Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Rubicon in the Rear-View, Pt. IV: The Chicago "Surge"
Urban warfare, here and abroad: Marine CWO James Roussell (back row, third from left)supervises counter-insurgency warfare in Fallujah, Iraq; below, right, Roussell, a 30-year Chicago police officer, back on the streets of his hometown,where he heads a special gang unit designed to conduct counter-insurgency warfare at home.
[This is the fourth in an occasional series describing America's descent into military rule. Part I; Part II; Part III.]
In a fashion suitable to a city whose name transliterates an Algonquin phrase meaning "stink onion," Chicago's political system has always been redolent of criminal corruption. Among its most pungent institutions is the city's police, which was probably cleaner and less oppressive when Al Capone was running it.
Chicago has the nation's most notorious inner-city crime milieu. It has the country's second-largest municipal police force, with a well-earned and continually replenished reputation for brutality.
Those who live on the city's West Side can testify that the police are at least as dangerous to life, limb, and property as any of the private sector crime outfits; in fact, this might be one of those exceptionally rare cases in which government agencies consistently outperform their private sector competition.
Nice Fu Manchu, Tony: SOS officer Anthony Abbate, who embodies criminal arrogance in gelatinous human form, following his arraignment on a dozen felony charges, including aggravated battery of Karolina Obrycka, a woman less than half his size (below, right).
For at least the past thirty years, Chicago's West Side has been afflicted by an "elite" gang unit -- known as the Gang Crimes Unit until 2000, when it was re-christened the Special Operations Section (SOS) -- that was entrusted with broad discretionary power to enforce counter-narcotics and firearms laws.
This has consistently involved a very latitudinarian approach to due process, and the culture of impunity has often engendered outright criminal behavior, such as blackmail and armed robbery by police. From time to time the unit is broken up, a handful of conspicuously crooked police officers are prosecuted, and others are "reassigned."
Anthony Abbate could be considered the face of Chicago's SOS unit. Abbate is the vile, 270-pound wad of cholesterol and malice who was caught on tape in a drunken rage, beating a tiny, female bartender who refused to serve him another drink that he obviously didn't need.
Thanks to pressure from the police union, and Chicago's natural congeniality to political corruption, the "reforms" always fall short of actual lustration. Accordingly, the larger pool of abusive and criminal officers is never drained, their identities are never disclosed, and the same mass of corruption re-assembles itself under the new name.
A decade ago, the anti-gang unit was "overhauled" as a result of the prosecution of Joseph Miedzianowski, who is often referred to as the "most corrupt cop in Chicago's history." In 1984, Miedzianowski earned a thirty-day suspension for acts of aggravated armed assault that should have put him in prison.
The officer was hardly chastened by the experience; once restored to active duty, Miedzianowski resumed his familiar tactics, which included planting guns and drugs on suspects, torturing them with red-hot coat hangers or beating them with lead-filled gloves, and stealing their cash, jewelry and other valuables. At the same time he was building a business network with street criminals, currying favor with the more influential of them by fixing criminal cases, arranging sexual assignations, and in one instance helping a murderer to flee the state.
"I've thrown guys out third-floor windows," boasted Miedzianowski in one of his deranged "poems," "I f******g beat 'em with hammers, I've run over them with cars. None of these f****s got the balls to do that anymore. It's ridiculous."
In all of this, Miedzianowski was, as it were, untouchable, sheltered by the impenetrable Blue Wall. He eventually built a substantial criminal empire that included a gun and ammunition theft ring (he was caught on tape urging a henchman at the police firing range to "steal, steal, steal") and a Chicago-to-Miami cocaine and heroin smuggling operation.
When he learned that a husband-and-wife team of ATF agents was investigating his criminal activities, Miedzianowski first destroyed their reputation, then plotted with a gang dealer to have them killed. Some measure of Miedzianowski's depravity can be found in the fact that his criminal conduct was too much for even the ATF to countenance.
Corrupt to his chromosomes: Former Chicago SOS Officer Jerome Finnigan.
In 2000, with Miedzianowski headed to an eventual sentence of life without parole, the Chicago Police Department re-shuffled and re-labeled the Gang Crimes Unit. Up to the top of that corrupt deck came an even nastier Joker named Jerome Finnigan, whose exploits I have chronicled previously.
Like Miedzianowski, Finnigan built a crime empire within the gang unit (now called the Special Operations Section). He routinely planted evidence, and conveniently "lost" it when the deal was right; his reports were full of what he and other officers called "creative writing," and more honest people would call perjury; he routinely tortured suspects to suit his whims. (How bad were the SOS's methods of "enhanced interrogation"? One of its victims won a $4 million lawsuit against the city after two SOS officers sodomized him with a screwdriver.)
Finnigan played a starring role in a security video in which he led a team of 20 SOS officers raided a bar without probable cause of any kind. The "creatively written" official report claimed that the man who was arrested during the raid was detained outside with an "open bottle of Corona beer" and a bag of cocaine. When the video contradicted that account, the case was dismissed.
During a crime wave that lasted until September 2007, Finnigan and his cohorts stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of it from people innocent of any wrong-doing. What eventually prompted police officials reluctantly to remove him from the street was a federal indictment accusing him of planning to murder four former SOS officers who were cooperating in a criminal investigation of Finnigan's unit.
Remarkably, this period in which the Chicago gang unit was ripening in criminal corruption was marked by a great deal of overt cooperation between municipal authorities and street-level criminals.
In 1993, Chicago played host to a "National Gang Peace Summit," the advertised purpose of which was to enlist street-level crime syndicates in the effort "to rid the nation's inner cities of drugs and guns, and ... create jobs."
"This ain't no gang meeting," opined Jesse Jackson in his opening address at the event. "We're having an urban policy meeting." Jackson, whose rise to prominence was aided by both tax-exempt foundations and connections to street-level crime figures, described the integration of urban criminal syndicates into official policy-making forums as "the new frontier of the civil rights struggle." Then-President Bill Clinton sent his greetings to the assembled gang leaders via videotape, although the contents of his address were not made public.
That event in Chicago was the fourth, and most important, such "Gang Summit" to take place in the aftermath of the 1992 "Rodney King Riots" in Los Angeles. For a brief period -- perhaps a year or two -- the idea of creating some kind of a public/private partnership between law enforcement and what was euphemistically called the "new urban leadership" was in favor.
Those of a cynical cast of mind understand that public/private partnerships -- usually of an informal nature -- between the state and various non-state crime organizations are fairly common, and often related to official prohibition of some variety. Ample opportunity for collaboration of this sort has been provided by the century-old fraud called "War on Drugs" -- which is a huge price support program for drug syndicates, a public works project for police and prosecutors, and an immense kickback scheme for overtly corrupt public officials.
However, most partnerships of that kind are oblique, rather than overt. Rarely is the collaboration made as obvious as it was during the brief vogue for "gang summits" during the early 1990s. Predictably, this approach did nothing to reduce the problem of crimes against persons and property; it simply led to greater entrenchment of urban crime networks and their colleagues in law enforcement.
But this did achieve the objective of "creating jobs": There was an increased demand for government law enforcement personnel, and enhanced security for those already on the payroll. Call it a creative form of urban "stimulus."
Last year, with the city's murder rate on the rise, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis announced plans to militarize the entire police department. Within three years, all 1,700 CPD cruisers would be equipped with M-4 carbines, the weapon of choice for paramilitary SWAT teams. The department also organized Targeted Response Units of SWAT operators in full battle dress who were deployed in "hot spots" throughout the city.
"I don't want people to think we're going into war, but I think it does send a strong message," insisted Weiss. "If they're in SWAT-type uniform and you're driving through the neighborhood visible, interacting with neighbors and community members, it sends a strong message and serves as a deterrent to violence."
War footing: Chicago police officers in full battle dress will become a more familiar sight over the next few years.
Those remarks reflect the logic of military occupation, rather than the mindset of a civilian peace officer. And this wasn't the first time that Chicago municipal authorities had announced a summertime paramilitary police "surge" to combat violent crime. And, beginning last fall, Chicago became the first U.S. city to institutionalize a police surge employing tactics field-tested in Iraq.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that "The Chicago Police Department has unleashed a new anti-violence strategy in four West Side districts.... The Mobile Strike Force [MSF], created late last year, includes two companies of 48 officers each." The MSF is commanded by Lt. James Roussell, a 30-year CPD veteran and a Marine reservist who commanded counter-insurgency efforts in Fallujah, Iraq.
The MSF's personnel are drawn from exactly the same personnel pool that supplied the Gang Crimes Unit and the Special Operations Section; Roussell himself is a 30-year veteran of the anti-gang Tactical Unit. According to Roussell, the unit works to pre-empt crime by "interdicting" known or suspected gang members through traffic stops and by displaying a large armed "presence" at "places where violence is likely to break out -- parks, shopping malls, schools and certain intersections.... We've been to a number of [high school] basketball games," he said. "We show up early and prevent two sides from flaring up at each other. It's all about stopping violence from happening."
Since the MSF was unveiled late last fall, press accounts have typically boasted that it employs counter-insurgency methods that were successful in Iraq. As far as Roussell is concerned, there is no significant substantive difference between the gang problem in Chicago's West Side, and the challenge of putting down an insurgency in Fallujah:
“I would say that there is about a 70 percent similarity between street gangs and terrorists. Insurgents try to hide amongst the population; so do gang members. The real difference is that street gangs are motivated by profit. In the insurgency, there is no profit but a whole lot more violence. So we are almost dealing with the same thing, just more violence [here].”
As we've seen, a substantial amount of the violence referred to by Roussell was abetted by the same municipal government supposedly fighting it. The backstory of Chicago's anti-gang "surge" presents yet another variation on a familiar theme -- the cultivation, by a ruling elite, of problems to be "solved" through larger doses of government intervention.
James Roussell (who, interestingly enough, joined the Marines as a musician before becoming a counter-insurgency specialist) doesn't appear to be a vicious specimen in the mold of Miedzianowski or Finnigan. In terms of the compass of his influence, however, Roussell is a much larger threat.
A successful test of an Iraq-style paramilitary "surge" in Chicago would inevitably mean replication of this approach in cities across the nation. With tens of billions of "stimulus" dollars about to flow into the coffers of corruption-cankered municipal governments, this process could unfold very quickly.
On sale now!
Dum spiro, pugno!