Final Update from Chicago

Jesse Hirsh (
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 20:12:04 -0400 (EDT)

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 1996 17:10:14 -0400


This is going to be the last CounterMedia/Active Resistance update I'm going
to send unless something else really substantial happens, since doing so has
become very frustrating. Since I sent out all of these updates about what
happened to CounterMedia and Active Resistance in Chicago, I've been
receiving two different kinds of responses. One is from those who have had
similar things happen to them -- activist friends arrested and/or harassed
with little explanation from police. These people have happily spread the
word to their activist friends and many have sent supportive messages to the
Countermedia e-mail box. I've received another type of message from people
who think I'm pulling their leg or am not being fair in my evaluation of what
happened. I can only tell you what I saw with my own two eyes. The reports
I've sent you are not intended to be even-handed articles for mainstream
publication as much as "this is what I've seen, this is what it felt
like"-type first person accounts. Well, what I wrote is what I saw and that
is what it felt like. I can't do much better than that.

I was present at every single event I wrote about (the arrest of the
videographer at the clinic defense, the warrantless-raid on the CounterMedia
van and the Festival of the Oppressed) with the exception of the second
videographer arrest (Jeff Perlstein being arrested outside the United Center)
and the illegal raid on Active Resistance's center as Clinton spoke on
Thursday night. I was friends with Jeff before this week and believe him
completely about his arrest; I can not fathom a reason that he would lie
about being arrested, especially when he knew that being public about it
would lessen the chance of his charge being dropped. Also, I have spoken
personally with several of my friends who were either present at the Active
Resistance raid or arrived soon afterward and they all tell the same story --
badgeless police, no search warrant, pepper spray. Unfortunately, there were
no videographers present at the raid. Two people did go to the hospital
because of the pepper spray, however, and have hospital records to prove it.
Active Resistance is fully documenting the raid by getting eyewitness
accounts and acquiring copies of the injured parties' hospital records. They
hope to soon be able to visually identify the raiding police officers.

Police deny that the raid ever happened. No matter how cynical I may be, I
have a very, very hard time believing that my friends pepper sprayed
themselves to the point of hospitalization just for effect.

In addition to my having seen most of the arrests personally, CounterMedia
has video documentation of almost every arrest and incident. If you don't
believe me that police were arresting videographers without reason, this is
the sort of information that may help to convince you.

So far the police haven't given any real explanation as to why they made all
of these arrests, though CounterMedia and Active Resistance keep begging them
for one. In Friday's Chicago Tribune the police said they arrested
demonstrators at the Festival of the Oppressed for holding an unpermitted
march and that they arrested videographers because they had forged press
passes and therefore the police could not tell them from the demonstrators.
There were actually several unpermitted marches during the DNC; no one else
was arrested simply for being part of an unpermitted event. I personally saw
police arrest individual videographers and those with walkie-talkies without
any provocation, so the police can't claim to me that those people were being
disorderly. Also, CounterMedia members printed our own press badges because
the DNC would not give fifty kids with videocameras official credentials, as
well as to set ourselves apart from demonstrators. Regardless, I do not
believe that someone deserves to be arrested and have his camera smashed, as
happened to CounterMedia videographer Jeff Perlstein during the Festival of
the Oppressed march, just because he is videotaping arrests without
"official" media credentials.

As for what in the world the police may have been thinking that we were doing
. . . your guess is as good as mine. The only, only violent incident between
demonstrators and police that I heard of occurring all week (that the police
did not initiate) was a single bottle-throwing incident that happened after
one of the demonstrations. (I was not present so I can't give you details.)
Police arrested four Festival of Life organizers (not associated in any way
with CounterMedia or Active Resistance) for that incident, and charged them
with "mob action." I know two of the four arrestees personally and can not
in a zillion years conceive of them throwing a bottle at an officer or
inciting someone to do so. If someone threw a bottle that hurt someone he
should be charged with that crime but charging four Yippies with throwing a
bottle and accusing them them of inciting mob action (a federal crime, I
believe), is in my eyes disproportionate.

Is there something going on that I just don't know about? Did either
CounterMedia or Active Resistance members do anything to threaten President
Clinton or any police officers? Again, all I can say is what I saw with my
own eyes. I arrived in Chicago on August 21 and literally spent 24 hours a
day thereafter with CounterMedia and/or A.R. people. I spent most of my days
going from demonstration to demonstration then back to the CounterMedia
office to write my stories. After the police began to harass Active
Resistance participatns, I spent most of my nights awake at the Active
Resistance center with a video camera waiting to document any sort of police
raid. I have absolutely, completely, no knowledge whatsoever of any plan by
anyone I met while in Chicago to do as little as give a police officer a
hangnail. I'm sorry if that sounds one-sided, but that's the truth. If
someone plotted something violent, I'll be the first one to say that s/he
should be held responsible. I simply did not see any even vague shred of
evidence of anything like that occurring.

Why did the police target us? I have no clue. The CounterMedia people did
have a police scanner (not illegal -- many media do it) and used
walkie-talkies to coordinate coverage. This might have scared police. The
Active Resistance people are mainly punks -- ratty clothes, body piercings,
etc.-- and are all anarchists, which in most people's minds means "violent
bomb-throwers." I know I will never be able to convince people out of that
prejudice, but let me tell you that I did not meet a single A.R. participant
who struck me as violent and did not hear violence discussed all week other
than very briefly in a theoretical framework ("would you hurt someone in
self-defense?" -- that sort of thing). As for why the police arrested those
hippie/ Festival of Life folks . . . I have no clue whatsoever.

In my opinion, the police now have four options --

1) If, God forbid, someone somewhere was actually doing something wrong and
the police have evidence of it, they can bring "conspiracy to commit a
terrorist act" charges against all of us, myself included since I wrote a lot
of the articles about demonstrations that went up on the CounterMedia web
site. What do you want to bet if that happens CNN will be interested? This
would be terrible, but eventually all who did nothing (meaning everyone I
know) would be exonerated and the person who did something wrong would take
the heat.

2) If the police have nothing, they may manufacture something or stretch some
sort of vague connection. I can't believe this could happen, but I've seen
enough unbelievable things with my own eyes this week to at least consider
the option. This would be awful, since then fact and fiction would blur and
no one would know whom to believe. Plus, people are generally more inclined
to believe a police spokesman than a bunch of punk kids.

3) Ignore that the incidents are connected and try each case individually.

4) Realize they've screwed up royally and drop all the charges. This is what
I hope will happen so that we can all get on with our lives and have an
interesting albeit distressing story to tell.

Since the incidents began occurring last Tuesday both CounterMedia and A.R.
have been sending press release after press release to the mainstream media
to get them to investigate these incidents. Two of our videographers with
official DNC credentials passed out 200 copies of one of our press releases
directly to the media in the official DNC media tent; only one mainstream
reporter came to our press conference, and she and her cameraman left in the
middle. Just to make sure that the press releases were actually going out, I
personally called and sent faxes to the news rooms at the New York Times, the
Washington Post, CNN, the AP and UPI. Not one has expressed interest in
covering the incidents.

No matter whether or not CounterMedia or Active Resistance did anything
wrong, I would say that 10 members of the media and almost as many
anarchists getting arrested the day that President Clinton comes to Chicago
to address the DNC is news. The fact that no one in the mainstream media has
even called to ask CounterMedia questions about this boggles my mind. When
does it become news? When police try to connect little ol' me of being part
of a terrorist plot to bomb who knows what?

Of course, since no one in the media (other than in the Chicago Tribune) has
reported these incidents, virtually no one that I've spoken with who was not
there believes that it actually happened. That is a sad but true fact of
modern culture. If something is not on a TV set, people believe that it does
not exist. I understand that reaction, since I would likely have it as well.
Sad but true, most people would believe Peter Jennings more readily than
they would a close friend.

I'm back east now and have been since Friday night so I'm a bit removed from
what's happened over the last couple of days (the meetings with lawyers,
everyone getting out of jail, etc.). As I said, I'm not going to send you
any more notices about what's going on unless something big happens. All
these civil rights lawyers are getting involved now so there will probably be
some sort of legal action, but I'm safe and sound and don't expect to be back
in Chicago for a long while.

To those who you who believe me, thanks. To those of you who don't, I don't
blame you. I've never seen anything like this and hope to never see
anything like it again, though something tells me that if I continue to
report on hard-core activists and demonstrations in the modern day USA I
might not get that lucky.