By Janel Forte
The Chicago Police Department Homan Square facility located at the corner of Fillmore and Homan is alleged to be a ‘secret site’ where police use illegal interrogation tactics and deny detainees basic constitutional rights such as a phone call or an attorney.
Allegations that the building is home to a Guantanamo Bay-style black site first surfaced after an article was published in the European media outlet The Guardian. The article cites Brian Jacob Church — one of the “NATO 3” protesters who were convicted of making incendiary devices at the NATO summit in Chicago — who says he was held in the facility in 2012.
After the article’s initial publication, numerous other people began coming forward to say they too were detained in the Homan Square warehouse. One of those was John Vergara.
Vergara is a muralist, known for his artwork throughout the Humboldt Park area. He says his detainment at Homan Square was a result of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at a restaurant ordering coffee when there was a police raid. He says they handcuffed him and four others and brought them to the Homan facility.
“I was confused. I didn’t know why I was there. My family didn’t know where I was,” Vergara said. “After around eight hours, they made me promise not to tell my attorney in exchange for them letting me and the others go.”
Testimonials from Vergara and others have sparked protests throughout the country amidst a national climate where public mistrust of the police is rising. Facebook pages, the twitter hashtag #Gitmo2Chicago and numerous rallies have spread the word about the allegations. Attorney Billy Joe Mills is working to organize activists and to create transparency between the police department and citizens.
“It’s more than a race thing at this point, it’s a civil rights issue between the police and the people,” Mills said. “We have to work to ensure that people are being provided their constitutional rights.”
The Chicago Police Department responded to the allegations publicly. It released a fact sheet about Homan Square that seeks to refute the claims in the the Guardian article, calling them misleading and inaccurate. The Department also emphasized that Homan is not a secret facility.
Vergara hopes that by bringing awareness to the facility, change can be made.
“Homan Square needs to opened up to the public, and if not the public it needs to be at least inspected so people can see the truth behind what’s going on in that building,” he said.
In Chicago, watch Medill Reports video stories on CAN-TV channel 27