellipses (in Poland under martial law). (The latter practice gave rise to an inspired Solidarity button that read simply: “. . . “) Something similar can be said of structures of exclusion: the more invisible they are, the more effective. The less we are aware of them, the more powerfully they shape our experience of the world. They are part of the given; we are inside the whale. This is, arguably, the ultimate paradox of the Plan For Transformation: as the City has torn down the high-rises, it has fortified the structures of exclusion.
Paul Farmer has observed:
Human rights violations are not accidents; they are not random in distribution or effects. Rights violations are, rather, symptoms of deeper pathologies of power and are linked intimately to the social conditions that so often determine who will suffer abuse and who will be shielded from harm. If assaults on dignity are anything but random in distribution or course, whose interests are served by the suggestion that they are haphazard?2
Narrative inquiries into the conditions underlying patterns of abuse must move against a powerful undertow. The boundaries of permissible discourse, the conventions of “on the one hand. . . on the other hand” journalism, and, in some instances, the very structure of the built environment resist such narratives. The costs of perception are high. It is easier to see assaults on human dignity as malfunctions of otherwise sound policies and institutions (the work perhaps of “a few bad apples”) than as “symptoms of deeper pathologies of power.”
We have no illusions about how difficult it is to tell such stories. It is not simply a matter of providing reliable information. Good journalistic work can readily be assimilated to the prevailing structures of perception. It is necessary to subvert those structures—to break through—in order to create space for fresh perception. This is the work of art and nonviolent resistance, as well as human rights reporting. The View is a point of intersection between these traditions, sensibilities, and conversations.
The View will continue to report from the ground. We will report from the places to which people have been disappeared. And we will describe the machinery by which individuals, populations, and issues are rendered invisible. Above all, we will work to develop narrative, analytic, and graphic strategies to illuminate the pathologies of power.
We don’t know where our inquiries will take us. We have a strong sense of direction but no map. We invite readers to join our ongoing conversation about how best to tell particular stories. What are the requirements of the narrative? the most effective lines of inquiry? the best means of making the invisible visible?
This much is clear. Conditions of structural exclusion are ultimately enforced by violence: by particular blows inflicted by particular hands on particular bodies. That is our point of departure—the ground from which we take our bearings—as we now resume The View.
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The View From the Ground is an occasional publication of the Invisible Institute—a set of relationships and ongoing conversations grounded at the Stateway Gardens public housing development on Chicago’s South Side. In the tradition of human rights monitoring, our aim is to deepen public discourse by providing reliable information about conditions on the ground. The View orients from the perspective of those living in abandoned communities. There are, we recognize, other perspectives on the changes transforming inner city neighborhoods. We are mindful of these perspectives. Our first responsibility, however, is to evoke the experience of those on the ground—those for whom these neighborhoods are home. Public discourse is deformed by the absence of this perspective. The View seeks to inject it into the public conversation. Investigative journalism and human rights reporting are often challenged on the ground that they do not afford the powerful an adequate opportunity to tell their side of the story. Such criticism is based on a misconception about the nature of such reporting. Powerful institutions and individuals do not lack vehicles for expressing their views and asserting their interests. The tradition of reporting from which The View takes its bearings seeks to create the means for those who are voiceless and caricatured within the prevailing discourse to be heard and seen on their own terms. Such reporting does not purport to be “balanced” in the sense that the reporting in the mainstream press does. (Indeed, one of its aims is to correct distortions that arise from the conventions of “objective” journalism.) That does not, however, mean that it claims an exemption from high standards of craftsmanship and rigor. On the contrary, the moral authority of a human rights monitoring effort rests ultimately on the quality of its reporting. That is the basis on which we expect The View to be judged.
The View From The Ground is dedicated to enriching the public conversation about a range of issues associated with abandoned communities. We need your help to broaden and deepen that conversation. If you find The View useful, if you think it provides information and access to perception not available elsewhere, we ask that you help us extend its reach. Who do you know who might benefit from The View? Please recommend it to them and urge them to subscribe. Do you know of networks through which The View might be made available? If so, please let us know. The View is a tool for holding public institutions accountable to the marginalized and disenfranchised. Its impact has exceeded our expectations.That impact would be further enhanced, if public officials and other decision-makers knew it was being read and discussed by an expanding number of engaged citizens. Thanks for your help in spreading the word.
The View posted Part II of this story on the morning of March 21. That afternoon, for the first time since January 7, there was no visible police presence on the 3700 block of South State Street. We later learned that 2nd District personnel had been deployed downtown because of anti-war protests. It is thus hard to judge the impact, if any, of the View report. In any case, there have been no police cars stationed at fixed locations on South State Street since March 21.
The State Street Coverage Initiative has, it appears, been suspended for the time being, but the questions it raised remain open.
Harriet McCullough of Citizens Alert, a police accountability organization, posed some of those questions in a February 24 letter addressed to Superintendent Hillard and copied to Mayor Daley and Demetrius Carney, president of the Police Board, a civilian disciplinary board appointed by the mayor. After recounting complaints her organization had received about the Initiative—including one from Kate Walz, a Citizens Alert board member threatened with arrest for standing on State Street—Ms. McCullough asked:
Why was this police policy undertaken?
Why are the residents of South State Street and other people not being allowed to meet or talk on the 3500 to 3700 blocks of South State?
How do you justify this allocation of police manpower, in light of pressing needs in this community and elsewhere in the City?
Ms. McCullough received a reply, dated March 7, from Mr. Carney. “The Police Board does not control police personnel assignments or patrol practices,” he wrote. “The questions you raise fall directly under the responsibility of the Superintendent of Police.”
At the Police Board hearing on March 13, Ms. McCullough asked Superintendent Hillard directly, “Why was such a police policy undertaken?”
The Superintendent flatly denied that the State Street Coverage Initiative was a matter of policy.
“I can tell you truthfully,” he said, “that there is not a written police policy to that effect. We’ve had a number of complaints of drugs being sold and gang members recruiting and trying to sell drugs up and down the State Street corridor. We’re still in an enforcement phase of that, but when it comes down to stopping anybody and everybody along the State Street corridor, that shouldn’t be happening, and I don’t think it’s happening.”
“We are just concerned,” Ms. McCullough replied, “that people aren’t being allowed to meet or talk on State Street.”
“Other people,” said the Superintendent, “are concerned that people might come into their respective neighborhoods from outside the neighborhood and outside the city and purchase drugs and things like that.”
I made a brief statement to the Board in which I described what I had observed on State Street—citizens arrested for being on the street, told they could not await at the bus stop, given jaywalking tickets, and so on. What, I asked, was the rationale for the massive allocation of police manpower to one-and-a-half blocks of State Street?
Superintendent Hillard again stated that the State Street Coverage Initiative “is not a policy of the Chicago Police Department.” He went on to say, “People should be able to patronize the library. People should be able to stand on the street and catch the CTA bus, if they need transportation. People should be able to go to the stores.” Again, he emphasized “drug dealers and gangbangers along the State Street corridor” as the rationale for the increased police presence.
Following the Police Board hearing, Ms. McCullough received a response to her letter to Superintendent Hillard. Dated March 12, it was signed by Commander Marienne Perry of the 2nd District.
Commander Perry writes:
In response to your letter of February 2003, there has been a visible Chicago Police Officer presence in the area of 37th and State Streets for several weeks. The officers are there in response to citizens’ complaints of being intimidated by large groups gathering at the location.
Her phrasing suggests that the State Street operation began in mid-February. In fact, it began, with great intensity, on January 7 and was sustained without lapse until mid-March.
The complaints allege that people cannot enter restaurants nor can they use the library without fear of being harmed. Library workers and patrons are in fear because those who gather on the street come into the library to use narcotics in the restrooms and engage in other unlawful acts which are allowed to occur because citizens are afraid of reprisals.
She then states a rationale for the State Street Coverage Initiative:
The police presence is there to ensure that law-abiding citizens can safely walk the streets and make use of the resources of this Community without fear. Officers are not there to infringe upon the personal freedoms of anyone but they are there to make sure that innocent residents are not forced to live in a perpetual state of fear.
The responses of Superintendent Hillard and Commander Perry to questions raised about the State Street Coverage Initiative are striking in several respects:
- By forwarding Ms. McCullough’s letter to Commander Perry for response, the Superintendent, in effect, redefines the State Street Coverage Initiative as a local response to local complaints. But on the evidence of Chief of Patrol Maurer’s January 9 order, the directive to clear State Street came from the highest level of the CPD and was addressed to multiple divisions within the Department. (Commander Perry was one of ten commanders and deputy chiefs of patrol to whom the order was addressed.)
- Superintendent Hillard repeatedly stated that the State Street Coverage Initiative was not a police policy. This statement would seem to be contradicted not only by police practices sustained over a period of two-and-a-half months but by internal CPD documents—the Chief of Patrol’s January 9 order and Commander Perry’s memo to personnel under her command. In order to resolve this apparent contradiction, The View has submitted a request to the CPD under the Freedom of Information Act for any other documents pertaining to the State Street operation—above all, the initial order to which the Chief of Patrol’s January 9 order on reporting procedures is an addendum.
- Commander Perry’s letter states that the heightened police presence on South State Street was in response to citizens’ complaints. There is no question that the librarians at the Chicago Bee Branch Public Library, merchants on State Street, and Stateway Gardens management have made occasional complaints to the police. It is equally clear that the State Street Coverage Initiative was not undertaken in response to their complaints. The evidence strongly suggests that it was prompted by the complaint of one particular citizen: Mayor Daley.
- Superintendent Hillard cited “drug dealers and gangbangers along the State Street corridor” as the rationale for the heightened police presence, but in practice what distinguishes the State Street Coverage Initiative from customary patterns of policing in public housing is precisely that it was directed not at drug dealers and gang members engaged in criminal activity but at citizens engaged in non-criminal activities—walking, talking, standing—on the public street. The defining image of the Initiative, repeated countless times, is of police officers ordering citizens off the street or giving jaywalking tickets within sight of open drug dealing.
- Commander Perry does not explicitly mention drug dealing and gang activity as rationales, but note the language she uses: “intimidate . . . fear of being harmed . . . in fear . . . afraid of reprisals.” Are we to understand that what the Commander describes as “a perpetual state of fear” is created by jaywalking? Certain patterns—blocking the entrance to the library, selling loose cigarettes, crossing the street outside the white lines—can be seen as problems without evoking a community held hostage by fear.
- The rhetorical strategies adopted by Superintendent Hillard and Commander Perry in response to questions raised about the State Street Coverage Initiative make it necessary for them to portray the community in highly negative terms: it is dominated by drug dealers and gangs, community members live in “a perpetual state of fear,” and so on. Their efforts to justify a questionable police policy thus contribute to public perceptions of the community as a dangerous haven for crime. This criminalization of the community in turn facilitates the City’s program of land clearance—it lends support to the conclusion that the community is not viable and so should be obliterated rather than renewed. In this connection, it is important to recall that the State Street operation appears to have originated not in the CPD but in the Mayor’s office and to have been motivated not by concern for the safety of neighborhood residents but by the City’s development agenda.
- Commander Perry evokes the fears of citizens as a rationale for the State Street Coverage Initiative. Public safety is indeed a central aspiration of Stateway residents. As their community undergoes “transformation”—forced relocation, demolition, redevelopment—they have again and again called for respectful, sustained law enforcement. At the moment, however, on the evidence of scores of conversations with community members in recent weeks, it remains a place where—to use Commander Perry’s terms—conditions of intimidation, fear of being harmed and fear of reprisals arise primarily from the way the police conduct themselves in public housing.
In her letter to Ms. McCullough, Commander Perry states: “The police presence is there to ensure that law-abiding citizens can safely walk the streets and make use of the resources of the Community without fear. Officers are not there to infringe upon the personal freedoms of anyone. . .” This is a welcome principle. The question is how best to implement it. Whatever else might be said about the State Street Coverage Initiative, it has been an extravagantly wasteful strategy for accomplishing these ends—wasteful of police resources and wasteful of citizens’ constitutional rights.
In the vestibule of the Chicago Bee Branch Library at 3647 South State Street, a painting extends from wall to wall over the entrance. It evokes a busy street scene during the heyday of the Black Metropolis—the African-American city-within-the-city created by the interplay between waves of Southern migrants and rigid patterns of Northern segregation. When one looks closely at the painting, it is apparent that it represents the two block stretch of South State Street on the other side of the library door. Central to the cityscape is the pale green Art Deco building in which the library is located. Commissioned in 1929 by Anthony Overton, it was the home of the Chicago Bee, a newspaper published by Overton that competed with the Chicago Defender. Also prominent in the painting is the other surviving landmark on the street, the Overton Hygienic Building, a block to the north, which originally housed a cosmetics company. Between these two anchors, there is a shoe repair shop, a men’s clothing store, a cleaner, a “general merchandise” store, a restaurant and bar, a cab stand, a women’s clothing store, a meat and poultry shop, a hat shop, a produce store, and a newsstand. The cobblestone street is crowded with people walking, shopping, talking, and enjoying the day. A moving truck and men with push carts make their way through the human traffic. Full of color and movement, the painting offers a vision of urban vitality and neighborly conviviality: the pleasures of the street.
When you step out of the library on to State Street, you encounter a scene strikingly different from the bright animation of the painting. What was once the most densely populated area of the city is now mostly vacant land awaiting “redevelopment.” On the east side of the street, amid boarded-up storefronts and vacant lots, are a handful of small businesses—a laundromat, a pool hall, a sandwich shop, a liquor store, a grocery store. On the west side of the street, the two surviving Stateway Gardens high-rises—a ten-story building on State and a seventeen-story building on Federal—stand alone in the open space created by the razing of six neighboring high-rises. In and around the open-air lobbies of the buildings, the drug trade operates: a desolate marketplace in which only one commodity is sold.
It is, at a glance, a gray landscape, as if shrouded in the dust from recent demolitions. Yet the pleasures of the street survive. Even in winter, when the weather relents a bit, South State Street comes alive. Yes, some customers hang out on the corner outside the liquor store. Street corner entrepreneurs sell “loose squares” (single cigarettes). And the librarians occasionally express concern about people obstructing the entrance to the library. (Beneath the painting in the vestibule evoking the street life of an earlier era is a “No Loitering” sign.) These chronic problems are present on the street, but so is the rest of life: much of the life of the community is played out on State Street. It is an intensely urban space, the place you go to get the news, to “meet and greet” and “conversate.” For many community members, it is a necessary perspective—a vantage point on life as it passes. There are people who gravitate to precisely the same spot on the street every day. Among them are some who looked on as Stateway was built and now are watching it being torn down.
In this long abandoned neighborhood undergoing “transformation,” three key public institutions provide settings and venues for the common life of the community: the Chicago Bee Branch Public Library, the Chicago Park District facility at 3658 South State, and the public forum of the street.
Community members sometimes refer to the Stateway area as “35th Street.” They describe it as “a safe place,” “welcoming and unstressful,” and “comfortable.” A young woman gave voice to the sentiments of many, when she spoke of the impact of recent police operations on the fragile social ecology of the street:
“The reason I like 35th is that it is—it used to be—a place for serenity. It’s a place where everybody can just relax. It’s not so hectic. The community doesn’t judge you. But the police treat everyone like a criminal. It’s not comfortable for me anymore.”
The State Street Coverage Initiative was launched on January 7, the day Morton Walker and Shawn Baldwin were arrested. I have not seen the original order, but a subsequent memo from James Maurer, the Chief of Patrol Division, dated January 9 and dealing with reporting procedures for the operation, suggests its breadth. It is addressed to the Deputy Chiefs of Patrol of Area 1, the Central Control Group, and the Special Functions Group; to the Commanders of the 1st, 2nd, and 21st Districts; and to the Commanders of the Public Housing, Public Transportation, Special Operations, and Traffic Enforcement Sections.
A memo from Commander Marienne Perry of the 2nd District to the personnel under her command provides more detail about the scope of the operation. Commander Perry makes clear that the focus of the operation is “loitering.” The memo refers to the State Street “corridor”—words that used to evoke more than two miles of continuous public housing high-rises, stretching between 54th and 35th Streets and often described as the largest concentration of public housing (and of poverty) in the country. There were 28 buildings at the Robert Taylor Homes and eight buildings at Stateway Gardens. Today, after several years of demolition, there are five buildings at Robert Taylor and two at Stateway. The only active street life on the “corridor” is a small surviving remnant extending from 36th Street to the middle of the 3700 block.
The memo makes clear that the operation is directed at State Street and “not Wabash or any other street that does not have disorder problems at the immediate point where it intersects State Street.” The focus of this coordinated police action is thus loitering on a block and a half of State Street in midst of a post-apocalyptic landscape in the dead of winter.
According to the Perry memo, an extraordinary amount of police resources are to be deployed for this purpose. A two person car is to be stationed at 37th and State twenty-four hours a day with its blue lights (known as Mars lights) flashing. During the day, a traffic car is also to be stationed on State. All other 2nd District personnel—and presumably officers in certain other districts and sections of the CPD—are expected, if they are in the area and not otherwise engaged, to drive down State Street and make their presence known. Commander Perry also requests that the Public Housing Section keep a team stationed at 3616-18 South State twenty-four hours a day.
In short, the presence of poor African-Americans on one-and-a-half blocks of State Street—the sight of which is said to have upset the Mayor—has been treated at the highest levels of the CPD as a major priority requiring the mobilization of multiple divisions.
There appears to be considerable disaffection for this policy within the department. The only officer I talked with who was positive about the State Street operation was a crossing guard who, I suspect, welcomed having company at her lonely post. Some police personnel have said they hope citizens will complain about the operation. An officer in the Public Housing Section described it as “overkill.” It’s not a matter of law enforcement, he said, it’s a matter of “pleasing the boss”—the Mayor. Another said that the State Street operation undermined the efforts he and his colleagues have been making to build positive relationships with residents.
During the first days of the State Street Coverage Initiative in early January, it was as if martial law had been declared on a block and a half of the South Side. There were uniformed officers on foot telling people to clear the street. Numerous arrests were made. Officers came into the Bee Branch Library and told the librarians to close the bathrooms. Police cars cruised up and down the street. On January 10, with temperatures in the low 20’s and heavy snow falling, I observed five police vehicles within one block: four squad cars with their Mars lights flashing and an unmarked car. Two of the squad cars, side by side and facing in opposite directions, blocked the entrance to the Park District facility (the site of a 2001 police raid on a basketball tournament that gave rise to a civil rights law suit currently in federal court). The unmarked car was parked on the sidewalk between the grocery store and the restaurant on the east side of the 3700 block. These were not uncommon sights during the first few weeks of the operation.
On the afternoon of January 13, a colleague, Luli Buxton, and I were at the library, waiting to meet Kate Walz, an attorney from the National Center on Poverty Law. Kate had asked me to arrange an interview with a Stateway resident about relocation issues. We had agreed to meet in front of the library. There was a lot of activity on the street, as children trooped home from school. From inside the library, we observed an officer in a squad car driving on the sidewalk and ordering people off the street. When we stepped outside, several people came up to us to tell their stories of being arrested for standing on the street, ticketed for jaywalking, harassed by police while waiting in line at the store, and told they could not wait for the bus at 37th and State. The scene was, as Luli put it, “hectic.”
Kate Walz arrived, accompanied by a Northwestern law student. At that moment, a squad car drove up on the sidewalk and ordered Kate and her companion to get off the street, to go into the library. Kate later reported that the law student, making her first visit to public housing, was deeply shaken.
“It felt like a tornado watch to me,” Luli observed of the wary mood of those on the street. “An atmospheric thing. The people on the street were all watching. They weren’t sharing a cigarette. They weren’t talking and hanging out. They were watching.”
Today, some seventy-two days after the launching of the State Street Coverage Initiative, a squad car remains parked at 37th and State, but the operation is far less intense. It is more passive. Officers can be observed dozing and reading the newspaper. Sometimes it appears that the squad car—with its Mars lights blinking incessantly—is awake and its occupants asleep. It functions, in effect, as a four-wheeled scarecrow.
The State Street operation is clearly winding down for the time being. But what will happen this spring, as the weather eases and more people come out on the street? In July, the Chicago White Sox will host Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at the ball park across the expressway from Stateway now known as U. S. Cellular Field. As this occasion for the Mayor to showcase the city approaches, what will happen on State Street?
Although Morton Walker no longer lives at Stateway, it remains part of him. He lives in Ford City now with a woman he knew as a child at Stateway. (They reconnected a couple of years ago at the “Back to the Community” street party held each August on South Wabash.) The building where he used to live—3517 South Federal—was razed last year, but his identity remains grounded at Stateway.
What, I wonder, would Mayor Daley see, as his limousine rolled by, if he were to look out at Morton talking with a friend in front of the Bee Branch Library? Would he see a citizen of this City of Neighborhoods—a Chicagoan passionately attached to his roots? Would he see a devoted patron of the Chicago Public Library system?
In any case, we know what the police officers who arrested Morton, acting pursuant to a policy that originated in the Mayor’s office, saw: an indigent black man talking with another indigent black man on a street the police had been directed to clear.
“It tears you up,” Morton observed a week after his arrest in the doorway of the library. “I’ve been walking these streets for forty years. Now this happens. I don’t get to protect myself by saying, ‘I’m from here.’ ‘So what? It’s time for you to leave.’ With all this crashing down, I don’t even think it’s safe to come back any more.”