ROGERS PARK — Activists fed up with the treatment of "young black and brown people" by police are headed to the United Nations in Switzerland to make a case for the international group's intervention in an unlikely place — Chicago.
The group began to coalesce over the summer in the wake of the death of a fellow activist who fell into a coma after being hit by a police stun gun in Old Town. Its members were later bolstered by fallout from the police shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.
They adopted the name We Charge Genocide, prepared a report to be released Wednesday on alleged violence by Chicago police and started raising money.
Erin Meyer says the group's use of the term "genocide" has been contentious:
Now, armed with more than $20,000 raised after posting a pitch on youcaring.com, eight members of the group are scheduled to head to Geneva, Switzerland, in early November. There they are scheduled to appear before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to present their report.
“It has definitely grown beyond anything any of us had imagined,” said Page May, 25, of Edgewater.
Some of the major findings in the report were released Tuesday, including:
• 75 percent of police shooting victims between 2009 and 2013 were black, as were 23 of 27 people shot in the first six months of this year.
• 92 percent of those targeted by a police stun gun were black or Latino. That includes 49 youth under the age of 16.
• Less than one-half of one percent (0.48 percent) of brutality complaints against police are sustained, compared to 8 percent nationwide.
• Only 124 of 10,149 complaints of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse and false arrests filed against police from 2002 to 2004 were sustained (1.2 percent).
"A mere 19 cases (0.18 percent) resulted in any meaningful penalty [a suspension of a week or more]," the report found.
Martin Maloney, a spokesman for Chicago police, released a statement saying: "Community policing and fostering stronger relationships with the communities we all serve is the foundation of our policing philosophy. Over the past three years CPD has led a return to community policing to build relationships between officers and residents, and we have instituted new training, mandatory for all officers, focused on how they are to interact with residents."
Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden dismissed the group's claims.
"These are just general allegations. If they have specific allegations, the police [department] has a process in place to address that," Camden said.
May and a handful of others from the group — who range in age from 19 to 30 years old and live in neighborhoods including Rogers Park and Bronzeville — were galvanized by the death of Dominique "Damo" Franklin.
Franklin, 23, was a friend of many in the group who was involved in Circles and Ciphers, an organization that works with men entangled in gangs and the criminal justice system.
He allegedly stole a bottle of liquor from a Walgreens in the 200 block of West North Avenue in May, according to a CBS Chicago report.
He was hit with a police stun gun as he fled and fell, head first, into a light pole, CBS Chicago reported. Franklin lapsed into a coma and was dead two weeks later. CBS Chicago reported that the family complained that Franklin wasn't given medical attention for 15 to 20 minutes after the incident.
People started talking about Franklin’s fatal run-in with police and the sense of powerlessness they felt about his death.
They kept talking about Franklin throughout the summer, when the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen in Ferguson, put the spotlight on police shootings and alleged brutality nationwide and sparked protests that continue today.
Then, on Aug. 24, Chicago police shot and killed two black teens, one on the South Side and one on the West Side. Authorities said both Roshad MacIntosh, 18, and Desean Pittman, 17, pointed guns at officers before they were shot.
Residents and relatives protested both deaths.
The decision to use the word "genocide," organizers concede, has the power to evoke deep sympathy as well as scorn.
The name, We Charge Genocide, was borrowed from a petition filed to the U.N. in 1951, which documented racial killings and other human rights abuses in the U.S.
A group of civil rights fighters attempted to file a petition by the same name at the U.N.
May acknowledges that even in a worst case, what they are alleging is not in the same category as the Holocaust or ethnic killings in Rwanda that left almost 1 million dead.
Still, she maintains that the abuses young people of color suffer at the hands of police fit the technical definition of genocide: "The deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group."
In a video posted to the group’s fundraising website, Page said: “So many of us are afraid to speak the word. We are afraid to lay claim to it. It’s too awful to believe. … But when we are feeling brave and safe among those we trust, we sometimes whisper the word: genocide.”
The group's report, called "Police Violence Against Chicago's Youth of Color," will be a comprehensive accounting of police shootings over the last 10 years, activists said. The full report is slated to be released at 9 a.m. Wednesday, a national day of protest against police brutality, at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted St.
The group plans to hold a silent protest outside the Harrison Police District headquarters, 3151 W. Harrison St., Wednesday evening, where the commander has been charged with putting his gun into a man's mouth and threatening to kill him.
The group already has submitted the report to the U.N. and plans to present it before the Committee Against Torture, which is hosting the 53rd Session of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Nov. 3-28.
A spokesman for the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Matthew Lippman, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of Jewish studies and criminal justice who has been to The Hague to lecture on issues relating to genocide, said May and her associates make an interesting case, but he said it's debatable whether what they've found meets the legal definition of genocide.
"It is encouraging to see young people follow these examples and make use of international legal remedies," Lippman said. "They, of course, have the burden of presenting facts to substantiate their claim of genocide."
Still, the activists are hoping the United Nations will investigate what's happening in Chicago and take further action.
"Our work started as a response to [Damo's death] and the feelings of disempowerment that many of his fellow young organizers felt as a result," May said. "That the U.N. is going to hear some of his story from those who directly knew him is powerful. We are going to do everything we can to achieve all of our goals, but no matter what, they are going to know what happened to Damo."
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