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Surveillance state

There were elements of irony as President Obama paid tribune to Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

While Obama stressed the need for economic progress in his speech, he honored the memory of a staunch proponent of peace while himself planning a military assault on Syria.  And he honored one of the most prominent victims of illegal surveillance in the nation’s history, at a time when he’s defending a surveillance program of unprecedented scope.

Some of these issues will be explored Thursday night in a program on “the rise of the total surveillance state and the war on a free press,” sponsored by Chicago Area Peace Action at North Park University, 5137 N. Spaulding (August 29, 7:30 p.m.).

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Whose firebombs?

The Associated Press has the best report I’ve seen about the alleged firebombing conspiracy in Bridgeport, noting that defense lawyers say there were police infiltrators who stayed in the targeted apartments, and that they were the ones who brought the firebombs there.

(The Sun Times reports that undercover officers were present when the alleged firebombs were made, presenting that fact as evidence for the veracity of the charges.)

“Longtime observers of police tactics said the operation seemed similar to those conducted by authorities in other cities before similarly high-profile events,” according to the AP.

AP cites the RNC 8 – eight young people involved in planning protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008 who were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism under Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act.  When it was finally resolved, five accepted plea deals for misdemeanor conspiracy to damage property – one got 91 days, the others no jail time – and charges were dropped against the other three.

Kind of not such a big deal as the initial headlines would have indicated.

Chicago police have a long history of infiltrating peaceful protest groups and fomenting violence – it’s one reason the Red Squad was banned by a federal court order (later lifted at the request of Mayor Daley) – and infiltration of protest groups seems to be standard operating procedure for “national security events.”

And nationally since 9/11, an embarrassing proportion of “anti-terrorism” cases have involved plots proposed, planned, and enabled by police agents. That seems to have been the case – in just the past month — with the Wrigley bomber as well as the alleged bombing plot of a group of Cleveland anarchists who supposedly “discussed” disrupting the NATO summit. Sometimes you wonder whether such efforts are directed at keeping us safe or “putting points on the board” – or, when big protests are planned, generating scare headlines.

“This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear and to create this public perception that protests are violent,” said Michael Deutsch of the National Lawyers Guild.

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Chris Drew

A federal court ruled against the Illinois eavesdropping law that Chris Drew has spent two years fighting on Tuesday – a day after the activist artist died.

While fighting the eavesdropping law, Chris was also fighting cancer – conducting both fights with remarkable courage, grace, and generosity of spirit.

 

Photo by Nancy Bechtol

Today’s court ruling allows the ACLU to carry out a project monitoring police conduct during NATO protests later this month.  The felony eavesdropping charge pursued against Chris by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was thrown out in March, the judge ruling that the statute criminalizes “wholly innocent behavior.”

That wasn’t the law Chris had set out to challenge.  He’d been arrested in December 2009 protesting Chicago’s prohibitive peddler’s license ordinance, which requires street artists to re-apply every month for a “free speech permit” and restricts them to ten corners in the Loop.

With its new cultural plan, the city should finally listen to Chris and open our streets to artists selling their work, as every other city in the world does.

Chris founded the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center over 20 years ago and taught silkscreening to anyone interested, without charge, including a new generation of grafitti artists and taggers.

UMCAC’s annual “Art of the T Shirt” festival developed into a year-round Art Patch Project.  Chris and his colleagues would set up a silkscreen on the street and create and give away small patches carrying designs and messages – and he would talk to anyone interested about the importance of art and free speech.

Last month Occupy Rogers Park honored Chris by re-naming Morse Avenue “Chris Drew Way.” At the event, Chris called for artists to occupy the corner of Michigan and Randolph this spring to keep the pressure up for a sane policy on street artists.

“The most important thing to say is that Chris died as he lived, fighting all the way for the dispossessed and marginalized among us, for the right of artists to speak their mind and to survive,” commented Lew Rosenbaum, of the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival blog, in a Facebook post. “Chris devoted his life to providing the artistic means for people to discover their creativity and to participate in the transformation of society.”

Protestors offered Daley Plaza permit

A California activist who holds a city permit for a rally at Daley Plaza on May 20 has offered to step aside for a local anti-war coalition, organizers say.

The city rejected a permit application from the Coalition Against NATO/G8 to move their rally and march from May 19 – when the G8 summit was originally scheduled to meet – to May 20, when NATO will be convening at McCormick Place, saying someone else has a permit for the Daley Plaza that day.

But CANG8 has heard from the individual holding the permit that she would step aside to accommodate the coalition’s plan, Joe Iosbaker said.  He said the city has been informed of this development.

The city rejected CANG8’s plan for a march from the Daley Plaza to McCormick Place, offering an alternative route that Iosbaker said was unacceptable because  it’s far less visible.  He said city’s argument that it lacks manpower to police the original route is “absurd.”

Protest permits issued under existing ordinance

The city is granting permits for protests at the upcoming NATO/G8 summits under the existing parade ordinance, making it hard to follow Mayor Emanuel’s argument that a new ordinance is needed in time for the summits.

Last month Emanuel introduced revisions to the parade ordinance – adding an array of bureacratic requirements for protest organizers — as part of a package of changes to the municipal code he said was “appropriate for a unique event.” He later said he “made a mistake” saying the changes would be temporary.

The City Council is set to begin considering the proposals next week.

But on Thursday the city approved the application for a parade route from the Coalition Against NATO and G8 for a march from Daley plaza to a rally at 23rd and Indiana, near the summit site at McCormick Place (with the proviso that the Secret Service could override the approval).

‘Current ordinance adequate’

“The issuance of this permit shows that the current ordinances, while not perfect, are more than adequate for large public events in our city, and that the Mayor should rescind his proposed anti-protester ordinances,” said Andy Thayer of CANG8.

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An acquital – but not justice – for Tiawanda Moore

Tiawanda Moore’s acquittal Wednesday raises a range of issues:  about the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law; about the role of the State’s Attorney and the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division in protecting abusive officers; and about media treatment of female victims of sexual crimes, and especially of young African American women.

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NATO/G8 protestors assert free speech rights

With Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announcing preparations for “mass arrests” of protestors at NATO and G8 summits in Chicago next May, a group of peace, labor, and community activists are calling on Mayor Emanuel to guarantee the right to free speech.

Activists including Rudy Lozano, Kathy Kelly, and SEIU Local 73 president Christine Boardman will deliver a letter to Emanuel on Thursday morning calling on him to “guarantee civil liberties” and issue permits for rallies and marches during the summits. A press conference is planned for 11:30 a.m., Thursday, July 28, on the fifth floor of City Hall.

In a release, the NATO/G8 Working Group points to the city’s “dismal track record of suppressing peaceful protestors” including “a decade-long effort to thwart peace activists’ right to assemble and march to oppose U.S. wars.”

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Chris Drew comes through

The melodramatic lead to Wednesday’s post backfired — most happily — when Chris Drew showed up as usual for the Making Media Connections conference.   (He made a few media connections, too.)  Here he is with his display of art patches:

C. Drew at 2011 MMC conference



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