Todd St. Hill is an organizer with We Charge Genocide’s Cop Watch programming, which trains and promotes on-the-ground recording of police activity. St. Hill came to Chicago from Washington, D.C. He draws parallels between police violence in the two cities, and when he recalls growing up in the capitol, he talks about friends being followed down the street, harassed, or beaten by cops. At thirty, St. Hill is the oldest member of a delegation that has stressed leading by the youth. He talked with the Weekly about the goals of the delegation, and the brutality it names and demands redress for.
For an introduction to We Charge Genocide, see here.
Can you tell me about how you got involved in We Charge Genocide, and also about the focus on youth, both in terms of the delegation and the report as a whole, and why that was important?
I’d been doing a lot of work around anti-racist issues in Chicago, just started up back doing it maybe a little over a year ago. I was doing work with the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and with the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. And the groups that I work with were invited to a first meeting on We Charge Genocide, all of the organizations who do work around anti-racist issues were invited, and I thought that was really important. To be a part of something that sounded like, at the time, it would be including different people from different organizations who had different ideas of different political orientations, and hadn’t been working together on a specific project, which was police brutality. I thought that was very important, and I wanted to be a part of that.
As far as orienting around youth of color, I think the report, the data, speaks for itself. People of color in general are disproportionately affected by police brutality, and in Chicago you have young people of color, ninety-two percent of taser uses involved black and Latino targets, forty-nine were ages eight to sixteen. I think those numbers are devastating. When you think about youth in Chicago, what environment they have to live in, it’s one that lacks schools, one that lacks hospitals and trauma centers and health clinics. In some areas libraries are closing down. How are youth supposed to develop in a healthy way in that kind of environment? On top of that, they have the heavy hand of the police, the deadly hand of the police. It’s coming down on them, every day.
When the report talks about the specific articles of the convention that it argues are being violated, those charges rely on defining police brutality in Chicago as torture. Could you talk a little more about that claim?
I think the use of excessive force by the police, the use of tasering that has injured and even in some cases killed people…I think those things can be described as torture. And the sheer numbers, the fact that black citizens are ten times more likely than whites to be shot by a police officer. Ten times more likely. And there’s data that backs that up. 10,000+ general complaints. It accounts for more than saying that this is just a problem the police seem to have. I think those numbers constitute an actual case of torture. On top of that, the testimonies as well, where you have young people describing their encounters with police, being brutalized, beaten, things of that nature. Having their door kicked in when they’re at home, not making a sound aside from playing video games with their friends. And the police are kicking in their doors with automatic and semiautomatic weapons pointed at them. It’s not as though these are twenty-something-year-olds, either, these are fifteen-year-olds this is happening to.
You never know when it’ll happen. Complaining oftentimes results in retaliation by the police. So not only are you in a state of heightened awareness, wondering what’s going to happen to you whenever you walk outside your door, you’re also concerned about being targeted for retaliation by the police if you complain. There’s nowhere for you to go.
What do you mean when you talk about retaliation? What do you think people are worried about?
I think the report points out an example of when, after the Roshad McIntosh shootings, there were people who were playing cards on the street who saw what happened, and spoke out against it immediately, and were beaten up by the police. That’s what I mean by retaliation. Police are the people who are supposed to protect you; when they’re the ones committing the crime, who do you go to? And I think that’s what the trip to Geneva represents. We need to go to someone who will listen to us.
Both Mariame Kaba and the U.N. report itself talk about the 1951 report, and that the Committee Against Torture has cited the U.S. for police violence, but that there haven’t been sufficient changes made on the part of the U.S. I’m wondering what sort of pressure you hope to bring to bear through this. Are there specific ways in which you hope this will force change?
There are a couple of things that make this a little bit different from other times the topic of police violence has been taken up. I think Ferguson plays a big part in this being very different. I think the fact that Trayvon Martin’s family has been to the U.N. recently—we’re going to the U.N. in a context where more and more people are going to the U.N. and pointing out the police misconduct with impunity, and the fact that the federal government isn’t really doing anything to address it, or even properly document the claims and complaints that are being levied against police all over the country, but in Chicago in particular.
We would like to see the CPD provide some sort of information on steps that it would take to end the cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of young people. There needs to be a pattern and practice investigation of CPD treatment.
And then overall, I think this trip does raise awareness of a need to critically address the environment in communities of color across the country. This is not just a Chicago thing. It’s not just a Ferguson thing. It’s happening in small and large towns all over the country in relation to people of color. And there needs to be a raised awareness and action against that, to show that people of color have a voice, and that it’s taken seriously.
In the report, and in press releases, you touch on the militarization of police. Why, given the kind of harm that can be done even with tasers, does it matter what kind of weapon the police force has?
I think it matters what they have because of how they’ve used those weapons. I think police do a lot of harm with the weapons that they’ve had: clubs, nightsticks. But they get more weapons, and deadlier weapons. For me it’s kind of common sense. You see in Ferguson, where the police are using rubber bullets and in military gear, and they have tanks at their disposal, and they’re using them against protesters who are unarmed…there’s nothing that makes me think they won’t use the military-grade weapons that are at their disposal readily on a more regular basis to exacerbate the harm inflicted on black and brown communities.
One of the first steps is addressing police militarization, and the need for them to demilitarize themselves. We’re talking about weapons for war. These are weapons for war, and there is not war going on in the streets of Chicago. There’s inequality, and things of that nature going on. And you don’t address that with more guns and more grenades.