Saturday, February 12, 2005

Auto-Show Protest/racism

Chicago Auto Show Protest: Travis, Todd & Me.

I was part of the Chicago Auto Show protest this morning--and I was very nervous. Previous years have lead to bad interactions with security guards and police. Cameras have been broken and arrests threatened. One of my tasks was to research several issues of the legality of our actions. McCormick Place Convention Center has a weird status as a semi-governmental organization, and the land is public, semi-public, controlled-access, private in different spots. I contacted an attorney who works with first amendment/protest issues and he couldn't provide any advice besides it taking months of work to pin down exactly what rights protesters have on different areas. He said he is currently trying to figure it out for Millenium Park and it is a nightmare. Great. So I just drew up a basic "how to deal with police interactions" flier including "disturbing the peace" ordinances to distribute.

My nervousness stemmed from my other task of agreeing to act as the group's attorney if the police or security acted improperly. Chicago police freak me out. I spend most of my time at work reading depositions describing police brutality and don't have the highest regard to Chicago's finest. My personal observation of the CPD has also been none too favorable. Besides, there is also the general problem that while law is the best tool for sorting out right and wrong after something happens, but it is not a great shield to prevent bad actions in the first place. We could be acting perfectly within our rights and still spend a night in the County, even though the charges won't stick. Not my ideal weekend. As a white, female attorney I don't fear being beaten, but not all of my 'clients' today share my demographic. So, my real concern was not being able to adequately represent the other protesters because of my lack of experience.

Luckily we stayed on the definitively public property and there was no conflict between protesters and police. My sheriff's ID and clipboard didn't have to come out. Whew.

There was however one unfortunate incident, that I was too late to respond to. For quite a while during the protest there was a scruffy black man hanging out with us. He test rode some of our 'efficent vehicles of the future' and was vociferous in expressing his approval of our cause. In other words, he seemed either drunk or mentally ill and was probably homeless. His looks and actions seemed familiar to me and I almost immediately categorized him as harmless.

The police didn't think so. They requested the use of the microphone to try to locate the owner of a stolen backpack. No one claimed it after much ado. I followed the cop and saw that they had the homeless guy in the back of a squad car surrounded by about six officers. I watched and after a few minutes they released him. Apparently they thought he stole it from one of the many unguarded bikes or piles of stuff. Illegal search and seizure perhaps? Had he walked away with a bike helmet, a panier or maybe even a fancy messenger bag this might be appropriate, but a grungy man with a grungy backpack doesn't warrant this behavior. I really wish I would have been there when they apprehended him.

Besides the obvious racism, this needn't have happened if the police had done their job--and there were many, many officers there. I think there were 8 bike cops and about 6 cops in cars patrolling a very small area. Mostly these officers hung out together in packs and seemed to just socialize with each other. I am notorious for being oblivious about my surroundings--cops are supposed to notice details. This man stuck out quite visibly, and was with us for at least an hour before the police dealt with him. I think they should have noticed basic things about him, including whether or not he had a bag with him. Chicago cops are so racist. I just hate it.

Chicago's Finest: Bike Cops. Our 'escort' on the ride to the show.

When I went to unlock my bike near the huddle of bike cops I noticed that one cop was violently shivering. I thought this was funny because he was wearing much warmer clothes than I. Still, I hate being cold and gave him a sympathetic look. He shrugged back and I went to speak with him. He is a bike cop year-round and loves that he gets paid to ride his bike around the city. Recently he has been sporadically assigned to Segway duty and hates it. He agreed with me that they are ridiculous machines and says he feels like a fool riding them and so do most of the other bike cops. Yippee.

He said he was freezing and I played the brat and 'sympathized' by saying that I had put on more layers throughout the day. [At this point I was wearing a skirt, tights, tanktop, turtleneck, button-up shirt, windbreaker and mittens. He was wearing heavy boots, bulky-looking, wind-proof pants, a heavy jacket, police vest, baclava, hat and sturdy gloves plus whatever clothes he had underneath. Wuss.] I suggested that he stand in the sun and he said that he was before, but that his spot was now in the shade. Ummm....move, perhaps? He then expressed bafflement at how I wasn't as cold as him and how on the ride down he couldn't believe I was wearing a tank-top, but was glad everytime he saw me add a layer. The only thing for me to conclude from this conversation is that I am tougher than the CPD!!! Or maybe I am just a brat.

The majority of the protest was fine--but I really don't think we altered many people's perspectives. Most of the people just ignored us. Interestingly, the few people who yelled angry things at us were holding lit cigarettes. Is there a correlation? People who smoke are also unconcerned about public health or the environment. Seems consistent to me.

One old man muttered, "don't they have anything better to do" and I couldn't resist quipping back "didn't you just pay to look at cars for a few hours?" Another person was more polite and explained that "No, since cars accidents kill 40,000 people and cause massive environmental degredation, there really is nothing more important to do than try to reduce car culture." The man snorted and walked away, but there was a strange look on his face that makes me believe he may actually ponder this issue.

Terrific--a Guy Pitched this Efficient Car of the Future to passerbys constantly changing the Breakfast-Food it was powered on in a used car salesman outfit and manner. It was hilarious.

There was a protester who I didn't know, but spent a lot of time on the microphone--and he did an overall great job, too. At one point I saw him 'chalking' the pavement and quickly was confronted with security guards before he walked away to chalk the street. Earlier I read ordinances against defacing or painting public ways and wondered whether chalk was permitted. Curious, I asked him about the conversation with the guards. They told him to do it on the street instead of on the sidewalkish area--and he was happily complying. We chatted for a while and he introduced himself as Travis, and then everything clicked. He is Travis Culley, the author of the The Immortal Class a 2002 book about messenger life in Chicago. Just last night someone was surprised that I didn't know him.

This book I flipped through at a store, but was turned off by the lawlessness of the way he rides. Some people also consider him to be an upstart and don't think he had the 'right' or the credentials to have written the book since he only messengered for a short time. I also heard from someone that he is pompous and full of himself. This didn't match my impression of him at all. He seemed quite smart and apologized for offending me when he had the microphone. I don't remember being offended by anything he said and wondered what gave him that idea. Apparently I made a dissapproving face. "Oh no, the only problem was once or twice you seemed to be babbling and didn't finish your point." He dismissed this excuse and said that he recognized seeing that look, too--but that another time I definitely looked offended. Weird. I really can't think of what he's referring to.

Anyway, I guess after a bit he realized who I was, too and had several questions to ask of me. Throughout the whole interaction he seemed very nice and not full of himself. I expect that now that we have met we will frequently notice each other at larger events. I wonder if I will still have a favorable opinion of him, or if the other people's impression is correct.

My Favorite Sign:


More pics Here


At 2:56 AM, Blogger Franswiggidy said...

Sorry new to your Blog, but what where you all protesting? Here in the burbs a car is only way to get around, the Pace bus, forget about it. As far as CPD, all the storys I hear from people who have run ins with them, end violent, ie the cop roughing them up. I've wittnessed one CPD throw a kid down the stairs at the Fullerton stop for smoking on the platform. When I say throwing him down the stairs I mean he literally threw him down the stairs! Wouldn't want to say I'm tougher than one of them, at least to their face.


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