To the editors:
Anyone who can get a hold of a copy of the Amnesty International Report 1991 should turn to pages 242-243, under the entry "United States of America." There, AI's now infamous report that "police officers from the Area 2 police station in Chicago, Illinois, had systematically tortured or otherwise ill-treated more than 20 people suspected of killing police officers between 1972 and 1984" (p. 242) appears for all the world to see. (Yes, all the world--with the exception of Chicagoans, that is, whose local media would rather not bother their audiences with such trifles, preferring to focus instead on the story of cannibalism in Milwaukee, about which nothing can now be done to mitigate the horror, thereby meeting the media's Number One criterion of newsworthiness, which says that people ought to be kept in whichever depoliticized frame of mind is most conducive for buying whatever goods the media's sponsors happen to be hawking on that particular day.
Writing in the July 10, 1991, issue of In These Times, senior editor Salim Muwakkil commented that "Since the white-owned media [in the Chicago area] has displayed very little interest in showcasing the serious allegations of police torture, most white Chicagoans are unaware of the issue and how their city is being internationally tarnished." Indeed.
And more recently, in the February 14 issue of the Reader, Michael Miner noted that John Conroy's "House of Screams" [January 24, 1990], which had detailed Andrew Wilson's charge of having been tortured at the Area 2 police station by none other than the ever-eager Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and friend, had been "ignored by the media," much as the subsequent AI report was to be. So what else is new?
The lessons are clear.
First, it is with torture as it is with police powers more generally. They are simply too valuable to the state's project of keeping the lid on the domestic Third World for the best and the brightest of the Daley Administration not to want to take full advantage of them. After all, when seen from the standpoint of elites, crime is a form of dissidence. And Third World dissidence must always be crushed, whether abroad or at home.
Second, since it is the mainstream media's societal function to serve state and corporate power, the local yokels at the Tribune and Sun-Times simply had to suppress news of these atrocities, only beginning to report them when they could no longer be denied, and then only in a one-shot context combining feigned shock and official denial. In this way, the media help to make the next atrocity that much more probable.
Third, let's be frank: inasmuch as the reigning culture of the United States is concerned (I mean the culture in which the people who own the country live--not the other cultures), you can electroshock the genitals of as many young black and Hispanic men as you like. But whatever you do, don't tarnish the image of the mayor of the greatest city on earth.
Last, "These are only allegations," a rather perturbed Mayor Daley said on WMAQ TV's broadcast of City Desk on February 9. "These are not substantiated stories." Now dat's gettin' to da bod'em of it, Richie.
Want to bet the next time the issue of police brutality raises its ugly but quite real head (just ask the people condemned to the Projects), very much the same pattern will be repeated?