Anti-war protesters sue Chicago

By AL SWANSON  |  April 10, 2003 at 2:01 PM
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CHICAGO, April 10 (UPI) -- Attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of people arrested or allegedly roughed up by police during mass anti-war protests last month.

More than 560 people were detained, some for up to 36 hours, after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets following a rally at Federal Plaza, blocking traffic on Lake Shore Drive and on Michigan Avenue in the first peace demonstration following the start of hostilities in Iraq.

"We're filing this suit on behalf of eight people in their 20s to 58 years old," attorney Jim Fennerty, president of the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild told UPI. "By the filing of this class action we are demanding that the city of Chicago and Department of Police take responsibility for their actions on March 20, and be held accountable for their systematic and widespread deprivation of the civil rights of those citizens who exercised their First Amendment freedoms."

Finnerty said two plaintiffs said they were beaten by officers in riot gear and a woman claimed she suffered wrist injuries when plastic handcuffs were left on too tight. Some protesters were held in lockups for up to 36 hours before being released. Others were charged with mob action or reckless conduct and released on $100 bond.

One plaintiff was arrested after getting off a bus and spontaneously deciding to join the marchers.

"You can't just sweep people off the street," Finnerty said.

He said police had orders to halt the protesters and refused to allow the marchers to disperse after they were corralled at Michigan Avenue and Chicago Avenue.

Virtually all organized anti-war protests in Chicago have been non-violent civil disobedience.

Police brought in buses to take the protesters to jail. Finnerty said demonstrators were arrested without probable cause, confined in overcrowded cells, and denied food, toiletries, medical attention and a phone call.

On Wednesday, Alderman Joseph Moore demanded the City Council hold a hearing on police misconduct and alleged abuse of protesters. Moore said reckless conduct charges against the anti-war demonstrators should be dropped.

"Most folks don't know why they were arrested," he told the Daily Defender. "People were not able to leave the scene. They were surrounded by officers in riot gear and suddenly without notice, without warning, officers started making arrests."

Police officials have said they will not drop the charges.

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