On December 2, 1988, 32 Chicago Housing Authority guards and Chicago police raided the high rise at 2822 S. Calumet as part of the agency’s Operation Clean Sweep against drugs and gangs in the housing projects. CHA chief Vincent Lane stood outside the 13-story building and commented, “This will be an ongoing operation until we have made public housing safe for our residents.” But making public housing safe at 2822 S. Calumet has come to mean evicting residents who don’t agree with all the security policies resulting from the sweep. Sylvester and Lenie Richmond and their three children, Beverly Herring and her daughter, Sheila Fason and her son, and Darnella Powell and her two children are not drug dealers, gang members, or illegal tenants. They are tenants who have dared to express, in some cases in relatively minor ways, dissenting views of the much-lauded sweeps. Within the last six months, they have all received eviction notices, and the attempted evictions seem clearly to be measures of retaliation against the tenants for what CHA authorities perceive as protest or simply outspokenness about the security measures.
It has been two years since Operation Clean Sweep made its first raid, on September 20, 1988, at the 2417 W. Jackson building in the Rockwell Gardens complex. Thirty raids later, Lane has become seemingly immune from criticism, lauded as the savior of the beleaguered system. Last year, Lane received an award for Operation Clean Sweep from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and HUD Chief Jack Kemp has made the operation a national model, sending housing project personnel from around the country to the CHA for instruction.
The mainstream media have carried story after story of tenants who have praised the sweeps, tenants tired of living in constant fear of drug dealers and gang-bangers. And there are many tenants who say they feel safer after their buildings have been swept. But what is happening at 2822 S. Calumet provides a different perspective. It not only raises a question about the civil liberties of innocent people caught in the cross fire of the war on drugs but also leads to a related question about the nature of Operation Clean Sweep: When does such an operation become less of an effort to make public housing safe for its tenants and more of a convenient way to control a whole community of people, people with every reason to be angry at the system and people for whom eviction could easily mean homelessness?
On the morning of the sweep at 2822 S. Calumet, a high rise also known as the Prairie Courts extension of the Harold Ickes Homes, Sylvester Richmond had just returned home from taking his three children to school and gone up to the ninth floor to talk to his friend Bob. Bob’s cousin, who had spent the night, was looking out a bedroom window when he shouted to the two other men, “There’s a lot of police around. What’s going on?”
When Sylvester and Bob opened the apartment door, the police were there, asking questions: “Where do you live? Who lives in this apartment? Do you have any arms?” Two officers entered the apartment and started searching it. Bob had a beer in his hand, and one of the officers said to Bob, “Put your beer down.” Bob replied, “Why do I have to put my beer down when you’re in my house?”
The police asked Richmond where he lived. “I said downstairs. ‘Where downstairs?’ I said 714. He said, “That’s where you’re supposed to be.’ I was escorted to my apartment by two officers. They were constantly saying, ‘You got any drugs or guns in your house? We’re going to find them anyway.'”
Richmond told the officers he did have guns; a member of the National Rifle Association and a former bouncer and security guard, he owned three guns, one of those an antique rifle. He says he showed them registration papers, but was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons on CHA property. (The charges were later dropped in exchange for Richmond giving up the guns.) Richmond and 22 other people were taken to the Prairie Avenue police station, two blocks from the Ickes development. Twelve of those people were charged with criminal trespass of a state-supported building, a misdemeanor. Three others were charged with unlawful use of a weapon and three with possession of cocaine. Twelve young “truants” were sent back to school in police squad cars.
Lenie Richmond learned about her husband’s arrest when her daughter Aisha, who had watched the raid from her eighth-grade classroom across the street from the high rise, called her at work. “I came home from work, and they had people lined up outside the building,” Lenie remembers. “One old fellow was asking questions, and they said, “Just get in line.’ He said, ‘What’s going on, I’m crippled, I can’t stand in line.’ They said ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I saw them throw him down to the cement. This man’s about 70–he’s only got one good leg.”
For its part, the CHA claims in its response to a case filed on Beverly Herring’s behalf that on the day of the raid–which it prefers to call an “emergency inspection”–“no searches were conducted.” The CHA describes the event as “an attempt . . . to identify any persons who were living in the building who were not on leases.”
But Sheila Fason says she remembers how about five officers searched her apartment–drawers, cabinets, and closets–and how they searched her 60-year-old mother’s apartment, lifting the mattress and standing on top of it to look on a shelf. Darnella Powell’s two children, then 5 and 12, were at home when police and CHA guards entered her apartment, searching the closets, refrigerator, and bedroom. They then asked her what she needed in her apartment. Pointing to her untiled floor, she said, “Tile.” Almost two years later, she still hasn’t received it.
The building was put under seal for 48 hours, during which time tenants were allowed no visitors while CHA staff began the process of issuing photo ID cards. The Richmonds say tenants were not given advance notice of this procedure, yet tenants who had left the building were required to have all members of their families photographed before they could return to their apartments–meaning long waits for some. Recalls Sylvester, “People had groceries, and they weren’t allowed to go upstairs. One woman’s ice cream melted all over.”
At the end of 48 hours, visitors were admitted, but only between 9 AM and midnight and only if residents signed them in. The security station was in place at the main entry; the building’s other doors had been sealed off, and a mesh wire fence had been erected around the inner part of the building, separating it from a courtyard. The building continues today in a state that opponents of the sweeps have termed a lockdown–prison lingo for high- security confinement. The only entry is under 24-hour guard, residents over seven years old must show their ID cards upon entering the building, and visitors must be signed in by tenants–not as easy as it may seem, since CHA high rises have no intercom systems.
(An ACLU suit filed on behalf of residents that alleged civil liberties violations by the CHA resulted in a 1989 settlement that did make it somewhat easier for guests to visit; for instance, the 9 AM-to-midnight restriction no longer exists. The settlement also stipulates that a sweep–which the CHA calls an emergency inspection–may be conducted without notice only when there is “an immediate threat to the safety and welfare of tenants, tenants’ guests, or employees of the CHA,” and that a criminal search, i.e. of an apartment without a warrant, can be conducted only if there is “probable suspicion” of criminal activity. However, critics of the settlement observe that it is left to Lane to decide what constitutes an “immediate threat.” As lawyer Joe Gump tells me, “Vincent Lane can say, ‘Today I think there’s an emergency situation at the Robert Taylor Homes because there has been a number of crimes committed there in the last six months. . . . So today I think an emergency exists so tomorrow I’m sending in CHA people and doing a sweep.'”)
The day after the raid at their building, the Richmonds began talking to fellow tenants about the lockdown. “We didn’t really organize a protest,” remembers Lenie. “We just started telling people, ‘If you don’t like what’s going on, come on down to the front–we’re going to talk about this.’ People started gathering in front of the building, and all had different things to say about what happened to them the day of the lockdown.”
From that point on, the Richmonds, who had lived in the building for six years without receiving any written warnings, say building management and guards identified them as troublemakers. They say that other tenants were warned not to talk to the Richmonds, something Sheila Fason confirms: “It was common knowledge that you didn’t talk to the Richmonds or you could be evicted.”
Richmond, a registered Republican, laughs at the idea of himself as a communist, but readily admits that he has worked with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party because they have been some of the most active members of a coalition formed shortly after the sweeps began. The coalition, called the Campaign to End the Lockdown, has been a strident if relatively small voice of opposition to the sweeps, holding protests and press conferences at several of the locked-down buildings.
Some of the worst harassment the Richmonds have experienced has come from security guards. “One guard was telling people Sylvester was the biggest dope dealer in the building,” says Lenie. “They said he’s a communist, and that we don’t pay rent. And I said, what? You can ask anybody in this building what kind of man he is. If you say he drinks, I’ll guarantee you he drinks. But he takes the kids [from the building] fishing, to the Douglas monument, he brings them candy. They try to make him into this bad guy just to discredit us, which I think is really wrong.”
The trouble went beyond name-calling. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Sylvester was jumped by a group of teenage boys from his building in a nearby park and badly beaten; the left side of his face is still scarred from the attack. The boys accused Sylvester of reporting them to police for involvement in drug dealing, something Sylvester denied doing. The Richmonds suspect the incident was tied to their protest activity.
Since it formed, the Campaign to End the Lockdown has held occasional protests at Prairie Courts, attended usually by about 15 to 20 people. One of the biggest protests occurred on May 1 of this year, when about 75 people gathered outside the Ickes management office at 24th and State to enact what they called a mock lockdown of CHA employees. Protesters attempted to barricade the front door with two-by-fours and threw balloons filled with red paint at the building and, by some accounts, at management. The protesters say police and security guards got rough and shoved some of the demonstrators. Eventually, four protesters, including Richmond, were arrested and charged with criminal damage to state property. Their trial is set for October 9.
Two days after the protest, Aisha Richmond was entering her apartment after school when a CHA employee slapped a piece of paper on her books. The notice of termination of her family’s lease says that on May 1, Sylvester Richmond “disguised himself and helped others to barracade [sic] C.H.A. Employees and Residents in the Ickes Management Office and set fires in front of entrance door and in the fire lanes while proceeding to hit employees which is also a violation to C.H.A.’s Dwelling Lease.” A second eviction notice charges that Richmond “was involved in demonstration against C.H.A.’s Policies and/in affirmation of his protest did throw red paint at C.H.A.’s Ickes Management building at 2400 S. State and at C.H.A.’s employees.” Richmond admits he was at the protest but denies the CHA charges against him.
“This case is an example of what can happen when a tenant opposes the lockdown and decides to protest in his or her building,” says Antoinette Moore, one of the Richmonds’ attorneys. “It’s an unfortunate statement that a person, because they live in public housing, can’t protest without the fear of eviction. My client has said he didn’t destroy any property, and I believe him. Even if he had, I still would believe that this is a political case, primarily because those things [that occurred at the protest] are not destroying property in the way that other people such as drug dealers are. CHA management chooses not to go after those wrongdoers but to go after protesters.”
CHA’s first deputy general counsel, Wilbert Allen, scoffs at the idea that the Richmonds’ case, or any of the other three eviction cases, is political, saying that “peaceful protest is in fact encouraged.” He adds, however, that “just because people are engaged in protest and exercising their First Amendment rights does not insulate them from the repercussions of violating their lease.”
The weeks immediately following the protest were fraught with tension for the Richmonds. They suspect their apartment was searched while they were away and that their phone was tapped. On Mother’s Day, about eight Chicago policemen and CHA guards burst into the apartment when only Lenie was home to investigate charges that the Richmonds had dynamite there. The dynamite turned out to be three boxes of firecrackers that Richmond had bought for his own children and a church youth group. The Richmonds say the officers searched the apartment without a warrant, discovered and confiscated the firecrackers, and told Lenie she was lucky they didn’t arrest her. Sylvester later went voluntarily to the police station, where he received a ticket for possession of the fireworks.
On June 6, the Richmonds’ attorneys, Antoinette Moore and Steve Jahn, both of the Legal Assistance Foundation, went to visit Sylvester Richmond, not identifying themselves as attorneys when they signed in. They say that shortly after they entered his apartment, two security guards knocked, came in, and told them they had to leave or the police would be called.
In response to the attorneys’ questions, one guard said that she had heard about the May 1 protest and knew that they were members of some communist group. When asked how she knew that, the guard replied that it was clear from their appearance. (Jahn and Moore say they took this to mean that white people like Jahn are a rare sight at 2822 S. Calumet, and the few who come to visit are usually members of the Revolutionary Communist Party calling on the Richmonds.) The guard added that they’d been recognized, and went on to say that the guards had a list with their names on it and orders from the management and from “downtown” to make them go. The two lawyers asked to see a manager, were escorted downstairs, waited for 20 minutes, and then were told by the building manager that they were free to see Richmond. She would say only that “a mistake was made.”
Shortly after that incident, three members of a Catholic activist group, the Eighth Day Center for Justice, attempted to visit the Richmonds. Recalls Bob Bossie, a priest from the center, “After 10 or 15 minutes with the guard, we were told no one was allowed to see the Richmonds. Jean [Hughes, also with Eighth Day] said, ‘Even if I was his mother?’ And the guard said, ‘Even if you were his mother.'” When the three pressed the guard for a reason, Bossie says the guard replied, “You’re excluded because you’re potential members of one of those organizations.”
The Richmonds are not opposed to a safer living environment; in fact, they are active leaders in the effort to make public housing a better place to live: Both are Republican precinct captains; Sylvester helped in the census count of his building; Lenie organizes youth for the Bud Billiken Day parade and has recorded an antidrug cassette with a friend for use at youth events. Their three children, ages 14, 11, and 9, are junior police in the Chicago Police Department’s youth program.
However, the Richmonds don’t believe the lockdown is significantly improving safety or enhancing a sense of community. “We recognize we have problems–any community has problems,” says Sylvester. “But these problems since the lockdown are enormous. People are literally at each other’s throats. We have more problems with security guards and management than we have with gang-bangers and drug-dealers. . . . It has come to a point in this building where neighbors fight neighbors. The tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife.”
The tenants fighting eviction at 2822 S. Calumet all agree that much of the tension has been fostered by Beverly Shepard, the Ickes project manager. A tall, imposing black woman, Shepard may be disliked by these tenants, but she is apparently a success story at CHA headquarters. 2822 S. Calumet was toured by a group of public defenders in August, the guide stressing the success of the sweeps. For contrast, the public defenders went to Henry Horner Homes, to a building that has not yet been swept. There, they were given hard hats to wear.
Furthermore, CHA spokesperson Lucille Wallace cites 2822 S. Cal
umet as a testament to what the sweeps can accomplish. What has happened there, she says, is a good example of “things that the chairman has said all along.” In the building, Wallace says, crimes in the most violent police classification, such as homicide, sexual assault, and aggravated battery, fell from 62 in 1988 to 24 in 1989. Through June of this year, there had been 19.
The crime in CHA projects does warrant some kind of action, says Katie McCarthy, Beverly Herring’s attorney. She works at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, which represents many CHA tenants. “There are desperate problems in CHA,” she says. “But the solution is not to dehumanize the tenants and to ignore their constitutional rights.”
Beverly Herring has lived 32 of her 36 years in CHA housing, the last five in her apartment at 2822 South Calumet with her young daughter. On the morning of the sweep, she says, she was visiting her mother, also a tenant in the building, when about five police and security guards knocked at the door, entered, and asked who was in the apartment. When Herring replied that just she and her mother were there, the men told them to sit on the couch and then searched the apartment, eventually leaving without offering an explanation for what they’d done.
Herring attended several of the initial protests, where she met some of the members of the Campaign to End the Lockdown. She did not attend the May 1 protest. On May 3, she was in the building lobby waiting for a friend when she encountered three of the campaign’s nontenant activists. After discussing the protest for several minutes, Herring signed the activists into the visitors log, writing her own name and apartment number. They all went to the Richmonds’ apartment, where they further discussed the protest. Several minutes had passed when CHA security guards arrived and demanded that the three nontenants leave. Herring says the guards threatened “bodily harm” and warned that they would call the police if the activists didn’t go. The three visitors then left peacefully. (In its response to Herring’s legal complaint, the CHA denies that the guards threatened violence.)
On May 4, Herring was in the lobby of her building when Betty Jones, a manager in charge of security, asked to speak with her. Herring says that Jones accused her of signing in “communists and protesters” and warned her that she could be evicted because protesting was against CHA policy. Jones warned her that “Ms. Shepard wanted to see her and talk to her.”
“It was May 18 when Ms. Shepard called,” remembers Herring. “It was about a quarter to ten in the morning. I had just settled down to watch TV when the phone rang. She said she had talked to Ms. Jones and wanted to know if it was true, if I had signed in protesters. I said, ‘I don’t know about them being protesters, but I signed in some friends.’ She said it’s against the lease to sign in protesters and communists. She said Ms. Jones said they were part of the protest May 1. She said, ‘You will be hearing from me.'” (Beverly Shepard declined to respond to anything said about her in this story.)
On May 31, Herring received a notice of termination of tenancy that stated that the basis for termination was “creation of a threat to the health and safety of others.” The notice charges Herring with providing false information by signing in the three activists for the purpose of visiting her, then going to another apartment. It concludes, “Ms. Herring signed these individuals in; aiding and conducting a subversive meeting against the CHA.”
The Mandel Legal Aid Clinic not only fought the eviction notice in state court but filed its own claim against the CHA in federal court, arguing that the eviction attempt violated Herring’s constitutional rights to speak and associate freely under the 1st Amendment and to due process under the 14th. The suit asks for monetary damages and a permanent injunction against eviction. It also asks for a clarification of the sign-in policy.
The CHA dropped its eviction case against Herring in state court on August 23. Wilbert Allen says this happened because whoever wrote the eviction notice made a mistake by including the phrase “aiding and conducting a subversive meeting against the CHA.” “That’s a technical defect,” he says. “The people who wrote this were not attorneys–conducting a subversive meeting is not within the scope of CHA’s authority.” The remainder of the charge, Allen says, is a valid lease violation, and Herring could be evicted for signing in the guests to her apartment and then going to another.
The Mandel clinic is still pursuing the case in federal court, hoping to set a precedent for other CHA clients that might make it easier for them to voice complaints. The tenuous hold that nearly all CHA tenants have on housing puts them in very vulnerable positions, says Katie McCarthy: “It’s very difficult to get CHA tenants to talk about what’s going on because this is their last-chance housing, and they don’t want to do anything to risk it. CHA tenants are pretty close-mouthed because they don’t want to go against the grain of management.”
At 10 AM on a sunny Friday late in August, tenants at 2822 S. Calumet were mingling in the lobby, talking, joking, waiting for the elevator. Standing by the row of mailboxes while I waited for Darnella Powell to take me to her apartment for our interview, I was approached by a male security guard. He asked me a series of questions: Do I come here often? Do I live around here? Am I married? Do I like to party? What kind of parties? Later, I registered a note of empathy when Darnella Powell said of one guard in particular, “He’s always got to say something to me, even if it’s just boo. He’s always got to say something.” As the guard questioned me, another guard watched the door, but most people came and went without showing any form of ID. When I left the building, I attempted to sign out on the same form I signed in on, but the guard smiled at me and said there was no need to bother.
Clearly, the guards are free to treat tenants and visitors as they wish, and it is the contention of Sheila Fason and Darnella Powell that the times when they disagreed with this arbitrary enforcement of the signing-in and visitation procedures provided Beverly Shepard with the ammunition she needed to evict them. Like the Richmonds and Beverly Herring, they are longtime residents at 2822 S. Calumet; Fason has lived there 19 years and Powell 7. Before their difficulties with CHA management started, they were both floor captains, and Fason was a volunteer in the summer lunch program for children. They were both active in the initial protests of the Campaign to End the Lockdown, and were friendly with the Richmonds even after word went around not to talk to them.
Fason and Powell think Shepard may have further targeted them as troublemakers when they got up a petition this spring asking that an intercom system be installed in their building. Few people would sign it, they say, because they’re afraid of Shepard. “They all said ‘Ms. Shepard this, Ms. Shepard that,'” remembers Powell.
On June 26, Fason received a notice in the mail that said her lease was being terminated because of her “creation of a threat to the health and safety of others.” It charges that she “refused to present her ID and was generally uncooperative to the development entrance procedure. In spite of repeated counselling, these violations have persisted.”
What happened, says Fason, is that she did a favor for a hospitalized friend who had called and asked if she could sign in her uncle so he could check on her apartment. When Fason tried to sign him in, the guard claimed she couldn’t; she argued with him, signed him in, took him to his niece’s apartment, and returned to the elevator with him. About two weeks later, Shepard called her into her office and said Fason had violated the signing-in procedure and that the hospitalized woman should have called Shepard directly. Fason told Shepard the sign-in policy was “wrong” and that she didn’t want to be called in over anything so trivial. “If I owe you rent or I’m tearing up your apartment, then you call me,” she told the manager. Shortly thereafter, a security guard told Fason’s mother, also a tenant in the building, that Shepard had instructed the guards to write Sheila up for anything possible because she had “flapmouthed Ms. Shepard.”
Darnella Powell’s eviction notice apparently stems from an incident that occurred in April, when her sister Denise came to spend the weekend. Darnella loaned Denise her jacket to go downstairs and make a phone call. Darnella’s ID and her keys were in her jacket. Denise made a phone call, went outside to the candy truck, and upon reentering the building encountered a guard who said she couldn’t come in. The guard discovered that Denise was carrying her sister’s ID card. Darnella’s son, in the lobby at the time, ran upstairs to tell his mother that his aunt was having trouble with the security guard, and Darnella came down and argued with the guard, who charged Darnella with giving her sister her ID to use. The guard then confiscated Darnella’s ID.
This incident came back to haunt Darnella several months later. Shortly after Shepard warned Fason about signing in the uncle of the hospitalized woman, Powell says that Shepard also called her in, warning her about the incident with her sister. “She said, ‘This time I’m going to let you slide. Next time I’m going to write you up, put you on probation. Then I’m going to terminate your lease, then I’m going to evict you.'”
On August 3, Powell received a notice of termination of her lease, according to which “Darnella Powell has on numerous occasions issued her ID to her sister who also used the ID to sign in other visitors. Leaseholder is generally uncooperative to the development entrance procedure. In spite of repeated counselling, these violations have persisted.”
Both Fason and Powell say the only “counseling” they received was their one conference with Shepard, and that they are unaware of exactly what other violations, if any, the notices refer to. They feel, they say, like children–“Ms. Shepard thinks of us as kids,” says Fason. “We don’t have no rights.”
However, the stakes are much higher than being sent to your room without dinner. Fason doesn’t know where she would live if evicted by the CHA. Her income consists of $268 a month in public aid, $46 of which she pays for rent. Since her mother is also a tenant there, she couldn’t live with her, nor could she live anywhere else in the CHA or in any federally subsidized housing.
Powell receives $368 a month in public aid, $69 of which she pays in rent. She is now trying to save money in case she, like Fason, receives a court summons indicating the CHA is proceeding with her case. So far, all she has received is the notice of termination.
The women’s lawyer, Timothy Huizenga of the Legal Assistance Foundation, believes both eviction attempts are illegal. He thinks Shepard is trying to make an example of the women in order to “crack down on any dissent.”
According to CHA counsel Wilbert Allen, the charges made against the women identify clear lease violations, and Shepard is just doing her job as a “conscientious manager.” Whether the violations warrant eviction, he says, is up to Shepard, the Ickes complex manager, who can base the case for eviction on the tenants’ overall record even if the eviction notice itself cites only the most recent violation.
When asked about the possibility of Fason and Powell and their children becoming homeless, Allen was unbending. He says he speaks from experience–as a resident of public housing himself from the age of 6 to 19, he believes in Operation Clean Sweep. “If in fact they [Powell and Fason] had no trouble with management [in the past], if they’re unwilling or unable to follow the new security procedures, termination is still justified. We spend a great deal of money–$150,000 per building–to do an emergency inspection. We’re not going to let that effort be undercut by a few people’s unwillingness to adhere to some rules which afford them greater security.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Loren Santow.