As reported in the Chicago Tribune, "Lawyers for the city and the Police Department hailed the decision, saying it will allow officers to provide surveillance of hate groups, photograph and videotape public demonstrations, and share information with police across the country in monitoring suspected terrorists." Under the decree, the city claimed that its efforts to investigate gangs, terrorism, and demonstrations had been hampered by the requirements that it first have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Echoing the decades-old justification for the red squads, "a three-judge panel...said the onerous decree 'renders the police helpless to do anything to protect the public' against terrorism," the article stated.
Lawyers for the city and police department claim that the consent decree is being modified, not eliminated. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "Chicago police still won't be permitted to gather intelligence for purposes of harassing, intimidating, or prohibiting activities protected by the First Amendment. And the Police Department will still be subject to annual court-monitored audits." However, current restrictions on maintaining intelligence files will be lifted and the police will be allowed to create comprehensive databases on groups they deem to be "terrorist and hate groups."
A review of the record, however, reveals that the red squads have had nothing to do with protecting working people in Chicago. The red squad carried out a decades-long campaign of harassment, intimidation, and disruption aimed at individuals and organizations engaged in legal political activity. The key targets of the red squad have been the labor movement, Black and Puerto Rican organizations, the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, organizations of the "New Left," and groups engaged in antiwar, civil rights, antipolice brutality, and women's rights activities.
In the book Protectors of Privilege, Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America, Frank Donner writes of the 1960s and early 1970s that "Chicago's red squad for at least a decade engaged in a campaign of guerrilla warfare against substantial sectors of the city's population.... Its operational techniques were flamboyantly illegal and in many instances criminal."
The lawsuit launched in 1974 by the Committee to End Repression revealed that red squad members had routinely "engaged in burglaries, thefts of property and money, blackmail, warrantless wiretaps, pretext raids, illegal arrests, [and] provocations."
In carrying out their assaults, the red squad regularly coordinated its actions with state and federal agencies, military intelligence, and right-wing goon squads. As reported in Workers' Rights vs. the Secret Police, by Larry Seigle, "This campaign included numerous terrorist attacks carried out by the Legion of Justice goons, with active cooperation from the Chicago cops and political police. The 113th Military Intelligence Group, based in Evanston, Illinois, provided the legion with mace, tear gas, electronic surveillance equipment, and money. Chicago cops provided protection for the raids and burglaries. In return, the legionnaires turned over to the cops and the army the files, records, and books they seized in the raids."
The SWP headquarters in Chicago was invaded by legion members armed with clubs and mace, injuring several socialists. In December 1969, some 30 cops stormed into the headquarters, many with guns drawn. Men wearing ski masks attacked Young Socialist Alliance members at an apartment headquarters in DeKalb, Illinois.
In a pre-dawn raid on Dec. 4, 1969, Chicago police killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark as they slept in their beds. Depositions in a civil suit revealed that the chief of Panther security and Hampton's personal bodyguard, William O'Neal, was an FBI infiltrator and had provided a detailed floor plan of the apartment that got to the state's attorney's office shortly before the raid.
The scope of the red squads' disruption campaign was immense. In 1960 the Chicago police department boasted that its security unit had accumulated information on some 117,000 "local" individuals, 141,000 out of town subjects, and 14,000 organizations. The red squads deployed a small army of 500 police officers augmented by 600 civilian informants, often paid for their services, and 250 occasional civilian informants.
Their targets extended to such mainstream groups as the Parent-Teacher Association, the World Council of Churches, the American Jewish Congress, and the League of Women Voters.
The increasing exposure of the decades of criminal activity of the Chicago red squads led to widespread public criticism of the tactics of the police. In 1981, the city agreed to the consent decree stating that the police would not conduct investigations of individuals or organizations unless they had a "reasonable suspicion" that they were engaged in criminal activity.
Richard Gutman, an attorney for the Alliance to End Repression, which was the lead plaintiff in the 1974 red squad lawsuit, fears a return to the police tactics of the red squad. "For all practical purposes," he said, the recent decision "eliminates any restrictions on political spying and it would permit the city to recreate the red squad. So far as I'm concerned, the consent decree is dead."
Congressman Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois and a victim of police spying during his days as deputy defense minister for the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, told the Sun-Times, "I'm quite uncomfortable with it. Unless there are some guarantees against abuse by the police agencies, we might have a return to the time of the '60s when police were in fact spying on American citizens. Certainly Dr. King was spied on. I was spied on.... They were using illegal tactics and unconstitutional methods to spy on us and damage our character."
Lisa Potash, former Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress in the predominantly Chicago-based 5th Congressional District, said, "Lifting the consent decree is a blow to democratic rights. The majority of working people in the Chicago area are not willing to tolerate the kind of police abuses that came to light in the red squad trial."
She pointed out that the functioning of the Chicago police red squad was not an aberration. "Secret police activity flows from the need of the employing class to defend its rule from the vast majority of the working class," she said. "In times of greater instability, the rulers rely on stepped-up repression to help in driving down the living standards of workers, attacking trade unions, reversing gains made by minorities and women, and preparing for foreign wars."
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