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Statement on Harassment of #StopITOA Organizers

On Monday, September 12th, a small group of organizers, myself included, launched a public campaign to #StopITOA.  Less than a week later, my office was burglarized overnight and only my locked up laptop was stolen, although there were computers and other valuables out and left untouched.   

ITOA - the Illinois Tactical Officer’s Association - is a non-profit organization that specializes in tactical training for law enforcement in Illinois, training officers from numerous agencies around the country in militarized tactics including urban raids, sharp-shooting and serving arrest warrants.  ITOA is hosting their 29th annual conference in October, featuring a keynote address from right-wing, Islamophobe Sebastian Gorka, and a weapons expo sponsored by Safariland, a global producer of teargas.  

A group of organizers from several different local organizations working to end state & police violence have come together to make sure that Chicagoland is aware of the upcoming ITOA conference, and to demand that Cook County focus its resources on community needs, not increased policing and militarization. We wrote in our statement of opposition that:

“ITOA is directly involved in training and arming those police, even using empty school buildings as training grounds for Cook County officers. Weapons manufacturers from around the world also use ITOA to sell military-grade equipment to local police forces–equipment that shocked the country when it was deployed against civilians in places like Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge (and is used regularly by repressive governments such as Israel)…As part of the growing movement against policing, we call for the immediate cancellation of the 2016 ITOA Tactical Training Conference.”

This effort builds on the robust organizing against police violence in Chicago, led by young Black organizers, especially women and queer folks, that have won Reparations for Jon Burge Torture Survivors, removed Chief McCarthy, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Detective Dante Servin (Rekia Boyd’s killer) from their positions, and shifted the narrative around policing and what keeps communities safe.

We shared our statement online and scheduled a teach-in on issues of police militarization in Illinois to get more community members involved in the effort to #StopITOA using Facebook Events.

Here’s what followed:

-Scott May, the Secretary of ITOA’s Board of Directors, momentarily ‘liked’ one of our posts on the teach-in event page.  Then promptly deleted it.

-Numerous ‘trolls’ began making insidious comments directed at me, one of the hosts of the event page.

-Another host of the event began receiving multiple anonymous calls followed by immediate hang-ups at her workplace from a number in Maryland.  On one of the most recent calls, they asked for her by name, and then immediately hung up on her.

Then, on the evening of Sunday, September 18th - less than a week after publicly launching the #StopITOA campaign - my office was broken into overnight, with several locks picked, multiple locked doors damaged, and drawers rummaged through.  My laptop and cameras were the only items taken, despite being in a locked cabinet, while numerous other computers and expensive technology sat out in the open.  Ironically, even CPD - who were called by the office manager to submit a police report for insurance purposes - acknowledged that I was the presumable target if only my belongings were taken.  According to the alarm on the building, the intruders were only inside for 8 minutes.  

This is intimidation and repression for political activity.  It’s not new.  Activists working against police violence in Chicago are well-versed in surveillance and intimidation tactics.  My office, the American Friends Service Committee, has a long history of being infiltrated and illegally spied on by law enforcement and has won lawsuits against Chicago Officials for just that.  

But their intimidation won’t work.  Earlier this week, we went ahead with the teach-in as planned, and gathered with over 60 young people from across the city to better understand how ITOA fits into the broader landscape of police violence and militarization in the Chicagoland area.  We are busting at the seams with ideas for how to push back against these trends.  We will continue to resist white supremacy, to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter, to stop Islamophobic rhetoric and violence, and to redirect essential resources away from policing and state violence and into community needs and services.  

Debbie Southorn

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