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Retribution Charged in Arrest of Activist's Son

When members of the Humboldt Park community heard that Ruth Pena's 17-year-old son had been arrested for attempted murder on the afternoon of March 4, in Pena's backyard in Humboldt Park, many figured the arrest was retribution for
Pena’s constant lobbying to expose police misconduct, corruption and wrongful convictions coming out of Area 5.
When members of the Humboldt Park community heard that Ruth Pena's 17-year-old son had been arrested for attempted murder on the afternoon of March 4, in Pena's backyard in Humboldt Park, many figured the arrest was retribution for
Pena’s constant lobbying to expose police misconduct, corruption and wrongful convictions coming out of Area 5.

When police released Pena’s son several hours later, after a crowd of activists and media had gathered outside the 14th District police station at Shakespeare and California avenues, they felt even more sure.

Pena was told that her son had been picked out of a line-up by a young man who had had two shots fired at him sometime in the last 24 hours. Then, she was told, the victim hadn't identified her son after all. Pena said she was told the release was proof that "the system works." Pena and the crowd that gathered outside the police station saw it differently.

"The police are exacting political retribution," said Andy Thayer, a leader of the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network. "It takes tremendous courage to do what Ruth has done. We need to tell [State’s Attorney] Dick Devine that we will not
tolerate brutality. Dick Devine, you must start prosecuting these brutal, corrupt cops who are going after ordinary citizens."

Pena is one of the founders of the Comite Exijimos Justicia, Spanish for "Committee Demanding Justice," a grassroots organization that has lobbied against police misconduct in Area 5 that includes coerced or fake confessions, planting or fabricating of evidence and other acts resulting in wrongful convictions.

Last summer, Pena's brother Angel Rodriguez was released from prison after the courts overturned his wrongful murder conviction. Many members of the Comite have family members in prison who they say were framed, abused and wrongfully convicted. In the past year the Mexican Consulate has gotten involved with the Comite in working on the cases of Death Row inmate Mario Flores and others.

Pena has also been an outspoken advocate for four Polish immigrants, two of whom are currently on trial, charged with the 1997 murder of an elderly Polish immigrant. There is no physical evidence linking the four to the slaying; they were charged almost solely on confessions written in English that they signed, even though they don’t speak English and were denied a translator. The case was already in its third hung jury as this issue went to press.

"There is a chronic epidemic of police misconduct,extortion of confessions and cooking of evidence against Polish and Latino immigrants in Area Five," said Chris Geovanis, a leader of the group Neighbors Against Police Brutality.

Pena said that while she is relieved at her son’s release, she is fearful of what police are likely to do to her family in the future.

"Now his fingerprints and photo are in the system, even though he didn't do anything," she said. "That's the way they start – get kids in with no physical evidence and make them feel like criminals."

"If one hair of this kid’s head is touched, the wrath of the community will come down on the police," said Geovanis.
 
 

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