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Good Cop? Bad Cop? No Cop! Queer Resistance to Policing

By Therese Quinn and Erica R. Meiners | Windy City Times

Mattachine Midwest Newspaper, October 1965, Vol. No. 4, p. 3 (Photo credit: Windy City Times)

With the release of the tape of the police execution of seven-teen year old Laquan McDonald, police reform is again in the air in Chicago. Many activists and community members have asserted that police violence is neither new nor can it be solved with “more and better” policing. Organizations such as BYP 100, a leading voice in the ongoing struggle against police violence in Chicago and beyond, are calling for funding Black futures, defunding the police, and re-thinking public safety. Erica Meiners and Therese Quinn offer a sober reminder that this is a very queer and ongoing quest.

In September 1969 a gay man, David Stienecker, wrote a column in the Mattachine Midwest ( MM ) newsletter about a Chicago police officer named John Manley. According to Stienecker, Manley recently arrested “well over a dozen” men in a restroom near the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Manley’s description: “cute, blond, and blue-eyed, about 5’7” and “[he] evidently has a ’gay’ way about him that is irresistible—or at least one would think so, since everyone knows that Chicago’s finest don’t entrap.” The article details the tactics used by Manley to entrap men ( “a young man goes into a restroom to relieve himself—you know, urinate … Officer Manley lurks behind a door; zap, young man is arrested” ) and post-arrest abuse ( “No chance for making call—’use a quarter, fag.’” ).

In the late 1960s the Chicago Police Department had a policy that was initially called Stop-and-Quiz, and in 1967 was renamed Stop-And-Frisk. If suspected of being a homosexual the police policy was to “stop” and “quiz” or “frisk” and to create a “contact card” containing a host of personal information, to be held at the police station.

Stienecker continued to write articles about Manley’s Stop-and-Quiz of gay men in park restrooms. He included a photograph of Manley with the caption, “Innocent Looking?” in the October issue, and in the next reported: “Received too late for specifics… two cases where Officer John Manley bloodied the heads of two straight guys he arrested… and ( allegedly ) Maced them while handcuffed.”

This attention from the small gay newsletter, and potentially the implications, set Manley off. On the morning of Feb. 7, 1970 he entered David Stienecker’s apartment, roused the writer from bed, and arrested him for “criminal defamation.”

This abuse of power wasn’t Manley’s first. On Aug. 22, 1968, Manley stopped two young people—Jerome Johnson, a 15-year-old Native American boy from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Bobby Joe Maxwell, an 18-year-old Black man from Columbia, Tennessee—for possible curfew violations in Old Town, then Chicago’s countercultural center and gay neighborhood. In some reports Johnson and Maxwell were runaways. Perhaps they left their small towns for adventure, or perhaps they came to Chicago to be gay. In any case, Manley claimed that after he “stopped and quizzed” or “stopped and frisked” them, Johnson pulled a gun from a flight bag, fired one shot, and ran. Manley fired after him and a bullet entered Johnson’s heart. Manley then arrested Maxwell on a weapons charge—traveling with a hunting knife.

Ten years later Maxwell was stopped again by police, this time in California, and despite his claims of innocence, his arrest record paired with the testimony of a “habitual liar” led to his imprisonment for two murders. The convictions were overturned twice, but as we write Maxwell has served more than 30 years.

And what happens to Manley, a police officer with a history of physical and verbal abuse, of harassing David Stienecker and killing Jerome Johnson and fattening Bobby Joe Maxwell’s criminal record? In 1984 he is promoted to the rank of Captain.

David Stienecker. Jerome Johnson. Bobby Joe Maxwell. Remember their names.

Despite the safe harbor of recognition, Manley’s attitude and behavior doesn’t change. In 1995 Chicago’s Police Board finds the Captain guilty of sexual harassment. He referred to women under his command as “bimbos, bitches and whores” and repeatedly pressured subordinate female officers for sexual favors. Vickie Huber-Zoch came forward and complained after “Manley shoved a clipboard into her stomach after she rebuffed his request for sex.” Evita Cabrerra-Carroll stated that this behavior had gone unchecked for years because the women under his command feared reprisals; the “code of ’the blue shirt’ … says you won’t beef.”

Manley’s defense? His attorney stated, “If Manley used rough language on female officers, he did so out of frustration with their job performance.”

Vickie Huber-Zoch. Evita Cabrerra-Carroll. Say their names.

Manley finally lost the job he’d held for decades. But he wasn’t the only problem cop.

Protesters march against police shootings in Washington DC, December 2014. Photo credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

In fact, nearly every MM newsletter from the 1960s and ’70s focused on police violence. Editorials critiquing policing tactics and associated laws, names and descriptions of officers suspected of raids and violence, announcements of hotlines and resources for legal aid, and even “Letters to the Editor” recounting stories of “Entrapment, Harassment, Enticement” all encouraged readers to know “Your Legal Rights” and “Your Rights if Arrested” and taught how to avoid or negotiate police violence and its aftermaths.

Despite this foundational critique of policing, facets of Chicago’s emergent white gay community still believed the police could be reformed. A June 1970 article by historian and activist, Marie Kuda, and one of the few women who contributed to the newsletter, titled, “Morality Laws Encourage Bad Cops,” describes the police as “a fairly recent innovation in society” adding that the “first police force wasn’t started until 1829 ( Sir Robert Peel hired some guys to help control the London mob.” ) She closed this article with a request: “Let’s help the police to become good guys again.”

But Kuda overlooked some important points: First, policing in the United States has had different origins and targets: Before formal structures of policing were constituted, colonists in the 1600s shared “night watch” duties focused on warning against danger during that period of invasion. Then, the South established “slave patrols” in the early 1700s; these, the earliest formal version of policing, were used to terrorize and contain Black people. And finally, police departments were organized in major cities, including Chicago, in the mid-1800s, to control the largely immigrant masses filling urban centers and fueling profit for industrialists. During each phase of early policing a powerful minority formed systems to benefit themselves against less powerful “others.”

In other words, policing’s past doesn’t offer a positive model for the present. Officers like Manley are not just bad cops who can become good guys, because policing has never had a neutral or benign function. Queer baiting, racial targeting, sexual harassment and physical abuse are not unusual and rogue actions, they are common expressions of the violence originally and deeply rooted in the structures of policing. While there might be good people trying to work as police, our current system of policing does not allow for good guys.

Yet, over the decades, proposals to reform the police have recirculated: Recruit more ____ to be police officers. Increase civilian oversight of police. Get rid of the few bad ones and put new limits on the rest. A wry snippet in a late ’60s MM newsletter reported an experimental attempt to monitor police harassment and brutality: some Chicago police would carry tape recorders. “So, if you’re lucky enough to be stopped while on tape, remember to speak clearly.” This year the American Civil Liberties Union of California developed an app to instantly upload videos of possible police abuses to the organization’s server, preventing them from being deleted. 1967 Stop-and-Frisk is 2015 Stop-and-Frisk, and police violence is still omnipresent.

And, while queers were often targets, mainstream gay organizations have been slow to speak out against police brutality; for example, the New York Times reported that “Some…gay rights leaders specifically cited support from the N.A.A.C.P. for same-sex marriage as a reason they decided to oppose the stop-and-frisk policy.” But for Pride 2015 LGBTQ activists ruptured the make-nice status quo at the parades in Boston and Chicago. Boston Pride Parade Resistance ( #WickedPissed ) called for “the City … [to] commit itself to ending the assault/harassment of LGBTQ people of color by the Boston Police Department” and held a sit-in. In Chicago, members of #BlackOutPride staged a die-in, halting the parade briefly to draw attention to the state violence surrounding Black lives. These moments are part of a rich history of creative LGBTQ resistance to abuses by the police.

As suggested by Marie Kuda, recognizing policing as a “recent innovation” is an asset. If we created the system, we can also dismantle it. And today there should be no doubt that the end of policing is what is needed, not more of the same: reform. For help imagining and building a world without police we turn to abolitionist groups like Critical Resistance ( criticalresistance.org ) and Black & Pink ( www.blackandpink.org/ ). And to remember why this work is important?

David Stienecker, Jerome Johnson, and Bobby Joe Maxwell. Vickie Huber-Zoch, Evita Cabrerra-Carroll, and Sandra Bland. #SayHerName. Remember their names and those of so many others, and end policing now.


Originally published in Windy City Times. Reprinted with permission from the authors.

Erica R. Meiners teaches, writes and organizes in Chicago. She has written about her ongoing labor and learning in anti-militarization campaigns, educational justice struggles, prison abolition and reform movements, and queer and immigrant rights organizing, in Flaunt It! Queers organizing for public education and justice (2009 (with Therese Quinn), Right to be hostile: schools, prisons and the making of public enemies (2007) and articles in Radical Teacher, Meridians, AREA Chicago and Social Justice.

Therese Quinn is Chair and Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Museum and Exhibition Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She teaches courses exploring the histories and pedagogical practices of museums and exhibitions. She writes about the arts and cultural institutions as sites for democratic engagement and justice work. Her most recent books are Art and Social Justice Education: Culture as Commons (2012, Routledge), Sexualities in Education: A Reader (2012, Peter Lang), and Teaching Toward Democracy (2010, Paradigm).