“Operation End of the Line”: Pig Violence Aids Gentrification in Rogers Park, and Block Club Chicago Propagandizes It

The Rogers Park People’s Survival Program runs every Saturday at Willye B. White Park from 11am-1pm. Harm reduction supplies, HIV testing, warm clothing, food, and political education are available to all community members. All Power to The People!

FTP-Chicago (Rogers Park)

A wave of violent suppression continues in Rogers Park. Around 11 AM on Thursday, April 1st, the Chicago Police Department swept across Howard Street, indiscriminately arresting anyone and everyone they came across. Approximately 38 people were grabbed off the street and taken to Cook County Jail.

They call this “Operation End of the Line,” and bill it as a response to a rise in drug use and supposed “related violence” during the pandemic. It is true that the Rogers Park community has suffered greatly from drug use and overdose; we have heard more frequently from the community of death and devastation from substance use as conditions further deteriorate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this police operation does nothing to aid the People or address the root causes of their suffering. Conducting a violent sweep only terrorizes and punishes the most oppressed of Rogers Park so that they may be more thoroughly exploited by the local bourgeoisie. It is also a move rooted deeply in anti-Blackness, as the existing Black population is being physically removed for the benefit of    white settlers and gentrifiers.

Yet such stark contradictions do little to bother Block Club Chicago. The outlet published an article on the operation about two weeks after the sweep occurred, penned by settler reporter Joe Ward. In it, Ward uncritically peddles the words of pig commander Joseph Brennan and local Alderwoman Maria Hadden, while perversely labelling the article as “original reporting,” “on the ground,” and “sources cited.”

Ward writes that the operation sought to “snuff out drug dealing near the Howard Street Red Line station,” quoting Brennan as calling it “pretty blatant, pretty much wide open.” On his Twitter, he seemed amused by the kitschy name given by the pigs: “Operation “End of the Line” (get it??) netted 18 arrests for open air drug dealing along Howard Street in Rogers Park, officials say.”

For her part, Hadden expresses full support for the pigs, saying she’s “happy [police were] being thoughtful and strategic.” Despite this, she insists that “We haven’t just gone to police,” and that “A lot of this comes down to economic need. We want to really work with the community to help build up the Howard area.” Hadden correctly identifies poverty as the root cause of the recent growth in drug use and trade, but supports exacerbating the problem by putting Rogers Park residents in cages.

It is well known that imprisonment only worsens the conditions that lead one into drug use and trade to begin with. As of 2018, 27% of former inmates in the U.S faced unemployment, higher than the rate the U.S in general faced during the Great Depression. Imprisoned people also face remarkable cruelty and isolation, driving many towards drug use. Despite these facts, Hadden is content to give only a passing mention to the structural problem, while continuing the mass incarceration of Black people under the same old guise: The War on Drugs.

Although 18 arrests were reported by the pigs, community members have said that upwards of 38 people were picked up in the sweep. One community member emotionally noted that he hasn’t sold drugs in 8 years. While innocence is certainly not the issue here, what is happening is pure anti-Blackness, criminalizing anyone for being Black and poor.

The parallels between past and present are very visible. Coded under the language of “public safety” and with the approval of local politicians, pigs are exercising racialized violence against the most desperate members of the community in order to scapegoat them. Same story, different century. The question then becomes, to whose benefit?

Late in the article, Hadden answers this question pivoting to the language of “holistic solutions.” These so-called solutions reveal the great financial interest the local bourgeoisie have: gentrifying Rogers Park in the same way that rendered neighborhoods like Logan Square and Uptown unrecognizable.

Real-estate publication Bisnow recently named Rogers Park “the next frontier for new development,” as numerous storefronts sit vacant at ludicrously high prices. An apartment advertising website even called it “the city’s best kept secret.” The signs are clear: developers are eyeing the neighborhood as a profitable new colonization project.

Most prominent among the “holistic solutions” mentioned in the article is a “community-led development initiative” for the plot of land at the corner of Howard and Ashland. Hadden is facilitating this initiative with Chicago-area non-profit​​​​​​​, Metropolitan Planning Council, in order to “include” community voices in finding “a project that boosts the community with economic opportunities.”

FTP-CHI is familiar with this plot, as it sits across the street from our People’s Survival Program at Willye B. White Park. The space is currently used for a community garden, but many wish to see it used for more permanent community support, with most residents we’ve spoken to expressing support for a shelter for houseless community members.

While Hadden and MPC’s “development initiative” may sound like a means of ensuring community member participation, such processes only offer the illusion of community control, before handing the real power to large financial interests eager to gentrify low-income residents. This is exemplified by one of the MPC’s previous initiatives. In 2014, MPC launched a “Corridor Development Initiative” in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood to help residents determine the future of Stewart Elementary School, a recently closed CPS facility. Out of eight plans proposed by community members during the CDI meetings, all included affordable housing units, and four specified that 100% of the housing units would be affordable.

Those plans made no difference in the end. Morningside Development purchased Stewart Elementary in 2015 and converted it into a luxury apartment complex. Required by CPS to include something from the community plans, Morningside allocated space for a community garden – with annual membership fees. Numerous houseless community members who resided at the Stewart site were also displaced when construction began.

Now the MPC has its sights set on Rogers Park. There was nothing “holistic” about the Stewart outcome, where the needs of the community were neglected ultimately prioritizing wealthy gentrifiers. We have no reason to believe that the same things won’t happen in Rogers Park.

This brings us back to “Operation End of the Line”: aggressive policing and criminalization of an area’s oppressed people is part and parcel of the gentrification process. In New York City, researchers found that rising property values led to an increase of discretionary arrests in low-income neighborhoods, but not in existing high-income neighborhoods. Gentrification also played a role in the police murder of Breonna Taylor, where attorneys representing Taylor’s family connected the warrant that led to her murder to her ex-boyfriend’s rental of a house in a gentrifying neighborhood.

As the effort to gentrify Rogers Park continues, we can continue to expect the pigs to harass the already struggling Black residents of Howard Street. Describing their “enforcement plan” to “keep drug dealers away from Howard Street,” the pigs told Ward that there will be increased patrols, increased monitoring of cameras around the Howard station, and, revealingly, “communication with the business community.”

We will not be intimidated by these escalations. We will continue to conduct the Rogers Park People’s Survival Program, distributing food, clothing, and harm reduction resources to our community members. We reject the criminalization of drug use and the pig violence that follows, as well as the misguided solutions brought by Hadden that advance gentrification.

The Rogers Park People’s Survival Program runs every Saturday at Willye B. White Park from 11am-1pm. Harm reduction supplies, HIV testing, warm clothing, food, and political education are available to all community members. All Power to The People!

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