Two middle-aged men sat in a red Hyundai Sonata with the license plate “RUF,” idling in a back alley parking lot along Farwell Avenue in Rogers Park. When I pulled in and parked, the white man behind the wheel nodded at me. I went to my friends’ first-floor apartment to pick up some belongings and when I came out a few minutes later the men were standing, maskless, in the gangway in front of the back staircase of one of the neighboring buildings that shares the alley. A third man who was wearing a mask and holding some papers stood a few feet behind them.

A tenant from one of the third-floor units ascended the stairs. He was moving fast, characteristically dressed in a tight lycra biking top and cargo shorts, with tinfoil sticking out from underneath his helmet. The neighbors often saw him coming in and out of the apartment with a bike and heard him screaming at odd hours. It was hard to tell what was happening in the home because his windows were filled with blankets and other debris. Just as he made it to the door of the apartment, which was ajar, the two men from the Hyundai followed up the stairs. The one who had been behind the wheel—a heavyset, gray haired man in his 60s wearing a blue polo shirt—had drawn a gun. The other, who had a pair of narrow sunglasses perched on his forehead, had his hand at the waist of his bootcut jeans.

“Where’s he at?” the driver called out to someone inside the apartment.

“In here,” a man’s voice responded.

“Come on out!” the driver barked. “Come on out! Police! Out, now!” He swung the gun from the door and in the direction of the stairs as the tenant emerged with his hands up. “Put your hands behind your back,” the driver ordered as he marched the man down the stairs, gesturing with his gun. “Get out.”

“Get out,” the other man chimed in.

“You’re trespassing,” the driver said as they made it down another landing. “You don’t belong in there, get the fuck out of here.”

When they reached the last flight of stairs, the tenant protested. “The fuck I don’t dude, I live there! I’ve lived there for fucking over a year!”

“Let’s go!” the men responded in unison. It was then that the driver, still with his gun out, turned and saw me filming with my cell phone.

“Don’t threaten me again,” the driver then said to the tenant as he descended the last flight of stairs.

“Threaten you with what?”

“Don’t threaten me again.”

“I didn’t threaten you!”

“Get out,” the driver said again as they reached the ground floor. The tenant said he would call the police.

“Get out, I’m telling you,” the driver repeated. “Are you on the lease? Are you on the lease yes or no? The answer is no. We know that and management’s here,” he indicated the third, masked man who was watching from a few steps away.

“Is this Greenspire Realty?” the tenant asked the third man. He received no response.

“They don’t want you here,” the driver said.

Soon the tenant appeared to walk away. The guy with the shades on his forehead turned to me and said, “And you’re recording what? Really? Really?” waving his hand dismissively. Moments later the tenant reemerged in the back stairwell having apparently accessed it through the basement. This time the two men intercepted him on the stairs. A scuffle ensued in the shadows of the back landing. “Please stop, you’re hurting me!” the tenant repeated several times. Someone got shoved down the stairs with a thud, and called someone else a “motherfucker.” “Please stop, you’re hurting me!” the tenant yelled again.

“Why don’t you fuckin’ stop?” one of the two men responded. “We’ve been nice with you. Why don’t you fuckin’ stop?”

“Help!” the tenant shouted again and again. “I can’t breathe! Help! Look he’s got my fucking helmet around my neck!”

Right about then nearly a dozen cops from the Chicago Police Department’s 24th District arrived in the gangway.

YouTube video

For the next hour on that July 30 afternoon, my friends and I and other neighbors from the cluster of brick apartment buildings around that alley watched and filmed as the cops spoke with the tenant and his former roommate (who was the actual leaseholder but had moved out months before because the unit had become uninhabitable), representatives from Greenspire (the company that owns that unit in the condo building), and the men who claimed they were police.

“This fucking guy he pulled a gun on me right away, he represented himself as the police,” the tenant told Lucas Cunningham, a young, gloved but unmasked officer in a CPD baseball cap who was the first to walk up to the scene.

“I never said I was the police,” the driver of the Hyundai said to Cunningham. A chorus of neighbors’ voices rang out saying that he had, indeed, claimed he was police and that the tenant was telling the truth.

We listened to a lengthy conversation between officer Joshua Surgal (whose face stayed obscured behind a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a neck warmer until most of the neighbors and their phone cameras dispersed) and Greenspire representatives, who had beamed into the alley via video call on the Hyundai driver’s cell phone. He held the phone with the grid of faces at chest level as Surgal dressed them down with a high-pitched voice and thick Chicago accent.

Greenspire’s people said the tenant was squatting in the unit. Surgal asked if the company had filed for eviction. A woman on the video call confirmed that Greenspire had, but that they hadn’t gotten an eviction order from a judge. “OK so he’s not evicted,” Surgal said. “You had a tenant who allowed him to come and live in your property. . . . You know the law. A squatter can even establish residence.”

I learned that shortly before I came outside, another neighbor had watched Greenspire representatives change the locks on the unit. “The first thing that happened was they went upstairs, pounded on the door and said ‘Police! Open up!'” Lisa Martin, who had a clear line of sight from her third-story porch across the alley, told officer Cunningham, who chewed gum as he jotted down her story into a notebook. “Then what they did was they had two maintenance guys break in, remove the locks, change the locks, and pull his curtain down.”

“As a manager you know tenants’ rights, you know squatters’ rights, right? And he’s being allowed in by a tenant you have a lease with,” officer Surgal told Greenspire on the video call. The woman on the call protested, but he interrupted. “We’re in Rogers Park, we’ve got a lot of people with a lot of weird behavior. You guys changed the locks, you’re going to have to give him the key to the locks. And you’re going to have to get an eviction order. We’re not taking him out.”

The officer went on to chastise Greenspire’s representatives for taking the situation into their own hands. “Now you guys locked him out, now you guys are in the wrong. . . . Where you guys are at is anyone who tries to remove him and keep him from that residence is gonna be in trouble. So whoever these gentlemen are . . .” he trailed off, indicating the men who attempted to evict the tenant.

“They were there to protect our employee,” the woman on the video call said.

“If you guys have a legitimate belief that he’s a threat, then you have to go to a judge and you have to get an emergency order and you have to have the sheriffs come and evict,” Surgal said. “Right now you have a gentleman who’s basically been living there, by the admission of the person that was on your lease . . . So we are already clearly establishing that he has residence. And so until you guys get the order to remove him he has the right to be in there. For sure you guys can’t just come and change the locks on him, because then you guys get in trouble.”

A man on the video call said something about the tenant being “a danger to the neighborhood.”

“No that’s not true,” Surgal cut him off. “You can’t establish that there’s a danger right now. I got people around here that are establishing that the gentlemen that came with your manager are more of the danger. So if you want to talk about a danger to the neighborhood, I don’t know if you really want to go down there. So you guys may want to reassess and think about this really carefully.”

After the video call, Surgal moved far away from the crowd of onlookers and had a quiet conversation with the two men from the Hyundai. The tenant-squatter was allowed to stay in the unit. Two neighbors and I gave statements to officer Cunningham about what we saw, and shared our IDs and contact information. No arrests were made even though we and the tenant told police that Greenspire’s armed representatives had pointed a gun and claimed they were cops. Slowly, the onlookers, some of whom had come outside barefoot, dispersed into their homes. The leaseholder walked away in a huff. The tenant shut himself in the apartment. Greenspire’s people and the police got in their cars and drove away.

CPD officer Joshua Surgal (with the blue neckwarmer on his face) spoke with the men who extracted a tenant at gunpoint out of earshot of bystanders.
CPD officer Joshua Surgal (with the blue neckwarmer on his face) spoke with the men who extracted a tenant at gunpoint out of earshot of bystanders.Credit: Maya Dukmasova

I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. The issues I’ve been writing about for years—eviction and policing—had converged right in front of my eyes on a random Thursday afternoon. It was the kind of incident I’d usually receive a tip about, and try to report in the face of vehement denials of malfeasance from the landlord and a total lack of corroborating evidence from the police. I must confess that, despite all I’ve seen as a reporter, I was unprepared for how nonchalantly the truth would be erased in real time and how quickly the systems of privilege that enable powerful people to do the wrong thing were mobilized to shield them from consequences. Reporting this story underscored my own privilege, too. None of the neighbors I spoke with were able to get much clarity about the situation on their own, while the tools at my disposal as a journalist led to most of our questions being answered.

One of my friends had written to 49th Ward alderwoman Maria Hadden (who happens to live in a building that also shares the alley) about what happened, but got only a canned response from her staffer: “We hate to hear the experience you have recently gone through. We are happy to hear the police arrived on the scene. You and your neighbors deserve to feel safe. This falls of course directly under police jurisdiction. I would recommend following up with the police on this matter to get an update.”

More than anything, we wanted to know who the men from the Hyundai were and how they would be held accountable for their actions. It was hard to believe that any corporate landlord could attempt what the tenant called a “self-serve eviction” and get away with it. Indeed the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance establishes criminal penalties against landlords for lockouts, including fines ranging from $200 to $500.

I called the 24th District to find out what was in the police report. More than a week after it happened, neither I nor any of the neighbors who gave statements and recorded videos had heard back from the cops. After several unhelpful conversations with officers on phone duty who wouldn’t even share the incident report number with me, I contacted CPD’s news affairs staff.

“This is a whole lot of nothing,” a department spokesman said. He then gave me the report number and summarized what was in it: “So pretty much officers responded to a disturbance. They heard someone calling for help. The male was upset because a landlord was trying to do work in the apartment. The landlord said the person who was screaming had made threats. There was some concern about the landlord’s wellbeing so he brought private security with him to do maintenance on this person’s apartment. He started screaming for help. The incident is classified as noncriminal so there’s not a detective looking into it. It just seemed like whoever the individual was didn’t want the landlord to do work on the apartment.”

According to the spokesman, the report (for which I promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request) made no mention of what appeared to bystanders to be an illegal eviction attempt, of one of the security guards pointing a gun or claiming to be police, of my name or the name of at least one other witness who gave statements, of available video evidence. I asked whether there was any information about the identity of the security guards or the firm they work for. “They’re just security guys,” he said. “Greenspire City North, that’s what the employer is listed as.”

I called Greenspire and spoke with president and CEO John Dragic. “Let’s not blow things out of proportion. They did not come with guns blazing,” Dragic told me in a calm and soothing voice. “This is the reality: We needed to make repairs in that unit. Plumbing repairs needed to be done because the tenant was dismantling the plumbing in the unit. You’re familiar with the tenant, so you know he has some issues.” He went on to say that the tenant had a criminal record, was “violent and threatening,” and that “there was no forced eviction.”

I asked Dragic to explain what a half dozen people saw. I asked why Greenspire’s people had changed the locks and claimed they were cops. “Because the tenant himself had changed the locks, we didn’t have keys,” Dragic said. “I wasn’t there, I don’t know what these [security] guys were saying, but the intent was not to evict him, the intent was to make repairs . . . We had no idea these guys had guns or anything like that.”

He wouldn’t reveal the identity of the men. “They are security people. They were referred to us. I’m not gonna disclose anyone’s names. You won’t be seeing them anymore.”

I asked if Dragic had anything to say to the neighbors who were frightened, concerned that someone might have been shot or killed. “That was a one-off situation that I think was regrettable on everyone’s part,” he said. “We didn’t understand there were firearms involved. So whatever they were saying I don’t know, but our mission there was to shut off the water that was running on the people below. That’s why we went in.”

The next day, Steve Cain, another Greenspire executive, e-mailed the Reader. Cain said that the problem tenant wasn’t home when company representatives arrived to do repairs and that the door had been barricaded. “We were able to enter from the back door and began to do the necessary repair work,” he wrote. He then offered the following narrative:

“The roommate came home, saw what was going on, entered through the front of the building, down through the basement and then came charging up [the] back steps, threatening our maintenance people. It was at this point that things really got unpleasant. Our security person charged up after him, prevented him from entering, and a fight ensued. The roommate slammed the security guard hard against a wall, injuring him. The security guard pinned him down, at which point he began screaming for the police and saying ‘I can’t breathe.’ I believe it was at this point that Maya and many other on-lookers came out of their apartments and started filming. If you only see what happened from that point going forward, it is easy to surmise that this is just another case of a horrible, heartless landlord making life miserable for a poor, helpless tenant struggling to maintain his home.”

Cain wrote that it’s “hard to estimate” the value of the property damage and “on-going lost rent” the man had done to Greenspire and the original lease-holding tenant. “Ideally, I would ask that you not run this story,” Cain wrote. “If anything, this story should be about the harms that come to small property owners who are left helpless to prevent the ongoing damage that is occurring to this unit, building and surrounding condo owners, not to mention the financial damage we are suffering. . . . We have gone through every legal requirement and will wait out the lifting of the ban on evictions and the reopening of the courts. But unless this guy does something to get arrested or imprisoned, we will have to constantly allow him re-access to the unit where he ‘lives.'”

The Rogers Park apartment where Sam lives is owned by Greenspire, a company that bought up condo units at a bargain after the housing market collapsed.
The Rogers Park apartment where Sam lives is owned by Greenspire, a company that bought up condo units at a bargain after the housing market collapsed.Credit: Maya Dukmasova

Marty, Greenspire’s leaseholder, first moved into the condo about ten years ago. He agreed to speak to me on the condition that we not use his real name. He’d lived in that home with the previous owner, a friend who had to short-sell the condo to Greenspire after her divorce. Marty stayed on as Greenspire’s tenant after she moved out and was living in the two-bedroom apartment alone when, in the spring of 2019, he met Sam, the man who’d become known to us neighbors as the problematic tenant and whose name I also changed to protect his privacy. Sam needed a place to live and Marty had a spare room, so he invited the younger man to move in and split the rent last August.

“That was the worst thing I ever, ever did,” Marty told me when we met on Zoom. Sam, who earned money through bike delivery, fell short on his half of the rent almost immediately. Marty said Sam was also using methamphetamine. Within a few months their cohabitation became untenable. “He thinks the Nazis are coming to get him,” Marty said. Sam accused him of spying and messing with his bike and barricaded doors in the apartment. Last December Sam had Marty arrested for throwing a television remote control at him during an altercation. When the coronavirus lockdown began in March, Marty left the apartment to stay with a friend.

Over the next several months, Marty said he continued to pay the full $1,370 rent to Greenspire while Sam changed the locks to the unit and destroyed some of Marty’s things. Marty tried to remove some of his possessions from the apartment but that became harder after Sam had him served with a restraining order.

When he finally complained to the landlord, “they were more than gracious with me,” Marty said. Though his lease was supposed to end in August, Marty said Greenspire agreed to terminate it a month early and give him the final month to move his belongings without having to pay any more rent. Greenspire filed an eviction case against Sam last April. “They knew they had to go through the courts,” Marty said.

But eviction courts have been closed due to the pandemic and Sam still hasn’t been served with a summons, according to Cook County records. And even though landlords are supposed to be able to have emergency hearings in matters like this, those can’t be held until a tenant is served with the court papers.

“We filed the case and the sheriff won’t even serve the papers due to COVID,” Greenspire attorney Robert Kahn told me. “The sheriff is not doing their job at all. I’ve been going around and around with them and they’ve just been sitting on the papers and now they’re saying in order for them to do it I have to give them an affidavit about [Sam’s] criminal conduct.”

Marty said that on July 30 he was surprised to receive a call from Greenspire out of the blue. “They said: ‘You better get down there now. We came in there. We changed the locks.'” He said the company also wanted him to stay in the unit overnight to make sure Sam didn’t return. Marty said there had been a leak in the unit a few weeks prior and the company was able to get in and investigate, but there was no new emergency maintenance to take care of that day as far as he was aware. When he arrived and saw the state of the home, he told the security guards and Greenspire’s masked property manager Luis Lopez that it would be impossible for him to stay in the unit. That’s when Sam came home and the guards ordered him out.

Marty added that Greenspire “wanted to kick him out and they were gonna get a company there that day to take everything out of the apartment.” This also surprised him since he thought he’d have the whole next month to move out.

Marty said he’d never seen the security guards before. The gun brandishing was unnerving. “I was shocked,” he said, “I didn’t think that was right.” Since the incident, he still hasn’t been able to get his possessions, which include his parents’ ashes, even though he now has the keys to the new lock. (Chicago law allows landlords to change locks if they lose access to their property, on the condition that they continue to provide tenants with keys, too.) He’s been negotiating with Sam for a time to access the unit without much success.

Kahn wasn’t surprised when I described what had happened, though he said he hadn’t heard from his clients about the incident. “I’m hearing this more and more often every day and I can’t blame too many landlords because they’re not getting any recourse,” he said. Recently the Chief Judge of the Cook County circuit court extended the eviction court closure and ordered the Cook County Sheriff to refrain from enforcement through September 21. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a declaration that evictions should be halted nationwide to help curb the spread of COVID-19, though the federal government hasn’t issued rental assistance to tenants or landlords. “You take away people’s right to [evict] and they’re gonna take the law in their own hands,” Kahn said. “I’m not saying it’s right but I understand where it comes from. It’s cheaper to throw them out and risk getting sued than waiting for the process.”

Former CPD officer Ronald Rufo, who claimed to be police and pointed a gun at Sam while telling him to "get the fuck out" of his home hasn't had a security guard license since 2018 according to state records.
Former CPD officer Ronald Rufo, who claimed to be police and pointed a gun at Sam while telling him to “get the fuck out” of his home hasn’t had a security guard license since 2018 according to state records.Credit: Maya Dukmasova

The red Hyundai’s vanity license plate had a faded Fraternal Order of Police sticker. I was able to track down the driver through the Illinois Secretary of State. His name is Ronald Rufo and he retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2015, where he was a cop in the 18th District. According to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Rufo was once a security guard (in addition to being a real estate agent and cosmetologist), but his license expired in 2018. Googling his name turned up several local media interviews where Rufo is often presented as a “PhD” expert on police suicide. He was also listed as an “EdD” on the covers of his books—one called Sexual Predators Amongst Us published in 2011, the other, a 2015 volume he edited called Police Suicide: Is Police Culture Killing Our Officers? His doctoral degree came from Argosy University, a now-defunct for-profit diploma mill. Rufo didn’t return calls and texts for comment.

When I e-mailed Greenspire to ask whether they were aware Rufo wasn’t a licensed security guard when they dispatched him for the July 30 job, Dragic didn’t address the issue. Instead, he once again denied any wrongdoing. “This was not an eviction attempt no matter what you are trying to claim,” Dragic wrote. “We hired security to protect our employees from a dangerous occupant of the unit while our staff was making necessary repairs . . . Any other portrayal of the events are a fabrication.”

I got in touch with 49th Ward alderwoman Maria Hadden, who then did some of her own digging on the matter. She said 24th District Commander Joseph Brennan told her that the security guards were both retired CPD officers and that he knows one of them personally, but he didn’t share their names. “My intention is some kind of action with this management company, to really investigate,” Hadden said. “We can’t have illegal evictions happening.”

I reached out to Brennan through a 24th District CAPS representative, but didn’t get a response.

When I caught up with neighbor Lisa Martin weeks later, she said she hadn’t heard anything back from the police. Martin comes from a police family herself; her father was a CPD commander. If the security guys were ex-cops, “they’re above the rules in this city,” she said. “I’m just trying to think in what universe you go to somebody’s place to get them out by force of gun.”

She said that while “there’s no way we’re gonna go back and fix the past,” she wanted Greenspire to know “that what they did is not OK. And if we see anything like this again we’re going to report them to the mayor, to the tenants organizations, to the alderman . . . This guy is not even a neighbor I want,” she said, “but what they did to him and how they did it is absolutely wrong and it put a lot of people in danger.”

Martin had placed one of the 911 calls on July 30 after observing the security guards claim they were cops. She said she hesitated, knowing that an encounter between the police and a person like Sam could end badly. “The only reason I felt comfortable to call the cops was because there were so many of us out there. So many people watching with their cameras, filming exactly what was happening. And you can ignore one person, but you can’t ignore eight to ten people saying the same thing.”

On September 9—weeks after the department’s deadline to respond to my FOIA had passed—I finally received the police report from CPD. It appears the CPD is quite capable of ignoring multiple people saying the same thing. The three-page document was heavily redacted, and, just as the department spokesman first told me on the phone, presented the situation in a much more benign light than the reality. Officers Cunningham, Surgal, and two others who signed off on the report listed Greenspire as the “victim” of the “non-criminal” incident. Four individuals were listed as “person reporting offense”: men whose demographic information matched Rufo and the second ex-cop, Greenspire’s property manager Luis Lopez, and Sam.

The narrative states that Sam “believed” that Greenspire’s people “were attempting to evict him by threat of violence during the COVID pandemic.” And that he told officers “that his property management company illegally gained entry into his residence and did plumbing work without his knowledge or permission.” The report goes on to say that after talking to Lopez, officers “learned that [Sam] made threats of violence against him in [the] past that made him unwilling to return to do work on the unit without security present.” According to the report Greenspire “went into the residence to perform emergency plumbing repairs,” and that while that was happening the security guys saw Sam going upstairs and were “concerned for the safety of the maintenance worker. In an attempt to stop [Sam] [redacted] displayed a handgun and gave him an order to stop.” The officers reiterated Greenspire’s claim that their people were only there to fix the plumbing and had to “cut the locks to gain entry to the unit because the resident was not responding to messages.”

A woman matching Lisa Martin’s description was the only listed witness. This is how her story was described: “stated that she observed the entirety of the disturbance and that [Sam] was coming back to his residence when [redacted] for the property stopped him and attempted to keep him from going to his apartment because [redacted] was still [redacted]. The witness stated she observed the men fall down the stairs together, and one of [redacted] point his weapon at [redacted].”

Her account was then dismissed: “Upon watching the video that [Lopez] had recorded on his phone, while [redacted] was on the stairs with [redacted] before, during and after the fall down the stairs, no guns were drawn.”

“That is not at all accurate to what I said,” Martin texted me after I sent her a recap of the report. “It also sounds like they took a whole bunch of people’s statements and cobbled them together in such a way as to make it appear that the two fake or prior police officers were specifically not at fault and that nothing illegal happened.”

The report made no mention of other available video evidence or other witnesses who gave statements to Cunningham. It also made it seem as though Lopez’s video contradicted Martin’s account, when in reality Lopez didn’t even start filming the incident until after Rufo and the other ex-cop had marched Sam out of his home at gunpoint and told him to “get the fuck out.” Had the cops taken me up on the offer to share the video I’d made they would have seen that.

CPD “is committed to protecting the rights and safety of tenants and landlords. That’s why the Department is in communication with the Chicago Department of Housing and Cook County Sheriff’s Office to ensure that all officers are not only trained but following protocol pertaining to the state’s evictions moratorium,” spokesman Don Terry e-mailed in response to my questions about the report. “While we cannot comment on individual allegations, the Department is reviewing all procedures regarding this incident to ensure they were properly followed. If there are any photos, video footage or evidence material that depicts wrongdoing on the part of the private security guards, as you suggest in your questions, we encourage you to provide that material with CPD so we can ensure any individuals who may have committed a crime are held accountable.”

The next day Lisa Martin got a call from CPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau with a request for another interview about the situation.

The second security guard involved in the incident hasn't been identified, but CPD 24th District Commander Joseph Brennan told 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden that he's also a former cop.
The second security guard involved in the incident hasn’t been identified, but CPD 24th District Commander Joseph Brennan told 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden that he’s also a former cop.Credit: Maya Dukmasova

For decades, whistleblowers, journalists, academics, and ordinary people have produced voluminous records on police misconduct in Chicago. The way cops cover for each other and the “code of silence” among them is well-known and well-documented.

The thing about the July 30 incident was that, in front of the watchful eyes of many witnesses, the 24th District officers actually did the things police reform advocates say that they need to: They de-escalated the situation, treated all the parties involved courteously, called the balls and strikes. They were correct in stopping what appeared to be an unauthorized eviction, and correctly explained the law to Greenspire. They made sure that the more vulnerable party could exercise his rights and left the scene without funneling anyone into the criminal-legal pipeline.

Yet this approach was mobilized primarily to protect the most powerful people on the scene—the ex-cops and the landlord—from consequences. The cops’ actions also benefited Sam, but how could anyone hope to successfully press criminal charges or sue a landlord claiming an illegal eviction attempt if the official record of the incident doesn’t even mention it? On paper, Greenspire isn’t a corporation that apparently attempted a lockout because they couldn’t get what they wanted from the courts. On paper, the ex-cops who claimed they were police and extracted a person from his home at gunpoint don’t exist. In the end, Marty still couldn’t get his possessions, the neighbors in the building were still left to deal with Sam’s antisocial behavior, and the rest of us were left feeling less safe in our neighborhood.

This was just a little thing that happened in a little corner of the city to a little group of relatively well-off people. As vulnerable as Sam may be, he’s still a white man. As confused and helpless as the neighbors might have felt, they still knew a journalist to help them figure things out and reach some officials. As pissed as Greenspire and Sam’s neighbors might be at the failure to get him out of their hair, CPD would still answer their calls the next time Sam became too much. What happened on July 30 would hardly register on the Richter scale of police discrimination, violence, and cover-ups in Chicago. The thing about misconduct on the job, though, is that most of it tends to be mundane. It happens in small ways on a daily basis—looking the other way when a friend or acquaintance or former colleague does something wrong; giving people who seem nice and respectable a pass for things someone less likable would never get away with. Isn’t that what broken windows policing advocates have been arguing for decades—that leniency toward small instances of misbehavior builds up tolerance for more serious misconduct? If we only pay attention to the big cover-ups, the big scandals, we risk overlooking the systemic nature of the abuse of power. There aren’t any “bad apples” in this story (other than, arguably, Sam), just privileged people doing what they feel entitled to do. The grace and benefit of the doubt they receive from authorities is a tacit sanction of their behavior.

Around 11 PM on Saturday, August 29, a platoon of 24th District cops descended on Farwell Avenue, their SUVs clogging the entire block. Sam had apparently broken a wall with an adjoining condo unit. His neighbor was on the third-floor landing of the back stairs, venting about how impossible it was to live next door to the guy. The neighbors watched as dozens and dozens of cops milled around. Somewhere in the center of the sea of uniformed officers was a voice, intermittently explaining something calmly and bursting into shouts of “Help!” and “I can’t breathe!” and “Get the fuck out, monster!” His hands were cuffed behind his back and the police eventually loaded him into a transport van. A woman who lives in a neighboring building sighed as we slowly dispersed. She said one of the officers told her they were taking him to a psych hospital. Sam was back in his apartment just a few days later.  v