Defeat in Civil Liberties Trial
Statement from the defendant, GLN's Andy Thayer
Last Thursday I was found guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a trial stemming from my arrest at a press conference on March 19, 2005, the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
On behalf of a broad anti-war coalition, I had applied for a permit to march on Michigan Avenue in protest against the war and the steady erosion of civil liberties in this country, exemplified by the mass arrest of over 800 people at Michigan and Chicago Avenues the night after the invasion began, March 20, 2003 (all of those 800+ charges in those cases were dismissed in manners indicating innocence and are currently the subject of a class action lawsuit spearheaded by the National Lawyers Guild).
The permit application for the March 19, 2005 protest march on Michigan Avenue was rejected by the rubber stamp Mayor's License Commission, and also in federal court by a judge who used to work for Daley when Da Mare was the Cook County States Attorney.
Faced with a situation where our 1st amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest was just given the kabosh by the Chicago Machine, we felt it was important to not take this frontal attack on our civil liberties lying down, but to speak out about it and the criminal war which benefited from the squelching of opposition voices. We organized a press conference on the sidewalk at the location where the march was to have started, fully knowing that we would likely be arrested for doing so.
Press conferences are very commonly held on public sidewalks, including by the mayor himself, and as numerous city officials themselves testified at earlier hearings, never has any permit been required for them. Nonetheless, two days before the event, one of our scheduled press conference speakers, Alderman Joe Moore, was informed by a police officer assigned to the City Hall Task Force that he and others would be arrested if we attempted to hold our press conference.
While Alderman Moore chose not to speak at the press conference, others did. Chris Geovanis, a media and anti-war activist, Rev. Paul Jakes, Jr., a civil rights and police accountability activist, Bill Massey, a Korean War veteran who marched with Dr. King and is a member of the ANSWER Coalition, and I spoke to the press. As Massey said, "We have been threatened with arrest for holding this press conference. We are holding this press conference." After the others had spoken, I began to speak and got out about two sentences before Deputy Commander Ralph Chiczewski grabbed me and placed me under arrest.
Through the course of the trial itself, Judge Mark Ballard prevented my National Lawyers Guild attorneys, Jeff Frank and Charlie Nissim-Sabat, from entering any evidence bearing on the 1st amendment rights to speak or assemble. Rev. Dan Dale, who was arrested later that day, was prevented from entering into evidence a conversation he had with Officer Nenad Markovich of the Town Hall District wherein Markovich bragged about the police targeting me for arrest that day, saying that they would "wade into the crowd" to arrest me. Earlier that day, at a protest sponsored by the Gay Liberation Network, Chiczewski threatened me with arrest if I so much as showed up on Michigan Avenue. It's nice to be loved.
While due to our inexperience we certainly made mistakes during the trial that hindered my defense, particularly on the resisting arrest charge, the wholesale banning of discussion of 1st amendment issues meant that we had to base my defense upon a narrow, technical interpretation of the law, rather than broad principles of freedom of speech and the right to assemble. The upside of this banning of a 1st amendment defense at my trial is that it has provided us with excellent grounds for appeal. We are currently exploring such an appeal to the Illinois State Supreme Court.
Finally, I want to profusely thank my many friends and colleagues who stood by me during this effort, taking the time to attend my trial, testifying on my behalf, and contributing to my defense fund. We couldn't have sustained this effort without you. Most of all, I want to thank my pro bono attorneys, Jeff Frank and Charlie Nissim-Sabat, who devoted countless hours of their time to my defense.
I was proud to be at that anti-war, pro-civil liberties press conference on March 19, 2005. I would do it again. This war, launched on a tissue of lies and slavishly supported by the leaders of both political parties, has now killed hundreds of thousands of people according to multiple scientific studies. The anti-civil liberties efforts of the Daley administration and its allies in Washington, aimed at marginalizing anti-war voices, must be opposed at every turn.
In the event of an attack on Iran by the United States or a proxy, there will be an emergency response protest at Chicago's Federal Plaza, corner of Adams and Dearborn Streets, at 5 PM on the day of the attack, and 5 PM on the day after. For more information, go to www.CCAWR.org