Special Report by Kristian Williams, Portland Copwatch
For months before the 1996 Democratic National Convention [DNC], the Chicago Police had been dodging expectant comparisons to the violence of the last Chicago DNC, in 1968. The police, the Mayor, and virtually everyone else involved was promising not to make this summer "another Œ68." And that wasn't just rhetoric; they had strategies, we were told, such as giving police pep talks on the virtues of the first amendment, rotating them frequently (lest they tire of the crowds), and threatening dismissal for the first officer photographed with his nightstick raised above his shoulder (as Mayor Daley was quoted saying in the Chicago Tribune).
Another major component of the strategy involved containing the protests, and effectively silencing the voice of dissent. One tool for controlling the demonstrations involved what came to be known as "the protest pit." In its essence, the pit was a parking lot surrounded by chainlink fences and cement traffic barricades (not to mention police), and located blocks away from the DNC. This was the designated area for protests. Every group which wanted to hold a demonstration entered a lottery and was assigned a one-hour time-slot in the pit. The fact that this plan was designed to limit the militancy and effectiveness of demonstrations seemed obvious to just about everyone, and bothered at least a few people. Nevertheless, it did nothing to change the arrangement, and discouraged only a few groups from cooperating.
The only demonstration I attended did NOT go into the pit. Dubbed NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, and organized by "The Not on the Guest List Coalition," this march was basically a wholesale indictment of the criminal justice system. In opposition to the racism and classism of the legal system, the NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE march called for the freeing of all political prisoners in the U.S., and an end to police brutality. Groups in attendance included American Indian Movement Grand Council, Anti-Racist Action of Minneapolis, the Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (Pittsburgh), a large group of Puerto Rican nationalists, and a sizeable anarchist contingent. All in all, the march was extremely militant and, according to one AP photographer, the largest of the week.
If there was a place to expect trouble, this was it. And the press had gathered for precisely that reason. The police, however, were determined not to look like thugs in front of the media. Though they were present in large numbers throughout the march, no one was arrested that night. (It does bear mentioning that two days later seven people were arrested for felony mob action, in connection with the march.) If the police had the goal of impressing the media, they succeeded. The day following the march, the Tribune ran an article entitled "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Protest," lauding the police for their restraint and tolerance. The article failed to mention what the demonstration was about, who organized it, or the number of people in attendance.
As fun as it might be to visit a city full of Democrats and police, the Democratic National Convention was not the only thing which drew me to Chicago. I was among more than six hundred participants in a "counter-convention" called "Active Resistance" (AR). Hosted by the Chicago anarchist group The Autonomous Zone, the convention lasted ten days and included workshops on topics such as community organizing, alternative economics, prisoner support, and COPWATCH. Active Resistance was not an appeal to the Democrats. Instead, AR was intended as an opportunity for activists to build the skills necessary to take control of our own lives.
We knew the police were monitoring our activities constantly even before the conference began. Helicopters flew overhead, often stopping to film us picnicking or lounging outside. Cars followed participants as they walked between buildings. And, everyday, the police tried to enter our buildings, only to be turned away by AR security.
Still, things didn't get really scary until Thursday, August 29, after most of the DNC delegates and major media had left. That night, police raided a main Active Resistance meeting space. They entered through the back door, with nametags and badges removed. Refusing to either identify themselves or show a warrant, six to eight police entered the space, searched the personal belongings of conference participants, and stole such belongings, as well as the radios used by security. Police ordered those present to sit down; those who didn't were shoved to the floor. Pepper spray was used indiscriminately, and two AR participants were hospitalized as a result. Yet no arrests were made, and the police now deny that this incident ever occurred.
Earlier that day, I had my own encounter with the less gentle side of the Chicago Police. My look at Chicago's hard-line police tactics, absent throughout the DNC, came during a street parade called "The Festival of the Oppressed," organized by Active Resistance. The Festival included papier maché masks, music, and a twenty-foot tall "Corporate Power" puppet controlling smaller marionettes with reversible Clinton/Dole heads. I must stress that this parade went nowhere near the DNC. Nevertheless, police arrived in helmets, on horses, and with riot cuffs strapped to their belts. After we had moved a few blocks, the parade was stopped. Police rushed to the front of the crowd, blocking our view of whatever was happening, and shoving both participants and journalists away. Just then, a police horse stepped on my foot, sending me falling to the ground in pain. The police pretended not to notice this, as AR participants carried me to the sidewalk, and offered whatever assistance they could. Within minutes I had been loaded into a van following the parade.
We had proceeded only a few blocks when police stopped the van and ordered us to get out. Attempts to explain that I was injured and could not stand were not well received. The police forced open the door to the van, hit me with a nightstick, grabbed me by the hair, and dragged me to the ground. Further injuries were sustained when one cop repeatedly kicked my injured foot, and later, when they cut my wrist while removing my flexi-cuffs. It was at least two hours before I received any medical attention. By the time we reached the station, I was blacking out from pain. The police interrogated me for more than an hour, some times with as many as nine cops in the room with me. Questions ranged from "Who organized the demonstration?" to "Are there any drugs in the van?" Notably, I was also asked whether I had participated in the NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE march, and one cop even said, "It feels like the shoe's on the other foot now, doesn't it?" The police also made "jokes" about shooting me, and/or breaking my foot in case it wasn't broken already.
I spent that night in jail and was released the next afternoon, charged with "Battery" and "Obstructing a Peace Officer in his Lawful Duty." Since then, the charge of "State Disorderly Conduct" has also been added. Of the 16 people arrested in relation with Active Resistance, six of the cases have been dismissed. At press time, three have yet to appear before a judge. Seven have seen a judge, and need to appear in court again to stand trial. Five co-defendants were with me in court on October 21st, when it was determined that the city would pursue convictions. We are scheduled to appear again on December 9. Though the charges are all misdemeanors, the cases are serious‹not only because they signify a use of the legal system to intimidate political dissidents, but also because convictions are being pursued as a means of justifying police abuse of persons who committed no crime.
Contributions to the legal defense fund may be sent to: Active Resistance
c/o The Autonomous Zone
1573 N. Milwaukee #420
Chicago, IL 60622
People's Police Report #10 Table of Contents
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