CHICAGO — The migrant mother from Venezuela who was arrested Saturday after allegedly blocking traffic and scuffling with police said the confrontation began when police officers wouldn’t allow her to bring her 3-year-old child into the public bathroom inside the Southwest Side police station.
“I was desperate,” Dayrelys Coy, 21, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday. “All the children and women needed to use a clean bathroom.”
Coy said that the officers told her and a group of migrants to use the portable bathroom outside. But migrants living at the 8th District police station told the Tribune that the portable bathroom gets cleaned only periodically and is not enough for the more than 60 people, including 30 young children, who live at the station.
They said the portable bathroom is constantly dirty with a foul smell, and that there is not enough toilet paper available. They also said there is nowhere for them to wash their hands, and that it is too small for mothers to change their children.
Coy, whose child has a cleft lip, said she felt it was unsafe and unsanitary to take her child into that bathroom and that it struck a chord in her when authorities repeatedly told her and the other migrants that they could not use the bathroom inside the station. She said she and the other migrants tried to engage in conversation with the officers before the group walked to the street and stopped traffic.
A video sent to the Tribune by a source shows several migrants arguing with police at the desk about access to the bathrooms in the station. A higher-ranking officer speaking in English could be seen telling the migrants through another officer translating into Spanish that there were portable toilets for them outside and to take it up with the city if they had an issue.
During the discussion an officer tells the group they were told to close the bathrooms for maintenance. Migrants asked the officers if they could ask someone to clean the outside bathroom. ”We are human beings, we are not animals,” a man says.
In the video, “out of service” signs written in Spanish can be seen taped to the station’s walls and on the bathroom doors. Migrants at the station said they’d been unable to use the bathrooms inside for about a week.
“But you don’t take days cleaning them,” Coy said.
Bathrooms at police stations are open to the public unless going through repairs. Police stations across the city have been the landing spaces for thousands of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, arriving in Chicago from the southern border seeking asylum as they wait for temporary housing in a city-run shelter. There are 2,000 migrants living in stations across the city, according to the latest numbers.
Don Terry, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, declined to answer questions about the migrants’ access to the 8th District police station bathrooms on Saturday.
In a statement, he said: “The policy of the Chicago Police Department is to treat all people with dignity and respect in the ongoing work to enhance public safety in every part of the city. The Department is one of many City agencies and departments that have been assisting during this humanitarian endeavor. Our police facilities have remained and must remain operational while also sheltering thousands of asylum seekers citywide. Since the onset of this humanitarian endeavor, Department staff and personnel have continued going above and beyond their duty. We will continue to do so while working with our government partners to find long-term solutions and housing for these asylum seekers.”
According to the police report, Coy was confronted as she stood in the middle of West 63rd Street along with “physical barriers” that were completely blocking traffic. After officers ordered her to get out of the street, she went to the sidewalk and shouted in Spanish, “If you don’t like the uproar today, there will be an uproar if the bathrooms don’t open,” according to the report.
When an officer told her she was being placed under arrest for blocking traffic, Coy allegedly “pulled away” and “flailed her arms” and then “stiffened her body in order to defeat the arrest,” according to the report.
Three of the arresting officers suffered minor injuries in the scuffle, according to the report. The court sheet from Sunday’s bond hearing noted that officers’ injuries included a “puncture wound,” “abrasion” and “laceration.”
Coy was charged with three counts of resisting or obstructing police, which is a Class 4 felony, as well as a misdemeanor citation of obstructing traffic, according to a police report. She was released Sunday afternoon on a recognizance bond and ordered by Cook County Judge Maryam Ahmad to have no “unlawful contact” with the 8th District, records show.
But migrants who witnessed the arrest said those charges are unfair and that many of the allegations made on the report are untrue, including the accusation that Coy injured some of the police officers.
“We were all there, it was like eight officers against her. They almost threw her to the ground, there’s video to show what really happened,” said Genesis Habanero, who was part of the group that protested. “We don’t feel safe here, we can’t even use the bathroom like a normal human being, and instead they arrest a poor mother while her son cries watching it all.”
On Tuesday, migrants received noticed that there will be a deep cleaning of the 8th District station and that migrants must leave the area with their belongings while the cleaning takes place, but they will be allowed to return after, according to a signs posted around the station.
As the rain got heavier on Monday afternoon, Habanero rushed to make sure that her belongings were covered with a tarp so that they wouldn’t get wet. But it was too late. Part of her mattress was already soaked.
“We will see how we sleep tonight,” she said.
The bathrooms have since opened, and migrants and other members of the public have access to them, said Erika Villegas, the lead of the 8th District volunteers of the Police Station Response Team.
Coy was transferred into a city shelter with her child upon her release.
“These people have no home, no bed, no food, the least they can get is access to a clean bathroom,” Villegas said.
Villegas said migrants already felt unwanted and mistreated by some officers at the station, but now the fear of relation is heightened.
Maria Perez has been volunteering at the 8th District, getting migrants food or other necessities and translating to help them communicate with officers since April. One of the main reasons for misunderstandings between officers and migrants is the language barrier, she said.
”No one speaks Spanish here so they can’t communicate,” Perez said. “If there were people who could explain things to them or if they treated them with respect, maybe things would be different.”