[Backstory: Report from Chicago Spring: Thank You for Returning My Shoelaces and Belt. Now Can You Please Find My Drivers License and Computer?: My Experience Being Detained Prior to the NATO Summit]I’ve been asked by several people to reflect on the verdict in the NATO 3 trial as best as my circumstances permit. Because my circumstances are not unique to people who have dissented or journalists (citizen-journals or professional journalists) who have covered dissent in the US, I will attempt to highlight what I see as the broader implications within my limited knowledge of Illinois and Chicago laws and politics.
Chilling of Journalism and Dissent
When I was released on May 18, 2012, from a detention center on the West Side of Chicago, I was released “pending further investigation.” That little bit of law enforcement manipulation means that the Chicago Police Department, a willing prosecutor, and an agreeable grand jury can decide arbitrarily at any time to charge me on whatever charges they can create a narrative for–unless I behave myself in some way known only to them.
For me the nightmare and the flashbacks are not yet over; nor can I properly say that my constitutional freedoms have been in practice restored. Additionally, after 17 months, my property seized as “evidence” has not be properly returned to me. And while this is not unexpected, it shows another way law enforcement can exert power and exact punishment in extra-judicial ways over people exercising their legitimate constitutional rights. It is just another form of procedural punishment before or without trial in the same way that the procedures regarding the provision of medication to detainees is. In my case that was de facto imposing a fine of $400 or so through medical bills by the manner in which the Chicago Police Department (CPD) decided to deliver my heart medications to me. The same is true for the exorbitant jail phone service racket, a sweetheart deal for the phone provider and an extra-judicial fine on anyone arrested. These don’t apply only to dissenters and journalist detained, but arbitrary detention of dissenters and journalists to expose them to this system intends to intimidate them into shutting up. And it is law enforcement’s way of punishing those who are found not guilty; law enforcement never makes a mistake, there can be no innocence.
The health care personnel at the hospital to which I was taken must now have a strange idea of who might be a terrorist based on the fact that the cop who took me there was waving around my charges sheet. That can only heighten the fear in some middle class communities in the Chicago area. “I saw one of them…”
The use of undercover cops in the way that the CPD infiltrated organizations involved in protesting, strikingly including the street medics, makes one understand that any organization doing anything can be construed as a threat, infiltrated with someone who knows how to get uncontexted conversations to become critical evidence, then create a narrative to make the worst case of the evidence, and take it to court as a high-profile case in which the media operate totally out of the prosecution framing. Needless to say, this is McCarthyism pure and simple. Or worse, the processes that we rightly condemn in police states.
Does it make me more circumspect in what I say? Of course it does. I’m more aware that there is some invisible line that I am walking with regard to reporting what I saw and what I see and advocating what I think as a citizen needs to be done.
Prosecutorial Shenanigans, Judicial Elections, and Political Culture
How bad were the prosecutorial shenanigans in the NATO 3 trial? Some news reporters were hoping for jury nullification as a punishment for prosecutorial overreach. And how lax was the judge at these shenanigans? From a charitable perspective, he allowed the prosecution enough latitude hoping it would come out as some semblance of justice in the verdict. The points at which, in my opinion, he should have acted and did not was in allowing the admission of a recipe for making pipe bombs without provenance or relevance and his failure to rule in favor of the directed verdict motion by the defense before it went to the jury. IMO that distracted the jury from ample consideration of the evidence in incendiary device charges. I understand that directed verdicts are difficult to get, but the evidence presented seemed so disconnected from the accused and so much that of actions of the undercover officers.
Particularly interesting in the evidence was Officer Mehmet Uygen’s testimony that he brought the beer bottles partially filled with gas and stoppered with scraps of his own bandana into the apartment in a waste can and covered them so they would not smell. I keep imagining one of us, other than the three, smelling gas, saying “WTF”, and destroying the carefully planted evidence. That assumes that Officer Uygen is telling the truth about when he placed the evidence in the apartment. The shenanigans in the introduction of the pipe bomb instructions call into question the integrity of the testimony about other evidence. There is no independent evidence that gas was ever in the apartment as far as I know. And a news report of an interview with the residents of the front apartment indicates that the police were very interested in wanting them to assert that they smelled gas shows that the CPD was intent on constructing a narrative even before the evidence technicians arrived.
Frankly, there is nothing in the evidence more than three guys humored a couple of undercover cops in the undercover cops’ own fetishization of molotov cocktails and fantasy (or was the cops’ own deepest anxieties) of cops burning from a tossed molotov cocktail. And that an all- too-brief DHS-sponsored training course in counter-terrorism and crowd control inspired these anxieties and the narrative that went with it. That is to say, the evidence is so scant that many narratives can be forced on it.
And so we come to the elected state’s attorney and the elected state judge in the case. Cynically or gullibly both of them bought into the terrorism narrative in a way that shaped the outcome of the trial, and to the states attorney’s satisfaction, produced a guilty verdict that the judge has the possibility of exacting a sentence of 30 years for each of the NATO 3. We will see on February 28 how far down that road the judge is willing to go.
Elected. And in the City of Chicago, that means elected with the aid of the longtime Chicago city machine that was put together by Richard J. Daley and maintained, even with more independent mayors, by organizations at the ward level and through capture of a sufficient number of aldermen, who in turn have a core of get-out-the-vote workers and strategies to deliver enough votes in their local geography. On items that have high interest with those who pull the strings of the machine–and the G8/NATO Summits were apparently of high interest to creating a global image for Chicago–the rest of the machine moves with the machine. Even Rahm [Mayor Rahm Emmanuel] moves with the machine, he’s no Richard J. Daley. In this case, the state’s attorney and the judge are not free and independent agents of justice.