18,041,  14,994,  4,636


Black youth at a detention center

The numbers cited 18,041, 14,994, 4,636 could easily be the population totals of some of Chicago’s surrounding suburbs, but they’re not. These are the numbers of youth who have been arrested by the Chicago Police Department in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. The Chicago Defender couldn’t help but notice that out of these statistics emerge some startling patterns regarding attorney representation, racial disparity, and potential legal culpability. Specifically, we’re talking constitutional and human rights according to attorney Standish Willis.

For example, in 2014, out of the 18,041 youth arrested, 17,386 were eventually charged with a crime, but only 25 had an attorney. Out of the 14,994 arrested in 2015, 14,399 were charged and only 31 had an attorney present at some point while in custody, according to Chicago Police records.

But race, by far, is the most compelling. In 2014 alone, a staggering 14,106 youth arrested were Black, 3,095 were Hispanic, 528 were white and only 49 were Asian, records show. Again, in 2015, enough Black youth to populate a small town or an entire penal system were arrested: 11,318. Hispanics came in at a distant second with 2,836 youth arrested, 505 whites and only 54 Asian teens.

By 2014 comparison, for every Asian teenager arrested, 287 Black teens were arrested: for every white teenager arrested, 26.7 Black teens were arrested: and compared to Hispanics, it’s 4.5 to 1. This pattern continued in 2015 with 209.5 Black teens to 1 Asian teen, 22.4 to 1, compared to white teens, and 3.9 to 1 for Hispanic teens, The Chicago Defender wanted to know: What was driving these numbers? And, how could our judicial system starting with CPD sell off the futures of an entire generation — and nobody says a word?

40 Years Ago — The same old thing 


PATF 190-page report

The Police Accountability Task Force (PATF) recently completed its four-month study of the culture surrounding the CPD. In a 190-page report, they laid bare what the above accused would rather you not know anything about: that the patterns and practices of racism and abuse at the hands of the CPD go back for decades and continues to this day.

Case in point, in the early 1970s, CPD found itself facing allegations of police brutality, particularly in African-American communities. Congressman Ralph Metcalfe called for a ‘Blue Ribbon Panel’ to report on the misuse of authority. The panel found that CPD used fatal force more frequently than in other big cities and that 75 percent of those killed were Black. It also noted that “false arrests, illegal searches, and psychological violence occurred daily in exchanges between police and minorities and young people,” the 70s study revealed.

 Fast forwarding to today, the PATF report says “Of the 404 shootings by police officers between 2008 and 2015, 299 of them, or 74 percent of the victims shot or killed were Black.” Thus, little has changed since the early 1970s, the report stated. The report also goes so far as to suggest that the “implementation of [a] citywide ‘Know Your Rights’ training for youth,” is necessary.

Douglass Bevel, son of historic civil rights leaders James Bevel and Diane Nash, who played a key role in bringing Dr. King to Montgomery, Alabama, believe that the numbers are being driven systemically by the attorneys, correctional facilities, and contractors that service the justice system.

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Black teens at a FDLA ‘Know Your Rights’ meeting.

He insists that the prison industry profits off the inmates from cheap labor to phone calls to commissary items. “The powers that be have no incentive to change it,” he says. “For us, it’s the lives and the futures of our young people. For them, it’s their money tree.”

Vicki Cassanova-Willis, a human-rights advocate who works for the First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA), sees this as human-rights abuse. “Anytime anyone gets arrested in Chicago, it’s your constitutional right to remain silent and you have a right to representation, to legal representation if you’re arrested.”

Karen Sheley, Director of Police Practices Project at the American Civil Liberties  Union agrees “Anyone arrested should tell the officer that they want to remain silent and that they want an attorney.” Casanova-Willis adds that the FDLA has a free hotline that you can call anytime day or night, 24/7, 365 days a year. “We have an attorney who will find you at any Chicago police station and protect your rights not to be interrogated without a lawyer present,” she says.

The irony of this situation of Black and Brown youths being disproportionately arrested is that the city of Chicago, on February 11, 2009, adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

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Chicago’s City Council adopts UN Rights of the Child in 2009

In doing so, Chicago’s City Council pledged to “advance policies and practices that are in harmony with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in all city agencies and organizations that address issues directly affecting the City’s children,” according to the Resolution.

Spearheaded by a group of International Human Rights advocates along with the Children and Family Justice Center at Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, the group put out a paper that outlined the process and strategy for any city or municipality to follow that sought the need to adopt specific international treaties that afforded their children basic protections.

Some of the areas considered included but are not limited to gun and gang violence, juvenile life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, corporeal punishment, childhood poverty, youth justice and children’s health.

Attorney Standish Willis, a staunch advocate for human rights says “civil rights has failed the Black community,” and that its time to look at it from the greater perspective of ‘Human Rights’ which are protected by international treaties he said in an interview with the Chicago Defender.

When asked if human rights would make a difference, attorney Willis was adamant that they would. “We brought together a team of attorneys and decided to pursue torture charges against Jon Burge under international law,” he stated. This was part of the strategy to hold Burge accountable for the torture that took place under his command at Area 2.

The City of Chicago’s Resolution Adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children states in part:

WHEREAS, the City of Chicago has high aspirations and standards for its children and families and is constantly seeking ways to improve their lives and ensure an environment that protects children’s health; and

WHEREAS, the City of Chicago is one of only two U.S. cities distinguished as a UNICEF Child-Friendly City; and

WHEREAS, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child enhances Chicago’s stature as a municipal leader in promoting the care and well-being of children

IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Mayor and members of the City Council of Chicago will advance policies and practices that are in harmony with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in all city agencies and organizations that address issues directly affecting the City’s children.

If Chicago truly wants to honor this resolution, then more teens should have access to attorneys up front when arrested and not after they’re booked and interrogated,” says a CPD employee who asked to remain anonymous.

Citing recent legislation that passed the General Assembly mandating that attorneys be present for youth up to a certain age (15) and for certain offenses; Sheley states “It is not legal [interrogation] if the youth invokes their right to an attorney. And “most people are denied access to an attorney at the station.”


Cassanova-Willis says “Despite the law saying you have a right to make a phone call,” she insists that “Chicago Police continue to violate the spirit of the law by not allowing people to make that phone call. It’s selective and doesn’t work the same way in every community.”

“…People should tell the police that they want to remain silent and would like to call FDLA,” says Karen Sheley.

If you or someone you know gets arrested, you can contact the FDLA for free representation at 1-800-Law-Rep-4 or 1-800-529-7374. Visit their website at https://www.first-defense.org/

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