This Chicago Torture Site Was Exposed, And The Community Respond In a Profound Way

shovel in a pile of sand
Zain Murdock
May 20, 2024

In 2015, the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square torture site was exposed. Seven thousand people disappeared there. Most of them were Black. In 2016, organizers gathered across the street to support protesters who had been arrested. But when neighborhood children came asking if they planned to stay the night, they said, why not? One night stretched into a 41-day occupation.

In an empty gravel lot sprouted a police-free community. Grills were fired up, tents were pitched, hundreds were fed, workshops were taught, and demands were formulated. They named their encampment Freedom Square.

But, in a press release, organizers described how spontaneity without collective values and processes also meant burnout, dwindling numbers of de-escalation volunteers, and unclear accountability for disruptive people who brought misogynoir and crime to the encampment. Still, similar occupations are possible.

For years, there have been experimental Harm Free Zones. These zones are a spreading framework centering community self-determination with infrastructure to handle conflict and harm, including processes for democratic dialogue, accountability, violence prevention, intervention, and reparation. Practicing that framework and others still might not make perfect.

But practice, learning from failures, and practicing more, over and over, is how liberation and new worlds are built. From enslaved ancestors’ temporary escapes off plantations to the Montgomery bus boycotts, which turned one day into 381, the Freedom Square Occupation joins an undying history of us practicing our way to freedom.