Community participants weigh in on protest lawsuit

Scott Gordon

As the National Lawyers Guild prepares to take the city ofChicago to court over the arrest last month of more than 500antiwar protesters, city officials and demonstrators are givingdrastically different accounts of police action.

And members of the Evanston and Northwestern community mightmake their side known in court, too.

The guild is suing on behalf of antiwar protesters arrested at aMarch 20 demonstration. About 1,000 people blocked traffic on LakeShore Drive for two hours. The class-action suit, filed April 10,alleges that police wrongfully arrested and imprisoneddemonstrators by barricading them into tight spaces.

“It was kind of surreal, just standing there waiting your turnto get carted off,” said Scott Gilbert, a member of the Evanston’sNeighbors for Peace, who was arrested at the protest and plans tofile in the suit.

Gilbert said police walled in protesters with human barricadeson the east and west sides of the crowd and prevented them fromleaving the congested demonstration site.

But David Bayless, spokesman for Chicago Police Department, saidofficers attempted to safely direct protesters off Lake Shore. Butsome of the demonstrators blocked emergency routes to hospitals andfire stations, he said.

“We had (officers) containing everyone, but people were giventhe option to leave ,” Bayless said. “And 9,900 of them did.”

Bayless said his department strives to balance the rights ofprotesters with the rights of other citizens. “There’s a knowledgethat they’re breaking the law, and that’s a part of theirstatement,” he said.

Police began arresting demonstrators two-and-a-half hours afterthe protests began. An officer arrested Gilbert without reading hisMiranda rights, he said.

Police loaded Gilbert into a van and drove him to a stationwhere he was moved between four brightly lit cells throughout thenight, he said.

Weinberg junior Daved Baltmanis, who attended the demonstrationwith two other NU students, said he thought protesters were givenan “ample opportunity” to disperse, but that police did not informprotesters that they would be arrested if they did not leave thearea.

Baltmanis and his friends said they got off easy afterconversing sympathetically with a police officer, who pretended toarrest them and let them leave the scene.

Evanston resident Amy Kipfer, a member of Neighbors for Peace,said Chicago police arrested shoppers and tourists who weren’tprotesting during the March 20 rally.

“The people who were arrested weren’t horrified at theprotesters, they were horrified at the police,” Kipfer said.