How the City Cut Funds for Mental Health Patients-and Spied on Them Instead
Two years after Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the mental health clinics, he's finally allowing his City Council allies to hold a hearing on them sometime this month.
If it actually happens, I'm hoping someone asks about the curious tale of Mo and Gloves, because their story reveals a lot about the Emanuel administration's attitude toward mental health care in poor areas.
The tale started in the fall of 2011, when the mayor decided to close six of the city's 12 clinics, most of them in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods.
As I've written before, Emanuel never gave a reason for the closings. He never conducted a study or convened a task force or, most importantly, met with the patients—even though a number of them, backed by other activists, demanded that the mayor hear firsthand the consequences of closing clinics in low-income communities where residents are under stress from gunfire and unemployment.
In fact, the mayor repeatedly went out of his way to avoid any face-to-face encounters.
On April 12, 2012, soon before the clinics were scheduled to be closed, activists occupied the Woodlawn clinic at 63rd and Woodlawn. In the wee hours, police officers cleared the clinic, arresting 23 protesters.
The arrests fired up the movement. Within a couple of days, activists set up camp on vacant city-owned lots across the street from the Woodlawn clinic.
By this time, the protest had drawn interest from members of the larger Occupy Chicago movement. Among those who showed up in Woodlawn were a couple of demonstrators who called themselves Mo and Gloves.
Mo was husky, about six feet tall, and often wore a hoodie. Gloves was short and slender and said she was of Syrian descent.
"They said they were cousins," recalls Matthew Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a mental health activist. "Mo said he was a laid-off construction worker and he was pissed off at the 1 percent and had decided to join the Occupy movement. He said he had a cousin struggling with mental health issues."
Mo and Gloves chatted up pretty much anyone who would talk to them. So they were there on April 23 when police cleared the vacant lots, and they were among the ten people arrested for trespassing on city property.
Mo was taken with some of the other activists to the Third District police station at 71st and Cottage Grove and put into a holding cell.
"I was handcuffed to Mo," says Ginsberg-Jaeckle. "We were both cuffed to a pole."
The two spent the next five hours in the cell together—until about three in the morning.
Ginsberg-Jaeckle says Mo was funny. "He had me laughing, though I'm not sure if it was from sleep deprivation. He was trying to get me to say something incendiary. He kept saying, 'We need to take it to the next level.' I said, 'I don't know what you mean. But whatever it is—this is not a place to discuss it.' I mean, we're in a jail cell."
Ginsberg-Jaeckle and other activists began to feel that something was off about Mo and Gloves.
Mo "was trying to get me to say something incendiary. He kept saying, 'We need to take it to the next level.' I said, 'I don't know what you mean.'"— Activist Matthew Ginsberg-Jaeckle
A few weeks later, the two became front-page news. It turns out they were, respectively, Mehmet Uygun and Nadia Chikko, Chicago police officers assigned to the "intelligence unit in February 2012 for a 90-day public safety temporary duty assignment," according to court documents filed by the Cook County state's attorney's office.
"In their undercover capacity, officers Chikko and Uygun gathered intelligence and information in various locations, including coffee shops, meetings, protests, rallies and concerts in an effort to root out any plans for criminal activities for criminal activity before, during or after the NATO summit."
Ah, the NATO summit. In case you've forgotten, the mayor spent millions of dollars to "showcase" Chicago for the three-day summit in 2012. I'm not sure what was showcased, since the wider public basically hunkered down as police barricaded the Loop.
But back to Mo and Gloves. "To prepare for their assignment, the officers researched the NATO summit, obtained covert identities and created a cover story," say the court documents. "The officers represented that they were cousins; that Officer Chikko lived with her girlfriend; that Officer Uygun lived with his mother and her boyfriend; and that they were both unemployed but looking for jobs."
A few days after they were arrested for the clinic protests, Mo and Gloves hooked up with a group of twentysomething drifters who were in town for the NATO protests. And, well, you probably know the rest of the story.
On May 16, 2012, police arrested Brent Betterly, Brian Church, and Jared Chase—the so-called NATO Three—and charged them with conspiring to commit terrorism. The charges were largely based on testimony from Mo and Gloves, who said the three had plotted to attack four police stations and President Obama's campaign headquarters and shoot an arrow through Mayor Emanuel's house.
The three sat in jail for more than a year before their case came to trial. In February, a jury cleared them of the more serious terrorism charges while convicting them of mob action and possessing an incendiary device.
In April, Judge Thaddeus Wilson sentenced each of them to between five and eight years in prison, much less than the 14 years sought by state's attorney Anita Alvarez.
In the meantime, the cases against the activists arrested for trespassing on vacant lots in Woodlawn dragged on for about six months before they were dismissed.
Neither Mo nor Gloves showed up for any of the hearings, protesters tell me.
I called the news affairs office at the police department to ask, among other things, how much the undercover operation cost taxpayers and whether other local movements and organizations had been infiltrated, such as the Chicago Teachers Union.
The Police Department has not responded to my questions.
As activists see it, Mo and Gloves used their arrests at the clinic protests as street cred so they could worm their way into the good graces of Church, Chase, and Betterly.
The irony is painful. Somehow the city doesn't have the money to treat our most vulnerable mental health patients, but it has the resources to spy on them.