The police in Portland, Ore. and other Oregon cities, as well as several in northern California, stated they will not cooperate with a federal request to round up hundreds of Middle Eastern immigrants to grill them about their political views and associations, as Oregon law forbids detaining people not suspected of a crime.

South Carolina Attorney General, Charles Condon, on the other hand, has announced that he is going to use state and local police as auxiliary immigration cops – they will be authorized to inquire about the immigration status of “foreign-looking” people.

These two news items underline the fact that it is partly local and other non-federal police who will be doing the day-to-day enforcement of the new repressive mechanisms recently passed by Congress. Knowing how local police operate, therefore, is a key to understanding some of the gross abuses of human and constitutional rights that are already taking place, and will increase in the new climate.

Local police respond to pressure from often-corrupt local politicians and the FBI to “crack down” on the political opposition. This means that local police are liable to widen the net beyond what the feds consider “suspects” to include the local political opposition, including disaffected municipal workers’ unions, minorities, students and electoral opponents.

In Chicago, this has led to 100 years of politically motivated abuses by police against any and all forms of political opposition, not only to the federal government, but to Chicago City Hall as well.

The most famous political event in Chicago’s history was the Haymarket incident of 1886, a violent provocation for which the labor leadership of the day was framed and four were hanged. Since that time, the Chicago police have spied on hundreds of thousands of Chicago citizens, have employed thousands upon thousands of paid and unpaid spies and agents-provocateur and have infiltrated and disrupted hundreds of organizations, ranging from the Methodist Church to the League of Women Voters and the Communist Party.

Much of this abusive police behavior involved collaboration between the Chicago Police and the FBI, with the FBI often the instigator of the abuses and the Chicago cops a willing accomplice. In 1969, the FBI-COINTELPRO collaboration with the Chicago police and then Cook County States Attorney Edward Hanrahan led to the police murder of the two top leaders of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

This and other abuses led to the 1974 Alliance to End Repression “Red Squad” lawsuit against the City. This in turn led to the 1981 Alliance/ACLU Federal Consent Decree, which, while it lasted, forbade the city from spying on or disrupting activity protected by the First Amendment, absent probable cause of criminal behavior.

But on Jan. 11 of this year, the Federal Appeals Court for the 7th Circuit granted a request by Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, Jr., to basically gut the Consent Decree. Now the Chicago cops can film all protest demonstrations and rallies and can place any group under clandestine surveillance for only the mere suspicion that they are “extreme.”

In Chicago, “extreme” can mean anyone who questions Daley’s autocratic style and pro-corporate policies. Chicago and Cook County are gaining international fame as the frame-up capital of the world.

In the past few years, no fewer than 13 people have been released from death row because it was found that they had been framed by Chicago police and/or had been falsely convicted on the basis of testimony that was later contradicted by DNA evidence. So many more are making similar claims, often that they were convicted on the basis of forced confessions or confessions extracted by torture, that recently a coalition of civic organizations asked for a special prosecutor to investigate police torture and frame-ups.

Many of the abuses happened when Mayor Daley was serving as Cook County States Attorney, but the current States Attorney, Richard Devine, has stonewalled and sandbagged all efforts to clear the situation up, and abuses continue.

The cases for which the request for a special prosecutor has been made are not overtly “political.” However, that the victims of such abuse are almost always Black or Latino, poor and working class, is an eminently “political” fact in and of itself.

The new repressive legislation and the paranoid atmosphere in which it is being implemented create a golden opportunity for agents-provocateurs, police frame-up specialists and sleazy local politicians to try to “get” their political critics and opponents.

Among the more repression-minded police officers, a triumphalist attitude is already reported, with comments by some cops that they are now going to “get back” at various people for various things. This situation gives a new importance to all struggles to create effective mechanisms to control police brutality and prosecutorial abuse.

Emile Schepers is active in the struggle for civil rights and against police abuses in Chicago.

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