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Chicago: Unity movement to free the wrongfully convicted confronts the FOP’s ire

Gabriel Montero  |  Issue: October | November 2019

On July 12, more than 50 supporters from the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) and Innocent Demand Justice (IDJ) filled Associate Judge Thomas J. Hennelly’s courtroom at the Cook County Criminal Court building in Chicago. Comprised of family members, activists and concerned citizens, they were there to support two brothers, Juan and Rosendo Hernández, and Gerald Reed. All three were framed by the Chicago Police Department and wrongfully convicted and now they are fighting valiantly for their freedom.

Reed was tortured in 1990 and had his leg broken by members of CPD Commander Jon Burge’s infamous “midnight crew.” Imprisoned 27 years ago, Reed’s original conviction was tossed out in 2018. However, special prosecutors appointed by the state have been arguing to keep him in prison as they seek a new, baseless trial against him.

In 2000, the Hernández brothers were sentenced to life in prison. The lead detective involved in their case, Reynaldo Guevara, has been accused of framing at least 56 people for murder. “How do you think it made me feel to have my two sons taken from me?” Juan and Rosendo’s mother, Esther Hernández, shouted into a bullhorn at passersby making their way into the courthouse that day. “The Chicago police kidnapped my sons,” she cried out.

With constant pressure, a mass presence in the courtroom, and the election in 2016 of Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney, the families and supporters of Guevara’s and Burge’s victims have seen some breakthroughs recently. Foxx has vacated the wrongful convictions of some 70 former prisoners, including 19 survivors of Guevara’s false accusations – all of which has drawn the ire of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which resists any police reform or mention of the department’s decades of corruption.

The FOP is particularly incensed at Foxx because of her involvement in the case of Ricardo Rodríguez, another victim of Guevara’s frame-ups for whom Innocent Demand Justice has fought. After 20 years of false imprisonment, Rodríguez’s conviction was vacated in March 2018. Rather than celebrating and welcoming him home, his family was thrown into utter despair as the Illinois Department of Corrections transferred him to ICE custody. Facing deportation, he was eventually permitted to stay in the United States after Foxx’s office intervened on his behalf.

Outraged, the FOP formally requested the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into Foxx in February 2019, citing Rodríguez’s case. At least two other men framed by Detective Guevara – Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes – have been similarly handed over to ICE upon being exonerated, representing an outrageous torture-to-deportation pipeline in a city that supposedly prohibits local law enforcement working with ICE.

CAARPR and IDJ joined forces more than a year ago to resist such attacks on the innocent and free the wrongfully convicted. “We’re not going to stop,” Esther Hernández told the crowd outside the court building. “Even if I have to stand out here by myself, I’m going to make sure my sons come home.” As fate would have it, the Hernandez brothers and Gerald Reed were all due back in court on September 6. Their many supporters were to be there with Esther, demanding their freedom.

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