Back in February, we brought you the delightful news that the Chicago police department was rather broadly known to be operating what was essentially a CIA-style black site within the neighborhood of Homan Square. This facility, located in a rough West Side neighborhood of the city, featured such practices as off-the-books detention, lawyer-less interrogations, and the occasional fatality. This place, where detainees would disappear for hours or days, seemed to be a vacuum of civil liberties and instead operated under the theory that Chicago police were rulers over all, and were owed whatever they demanded. The original Guardian link detailed a number of witness stories from those who had been detained at Homan Square, but very little information was available about exactly how widely the facility was being used.
Thanks to the Guardian’s FOIA efforts, however, we have some clarity on how much Homan Square is used and how the police detain people there, and, well, it’s extremely chilling to anyone with a modicum of interest in civil liberties.
At least 3,500 Americans have been detained inside a Chicago police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility, newly uncovered records reveal. Of the thousands held in the facility known as Homan Square over a decade, 82% were black. Only three received documented visits from an attorney, according to a cache of documents obtained when the Guardian sued the police.
Despite repeated denials from the Chicago police department that the warehouse is a secretive, off-the-books anomaly, the Homan Square files begin to show how the city’s most vulnerable people get lost in its criminal justice system.
I wasn’t a math major, but three out of thirty-five hundred detainees receiving visits from counsel is something like not-enough-percent. And before anyone goes off on the dangers of the West Side of Chicago or goes off prospecting for dirt on those detained, a review of the charges against many of those detained at Homan Square are laughably mundane. And that’s when charges were filed to begin with.
Documents indicate the detainees are a group of disproportionately minority citizens, many accused of low-level drug crimes, faced with incriminating themselves before their arrests appeared in a booking system by which their families and attorneys might find them.
The CPD response to this, even after the initial story broke months ago, has been that Homan Square isn’t a black site, it’s simply an undercover base for Chicago police, which, you know, you say tomato, I say black site. Either way, the city’s long-running denial maintains that all those arrested are indeed processed through the booking system and can be found by attorneys and families, except the detainees at Homan Square aren’t arrested until they’re booked at another station, so that doesn’t mean anything at all. The Guardian’s review of the records show that most of these detentions have occurred under the watchful gaze of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, most of those eventually charged with a crime were charged with anything from traffic violations to drug possession, and under ten-percent of detainees were white, despite whites making up a third of the city’s population. And these records only go back to 2004. Homan Square has been in operation since 1995.
After the facts are presented, the article includes the usual quotes from civil rights leaders who lament their own lack of surprise at all of this and who wonder blissfully if anyone will do anything about Homan Square this go around. To hell with that. If you have a brain cell to spare on civil rights for an entire city’s population, this ought to both shock you and make you very, very angry.