By Anisah Muhammad and LaRisa Lynch
CHICAGO—“She could have easily been the next Breonna Taylor,” said Elizabeth Jordan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois.
Ms. Jordan was referring to Anjanette Young, an innocent Black woman who was handcuffed by Chicago police in her home nearly two years ago. Video was recently released of the terrifying encounter.
Ms. Young, the victim, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the footage. A local CBS Chicago station also filed a request. Both requests were denied.
According to the news station, Ms. Young obtained the footage after a court forced the Chicago Police Department to turn it over as part of her lawsuit against police.
“When I saw the story, I cried. I cried because this Black woman was dehumanized and humiliated,” said Juliana Stratton, lieutenant-governor of Illinois, in an email to The Final Call. “Forty-three times Anjanette Young told them they raided the wrong place.” Ms. Stratton is also Black.
On the evening of February 21, 2019, Ms. Young, 50, a social worker, had just gotten home from work and had undressed in her bedroom. Police broke down her door with a battering ram and crowbar. They handcuffed the distraught woman. She was naked and left that way.
“It was one of those moments where I just felt like that, I could’ve died that night,” she told CBS News Chicago. “If I had made one wrong move, I felt like they would have shot me. I truly believe that they would have shot me.”
In the video, officers eventually put a short coat over her shoulders, but she’s still exposed and handcuffed.
She cries, cops tell her “relax,” and “calm down.”
A blanket is tossed over her but flops open, she’s still handcuffed.
Finally, one cop says they have the wrong place.
According to CBS News Chicago investigative reporters, the actual suspect was a 23-year-old awaiting trial on home confinement next door. The target was even wearing a police tracking device.
“It was horrifying to see her standing naked in her living room while police wrongfully raided her home. I was really struck by how they seemed to be looking at her body and still not seeing her. She was literally invisible, and her pleas to them were inaudible,” said Sydney McKinney of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. She saw an example of gender-based violence that included racial injustice and gender injustice.
Police eventually allowed Ms. Young to put on clothes but resumed their questioning.
“I’m a social worker. I’ve been a social worker for 20 years. I follow the law. I don’t get in trouble for anything. I don’t do illegal stuff. I’m not that person. You got the wrong information,” she told them.
She was handcuffed for 20 minutes until officers finally uncuffed her and told her they believed her.
“The activist community finds it egregious that Mayor Lightfoot was aware if not leading the suppression of the video,” said activist Eric A. Russell, who is working with Ms. Young, in an open letter. He called for the firing of city corporation counsel Mark Flessner, who has since resigned. Mr. Russell wants a state attorney general investigation and a city Inspector General probe.
“Black women and girls are often not believed. We are often marginalized. And this is rooted in systemic racism that is found at the intersection of our gender and race. What happened to Anjanette is unacceptable—and can’t happen again to anyone,” Lt. Governor Stratton said.
Not only did police have the wrong place, but the video raised questions about the search warrant was approved. During the encounter, body cam footage captured two officers looking over notes in a squad car. One said, “It wasn’t initially approved or some crap.”
A history of wrongdoing and a city on edge
Chicago police have a history of wrongful raids and abuses. CBS News Chicago uncovered more than a dozen cases of families, including Black women and children, being terrorized in their homes. In August 2013, officers pointed a gun at a three-year-old girl. In January 2017, a Black woman was in her bed when police burst into her home and threw a flash bang grenade. In August 2019, police busted into a home and pointed a gun at a mother and her two-month-old daughter.
“What happened to Miss Young is a tragedy. It shouldn’t have happened. It is heart-wrenching, and my personal heart goes out to her. Unfortunately, it’s something that is all too common in Chicago. These kinds of raids on people’s homes, particularly these wrong raids on the wrong homes, are more common than the city would like people to know, which I think explains the city’s efforts at covering it up,” said Elizabeth Jordan of the ACLU Chicago’s Police Practice Project.
“And I think it really reflects a culture, in the police department and in the highest levels of city government, of a lack of transparency and accountability that is going to make any progress very difficult.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her administration attempted to block the local CBS station from airing the video. A federal judge rejected the request. Mayor Lightfoot campaigned as a “reformer” who would institute changes in policing. She has been blasted for her mishandling of the case.
“We have a mayor who is a Black woman who has come out commemorating Breonna Taylor’s life while her police department is engaging in these types of actions. It’s just absolutely unacceptable,” Ms. Jordan said.
The Chicago Police Department is under a consent decree, which is a formal, court-ordered agreement, to reform.
“We got that consent decree precisely because of another cover up of the murder of Laquan McDonald, where another mayor of Chicago tried to cover up the video showing what happens to Laquan,” Ms. Jordan explained, referring to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The consent decree is supposed to operate as a vehicle for changing the department to ensure that this type of thing doesn’t happen, but the city has missed, to date, over 70 percent of its deadlines. It has shown a commitment to trying to stop embarrassing footage from reaching the public, but it has not shown a true commitment to changing the department.”
Mayor Lightfoot initially avoided questions about why the video of Anjanette Young’s police encounter was hidden. She later released a statement saying, “Today, I became aware of an incident involving Ms. Anjanette Young from February 2019, before I became Mayor, and I saw a video today for the first time. I had no knowledge of either until today. I had a very emotional reaction to what was depicted on the video as I imagine that many people did.”
Later it was revealed that the mayor had received emails about the incident. Twenty-four hours after claiming she only learned about the Young case on Dec. 15, Mayor Lightfoot claimed she didn’t remember the case until seeing the video for the first time later in the week and reviewing emails, reported the local ABC News affiliate.
Mayor Lightfoot said a new search warrant policy went into effect in January 2020. “The new policy requires additional CPD supervisory review and sign off before a search warrant can be sought from a judge, and there must be separate verification that the property in question is indeed the correct location in which evidence of criminal activity can be found,” she said.
She ended by saying since there is an open investigation into the incident by Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), she would have no further comment.
But with anger raging by Dec. 21 her corporation counsel had resigned, the mayor promised all cops involved in the raid were on desk duty and she vowed to correct things.
“You think about when Rahm Emanuel covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald, the only difference is Laquan was murdered. Anjanette Young was totally humiliated and disrespected,” said Tio Hardiman, president of Violence Interrupters, Inc. Mr. Emanuel was also mayor when the Young debacle happened.
Mr. Hardiman called so-called reforms for wrong house police raids “a “dog and pony show to make good of a bad situation.”
“It is not enough,” he said. “When you have a mayor that is willing to withhold some information or force somebody into a gagged order imagine what else she tried to withhold and not reveal. The only reason why she made the changes is because she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. If this had not been exposed by CBS News, this would have been swept under the rug somewhere and it would have come out three years from now,” argued Mr. Hardiman.
In a Dec. 16 statement, COPA said their investigation remains open and an investigation into the incident had been initiated but Ms. Young had not filed a complaint with the agency.
The statement said once the investigation is completed, a recommendation would be made to Chicago police. “We understand the public’s desire for answers and more importantly Ms. Young’s desire for resolution and closure. COPA’s Summary Report of Investigation (SRI) will be shared with Ms. Young and in furtherance of our commitment to transparency, the SRI will also be publicly posted on COPA’s website following the Department’s review and, if applicable, the serving of any resulting discipline charges against involved officers,” the statement noted.
According to various reports, at least seven officers were involved. Their names and ethnicities have not been released.
“The city has engaged in a series of press conferences over the past couple of days now that the public does have this video, and the city has apologized and made all these promises about how policies will be changed, and the city will become more transparent, particularly as it relates to victims of crimes being able to access videos that show what happened to them. But we’ve heard this before,” Ms. Jordan said. She said there needs to be a real commitment to releasing videos and holding police accountable.
Several Chicago community groups and activists held press conferences on Michigan Ave. outside police headquarters expressing disgust and anger.
A horrible reality
Ms. McKinney said there needs to be new models for public safety. The reforms need to be community-led, she said.
“I think we cannot leave these reforms to be made by police or policing experts by themselves. We need a community deeply involved in this process of reimagining public safety, and that goes to also reimagining how we hold officials of public safety accountable,” she said.
The search warrant police used in Ms. Young’s case, a no-knock warrant, is the same type of warrant that allowed police to enter Breonna Taylor’s apartment in Louisville, Kentucky.
Anjanette Young lived. Breonna Taylor did not.
“It’s been happening, and we have victims. Breonna Taylor is an example of that pattern, that mistake that the police made, the wrong address and the lack of information and the lack of confirmation and the lack of them doing their job, basically. That would have never happened if the suspect was White,” said Caroline Gombe, the founder of Black Women’s March out of New York.
She described what happened as horrible, outrageous and a perfect picture of how Black women live. “They were wrong. And still to this day, she has to fight, literally fight. Since February 2019, she had to fight to get her rights and those people are still not being punished,” she said. “Tell me a White woman who has to go through this. Show me one. And that’s an example of how we live.”
“We need to reach out to people who can change laws, who can make some changes in the systemic situation that we’re facing. Real changes, real laws,” she said.
Mr. Hardiman said seeing the video of Ms. Young standing in her own apartment naked with several White police officers surrounding her, brought back images of slave markets of the transatlantic slave trade. Women brought over from Africa were displayed naked, standing on wooden crates to be ogled and sold to the highest bidder.
The video shows Ms. Young standing gripped in fear, which is understandable, said Mr. Hardiman.
Any effort to resist could have seen the Black woman thrown and pinned to the ground by these officers, he added.
“It is just a total disrespect for Black people period, especially for Black women. It was like she didn’t even exist. They could care less.”
The longtime Chicago activist said, what speaks volumes was the Lightfoot administration’s attempts to suppress the video.
“You got a cover up from the top up now. It was dead wrong. I don’t care what messages they put in place now that woman is dealing with trauma for the rest of her life,” said Mr. Hardiman. “She has to deal with this—her body being parading around seven, eight or nine men.” (Final Call staff contributed to this report.)