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The Roots of Police Violence in Chicago: How Cops Have Targeted Communities of Color for Decades

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We look at the long history of police brutality against Latinos in Chicago. Latinos, especially immigrants, have faced police violence and killings for decades, and have a long history of fighting back against brutality through community organizing and activism. But their stories have received little news coverage. We speak with Lilia Fernández, a professor of history and Latino studies at Rutgers University and the author of “Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago.” We also speak with Flint Taylor, an attorney with People’s Law Office and author of “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue to look at the long history of police brutality in Chicago, now turning to an often-overlooked and underreported issue, police abuse of Latinos. Latinos, and especially immigrants, have faced police conflict, violence and even killings, for decades, and have a long history of fighting back against brutality through community organizing and activism. But the violent policing of Latinos has received little news coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by a historian who has chronicled the police mistreatment of Latinos in Chicago. Lilia Fernández is a professor of history and Latino studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She’s the author of Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. She also happens to be married to Juan, our co-host Juan González. Still with us, Flint Taylor, attorney with People’s Law Office, who has represented survivors of police torture in Chicago for nearly half a century. His new book, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.

Professor Fernández, it’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about how the torture machine, dealing with racism and police violence in Chicago, the significance of it, and the work that you have done highlighting the brutality against the Latino community in Chicago—in Chicago, so often seen, police brutality, as a black-and-white issue?

LILIA FERNÁNDEZ: Yes. Thank you so much, Amy and Juan.

First, let me start by commending Flint Taylor for this really incredible account of decades of fighting against the brutality of the Burge—Jon Burge—torture machine and trying to seek justice, particularly for many men who were wrongfully convicted on the basis of confessions extracted by torture.

But, yes, one of the things that a lot of people don’t realize, I think, because police abuse and brutality often does get framed within a black-and-white racial framing, is the fact that Latinos were very frequently the victims of police misconduct, abuse, brutality, throughout these same years that Flint covers. Going back to the 1960s, when Mexicans and Puerto Ricans first started arriving in the city, I was actually very surprised when I started to uncover cases of different Puerto Rican and, to a less extent, Mexican-American men who were having violent encounters with police officers. And in fact, for example, the Division Street riots, which not many people know of, which happened in the summer of 1966, were set off by a white police officer who had shot a young Puerto Rican man named Arcelis Cruz. Once the community learned of this, people started pouring out into the streets. And they did so not because this was a unique or unprecedented event, but because people were really fed up, as in the case with many other urban riots in the 1960s. People were really fed up with the repeated mistreatment and abuse and brutality that they experienced at the hands of local law enforcement.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think, Lilia, one of the points that you make—and I’d like Flint to comment on this—that police corruption and police abuse often go hand in hand. And the Chicago Police Department had a notorious reputation for corruption. As, Lilia, you mention in the book, between 1972 and 1982 there were five separate mass arrests of police for corruption, including at one point more than 50 cops that were arrested and indicted for corruption. Flint, this whole issue of the culture of corruption within urban police departments, especially those that are focused on largely minority communities?

FLINT TAYLOR: Yes. And I want to say that at the same time that we were dealing with the Fred Hampton case, that there was the murder, the police murder, of Manuel Ramos in the city of Chicago, which the Young Lords and others stepped forward to protest very strongly in 1969. So, what Lilia is saying is certainly true, and what she’s written about certainly is very important.

The corruption of the Chicago Police Department goes all the way back to Haymarket. It goes all the way back to Pullman. It goes through the Summerdale scandal and the Marquette 10. And corruption does go hand in hand with brutality and violence, because, of course, they’ve been able to get away with it. It’s been part of the culture, along with the code of silence, along with the systemic racism that is so prevalent in the Chicago Police Department. And so, when you have not only the department and its higher-ups countenancing this, being involved in it, as well, but you have the prosecutors who look the other way and who are involved in it, and then, ultimately, you have the judiciary, you have the judges—and you have the judges, who I’ve documented in my book, who were former prosecutors, who give passes to police officers. Most recently, in the Laquan McDonald case, the former prosecutor, the judge, who I knew from taking a tortured confession of a 13-year-old in a case of mine, she acquitted the three officers who covered up the Laquan McDonald video and lied about it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lilia, on the issue of one of the cases that you mentioned—didn’t happen in Chicago but in a nearby suburb—the Rolando Cruz case, could you talk about that, as well? Because Flint mentions it in his book, as well.

LILIA FERNÁNDEZ: Sure, right. The Rolando Cruz case is not one that I researched myself, but I actually remember being contacted by his attorney, whose name I’m forgetting right now, but she was representing him in the early ’90s when they were trying to get his conviction overturned. He had been accused of killing—raping and brutally murdering a 10-year-old girl—he and two other co-defendants. The other was Alejandro Hernandez, and a third man. And he was convicted, sent to prison, spent 10 years in prison.

And I remember I was in college at the time, and his attorney reached out to me and asked if I could help bring an exhibit of Rolando Cruz’s artwork to Harvard University. And I did. But I had no idea at the time the significance of Cruz’s case, that it was not just an individual, isolated incident, but in fact that there was this widespread pattern of police abuse, particularly with African Americans and Latinos, not only in the city, but the whole metropolitan area.

AMY GOODMAN: And—

LILIA FERNÁNDEZ: The—go ahead, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Lilia, about not only what’s happening with police in the Latinx community in Chicago, but also dealing with undocumented immigrants and Border Patrol and ICE?

LILIA FERNÁNDEZ: Right. I think one of the things that activists are starting to realize is they’re making the connections between police abuse and law enforcement brutality against African Americans and minority communities in urban areas, in particular, and the larger, you know, immigration enforcement apparatus, that has similarly committed all kinds of acts of brutality and violence historically.

In the 1970s, for example, there was a huge case, which got very little media attention but which really galvanized the Mexican-American community, much like the murder of Manuel Ramos in May of 1969 galvanized the Puerto Rican community. But in ’72, in November, that was the shooting, and eventually the death, of an undocumented immigrant named Margarito Rosendo Padilla. INS officers had conducted a raid in the Pilsen neighborhood, which was an increasingly Mexican area at that time, and they shot him as they were pursuing him. And the police—sorry, the community came out in significant numbers, marched down to the federal building to protest this, to protest state-sanctioned violence against immigrants—against the undocumented specifically, against Latinos more generally—and the fact that police and other law enforcement agents were doing this with impunity.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end the broadcast, but we’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion with Lilia Fernandez, professor of history and Latino studies at Rutgers, author of Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago, and Flint Taylor, attorney with People’s Law Office. His new book, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago.

A very happy birthday to Tami Woronoff!

I’ll be speaking on Thursday night, March 21st, in Northampton at Smith College, and on Sunday at SUNY Purchase. You can check our website at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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