MGA student works with first-of-its-kind group addressing police violence in Chicago

Photo, left to right: Leonardo Wiley, Anthony Holmes, and master of global affairs student Helina Haile examine “Wellness on the Inside: Tips and Activities to Care for Yourself,” the Chicago Torture Justice Center’s new guide for incarcerated survivors of police violence. Wiley and Holmes are both survivors.

When searching for an internship organization during her second year of studies at the University of Notre Dame, Helina Haile knew that she wanted to work alongside an organization focused on systemic racism in the United States. Her search led her to the Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC), a first-of-its-kind organization dedicated to supporting survivors of police violence. 

“After my first year at Notre Dame, I really wanted to change the perception that the West, and especially the US, is the giver of peace and other countries are recipients,” said Haile, who is completing her second year as a master of global affairs student at the Keough School of Global Affairs

Grassroots movements and organizations are creating theories that are as important as theories developed in academic institutions.

During their second year of global affairs coursework, most international peace studies students work for six months with an organization that focuses on peace and justice issues. While Haile was searching for an organization, David Anderson Hooker, associate professor of the practice of conflict transformation and peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and vice chair of CTJC’s board, asked Haile if she would be interested in working at CTJC, engaging the development and evolution of its “politicized healing model.”  

“To look at peace, justice, trauma, and community in our own backyard—less than 100 miles away from Notre Dame—was a really excellent opportunity,” said Hooker. “And because CTJC is engaging an emerging set of ideas, it wasn’t just that the center would be good for Helina, but she would be good for the center, too. She could join in the conversation about how to articulate politicized healing.”

Helina Haile talking at CTJC
Photo, left to right: Master of global affairs student Helina Haile with Ariel Atkins of Black Lives Matter Chicago and Chicago Torture Justice Center co-executive directors Aislinn Pulley and Cindy Eigler.

CTJC was established as a result of the 2015 Reparations Ordinance passed by Chicago’s City Council. It was created to address the impact of racially motivated police torture during former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge’s tenure (1972 to 1991). The ordinance came after three decades of activism led by survivors, their family members, and allies across Chicago.

To fulfill this mandate, CTJC leaders developed the politicized healing model which includes three focus areas: healing from trauma through traditional and non-traditional approaches including counseling, support groups, music, acupuncture, and boxing; working to dismantle systems that perpetuate racial violence; and developing new frameworks for community justice and accountability. 

We need to look at what’s happening to Brown and Black people in the United States as acts of terror.

“There’s so much talk about reparations on a national scale, but it’s being used in really limited ways,” said Cindy Eigler, co-executive director at CTJC and Haile’s supervisor during her time at the Center. “If you look at just financial and material redress, you’re really disappearing so much of the emotional, physical, and spiritual harm that needs to be addressed. In everything we do, we want to promote a more honest and holistic conversation that can get to real repair.”

After Hooker’s invitation, Haile was excited to learn more about this cutting-edge work and contacted staff members about an internship. At CTJC she served as a first point of contact, working to build relationships with survivors and fielding questions from journalists and others interested in the Center. Haile’s daily activities also included helping to build an archive to document the Center’s work, engaging with a boxing program, and providing graphic design services. 

Helina Haile boxing at CTJC
Photo, left to right: Chicago Torture Justice Center Learning Fellow Gregory Banks, a survivor of police violence who now leads the organization’s new boxing program, with MGA student Helina Haile.

“Almost every day I see connections here to the wisdom of people of color we read in class, like Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality and Paolo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed,” says Haile. “Being here has allowed me to break the scholar-practitioner divide and not reinforce it, and I’m looking at ways that I can go back to Notre Dame and emphasize the fact that grassroots movements and organizations are creating theories that are as important as theories talked about in academic institutions.” 

Working alongside CTJC staff, Haile had a front row seat to witness the first US municipality commit to providing reparations to those harmed by racially motivated police violence. CTJC takes its trailblazing role seriously. Staff are making its resources and publications available online at no cost and are also seeking new ways to tell their story publicly to support other communities interested in similar efforts. 

“The way that state-sponsored violence and targeted exclusion happens in various communities around the country might differ, but if we can fully and effectively articulate how politicized healing works, you can take that idea and apply it in other contexts,” said Hooker. “That’s the most important export.” 

white board at CTJC
Photo: Ground rules for a meeting of RISE (Realizing and Implementing Strategies to End Police Violence), a program of the Chicago Torture Justice Center.

CTJC’s impact and reach continues to expand. In 2019, the Center provided therapeutic services for 193 individuals and reached hundreds more through its speakers bureau, public events, and community programs. But despite the demonstrated need for CTJC’s services, the future remains uncertain. Because the US government does not acknowledge “domestic torture,” CTJC is not eligible for federal funding. Funding from Illinois and the city of Chicago remains uncertain—leaving the organization to rely increasingly on private donations and grants. 

This financial struggle, as well as CTJC’s wide-ranging reparations work and its focus on ending police violence, served as an encouragement to Haile to expand the frameworks for justice and peacebuilding she encountered in the classroom at Notre Dame.

“This work is a reframing of what we conceptualize as terrorism or torture,” she said. “International peace studies has a tendency to look at these concepts as something that happens ‘over there,’ but we need to also look at what’s happening to Brown and Black people in the United States as acts of terror, too.”

Photography by Ez Powers.

Originally published at kroc.nd.edu on January 24, 2020/


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