Kicking the Pigeon #17 – Epilogue

Today Stateway Gardens looks like a place where a battle was fought. The lone surviving building—3651-53 South Federal—rises at the center of thirty-three acres of barren, rutted land like a ruin in a vanquished city. Last October, as U.S. Cellular Field (across the expressway and a world away ) was being prepared for a World Series game that night, a friend and I walked across the development deep in conversation. A large hawk swooped past at eye-level, animating the air with its wings, and alighted on a nearby lamp post. Then, with sovereign disregard for us, it surveyed the desolate terrain in search of prey.

Seen from the vantage point of the CHA and developers, a perspective far removed from the ground, Stateway is now a blank slate, a place without a history, a canvas on which the “new community” of Park Boulevard will be created. There are signs of what is to come. The first building in the new development—an 80-unit structure called Pershing Court—has been built off site at 39th and State. At 35th and Federal, there is a marketing office. And the Water Department is laying a new sewer system.

Fifty of the 230 apartments in 3651-53 South Federal are occupied. Diane Bond is among those who remain. They have recently been told by the CHA and the developers that the building will be closed in the fall of this year.

At a ground-breaking ceremony last December, developer Allison Davis declared that Park Boulevard would replace the Stateway high-rises—“hopeless reservoirs of the poor”—with a “symphony of diversity.”

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In 2004, once land clearance in high-rise CHA developments had been largely completed, the Public Housing South section of the CPD was disbanded and its officers redeployed. Several members of the skullcap crew—Stegmiller, Savickas, and Utreras—were reassigned to the Second District, which includes Stateway, and remain in the area.

Police presence at Stateway has been uneven. For a period, during the fall of 2004 and winter of 2005, there was a police car parked around-the-clock in close proximity to 3651-53 South Federal. The officers did not get out of the car, they did not walk the building, but at least they performed a scarecrow function. By spring, the police had pulled out, and the drug dealers had returned.

Larry Washington, a long-time Stateway resident, recently had an exchange with a police sergeant about the situation. “Why post officers here?” said the sergeant. “The building’s going to be torn down soon anyway.”

This fall the CPD installed another kind of scarecrow directly across from the building: a surveillance camera of the sort that has been appearing in inner city neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Intended to be highly visible, these so-called camera “pods” are mounted atop tall poles and housed in boxes with the CPD logo on the side and a blinking blue light. They are the most visible part of the CPD’s high-tech approach—arising out of the confluence of “homeland security” and local law enforcement—to crime-fighting. A pilot program using the pods in the Harrison District on the West Side is credited with dramatically shutting down the drug trade. Ultimately, the plan is to install some 2,000 such cameras across the city. The CHA has purchased twenty-four surveillance pods from the CPD at a cost of $1.1 million for placement at public housing developments. Presumably, the pilot project in the Harrison District had officers at the other end of the cameras, closely monitoring criminal activity on the street. It is not clear that this is true of the pods installed more recently, such as the one at Stateway. In any case, they do not seem to be having much effect. The word on the street is that they function not as deterrents but as billboards declaring “Drugs Sold Here.”

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Bond v. Utreras has progressed slowly. On June 6, 2005, Judge Lefkow granted plaintiff’s motion to file the amended complaint. Under federal rules, the defendants have twenty days to respond. Seven months have now elapsed. Neither the City nor the individual defendants have responded to the amended complaint.

In the course of the discovery process, 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 CPD practices. The issues that have arisen in the context of discovery are now before Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys. He has indicated he will rule on them within the next few weeks.

On the eve of his deposition by City attorneys, scheduled for September 8, Willie Murphy, Bond’s son, was arrested at Stateway with another resident, Eric Finley. The two men gave the following account of what happened: They had gone to Finley’s brother’s apartment with a friend to watch DVD’s. Soon after they entered the apartment, a team of officers, including Utreras and Savickas, kicked in the front door and immediately began to beat them. They then handcuffed the three men.

“Who’s got a belt?” one of them asked. “Give me the thickest belt you’ve got.” He assessed their belts but did not find one to his liking.

Another officer disconnected a heavy orange extension cord from the dryer. He gave the cord to an African-American officer named Lee who doubled it up to form a whip.

“You’re gonna see how Kunte Kinte felt,” said Lee, referring to a character in Roots, Alex Haley’s saga about slavery.

He then repeatedly whipped each of the handcuffed men in turn, as he asked them broad questions. (“What do you know?” “I don’t know nothing.” “You know something.”) While Lee was whipping the three men, the other officers searched the apartment. Murphy and Finley were arrested on drug charges.

The sight of police officers floods Bond with panic. She has not removed the handwritten note warning those who approach her door not to knock unless it is “for a good cause (not stupid).” On the inside of the door she has taped several pictures of Jesus, in order, she told me, “to keep away all bad things.”

A recent encounter left her deeply shaken. In an emergency motion filed by her attorneys on February 4, she reported that on January 31 she was stopped on the Stateway grounds 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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The City continues to use highly moralistic language to promote the idea that the razing of the high-rises is in itself a social good. Asked on November 15, 2005 on CBS’s “Early Show” what he thinks his “most important accomplishment” is, Mayor Daley spoke first of education and then cited the “restoration of public housing.”

“We tore down the high-rises,” said the Mayor, “and we’re rebuilding the souls of people.”

Soon the Stateway site will be animated by the pleasing spectacle of new housing being built. We will be invited to celebrate this as progress, as a new beginning. The regime of not-knowing will be abetted by the universal human impulse to put it all behind us. Yet the questions raised by the Bond case will remain. If it is established that during these years of “transformation” a group of police officers inflicted racial and gender violence in public housing communities, with complete impunity, what will that say about the policies and practices of the CPD? What will it say about the character of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation? What will it say, as Mayor Daley might put it, about the soul of the city?