Anthony Alvarez and So Many Others
Chicago Cops’ Killing Machine Grinds On
For Workers Action Against Racist
Demonstrators in Chicago’s Loop on April 14 protest the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. The next day body-cam footage was release showing that Adam had his hands up, empty, when he was shot to death.
CHICAGO, April 19 – In the early morning hours of Monday, March 29, Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old middle-school student, was murdered by a police officer who was chasing him down an alley in the overwhelmingly Latino, largely Mexican, neighborhood of La Villita, or Little Village, on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The cop yelled, “Stop right f—king now!” As the teenager slowed down, his pursuer screamed, “Hands, show me your f—king hands!” Adam stopped, turned with his hands up, empty, and in a split second the cop shot him in the chest, killing him. The Chicago Police Department claimed that the shooting of Toledo occurred in an “armed confrontation.” It took the Chicago Police Department (CPD) two days to inform his mother that cops had killed her son.
The incident was set off by an automated gunfire locator, ShotSpotter, which reported shots fired “at approximately 2:36 a.m.” at a location in Little Village (press conference of CPD superintendent David Brown, April 5). This technology, in use in 90 cities across the U.S., uses sensors placed on rooftops and light poles around what the police consider “high crime areas” – i.e., African American and Latino neighborhoods – and sends automatic alerts with GPS info to police in the area. Two police cruising the area got the notification “at 2:37” (The Intercept, 13 April) and within a minute were at the location where they spotted two young men and chased them down an alley. At 2:38:40, according to the body-cam footage, police officer Eric Stillman shot and killed Adam Toledo. The app activated, and less than three minutes later, a white cop had executed a 13-year-old Latino boy. The CPD today is an automated racist murder machine.
That machine serves to enforce the “law and order” of the capitalist rulers, and it is fueled by lies. After the CPD spokesman’s March 29 claim that Adam was shot “in an armed confrontation,” the Cook County state’s attorney declared on April 10 that he “has a gun in his right hand” before the police officer shot. But the cop’s bodycam video released on April 15 clearly showed Adam with his hands raised, and no gun. As Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney for the Toledo family, said at a press conference, “If you're shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination.” Meanwhile, knowing the video contradicted their story, the police tried to smear the seventh grader as a gang-banger, since “The area where Adam was shot is considered to be a Latin Kings stronghold” (Chicago Sun-Times, 16 April).
Adam was one of seven people shot by Chicago police in the space of a month. The latest was Anthony Alvarez, age 22, father of a two-year-old daughter, who worked as a machine operator at a meat factory in Franklin Park. Alvarez, too, was shot to death by police after a foot chase, on April 2. Two weeks later, the CPD still hadn’t explained why cops were chasing him, nor have they released the body-cam video, as the family is calling for. As protesters demand an end to the endless police murder spree, the only response from Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been vague talk of setting guidelines on foot chases, which are involved in one-third of all Chicago police shootings, and complaining of “way too many guns on our streets” – by which she doesn’t mean cops with Glocks. Yet the crime here is police gunning down people for supposedly having guns.
On April 16, the day after the video was released revealing that Adam Toledo didn’t have a gun when he was shot – contradicting police and prosecutor lies – thousands came out to protest in the Logan Square neighborhood where Mayor Lightfoot lives. The city prepared by flooding downtown with police, stationing salt trucks around CPD headquarters and raising the Lake Shore Drive bridge (for “maintenance”), while businesses along Michigan Avenue were boarding up. The demo itself was surrounded by police cars, with drones and helicopters overhead. These were part of contingency plans for a massive response by police using hundreds of city “assets” (heavy trucks) with National Guard on standby in preparation for the jury verdict in the Minneapolis trial of Derek Chauvin, the killer cop who murdered George Floyd.
The demands of the protests included calls for justice for Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez, “no justice, no peace,” illusory calls to “abolish the police” (which under capitalism, if anyone took this seriously, would just mean putting in some other “public safety” repressive force) and the standard liberal/reformist refrain since last summer to “defund the police.” As we explained last summer (“Abolish the Police” Under Capitalism?” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020), in reality these demands aim at luring anti-racist protesters into supporting the budget maneuvers of Democratic politicians. To top it off, various “progressive” Dems and pseudo-socialists are now pushing a bill for a “Community Safety Oversight Board,” which would mean getting activists to collaborate in racist repression.
As the Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth have insisted throughout, only revolution can bring justice!
The Weaponization of Infrastructure
Chicago, one of the most rigidly segregated cities in the country, has also been one of the most ruthlessly policed going back to the days of the Haymarket massacre of May 1886. Amid a general strike for the eight-hour day, police shot four workers while breaking up a demonstration protesting the cop killing of six strikers the previous day, and then railroaded anarchist workers leaders to the gallows. In 1968, Mayor Richard J. Daley unleashed the CPD in a cop riot against anti-war demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention, as police pushed protesters through plate-glass windows, beat them bloody and arrested hundreds. More recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Barack Obama’s former chief of staff) covered up the 2014 cop murder of Laquan McDonald1 and other police killings, while operating a secret jail in Homan Square.
After 43 years under “Boss” Daley and his son Richard M. and eight years under high-handed “King Rahm,” the Chicago Police Department has long been synonymous with racist cop brutality. In 2019, Chicagoans elected Lightfoot, who has long posed as a police “reformer,” as mayor. After a stint as assistant U.S. district attorney, she was head of the CPD’s Office of Professional Standards in 2002-04. Later, under Emanuel she was head of the Chicago Police Board (2015), dealing with disciplinary actions, then led a Police Accountability Task Force (2016), and in 2017 was back on the Police Board. Her actual role in all this has been to cover up for the (Democratic) mayors and police chiefs, including ruling that the cop execution of 17-year-old Robert Washington in 2000 was justified.
In the summer of 2018, as Lightfoot was campaigning for mayor against Emanuel, police killed Maurice Granton in June and Harith “Snoop” Augustus in July. Granton was shot in the back while trying to scale a fence, Augustus was a neighborhood barber described as having “characteristics of an armed person” (whatever that means), as if that justified shooting him. We said “having a firearm is a right,” but liberal leaders held “anti-violence” marches to push gun control, taking the heat off the CPD.2 That fall, the trial of killer cop Jason Van Dyke for the slaying of Laquan McDonald riveted the city. Van Dyke beat the first-degree murder rap, and was only convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one for each bullet he pumped into McDonald. He got less than seven years behind bars
So, when the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral in May 2020, Chicago was primed to erupt. In March and April the city was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor proclaimed a statewide disaster order on March 9, and a shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 21. Gatherings of 50 or more people were banned, later tightened to ten people. But when news of Floyd’s killing under the knee of a Minneapolis cop hit, thousands spontaneously went into the streets of Chicago to protest in anguish and rage, as did hundreds of thousands around the U.S. And there they were met with armed battalions of cops with truncheons, shields and full riot gear. On May 29, police were instructed to “no longer use force to disperse large gatherings,” but use force they did, with a vengeance.
Over 1,000 people were arrested between the nights of May 30 and 31, many assaulted by cops and tear-gassed, as the mayor rolled out a 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. A parking ban was instituted downtown as City Hall plotted a calculated, brutal response. The mayor said then that “she was not considering asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to mobilize the National Guard to assist the Chicago Police Department.” But when the brutal May 30 police assault on protesters failed to intimidate, on May 31, Lightfoot announced that the governor, at her request, “has ordered a contingent of the National Guard to maintain a limited presence to support our police department.” Chicago was flooded with hundreds of National Guard and hundreds more state police. The mask of the supposedly “progressive” mayor was being ripped off.
Riding on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) you could spot the Humvees from the elevated train tracks – that is, on those lines where you could even get close, as the city abruptly halted mass transit. Before the weekend was out, bemoaning the “looting” and continued protests, Lightfoot issued an indefinite curfew (the first time since 1968, when it was ordered by Boss Daley after the assassination of Martin Luther King). The Metra commuter rail system cut off service to downtown. In the evening, the CTA suspended its entire bus and rail system, effectively bringing the city to a halt. Most dramatically, the nearly two dozen bridges over the Chicago River, which serves as a moat around the downtown Loop, were suddenly raised to trap protesters inside. Lightfoot announced that people had “35 minutes” to clear the streets, which she termed “ample notice.” As we wrote at the time:
“It was black Democrat Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot who that same day carried out kettling on a vast scale by raising the bridges connecting the downtown Loop to the rest of the city and cutting off ‘El’ trains so that trapped demonstrators could not escape, while police arrested hundreds and threw them into COVID-infested jails.
–“Trump and Democrats Stage Ominous Trial Run for Martial Law,” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020
Bridges over the Chicago River were raised by Mayor Lightfoot last summer, “kettling” (trapping) protesters in the Loop: on May 30-31 over 1,000 were arrested.
Then it happened again, in August, with the police shooting of Latrell Allen in Englewood, a poor area in South Chicago that is 94% black. A witness said, “He was crying, asking the officer – he had his hands up, like ‘Why you keep shooting me?’” The cops’ body cameras were turned off. Witnesses denied that Allen had a gun, but the police tore up his family’s household looking for one anyway (CBS 2 Chicago News, 10 August 2020). While Latrell was lying in a hospital bed, he was charged with attempted murder. In two days of furious protests, hundreds were arrested as the CPD unleashed a barrage of pepper spray. And as cops chased the crowd in the Loop south on Michigan Avenue, once more the mayor raised the bridges, this time to cut off protesters from marching north to the affluent Gold Coast and Magnificent Mile shopping area.
The weaponizing of the bridges, and the CTA, was the most arresting symbol of Lightfoot’s particular brand of racist repression. A ProPublica (14 August 2020) article, “In Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago, Bridges Have Become Barricades,” said: “The move was among a number of measures the mayor announced to protect businesses and reassure residents. But it was the image of the bridges being raised that offered the clearest symbol of Chicago’s divisions.” An article in The Appeal (13 November 2020), “Chicago’s Mayor Turns City’s Infrastructure into Weapons Against Protesters,” noted: “The shutdowns left many feeling that Mayor Lightfoot was more concerned about protecting downtown businesses and some of the city’s wealthiest residents than the police violence that brought people out to the streets.”
Well, yes. But this has always been the case in Segregation City, U.S.A. By treating this as more of the same, these articles miss the fact that the pattern of racist repression is shifting, as the capitalist state power exhibits increasingly bonapartist traits of strengthened military/police powers. This is a function of the growing inequality and increasingly sharp class polarization in the 21st century United States, and is reflected in the militarization of local police and the resort to police-state measures, like massive “kettling” to quell unrest by “those at the bottom.” In this drive to a “strong state” amid putrefying capitalism, it is not the Trump Republicans hobnobbing with fascistic and outright fascist forces who are in the forefront, but the Democrats, who look to and rely on the Pentagon, National Guard and local police.
“Chaos and Confusion” and Racist Repression
Lori Lightfoot with Chicago PD Superintendent David Brown, August 2020.
In the wake of the unprecedented mass protests last summer, by early this year voluminous reports had been issued by inspectors general, special commissions and risk-management companies on the police response in cities across the country. Back in 1968, the Koerner Commission Report (of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) on the upheavals that swept northern U.S. cities from 1964 to 1967 cited white racism as the detonator, famously concluding: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.” That official observation changed nothing, of course. But the reports on the 2020 protests against racist police brutality are quite different: a cross between military after-action and lessons-learned reports. Their prime, and often exclusive, concern has been that police couldn’t contain the protests.
Thus, while “the reports are a damning indictment of police forces that were poorly trained, heavily militarized and stunningly unprepared for the possibility that large numbers of people would surge into the streets” (New York Times, 21 March), their complaints were of inadequate crowd control training, equipment that was lacking or defective, faulty intelligence, etc. The Times wrote that “police also did not understand how angry people were,” a stunning statement, but false: cops understood the anger directed at them, and treated protesters as enemies to be suppressed. Even when reports criticized aggressive police tactics, as the New York State Attorney General’s did, their point was not that these violated demonstrators’ rights, but rather that “excessive enforcement … contributed to heightened tensions,” i.e., they were counterproductive. “The reviews did not examine protesters’ complaints of racial bias in policing,” the Times noted laconically.
The capitalist rulers are worried that they aren’t prepared to dominate the streets, and from Democratic mayors like Lori Lightfoot to Democratic president Biden in the White House, they intend to rectify this. Thus, in Los Angeles the reported complaints were that not enough police were trained on how to fire rubber bullets into crowds, that there were not enough buses to transport arrested demonstrators, and that there was no planning for “field jails.” In Chicago, the complaints were not against mass arrests, but that the cops didn’t have enough mass arrest kits and that the zip-ties were decayed or broken. In discussing “chaos and confusion in the command staff,” the report lamented: “Missing reports and videos may limit or preclude prosecution of some arrestees” (Report on Chicago's Response to George Floyd Protests and Unrest, 18 February).
While there was evidently plenty of chaos and confusion at the top, the Chicago report documents a full-scale police riot, in which thousands of cops flooded into the Loop, where demonstrators were kettled and trapped, beaten, tear-gassed and mass-arrested. There was “widespread non-compliance with CPD’s policy requiring use of BWCs” (body cams), the report says, and also “insufficient supervision of officers,” legalese for open season for police brutality. Cops “deployed to the field directly” rather than from their stations, and indeed, “many CPD members from across the city self-deployed …. without specific assignments or clear direction” from an on-site commander. Some squads went marauding through the Loop playing “whack-a-mole, running from one situation to another, lacking coordination and communication.”
Body cams captured some of the most egregious incidents. In one case, a transport wagon arrives at a jail and the cops exit: “After one of the arrestees begins banging on the wagon from within, a transport officer opens the back door to find a female arrestee lying face-down on the floor. The CPD member comments, ‘chick's having a seizure, I guess’ and further notes that she appears to be breathing and that there is nothing to be done. The member then closes the door of the transport vehicle with the occupants still inside, without rendering aid.” In another case: “A CPD member is also captured recounting to fellow officers how the member made an arrestee cry by telling the arrestee that they would be raped in jail given their thin physical stature. In the same video, after a radio call related to a car pursuit, an officer can be heard telling other officers that CPD should just shoot the tires out and shoot the occupants of the vehicle in the head.”
This cop riot and violence against protesters was clearly instigated from above. The report notes that on May 29, the “rhetoric and stakes were heightened when then-President Donald Trump delivered an ultimatum to Minneapolis protesters and suggested that the military could use armed force to suppress riots,” tweeting “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The next day six people were shot and one killed, possibly by vigilantes, amid the Chicago protests. And Trump had an ally on the spot. According to the report, that same night the CPD chief and Mayor Lightfoot discussed the possibility of raising the downtown bridges “to limit the number of protesters able to access Trump International Hotel and Tower.” Department of Transportation officials objected that the “safety of protesters might be at risk if bridges were raised with people on them.” But the bridges were brutally cleared as cop beat, punched and kicked demonstrators.
Altogether, a total of 3,775 arrests were made in the week of protest, but only about a third had any documentation at all. Typically, a district commander instructed officers to just “take your handcuffs out and put them on somebody.” As a result, many protesters were released without charges or later had the charges dropped. But the point of the round-up and mass arrests was to get demonstrators off the streets. And while she may not have the clout of a Boss Daley or King Rahm, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is very much the boss of the sadistic, racist CPD. If there was confusion and chaos at the top last time around, the tight-knit local ruling class and the Democratic machine that runs the city in the interest of capital is going to ensure that next time around the repression is much more thorough. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
For Workers Strikes Against Racist Cop Terror
Residents of Little Village protest the police murder of Adam Toledo, April 7.
Racist repression is S.O.P. for Chicago police: it’s what they do, day and day out, year after year. That hasn’t changed one iota, no matter which Democrat is in the mayor’s chair (and a Republican would be no different). In Chicago, black people are 22 times more likely than whites to be killed by cops, by far the biggest racial disparity in police killing of all major U.S. cities (FiveThirtyEight, 4 February). And the cops get away with it because they enjoy near-total impunity from legal or other consequences. In one study, of 28,500 citizen complaints filed against CPD officers from 2011 to 2015, in 97% of the cases there was no punishment. One of the main people responsible for that was Lori Lightfoot as she headed police disciplinary panels.
In her 2018-19 election campaign, one of Lightfoot’s top planks was for a civilian oversight commission for the police. But like her promise of an elected school board, after being elected mayor she dropped that. For the past several years there have been competing proposals for a civilian review board, one put forward by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and the other by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression pushing a Civilian Police Accountability Council. These have now been combined as the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance, which the mayor opposes. She says she will put forward her own proposal, but has yet to do so. The ECPS plan calls for a referendum in 2022 on whether to form 22 district councils to work with CPD district commanders and select a Community Commission (subject to mayoral and city council approval) to decide on CPD policy and possibly to select or remove Police Board members and the CPD superintendent.
The ECPS is being pushed in particular by the caucus of six aldermen who are supporters of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), all but one elected on the Democratic Party ticket. In reality, no ordinance or council will change the basic function of the police. As Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and V.I. Lenin insisted, the police (along with the military) are the “special bodies of armed men” who along with their adjuncts – the courts and prisons – serve to uphold the power and property of the ruling class, acting as “an instrument of exploitation of wage-labor by capital” (Lenin, State and Revolution ). The state power increasingly stands above society, and the idea that the capitalist exploiters would allow representatives of the exploited to decide how its repressive apparatus is wielded is the purest “democratic” illusion.
Moreover, in practice, if any of the variants of supposed “community control” of the police were enacted, it would mean recruiting members of oppressed populations (community “empowerment” NGOs and the like) to become complicit in the racist repression of those communities. In all the U.S., nowhere have such “oversight” bodies made the slightest dent in the unrelenting police murder machine, least of all in Minneapolis, which has had a civilian review board since 1990. Some measures – like junking the “qualified immunity” from civil suits that police enjoy, or making discipline and complaint records public – could have some marginal effect. But “anti-racist training,” “duty to intervene” laws against excessive use of force by fellow police (Minneapolis has one, yet it didn’t stop killer cop Chauvin), etc., are empty PR gimmicks, as repression is the function of the police.
“Democratize the police,” “disarm the police,” “abolish the police,” “community control of the police,” as many demonstrators have called for? Not possible under capitalism. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done in the here and now about the plague of racist police murders. On the contrary, the Internationalist Group calls for powerful workers mobilization and strike action against racist repression. If the next time Chi cops kill someone, transit workers shut down the L and all CTA transit; if teachers, students and staff walk out of the schools with the support of parents; if workers throughout “the city that works” stop work and go on strike, that would have an impact. And if the cops keep it up, shut the city down!
Can it happen? Look at what happened on Juneteenth (June 19) of last year, when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down every port on the continental U.S. (and Canadian) West Coast against police brutality and systemic racism. As the giant cranes stood idle, their booms up, 30,000 protesters streamed through the port of Oakland. That is the power of labor. We need to see it in Chicago. And for that to happen, someone has to fight for it.
Since, as we have written and the history of Chicago shows, Democrats are the bosses of the racist killer cops, what’s posed in the fight against racist repression is the need to oppose all the capitalist parties and politicians. Electing some social democrats to the city council doesn’t change a damn thing, as shown by the DSA Democratic aldermen in Chicago like Byron Sigcho-Lopez or Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant (now also DSA) in Seattle. The Internationalist Group calls to break with the Democrats (and Republicans, and Greens) to undertake the struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party, a party that would lead a struggle together with all the oppressed to overthrow the system of capitalist wage slavery.
Today even a Joe Biden – who led the fight in Congress against desegregating schools by busing and authored the infamous 1994 crime bill that led to the incarceration of millions – can demagogically claim to oppose systemic racism and call to “root out” racial disparities in the criminal “justice” system. But the roots of rampant police brutality go far deeper than training or racist cop culture. Wanton killing by the police and mass incarceration were the rulers’ answer to the limited gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, building up these mechanisms to keep black people under the heel of the bosses, just as Jim Crow segregation replaced the end of slavery.
Bottom line: the police are the central enforcers of the systematic oppression of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants and other oppressed people that is built into the structure of U.S. capitalism, and which is reflected in the racism that permeates this society founded on genocide and chattel slavery. As the banner of the Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth that we carried last Juneteenth declared, “The Police Can’t Be ‘Reformed’.” It was true yesterday, it’s true today: only revolution can bring justice – for Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez, for Daunte Wright and George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and all the victims of racist killer cops. ■
- 1. See “Chicago: ‘16 Shots, 400 days’”The Internationalist, January 2016.
- 2. See “Chicago: Democrat-Led Cops Continue Racist Killing Spree,”The Internationalist August 2018.