Civil rights violations ahead

October 24, 2008

Bob Quellos explains how the Olympics and state repression go hand in hand.

THE INTERNATIONAL Olympic Committee's (IOC) choice of a host city for the 2016 summer Olympics is still a year away, but Chicago's Olympic bid is already coming in over budget.

Mayor Richard Daley tried to assure residents that the Olympics won't cost them a dime. At the same time, the IOC has told the Chicago 2016 bid committee that at least $1 billion of public money should be set aside for potential cost overruns.

Judging from past Olympics, cost overruns are inevitable. London's budget for the 2012 Summer Olympics is now running nearly four times over the original budget--for a total of $16.6 billion.

Nearly one-sixth of that budget is devoted to security--an incredible $2.7 billion. In addition to Orwellian technology, such as biometric screening, featuring palm and facial recognition, the British government will also be placing the military on the streets of London.

According to the Independent, "The Army is to be drafted in to help protect athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators from an atrocity...Military helicopters will patrol overhead, and jets will be on standby to intercept any suspect private plane heading for the main Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London."

Chicago's police surveillance cameras can be integrated with the same system China used for the 2008 Games
Chicago's police surveillance cameras can be integrated with the same system China used for the 2008 Games (Codo)

London's security budget is enormous, but it isn't out of step with recent Olympics. Athens spent $1.5 billion on security for the 2004 Summer Olympics, and Turin spent $1.4 billion on security for the 2006 Winter Games.

Perhaps sticker shock is the reason why Chicago has yet to release any real information regarding the potential cost and size of security for the Olympics. It's hard to imagine that the cost of security for a Chicago Olympics wouldn't match match or far exceed the security budget for London in 2012.

IN THIS atmosphere, Chicago residents should be certain that the cost of "security" won't be limited to monetary concerns. If past Games are any indication, residents of Chicago will find their civil rights on the chopping block.

When the 1996 Summer Olympics arrived in Atlanta, the state of Georgia was still flying the Confederate flag, even as Atlanta's mayor bragged that the city was the "human rights capital of the world." As Atlanta-based Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola took every opportunity to attach its logo to the image of Martin Luther King Jr., the city was enforcing new ordinances outlawing panhandling, loitering, lying on public benches and numerous other acts.

To help enforce the new laws, Atlanta's downtown business coalition, known as Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), formed a private security force. "Ten years later, this private security force continued to work with the police in their harassment and arrests of homeless people, and in 2004, CAP boasted a 239 percent increase in arrests for infraction of the misnamed 'quality-of-life' ordinances," states author Helen Lenskyj in her book Olympic Industry Resistance.

Atlanta had just finished construction on a new jail before the Olympics began. The city government even bragged in one publication that it was "the first Olympic project completed on time." And when the jail opened, city officials were quick to complain that it wasn't big enough.

The instant overcrowding was explained in a report by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions. "Police in Atlanta were found to be mass-producing arrest citations, with the following information pre-printed: African American, Male, Homeless," the report stated. "The citations were left blank for the charge and the date and the arresting officer's name."

The Atlanta Games may have been a boon to the city's downtown business elite, but if you were poor and Black, the experience was a living nightmare. "The systematic elimination of civil rights for people with no private space of their own is the chief legacy of the summer of 1996," states Atlanta homeless rights activist Anita Beaty.

Beaty isn't alone in her critique of how the Games were handled. The ACLU concluded that the Atlanta Olympics were such an infringement on human rights that they issued a warning to Salt Lake City before the start of the 2002 Winter Games. It read, in part:

As the 2002 Olympics approach, private businesses may intensify the presence of private security forces in an attempt to rid the downtown area of the homeless, mentally ill or other groups believed to be disruptive or unpleasant to Olympic visitors...One of the most troubling aspects of this trend toward the use of private security forces is that such officers many not be subject to the legal constraints that govern the conduct of official police under local, state, or federal authority.

Given this trend, Chicagoans should question city officials about whether the private mercenary force Blackwater (with a facility only 150 miles outside the city) would patrol Chicago streets. Having helped prepare security for the Athens Olympics in 2004, Blackwater already has previous Olympic experience on its resume.

According to Blackwater author Jeremy Scahill, the company "was awarded a contract for an undisclosed amount of money in 2003 to train special security teams in advance of the international games." Additionally, Blackwater has already patrolled U.S. streets, having provided security in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Atlanta and London may provide the best example of what security would look like for a Chicago Olympics, but this summer's experience at the Beijing Olympics shouldn't be dismissed. In fact, while many were pointing out the repression of the Chinese government, the Chicago 2016 team was in Beijing hoping to learn from China's handling of the Games.

Chicago 2016 wasted no time touting its similarities with Beijing--as it showed off Chicago's existing video surveillance system, known as Operation Virtual Shield, to the IOC. The surveillance system, which has 3,000-plus cameras already in place, is currently being integrated with the same IBM S3 surveillance technology installed in China for the 2008 Games.

Naomi Klein, author The Shock Doctrine, recently pointed out in a piece highlighting China's new high-tech security system, "Like everything else assembled in China with American parts, Police State 2.0 is ready for export to a neighborhood near you."

IF THE IOC was satisfied with China's handling of the Olympics, they should find Chicago equally appealing.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is notorious for its human rights violations. To this day, the city government has yet to fully address questions of police torture carried out under the direction of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who was finally arrested on federal civil rights charges this week. Four Burge victims reached settlements with the City of Chicago earlier this year, but many more torture victims, almost all of the African American, still sit in prison, while Burge lives off a police pension in Florida.

Police misconduct in Chicago is hardly limited to the Burge scandal. In 2007, the CPD documented 32 police-involved shootings, 29 of them fatal. And from January to the end of July of this year, the CPD was responsible for shooting 21 people, killing six. According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago police shoot a civilian on average once every 10 days."

Between budget overruns and overzealous police, Chicago residents should be wary of the impact the Olympics could have on their city. Chris Shaw, author of Five Ring Circus and spokesperson for Vancouver's 2010 Watch, a watchdog group examining that city's Winter Games, offered a warning regarding a Chicago Olympics:

The police tactics, abuse of power and trampling of civil liberties at the recent Republican National Convention are nothing compared to what Chicagoans will face if they get the 2016 Olympic Games. Imagine Chicago virtually shut down for six weeks, traffic congestion nightmares and constant surveillance of ordinary citizens. Imagine how the police and military will use the Patriot Act to detain anyone they deem suspicious...

All of this just so the city's developers can throw a party designed to sell real estate. It would be a tragic mistake if Chicago gets the Games. It's the biggest scam on Earth. I hope Chicago doesn't fall for it.

Currently, there are a number of community groups and labor organizations in Chicago attempting to hash out a community benefits agreement with Mayor Daley and Chicago 2016. Before sitting at the table to sign a deal, these groups should ask: Are the Olympics worth the cost that would be incurred by the people of Chicago? And which "communities" would the Olympics really benefit?

It would be highly unlikely that Daley has found a magic solution to better the lives of people on Chicago's mostly Black and poor South Side--especially since he has presided over the neglect of the South Side for nearly two decades.

What's more, Daley's record shows that any promises from the city regarding a community benefits agreement should be regarded with extreme skepticism.

For example, more than two years ago, Daley told protesters gathered for an immigrants rights march, "Those who are undocumented, we will not turn them into criminals. That is not how we act in the U.S., and that is not how we are going to act."

Despite Daley's word and a law that prohibits city of Chicago employees from enforcing federal immigration laws, families in the Latino community have discovered that their loved ones were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody--after initially being stopped by the CPD.

The relationship between the CPD and ICE--which activists call the "poli-migra"--is responsible for at least 59 Latino residents being detained by ICE by mid-August of this year.

As the U.S. economy endures its worst crisis since the Great Depression, working people need an agenda of better housing, schools, buses and trains, not a multibillion-dollar, two-week sporting event that is destine to infringe on the civil rights of Chicago residents. For working people in Chicago, there is only one real choice: oppose Chicago's Olympic bid.

For more information on opposing Chicago's Olympic bid, [email protected].

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