Looking Down the Hall

hanrahan art

Trigger warning (cops with triggers).

When I was fifteen I was busted for possession. The cops’ reason for searching us was made up but the baggies of roadside pot in my back pocket were real enough. The judge sent me to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s drug control program. Once a week, after turning in our dixie cup of pee for testing, a small group of teens sat in a circle of chairs while our group leader regaled us with tales of his sexual exploits and doled out free – but unsolicited – sex advice.

Our room was up the hall from State’s Attorney Ed Hanrahan’s office. I’d catch glimpses of him going in and out, wrapped tightly in a cloak of smug impunity. Hanrahan was an ambitious politician with eyes on the mayor’s office. A year and a half earlier he had directed the successful assassination raid against Fred Hampton, the young Panther leader whose bold coalition building was threatening the stability of the Chicago political Machine.

That would have been the office where the details of the operation were ironed out; where informant Bill O’Neal would have shared his hand-drawn map of the apartment, an X marking the bed where Chairman Fred, immobilized by police sedatives, would be waiting for them. Years later I met a man who told me that his father had been assigned by his police superiors the job of loading the bullet-ridden front door of the apartment into a small a boat, taking it far out onto Lake Michigan in the night and sinking it in the cold, dark water. Just another day in the grinding machinery of US justice.

Did you know that your blood can boil and your heart turn to ice at the very same time? In my street life I sold the Panther and Young Lords newspapers on corners and had helped organize the high school walkout on the first anniversary of the murder. In these marble halls, however, there was nothing I could do but push my way into the meeting room and settle into my chair, my face impassive. My duty, I told myself, was to bide my time. To keep the embers burning but hidden. And to do whatever I had to so that one day or another, one way or another, I would be part of bringing the change.

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