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Two fighters

Photo by Nancy Bechtol

For the first time since I can remember, Chris Drew won’t be at Community Media Workshop’s annual conference today and tomorrow.  [Update: Chris Drew comes through]

Normally he’d volunteer for a shift at the registration table and spend the rest of the time sitting in a corner, silk-screening and handing out art patches, and talking to anyone who’s interested about free speech and arts policy in Chicago.

This year he’s fighting a felony charge of illegal eavesdropping – he audiotaped his own arrest back in December 2009 as he challenged the city’s peddlar’s ordinance – and in April he announced that he’s fighting lung cancer.  I reached him by phone Tuesday but couldn’t talk much, since he was headed into a chemotherapy session at Cook County Hospital.

Details of his case are here (also see Newstips’ First Amendment two-fer).

An ACLU lawsuit challenging the eavesdropping law under which Drew is charged was dismissed earlier this year; that ruling is being appealed.  “We are concerned about people’s ability to monitor police activity in public,” Ed Yohnka said.  A Chicago Tribune editorial called the law “indefensible.”

Chris’s gentle appearance and manner can be deceiving:  he’s a fighter. “I have a ’60s bent to me,” he explained to Chicago News Coop in January. “I won’t back down. I won’t be intimidated.”

He’s been fighting for free speech in Chicago for years; he’s refused to back down in the face of an outrageous prosecution.  He’s been contacting legislators about fixing the eavesdropping law.  (And maybe a new arts-friendly mayor will take a new look at the peddlars’ ordinance?)

Meanwhile his art patch project is going nationwide, with exhibits scheduled in Seattle and San Francisco.  But under the financial strain, he sent out an e-mail recently saying the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center is in danger of closing.  Chris founded the center in 1987; it teaches silk-screening and holds an annual Art of the T-Shirt festival.  Donations are welcome.

Free speech for artists has been the fight of Chris’s life.  It’s expanded dramatically: now he’s defending free speech rights for all of us.  And there’s a new front.  In the midst of all this, he’s fighting for his life.  We’re pulling for you, Chris.

Meanwhile, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez should drop all charges against Chris Drew.  And the City Council and General Assembly should fix these laws.

Tiawanda Moore is another fighter.  There’s no telling how many young women are sexually harassed by police. Most, understandably, are too scared to complain about it.  Moore wasn’t.

When she went to police headquarters last August to file a complaint and Internal Affairs officers tried to dissuade her, she started recording them on her cell phone.  When they noticed, they arrested her under the same eavesdropping law that Drew is charged with violating.

Moore had a court date scheduled for today, with her attorney, Robert W. Johnson, continuing to press for a trial date.  The state’s attorney has won a series of continuances.

As CNC reported, Johnson argues that the Internal Affairs officers were violating the law, and the eavesdropping statute exempts people who have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed.

The prosecution of Moore is “just appalling,” said Melissa Spatz of the Chicago Task Force on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, which is supporting Moore.  “It’s certain to have a chilling effect on women who are harassed by police.”

It would be cynical to wonder if that was the point.

The task force has collected over 2200 signatures on an on-line petition calling on Alvarez to dismiss the charges against Moore.

Meanwhile, Spatz said there is no indication that any investigation is underway into the complaint Moore filed last summer, when she returned to police headquarters with her lawyer.

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Category: arts, civil liberties, police, women

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