Since Christmas, two Black women have died in the custody of the Chicago Police Department. But why did their arrests equal a death sentence? 

The family of a 31-year-old London Marquez is searching for answers after she died while being detained by 11th District Chicago Police Department officers on Jan. 27. Adding to their grief, her family says she was seven months pregnant.  

On Feb. 6, London Marquez’s family and community members gathered outside the 11th District Harrison Police station at 3151 W. Harrison Street to demand answers. They want to know what happened to London and are calling on CPD and the city to release all information related to the case. 

Photo of London Marquez provided by her brother.

The family also called for the release of police dashcam and body cameras to shed light on what occurred in the moments leading up to and after Marquez was taken into their custody.

What Marquez’s family does know has been pieced together from conversations on social media and eyewitnesses who were at the scene that day. The family was not notified of Marquez‘s death traditionally, in person by a visit from police personnel. 

According to London’s brother Marcus Marquez, she was in the 700 block of North Ridgeway Avenue in Humboldt Park when police arrived on the scene. 

It is still unclear why the police were there and took London into their custody. Marcus says his sister was standing in the alley near Chicago Avenue and Ridgeway. 

“So she [London] was right there with this white lady and the police, the DTs [CPD detectives] were driving through there, and they cut the alleys off, so people couldn’t run and stuff like that. They ended up grabbing London and let this white lady go and walk off,” Marcus Marquez told the TRiiBE during a phone interview on Feb. 2.

Marcus said eyewitnesses saw police take his sister into their custody and that she was walking and alive. Hours later, she died. 

The family also found out about her death on social media days after being taken into police custody. 

(L to R) Latoiya Marquez the sister of 31-year-old London Marquez speaks to reporters outside the 11th District Harrison Police Station on Feb. 6. London’s family and community members gathered there to demand answers after Marquez died after being taken into police custody on Jan. 27. Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE ®

The circumstances surrounding her death are still unknown. The Cook County Medical Examiner identified Marquez on Jan. 31, according to an ABC 7 news report

“The cause and manner of death are pending at this time,” wrote a Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office spokesperson in an email to the TRiiBE on Feb. 2. 

CPD referred questions about the case to COPA, which is the agency that is investigating. 

On Jan. 29, COPA tweeted: “COPA has been notified and is investigating the death of a civilian while in police custody. The incident occurred Thursday evening (1/27) while in the custody of 11th District Officers.”

COPA also confirmed that it was investigating the death of Marquez in an email to the TRiiBE on Feb. 9. 

“I’m sitting here with a family that does not know who’s responsible. I’m sitting here with a family that does not know who had London in their hands at the time of this situation,” Rabbi Michael Ben Yosef said at the protest. He is the founder and CEO of the Chicago Activist Coalition for Justice. “Not only that. It took days [and] a rumor on social media to find out what happened to their loved one. Why wasn’t this call made to the family? It’s absurd, and it’s insulting. It shows [a] lack of empathy for this family. Why do they have to find out their loved one is not alive on social media?”

As of publishing time, there are no further updates about Marquez.

“My sister was a very loving and kind person. She was a good friend, and she was always there to help everyone. She was that shoulder you can lean on,” Marcus said at the protest on Sunday. 

The family also wants to conduct an independent autopsy.

“London Marquez is a person, and she was somebody. She had people that loved her. We loved her,” her sister Latoiya Marquez said at the protest.

“Can you tell me how she died, what happened to her,’’ Latoiya asked. Still, the family says they have not been given any answers, and it’s been three weeks since her death.

33 days and counting

Just six weeks before Marquez’s death, another Black woman died while in CPD custody. Her name is Irene Chavez and her case has garnered national attention, with comparisons to Sandra Bland. 

According to a statement released Dec. 27 by the Civilian Office Police Accountability (COPA), the night of December 17, a week before Christmas, Irene Chavez was arrested. 

Her arrest occurred “after being involved in an incident” at one of the oldest Black-owned gay bars in the country — the legendary Jeffery Pub Tavern located in South Shore at 7041 S. Jeffery Boulevard. 

Photo Of Irene Chavez

She was transported to the 3rd District Tactical Office at the Grand Crossing police station at 7040 S. Cottage Grove. According to reports, at 3:20 a.m., Chavez was found hanging by her neck in a cell. She was taken to the University of Chicago Hospital in critical condition for treatment. By 11:30 a.m., Irene Chavez was dead. 

COPA released the statement on Dec. 27 in response to a notification their office received from the Chicago Police Department of Chavez’s “attempted suicide.” An investigation by COPA immediately commenced, and an autopsy was performed by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. The results of that autopsy have yet to be released to the public. 

According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office website, “Copies of the autopsy and toxicology reports will usually be available 4-6 months after the cause of death is determined, and a death certificate is filed.” This means it could be as long as April or even June until the family begins to get answers to their questions. 

On Dec. 27, COPA said, “At this time, there is no video surveillance of Ms. Chavez… where the alleged suicide attempt occurred; however, COPA will continue to conduct its investigation to determine if video captures the alleged suicide attempt and actions by officers in the immediate aftermath.” They noted that they would be investigating body-worn video obtained and reviewed of the initial arrest of Irene Chavez.

COPA also noted that any death in police custody is referred to the state’s attorney’s office and the federal bureau of investigation for criminal review.

In a Jan. 6 update, COPA acknowledged that they had obtained body-worn footage from the nine arresting officers in the Chavez incident. “Although this incident does not mandate the release of video and other materials under the City’s video release policy, the chief administrator has the discretion to release footage in cases of great public interest. Chief administrator Andrea Kersten has promised the release of footage within 60 days.” 

Today is day 33. 

COPA has continued to acknowledge that they are in communication with the family. 

Andrew Stroth, an attorney working with the family, said that as of the first week in February, the family had yet to see the footage. 

Stroth questions if Chavez was targeted because she identified queer. “When someone is taken into custody, and they don’t come out alive, there’s a big problem there.” 

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.