Oliver Anthony was found guilty of one count of aggravated battery on a police officer on Jan. 21. The charge stemmed from an anti-war and immigrant rights demonstration held last March 14, where Anthony was the only one out of more than 1,000 activists who got arrested.
Short notice of his court date prevented me from attending, and neither Anthony nor his legal rep have responded to my requests for information. I'm not taking it personally, though — I know at least one other progressive media person has reached out to him and gotten nowhere.
My long record of documenting activist arrests has definitely taught me to be skeptical of police claims in these cases, but I've heard conflicting eyewitness reports and I can't even make a good-faith effort to cover Anthony's story without his cooperation. He's facing up to five years in prison, and his sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 25, so there's still ample opportunity for him to talk (or cop a plea bargain, if that's what his people are working on).
On to another case in which the facts are pretty clear-cut, artist Chris Drew is heading to court tomorrow morning to face a felony eavesdropping charge for recording his own arrest. Drew was busted Dec. 2 on misdemeanor charges of selling art in a prohibited area (in front of the State Street Macy's) and without a peddler’s license.
The eavesdropping charge was added a day later, and it was allowed to stand even after the other charges were dismissed at a Dec. 9 hearing.
In the post-9/11 era, law enforcement folks became very keen on pointing cameras at people exercising their First Amendment rights — here are but two examples from the files:
At Wacker Drive on the second anniversary of the Iraq War - March 19, 2005
At Union Park on the third anniversary of the Iraq War - March 18, 2008
Photo by Marge Weinstein
But oh, do they ever get hot around the collar when the tables are turned. Even I, as polite and demure a guy as you can find in this town, had an officer get in my face once for having the audacity to document him hassling peaceful protesters with no legal ground (that's not my personal opinion; when he arrested someone, his commanding officer quickly released the activist and pretty much apologized for the inconvenience).
As Curtis Black reported on Newstips, there is case law backing the right to video and audio tape police action in the public way, and the ACLU of Illinois is working on constitutional challenges to the Chicago street peddling ordinance and the state eavesdropping statute that got Drew in trouble.
In the meantime, you can support him in court tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Cook County Criminal Court, 2650 S. California Ave.