Welcome to Issue #20 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members the information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on, and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
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An Impending Tsunami—Illinois’ Eviction Crisis
Illinois’s moratorium on evictions expires on February 6, and researchers currently predict 21,000 evictions will take place in Chicago alone in the first month. A quarter of Illinois renters report little to no confidence in their ability to pay rent, and only half report moderate confidence. Governor Pritzker first ordered a moratorium on execution of all evictions on March 20, and amended the order to prevent eviction filings on April 23. Pritzker has so far extended this moratorium for 30-day periods every month.
Since November, however, the moratorium has been significantly weakened to include means-testing, requirements for tenants to make best efforts to pay rent on time, and a restriction to households losing income due to COVID-19 and likely to face homelessness if evicted. Falsely submitting the declaration–which must be a sworn statement–carries the threat of a perjury charge. President-elect Biden has proposed extending the federal CDC moratorium until September 30, but this moratorium carries fewer protections than the Illinois version, applying primarily to eviction orders and not to eviction filings.
The Illinois state legislature also opted not to provide additional protection. House Rep. Delia Ramirez revived SB3066 from the three-day special session last spring in the hopes of winning something for tenants. The initial May proposal amended an unrelated bill (SB3066) initially introduced by Senator Laura Murphy to include rent debt cancellation, a strengthened moratorium, and emergency rental assistance (in the form of a landlord bailout). The real estate lobby forced this down to the rental assistance only before ultimately preventing it from reaching a floor vote.
The January version retreated to the moratorium plus short-term sealing of eviction records, a foreclosure moratorium for small landlords and homeowners, and codification of procedures for rental assistance distribution. It passed the House without the moratorium, but Senator Murphy chose not to call the bill to a vote, effectively issuing a pocket veto. The next day, she issued a press release praising herself for “spearheading” the extension of a COVID relief package, focusing on renewing state planning bodies for getting people back to work and on extending the deadlines to renew drivers’ licenses, conceal-carry licenses, and firearm owner ID cards — all the things people need to get themselves to work.
This provides a troubling glimpse into whose interests our state’s “recovery” will serve. The moratorium’s protections will be harder to access, and organizing to protect tenant rights will be more formidable. A tenant cannot, for example, simultaneously benefit from the moratorium and voluntarily withhold rent that they could technically pay—the keystone of a rent strike. And tenants bear new burdens of proof to demonstrate they deserve protection. These developments shift the balance of power back toward landlords.
But these changes are also consistent with the pro-landlord philosophy that guides the administration of emergency rental assistance. While the state has distributed $190 million in CARES Act funding via one-time $5,000 payments to landlords whose tenants are unable to pay, it has prioritized landlords’ expectations that they can and should receive full rent payments and meet their anticipated profit margins. While tenants have to demonstrate COVID-related financial hardship to receive assistance, landlords bear no responsibility to prove that lost rental income has exposed them to financial hardship. Rental assistance can subsidize a 10% profit margin just as easily as a landlord breaking even.
Landlord and property-owning business groups have fought all year to weaken protections, demand tenant means-testing, and preserve profit. They have consistently held up the image of the financially distressed “mom and pop” landlord, exploited by tenants using the moratorium in bad faith to stop paying rent. As early as June, the Illinois Rental Property Owners Association initiated lawsuits to restart eviction court. Organizations such as the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance (NBOA), which purports to speak for all landlords citywide, has published several editorials accusing the city government of favoring tenants over landlords and disseminated anecdotal narratives about the damage done to landlords by “tenants [who] refuse to pay (even if they can) or even communicate regarding their situations.”
But its own survey data from October 2020 challenge its claim to represent all landlords and show that the majority of this group is from the North Side of Chicago. Over 60% of NBOA members own more than 20 units. Meanwhile, research shows that neighborhood landlords in BIPOC communities have smaller financial cushions, higher debt, and fewer buildings than their white counterparts. Ironically, landlords with the greatest demonstrable need are also the most likely to cut deals and share the burden with their tenants.
The larger landlords represented by groups like NBOA have a distinct interest in one-sided means-testing. On the one hand, this guarantees that they can extract every penny out of renters. On the other, it ensures they will receive an unequal share of assistance when measured against landlords experiencing more severe “need.” Pushing the burden of proof solely onto the tenant gives big and small landlords an equal right to assistance.
Because the assistance model takes landlord profit as a given, the amount of rent relief is clearly inadequate to address nine months of accumulated rental debt—of the 79,000 tenants who applied, only 38,000 received assistance. Early reports suggest that a new federal stimulus bill will include approximately $25 billion in rental and utility assistance, though estimates of need range as high as $70 billion. This relief likewise comes with the same means-testing and direct payments to landlords.
In Illinois, the failure of the Fair Tax amendment further limits the likely scale of assistance. With less state support to go around, more and more vulnerable residents will feel the pressure from landlords: undocumented residents, people who have lost income for non-COVID reasons, people who can’t withstand delayed payments from the state, and people with other bills to pay. Nationwide, many have already begun paying rent on credit cards. These pressures will undermine neighborhood ties between small landlords and tenants and push everyone toward the same zero-sum game assumed by groups like NBOA.
Leading a Moment of Silence for One Black Woman While Silencing Another
Under cover of darkness, a militarized police force comes to a locked door. If they check the sources that led them there at that early hour or go through the evidence with a methodical eye, they’d realize that something is wrong. But it’s more thrilling to execute the raid in a testosterone-fueled and weapons-intensive 20 minutes that’s indifferent to whom it aggresses.
Behind the door is a woman unwinding in her own home. She is a care worker who gives back to the most vulnerable in her community every day of her professional life and a Black woman, subject to the twin injustices of racism and sexism.
These descriptions apply equally to Breonna Taylor and Anjanette Young.
Though similar, there are key differences. In Anjanette Young’s case, body cameras were recording, and thankfully no one lost their life—though it is outrageous that this is the minimum we hope for in a police encounter like this. On the other hand, both instances were the result of “Wrong raids.” Wrong raids happen when a warrant is executed by police on the basis of faulty information. In both cases, police had ready access to evidence that the warrant was faulty, but they ignored or neglected it. In both cases, Black women came to harm and were catapulted to national attention.
In March 2020, Mayor Lightfoot, like mayors of all genders, races, and parties across the country, was asked many times to comment on the Breonna Taylor case. She and many others offered platitudes and said “we must rise to the occasion,” while neglecting her actual ability to make changes in policing.
Last September, Lightfoot held a vigil for Breonna Taylor. But she was not asked about Anjanette Young. The public was not aware of her case, though it happened 385 days before Taylor’s murder. At the time, Lightfoot’s office was desperately trying to quash any evidence reaching the public about what happened to Young. Despite running on a campaign of transparency—to “bring in the light”—Lightfoot borrowed a page from her predecessor’s playbook on Laquan McDonald: the Mayor lied, misdirected, and sought to bury evidence to conceal a horrific government crime and prop up the Chicago Police Department.
Police carried out the raid on Ms. Young’s residence on February 22, 2019, around 7 p.m. Young had changed out of her work clothes and was getting ready for bed when the CPD barrelled through her front door, bearing rifles with scopes and flashlights. They handcuffed Young, who was unclothed, despite her repeated pleas that they had the wrong home. After about 40 minutes of a dehumanizing apprehension in her own apartment, the CPD let Young go, after finally realizing their mistake. They offered an apology and attempted to repair her door before leaving.
What followed was a coordinated effort by the CPD and City of Chicago to block the release of the bodycam videos, which showed Young’s horrific treatment. First, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA; a misnomer) stopped Young by opening an investigation the same day she was supposed to receive the videos. Next, the CPD cited the investigation as the reason they couldn’t release the videos. Every step of the way, Lightfoot knew what was going on. In fact, Lightfoot was told that “a pretty bad wrongful raid” happened. Her legal team helped cover up the videos along the way, culminating in the resignation of Chicago’s top attorney. At every step, Young was made to feel that she was less than human.
Shortly after the footage was made public, a Joint Committee meeting of the Public Safety and Health and Human Relations Committees convened on December 17 to discuss “search warrants and search warrant procedures executed by the Chicago Police Department.” The meeting notice omitted any mention of Anjanette Young.
Public comment was unanimous in criticizing the CPD’s conduct, and the overwhelming majority of those speaking voiced strong support of CPAC. Caitlyn Sabato–a young activist who referenced slavery in the US and the dehumanization of Black women in particular–quoted James Baldwin in her indictment of municipal leaders’ paltry commitments to reform the police: “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
During the committee’s proceedings, Ald. Janette Taylor expressed how she felt about the Mayor’s allies dissembling and talking around the core issues, telling witnesses, “Y’all feel like professional timewasters to me.”
CPD Superintendent David O. Brown began his testimony too far from his microphone and wasn’t heard by those present—an apt metaphor for his inability to use his post to affect change since taking the role last April. Asked about the Department’s investigation into the wrong raid, Brown described the top brass’s awareness of the raid as something they found out about in “a nontraditional manner”—to which North Side Ald. Matt Martin retorted, “Yeah, that’s about as polite a way as you could put it.”
Since the meeting notice indicated it would be a subject matter hearing only, no substantive votes (on warrants, CPD procedure, or other pending matters) took place. However, that did not stop officials from attempting to read competing exhibits and documents into the meeting record.
Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez highlighted the inherent conflict of interest in asking the Law Department to weigh in on the admissibility of testimony critical of their conduct in handling suits and evidence in Ms. Young’s case.
Perhaps the most discouraging part of the meeting came from the Office of the Investigator General. She distinguished between two types of “wrong raids.” The first is when there’s a mismatch between what a judge orders and how police execute those orders (e.g., a warrant is for the ground unit of an address but police enter the first floor) and the second is when the information that goes into a warrant is fundamentally flawed (as happened to Anjanette Young and Breonna Taylor). The Inspector General has been looking at all of CPD’s warrants, but since the Department only keeps records on the first kind of “wrong raid,” it’s impossible to assess the scope of the issue.
The horrific events surrounding Young’s wrongful arrest, the subsequent stifling of justice, and the constant stream of police brutality and incompetence underline the importance of CDSA’s call to Defund CPD.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee.This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Rory Gilchrist, Jacob Ginn, Brent Glass, Geoff Guy, Charlotte Kissinger, Alan Maass, Taylor Martin, Ivy McDaniel, Bronwen Schumacher, and Sveta Stoytcheva. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email email@example.com.