'Cops Got Wild': Two Protesters Face Felony Charges After #MillionsMarchChi
Lookman Muhammad’s arrest at Chestnut and Michigan during the #MillionsMarchChi protest yesterday. According to witnesses and a legal observer, Muhammad was standing peacefully on the street when arrested. He initially faced a felony charge, now dropped to two misdemeanors | Photo by Yolanda Perdomo of WBEZ
This afternoon, in Cook County’s 26th and California court building, three protesters—all young people of color—faced felony charges of aggravated battery of a police officer. 25 total participants were taken into custody yesterday, according to a Chicago Police Department spokesperson.
As a video circulates on social media of the moment when, in the words of demonstrator Andy Winger, “cops got wild,” CPD’s Office of News Affairs declined further comment on the nature of the felony charges.
By the time Chicagoist filed, one protestor, Lookman Muhammad, had a felony charge reduced to two misdemeanors, while the remaining two still face aggravated battery felony charges and a $7,500 bond each for release. Requests for comment made this morning to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office did not receive a response.
Andy Winger, a 32-year-old Logan Square resident, attended the protest with his wife, who he reports was shoved by a police officer in the minutes leading up to the melee captured on video.
After hours of peaceful protest, Winger recounts that officers rushed to pursue approximately 30 participants who entered Nordstrom on Michigan Ave. In view of the demonstrators outside, officers “corralled” and “got rough” with those inside, “throwing them on their knees,” according to Winger.
The crowd chanted “Let Them Go!” as police exited the store with arrested demonstrators in tow. Winger, and many other witnesses on Twitter, then saw police spontaneously arrest a young woman standing on the sidewalk, who had been leading chants throughout the day. Moments after, Winger said police “rushed the crowd, swinging and shoving.”
With their hands bound, Sam Williams and his girlfriend Jasmine Charley did not see the alleged brutality take place after their arrest, from inside a nearby police vehicle. But they heard the commotion.
“We were not treated humanely,” said 23-year-old Williams, a Pilsen resident. “But comparatively our experience wasn’t bad. It made me appreciate that I could walk back home this evening. It’s not the case for so many,” he shared.
And I need to say this again, THE STAKES ARE NOT THE SAME FOR EVERYONE. We have to start being honest with ourselves about this.— Side-Eye (Forever) (@prisonculture) December 14, 2014
Of those facing felony charges, Courtney Kelledes, of Cabrini Green Legal Aid's criminal records program, explained, “A felony conviction for aggravated battery is not sealable or expungeable, and will stay on a person's record permanently. It is a conviction which will pose lifetime barriers to employment, education, licensing, and housing.”
Arrested without charges
Williams and Charley followed other marchers inside Nordstrom following talk of a “die-in” there. Yet none took shape and they turned back to rejoin those on the sidewalk. En route, the couple, who is mixed race, reports being separated.
Charley, self-described as “not dressed like a regular demonstrator,” was told to keep moving as Williams was shoved aside.
Upon telling the officers they were together, Charley was then “grabbed by the shoulders”; pushed towards Williams; and told “join him then” as zip ties were placed tightly around her wrists. On one wrist, Charley reported feeling the zip tie was so closely secured, as to impinge on circulation in her hand.
The couple further recounted being held in a police vehicle with a score of other protestors for approximately three hours. Throughout being held, Williams and Charley report that none of any of the protesters questions were answered or requests filled—for water; use of a restroom; or the loosening of zip ties. Charley’s ties were ultimately removed by an officer who told her prior “Don’t move, I don’t want to cut you. I do this a lot, but [zip ties] are not usually this close.”
A New York University graduate with degrees in Political Science and Psychology, Charley was told at the onset of her arrest that “if you had a college degree, you wouldn’t be in this place.”
“You can see the disdain”
A protester at “Brown Friday: National Demonstration for Mike Brown” boycott and demonstration at Water Tower place last month | Photo by Sarah Rhee
Winger, a long time activist from Minneapolis-St. Paul who has lived in Chicago for two years, related that, despite witnessing the visceral interactions with police, he felt the march was “positive and empowering.”
“There was a controlled anger” in the aftermath of the incident at Nordstroms, Winger described. “We could be more organized, but fear is gone,” he said before relating in depth his take on the larger dynamics at play:
You can see the disdain. You can see how they react when we approach business. It reminded me of seeing news reports from [Hurricane] Katrina, of cops pulling guns on people grabbing bread, and people then dropping that bread into dirty water. It was clear the cops didn’t care about the bread, but what you can’t do with business. And that reflects what’s different about this movement. It’s not about bad apples anymore or one officer, but the system. And it’s about no more business as usual.
Part of a national day of mobilization, the #MillionsMarchChi demonstration took place alongside those in New York and Washington D.C. led by family members of those recently killed by police: Akai Ghurley, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.
Torture Survivors to Hold Action at Chicago Police Department HQ and City Hall
A demonstrator at a 2008 protest in support of Chicago Police torture survivors
The arrests also take place in the wake of the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s specific inclusion of the Chicago Police Department in its recent report, stating particular concern “at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people.”
This Tuesday, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials will be holding an action which will begin at Chicago Police Department Headquarters at noon and make its way to City Hall at 2 p.m., to “demand passage of the Reparations Ordinance for Chicago Police Torture Survivors” with the support of organizations Project NIA, Amnesty International, and We Charge Genocide.
In 2013, the Reparations Ordinance for Chicago Police Torture Survivors was introduced in Chicago’s City Council. Now supported by 26 aldermen, the groups will march Tuesday and call on Mayor Emanuel and City Council to pass the ordinance before the municipal elections this February.
Sarah Macaraeg is a writer and journalist exploring social justice issues via essays, data-based investigations, and oral history. She is currently editing a book of narratives from low wage women workers in Chicago and is on Twitter at @seramak.