Activism | Police

We Charge Genocide

Activists allege torture in a report to the U.N.

Dominique Franklin, “Damo” to friends, was twenty-three-years-old when he died. He spent the last two weeks of his life in a coma at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after being tased multiple times by a Chicago police officer. Witnesses, speaking anonymously to the Tribune, said he’d been turning to run away. The following month, activists in Chicago came together in answer to a call from tenured organizer and educator Mariame Kaba, spurred by his death. Next week, this same group of activists will send a delegation to the United Nations to argue that the unchecked violence of the Chicago Police Department must be recognized as torture. Their report is titled “We Charge Genocide.” 

The eight delegates, none older than thirty, will present a fifteen-page paper on systemic police brutality against youth of color in Chicago. The report makes the case that this violence, and the alleged impunity with which it is enacted, violates six articles of the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It takes its name from a petition presented long before the Convention existed, when black leaders took charges of genocide to the U.N. in Paris, in 1951. Its body of evidence, culled from verbal testimony, online submissions, and CPD and independent data, paints a picture of brutality and discrimination, much of it unchecked by official systems.

The Convention’s definition identifies torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person,” where that act is committed by someone in an official capacity in pursuit of information, punishment, or intimidation.

“We had multiple stories that young people were sharing with us of instances where they’re clearly turning themselves in or complying with officers’ wishes, in a way that there’s no need for more force,” explains Page May, the report’s lead author and one of the U.N. delegates. “It’s clearly intentional, it’s by a public official, it’s absolutely unlawful.”

“There’s also the constant grind of it all,” May continues. “Youth report constant harassment, constant verbal abuse. The feeling of always being criminalized by the police. And at any moment they have to power to take your life away. And when we look at how specific this targeted harassment is, and how widespread within those targeted communities it occurs, to me that’s torture. And I’m not a lawyer or a U.N. Committee member, but I don’t see how this isn’t torture. I think that’s a hard word for people to reconcile with, but torture is what’s happening. It really is that bad.”

Since Franklin was tased six months ago, twenty-five people have been shot by the Chicago police. In the following pages, Mariame Kaba and Todd St. Hill, one of the U.N. delegates, talk about where the report is drawn from, and their hopes for its impact.

The Weekly asked the CPD for a response to the We Charge Genocide report, but was not given one by press time.

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