The Unmaking of Place by Rajiv Sinclair

Remarks by Jamie Kalven at the Second Annual James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation Symposium in New York on October 17, 2014.  The title of the symposium was “The Accidental Preservationist: Artists, Artisans, Outliers & the Future of Historic Preservation.”  

The invitation to participate in this symposium has given me occasion to brood about questions arising from my immersion for more than a decade in Chicago’s high-rise public housing during its final chapter—specifically, in the community of Stateway Gardens, eight square blocks of the South Side.

The photo essay that will unfold in counterpoint to my words, composed of images by my wife Patricia Evans, a documentary photographer, evokes that lost world.

As an organizer and advocate for public housing residents, I have long worked with artist collaborators and co-conspirators in ventures that could be described as “place making.”  Perhaps we’ll have occasion to talk about some of those projects during the discussion period, but I want to focus my remarks on something else: I want to talk about place unmaking and its implications.

That is a phenomenon Chicago has massive experience with.  I refer to the Plan for Transformation—the extraordinary process by which the City demolished the archipelago of high-rise public housing developments that ranged through the central city, always visible at the peripheries of one’s vision and present in one’s imagination, and forced those who lived there into a largely invisible ghetto that expanded to absorb them.

I used to joke about the Orwellian name “The Plan for Transformation,” with its assertion that a city government that could not provide minimal maintenance and security was going to provide transformation.  It turned out, though, that the joke was on me, or more to the point, on the vulnerable families living in public housing.  For the impact of the plan has indeed been transformative.  

Like a natural disaster that permanently alters the geography, this bureaucratically-driven refugee crisis has left behind vacancy and silence in places that once teemed with life.  By the Chicago Housing Authority’s own estimate, more than 400 acres, created by demolition, currently stand vacant in the central city.  Such redevelopment as has occurred—scattered pockets of heavily promoted “mixed income communities”—all too often have the feel of prospective ghost towns.  They are weirdly un-urban, even anti-urban, sites on land that once was the scene of intense urbanity. 

As the official narrative of “transformation” has run aground, the Plan has increasingly been seen, though it is not often said aloud, as a debacle.  The primary critique goes to the failure to build adequate replacement housing.   There is also another set of harms, less often mentioned, that I want to address today: the assault on the identities of those for whom these doomed placed were home, on the forms of meaning and beauty they created there, and on the historical continuities woven over generations into place.

Imagine having the known world, the world by which you know yourself, obliterated virtually overnight.  And then imagine being told that this trauma was being inflicted for your own good. 

That perverse logic was essential to the Plan.  After many decades of abandonment by the City in its role as landlord, the City in the guise of reformer declared monolithic systems failure.  High-rise public housing was, simply, a bad idea.  It was a failed “project.”   The logic of “transformation” was: “Anything is better than this.”  Not only did this sleight of hand allow the City to elide accountability for the conditions in public housing, it gave it carte blanche to pursue the logic of the blank slate: not just the demolition of structures but the erasure of place.

It was, in a sense, the polar opposite of preservation: the designation of certain sites as bad places to be eradicated.  The public discourse was framed by a symbolic equation: the high-rises represented every urban ill; hence their demolition was, by definition, progress.  

It seems only fitting on a panel on the role of artists to acknowledge the power that the state exercises as a conceptual artist, giving material expression to a set of propositions about the world.  To a remarkable degree, the very conditions of abandonment, dereliction, and neglect were mobilized in support not of reparations but of erasure.  

Having lived through it, I have no doubt that Chicago’s approach was wrong, deeply wrong, that it was an affront to human dignity, that it violated, in the idiom of the international human rights movement, public housing residents’ “right to the city.”  Yet that diagnosis does not, I think, yield the prescription that high-rise public housing in the form it had assumed in Chicago should have been preserved.

We touch here on the distinction between preservation keyed to generalizable standards of historical and/or aesthetic importance and preservation grounded in the histories and aesthetics of those who live in and, in a sense, belong to a place.

One need not embrace the magical thinking that animated the Plan for Transformation to recognize that concentrations of abandoned high-rise public housing in Chicago demanded changes.  The question I want to leave you with is this: what might a more humane process of redevelopment—a process that honored residents’ identities, memories, and sense of place--look like?

I don’t claim to have a secure answer to this question, but I want to suggest that it would, at the very least, acknowledge the necessity and dignity of grief.  Cities are dynamic.  Altogether apart from ill-conceived social engineering misadventures such as the Plan for Transformation, change is inevitable.  Even the most desirable renewal necessarily brings elements of loss.  So perhaps we need to further complicate the dialectic of preservation and development by adding to the mix the articulation of strategies that allow space for and give material expression to grief as a social dynamic—a strenuous, creative, necessary process that, when it runs true, enables people to adapt to changes in their life circumstances by remixing their memories and reweaving their identities.

Remarks on police accountability by Jamie Kalven

Remarks by Jamie Kalven at Forum on Police Accountability, hosted by the Chicago Council of Lawyers and American Constitution Society, on September 30, 2014. Kalven followed a presentation by Scott Ando, the Chief Administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, the City agency that investigates excessive force complaints.

We stand at an historic threshold in the campaign for police accountability. The Kalven decision and the policies adopted by the Emanuel administration to implement it have created the conditions for unprecedented transparency with respect to documents bearing on allegations of police abuse.

At the same time, events in Ferguson, Missouri, have reminded us, if we needed reminding, that the issue of police accountability is at the center of the contemporary civil rights agenda. This is not an issue among other issues. It bears on the essential nature of our society. As a friend once observed, “In a democracy, there is nothing like a good cop, and there is nothing like a bad cop.”

Read More

Press coverage of Kalven v. Chicago settlement by Rajiv Sinclair

Futterman, Kalven, Loevy, Taylor, “Police abuse allegations finally go public,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 18, 2014

Frank Main, “City won't fight to keep citizen complaints against cops secret,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 11, 2014

Rosemary Regina Sobol, “City to release files on alleged police misconduct,” Chicago Tribune, July 13, 2014

Associated Press, “City of Chicago to make police misconduct investigation files public,” July 13, 2014

Witchhunt on the Way,” Second City Cop (police blog), July 13, 2014

Comments on Second City Cop blog post, July 13, 2014

City of Chicago press release, “City of Chicago Opens Police Misconduct Files to the Public to Increase Transparency, Accountability,” July 14, 2014

Chuck Sudo, “City to Make Police Misconduct Files Public,” Chicagoist, July 14, 2014

Don Babwin, “Chicago’s Police Misconduct Policy Praised,” ABC News, July 14, 2014

Editorial, “Prying open police misconduct files,” Chicago Tribune, July 14, 2014

Editorial, “A welcome ray of sunlight at the Police Department,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 21, 2014

Rui Kaneya, “How an activist journalist’s commitment to a poor community led to a big FOIA win,” Columbia Journalism Review, July 22, 2014

Interview with Jamie Kalven on CounterSpin [mp3], July 25, 2014

Don Rose, “Cracking the Code of Silence,” Chicago Daily Observer, July 29, 2014

Press coverage of document release by Rajiv Sinclair

Frank Main, “List shows two convicted cops were topic of dozens of complaints,” Sun-Times, July 30, 2014 

Jeremy Gorner and Anne Sweeney, “Cops in SOS unit amassed citizens complaints,” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2014

ABC, “Chicago police misconduct files made public,” July 30, 2014

WGN, “Cops in SOS unit amassed citizen complaints,” July 31, 2014

Sam Cholke, “Police Upset After Hyde Park Journalist Publishes Complaints: Union Chief,”, August 1, 2014

WTTW, “City Releases Data on Complaints Against Police,” Chicago Tonight, August 6, 2014

CPD documents are now public by Jamie Kalven

Without such information, the public would be unable to supervise the individuals and institutions it has entrusted with extraordinary authority to arrest and detain persons against their will.  With so much at stake, the defendants simply cannot be permitted to operate in secrecy.
— Judge Joan Lefkow

Yesterday the City of Chicago provided me with the first batch of documents at issue in the recently settled freedom of information case, Kalven v. Chicago.  I immediately uploaded them to the Invisible Institute website where they are now universally available.  After seven years of litigation during which the Kalven legal team argued that documents of this nature are public, it gives me deep satisfaction today to complete the process of making them so.


The effort to secure these documents began in 2007.  They had been produced by the City under a protective order in Bond v. Utreras, a federal civil rights case that arose out of my reporting from Stateway Gardens, a high-rise public housing development that has since been demolished.  I intervened in the case and requested that the protective order be lifted so the documents could be made public.  Judge Joan Lefkow ruled in my favor.  The City appealed.  Ultimately, it prevailed in the United States Court of Appeals in 2009. 

I then sought the same documents--as well as additional documents produced in another civil rights case, Moore v. Chicago--under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.  On March 10 of this year, the Illinois appellate court held in Kalven v. Chicago that documents bearing on allegations of police abuse are public information.  On July 11, the Emanuel administration announced it would not appeal Kalven and outlined the procedures it has adopted to implement the decision.

The documents I received today from the City are lists, covering the period 2001 to 2008, of Chicago police officers who accumulated repeated complaints of abuse.  By releasing these lists, the Emanuel administration has taken a significant step away from the City's long history of reflexively asserting official secrecy and thereby frustrating the possibility of meaningful police reform.

The Documents 

There are five "repeater lists":

  • List of 662 Chicago police officers with more than ten misconduct complaints between May 2001 and May 2006, produced by the City in the course of civil discovery in Bond v. Utreras.
  • List of officers with more than ten complaints between 2001 and 2006 who at any time during that period were assigned to Public Housing South (Unit 715), produced by the City in Bond v. Utreras
  • List of officers with more than ten complaints between 2001 and 2006 who participated in any of the Chicago Police Department's "early intervention" programs, produced by the City in Bond v. Utreras.*
  • List of Chicago police officers with more than five misconduct complaints from May 2002 to December 2008, produced by the City in Moore v. Chicago.
  • List of Chicago police officers with more than five excessive force complaints from May 2002 to December 2008, produced by the City in Moore v. Chicago.

The Bond lists were the focus of intense public interest in 2007, when the City sought a stay of Judge Lefkow's order pending appeal.  A headline in the Chicago Sun-Times asked: "What Are They Hiding?"

The answer, seven years later, is that they were hiding the names of the officers on these lists.  Now those names are public.  What follows from this?  Why does it matter?

Although six years have passed since the most recent complaints covered, the lists retain great currency.  In combination with other information in the public domain, they will reveal patterns of alleged police criminality and raise questions about why the department didn't identify those patterns and intervene to address them.  They are, in short, of great diagnostic value for the purpose of assessing the City's systems for investigating and disciplining police misconduct. 

The lists will also disclose officers with large numbers of complaints who remain on the force, working in Chicago neighborhoods and continuing to amass complaints for the same patterns of abuse.  

And for those falsely incarcerated due to abusive police practices, the lists will in some instances provide a tool to challenge their convictions.

For far too long, the City has failed to connect the dots--to analyze the wealth of data represented by citizen complaints for the purpose of identifying and investigating patterns of abuse within the department.  With the release of the lists, the public now has greater leverage to demand that the City do such pattern analysis.

The long legal effort to make these lists public has rested on a fundamental principle: police officers are public officials vested with extraordinary powers.  In our democracy, power demands accountability.  It is precisely because of the critical role they play in our society that the police must be held to high standards of accountability and must, like other public officials, sometimes endure public criticism they feel is unfair.  

I have heard from officers who are distressed that their inclusion on a repeater list publicly brands them as "rogue cops."  I have no doubt the lists include honorable, effective officers.  They also include criminals with badges who have been able to operate with impunity and do great harm to those they are sworn to protect and to their department, because of the deficiencies of the City's system for investigating complaints of police abuse.

One example among many: a group of Special Operations Section officers engaged for a period of years in a pattern of falsely arresting, illegally searching, and robbing people.  A recent analysis of CPD data in Padilla v. Chicago demonstrated that the probability of any of those officers facing discipline as a result of the many complaints filed against them alleging such crimes was less than one in a thousand.

As Judge Lefkow observed in Bond, the public can be trusted to recognize that complaints of police abuse are allegations and not proof of wrongdoing.  The real problem resides not with transparency but with the City's broken disciplinary system. The solution is not for the police to cling to a veil of secrecy unworthy of their critical role in our society.  It is to demand a more rigorous and credible accountability regime, so that a finding of "not sustained" or "exonerated" actually means something.

The Legal Team

Although I am privileged to have my name linked to Kalven v. Chicago and the principle it affirms, the decision is really the achievement of a remarkable collaborative effort by lawyers and law students over the better part of a decade.

This journey began for me eight years ago with a phone call from Samantha Liskow of Loevy & Loevy, who floated the intriguing idea of trying to penetrate official secrecy by challenging the protective orders under which police misconduct files are produced in the course of discovery in civil right cases.  Jon Loevy and Samantha generously agreed to represent me pro bono in the Bond intervention--a commitment the firm steadfastly honored, as the case extended over years and became ever more demanding.  There is not a page in the many briefs we drafted in the course of this long, complicated litigation--first Bond, then Kalven--that does not reflect Sam's intelligence, industry, and passion.

Professor Craig Futterman of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School first came down to visit me at Stateway Gardens in 2000.  We have been working together ever since.  Our collaboration has included dozens of law students, many of whom participated in this effort; among them, Italia Patti and Saul Cohen, who skillfully argued the case before the Illinois appellate court.  The legal resources made available to me--and to some of the poorest, most vulnerable citizens of the city--by the Mandel Clinic have been of immense value.  I am equally grateful for the richness of my ongoing conversation with Craig.  For many years now, we have been daily engaged in a joint effort to better understand patterns of police abuse and impunity in order to contribute to their reform.  The intellectual generosity that animates our partnership has enriched my work as a journalist beyond measure.

In the Kalven phase of the litigation, the Mandel Clinic-Loevy & Loevy team was joined by Flint Taylor and Ben Elson of the People's Law Office.  Beyond PLO's substantial contributions to our legal strategy, the firm's long and noble history of representing men tortured by Chicago police under Commander Jon Burge was a constant reminder of the gravity of the harms that official secrecy enables.

The Next Chapter

With the release of these documents, one chapter ends and another begins.  The challenge is to make effective use of the information we now have access to.  Toward that end, the Invisible Institute is working with a number of partners to develop a Police Data Center.  Building on the collaborative relationships among civil rights lawyers and journalists that have brought us to this point, the Data Center will serve as a repository for police misconduct files and related documents.  By sharing and organizing such materials, we will create an infrastructure that will, we hope, support an ongoing process of reform.  The documents uploaded today are the first bricks in that structure.

Stay tuned.


Jamie Kalven

July 30, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times op-ed: Police abuse allegations finally go public by Jamie Kalven

July 18, 2014

We stand at a watershed in the long history of efforts to address patterns of police abuse in Chicago.  On March 10, the state appellate court held in Kalven v. Chicago that documents bearing on allegations of police misconduct are public information.  On July 11, the Emanuel administration announced that it will not appeal Kalven and that it has adopted a set of procedures for implementing the decision.

Read More

Press coverage of Kalven v. Chicago decision by Jamie Kalven

Frank Main, "Police misconduct files must be made public court rules," Chicago Sun-Times, March 11, 2014. 

David Heinzmann, "Court rules citizen complaints about Chicago police misconduct are public," Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2014.

Marac Karlinsky, "Court: make cop-conduct public," Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, March 13, 2014.

Editorial, "Chicago police misconduct files are public," Chicago Tribune, March 24, 2014.

Editorial, "Opening police complaint files would help instill confidence in department," Chicago Sun-Times, March 14, 2014.

WBEZ's Morning Shift, "The public’s right to know about police misconduct," March 14, 2014.

Dawn Turner Trice, "Holding police officers who commit crimes accountable," Chicago Tribune, March 24, 2014