— #LetUsBreathe (@LetUsBreathe773) July 27, 2016
Originally posted to It’s Going Down
For the past several days, a commune has been growing on the West Side of Chicago in the North Lawndale neighborhood in a vacant lot across the street from the Homan Square police facility. But this old brick police building is much more than simply an ominous substation; it acts as a black site, or in other words, an off the books police holding facility where suspects are taken, questioned, and often denied any sort of legal rights or representation.
According to The Guardian and numerous Chicago residents, thousands of people, mainly African-American and Latino people from the city have been disappeared within the building, many finally getting out only to recount experiences that involve torture, assault, and beatings. In the wake of these findings coming to light one year ago, a Chicago police commander was forced to resign after the news broke. As the The Guardian wrote:
Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal.
From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. But only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts, internal police records show.
82.2% of people detained at Homan Square were black, compared with 32.9% of the Chicago population.
“Operating a massive, red-brick warehouse between two of the most crime-filled areas in the city of Chicago, equipped with floodlights, cameras, razor-wire – this near-paramilitary wing of the government that we’ve created, I would say that people who live close to it know what purpose it serves the most,” said the attorney Gaeger. “The demographics that surround it speak for themselves.”
— BLMChicago (@BLMChi) July 26, 2016
It is no wonder that Homan Square has burned itself into the memory of so many people as key component of the physical infrastructure of white supremacy and colonial occupation. In response to Homan, organizers have named the occupation “Freedom Square,” and have vowed to stay until a new ‘Blue Lives Matter’ law which makes attacking police officers (and other first-responders), a hate crime is overturned. Since the occupation began last Friday, the encampment has taken on an extremely communal atmosphere, grown in the level of positive community involvement, and been vehemently anti-police.
The Homan Square police black site.
The occupation itself grew out of demonstrations that took place across the US last Wednesday. In Chicago, black liberation groups chained themselves together and blocked the entrance of the Homan facility, facing numerous arrests. Other protests also took place at other police station and police union buildings, from Oakland, CA to Asheville, NC. In Chicago, one organizer stated:
“We’re imagining a world without police,” said Camesha Jones, 24, of Bronzeville. “The city of Chicago has spent (millions) of dollars because of police misconduct settlements. I’m here to imagine a world where that money would be spent on education, mental health, to open school, clinics, create jobs.”
Groups blockade the entrance to Homan Square.
During the protest, many people gathered in the lot across from Homan but did not spend the night until they returned to the site on Friday, when the occupation first sprang up. Since the time of the occupation by the Let Us Breathe Collective and other groups, the encampment has grown to include tents, communal cooking areas, kids activities, cultural events such as music and dancing, free schools and bike repair, a library, a free store, yogo classes, and much more. Check out this video here for a virtual tour of the encampment. According to the Chicago Tribune:
The idea of a longer-term sit-in grew out of a protest last week. Dozens marched from the Douglas Park home of Dante Servin, who was acquitted of manslaughter after fatally shooting Rekia Boyd in 2012, then chained themselves together to block the intersection at Homan and Fillmore. About 10 people were arrested.
People dance at Freedom Square.
Many in the group then gathered at the vacant lot and dubbed it Freedom Square. Williams said the group was not prepared to stay at the time but returned Friday with tents, food, water, sleeping bags, a barbecue grill and other supplies.
The Freedom Square occupation is an exciting turn of events in the evolving Black Lives Matter movement for several reasons. The first is that is shows a concrete example of a communal, anti-capitalist, and non-hierarchical way of life based in poor and working-class communities. As one reporter for DNA Info wrote:
Supplies for the occupation have been provided either out of pocket by the activists themselves or donated by supporters, Colon said. The Let Us Breathe Collective hasn’t yet formed a nonprofit, so it cannot accept monetary donations. Instead, the group welcomes volunteers to help with other needs such as assisting with trash removal or providing supplies like canopies and tents.
During their time there, the group has fed about 200 people or so, Williams said. The group also set up a tent for its on-site Free Store, where residents can receive items like books, clothing, shoes, and feminine hygiene supplies.
The occupation is modeled after a similar demonstration held in Ferguson, Missouri, Colon said, adding some Ferguson protesters were present at the Freedom Square occupation. Williams said the occupation will continue until the proposed ordinance adding police officers to hate crime protection legislation is recalled.
— #LetUsBreathe (@LetUsBreathe773) July 26, 2016
The occupation echos the sentiments of some comrades in Carbondale, IL, who discussed the need for comrades to create police free zones and move away from the symbolic actions which, while spectacular, are becoming more and more manageable on the side of the police:
We have the impression that the current tactical menu (freeway blockades and generally-pacified protest marches) actually fall short of what makes sense to people right now. Both on social media, in everyday encounters we’ve had, as well as in recent demonstrations among some of the newer Black activist cadres, folks right now seem to be much more interested in talking about the abolition of police than its reform or ‘community control.’ We see this as a significant ‘ideological’ development (to speak loosely) that is encouraging, but which has so far failed to have any material consequences at the level of new practices. If we don’t want ‘better policing’ but rather to have police out of our lives, what sorts of experiments can respond to this collective need? What does it mean to give this theoretical and effective destitution of the police a practical face, one that corresponds to our currently low levels of material organization? This is the question that the current cycle of struggle is attempting to ask, and it’s one that calls for a practical answer.
While it once pushed the limits of the thinkable and broke open a new terrain of struggle, the freeway blockade has become a knee-jerk impulse which, for all its historical rationale (highways were often instruments to deepen segregation), is beginning to feel like a flat routine. In Chicago, things reached the point that when the first Alton Sterling demo took place a week and a half ago, the police all-but-invited us to take over the I-94, knowing that at most we’d be out there a few minutes before leaving and going home. Our impression is that the situation isn’t altogether different elsewhere.
In many ways, Freedom Square in Chicago points to this reality. It brings people together, sharing resources and food, building connections, and allows people, either from the community or in organizations and crews, to meet each other and get organized. We must ask ourselves not only how we can help those in Chicago maintain and broaden the occupation, how we could support them when and if repression comes, but also how could we pull off similar actions where we live.
— #LetUsBreathe (@LetUsBreathe773) July 25, 2016
Lastly, the Freedom Square occupation is inspiring because of how anti-police its trajectory and presentation is. Banners and signs across the occupation read “Fuck 12” and others imagine life “In a World Without Police.” At a time when calling for anything beyond reform of the police often splits movements, it is great to see the outright rejection and desire to abolish the police as an institution being put at the front and center of a struggle.
— MUAVI (@MomsUnitedChi) July 25, 2016
All this activity points to what is possible when human beings come together and begin to put human labor and ability towards their needs and desires and begin to organize themselves directly in opposition to the systems of domination and oppression which rule over them. With “National Night Out” just around the corner and police departments across the US sure to be using this time to gain a foot hold back into the communities they occupy, we all should be thinking about the Freedom Square commune in Chicago and how to spread it everywhere.
— Carrie Morris (@I_amComplex) July 24, 2016