Letter to the Editor: Should arrest be the only tool police have in a nonviolent situation?

At the Evanston 4th of July Parade, I was disappointed to find myself arrested for an act of protest.

I went to the parade as a cautionary tale from my own heritage: an Abuela de Plaza de Mayo, one of the women whose children were “disappeared” by the Argentine government of the 1970s. While trying to call attention to national issues, part of my protest was an experiment: Evanston’s parade is famous for free speech, and during it, police frequently turn a blind eye to minor ordinance violations such as public consumption of alcohol, and people walking across the route. I was fairly confident I would be allowed to walk a distance ahead of the parade without incident, and did so, trying to keep distance between myself and the beginning of the parade.

When police officers came and asked me to step aside, I told them I would comply once I reached the reviewing stand, as I was keeping pace with the parade and not obstructing it. I also informed them if they stopped me before that point, I would passively resist by going limp. After walking with with me a block or so, the officers indicated they were going to remove me if I didn’t step aside, so I sat down and did as I said I would. They picked me up and carried me to the parkway, where they handcuffed me and took me to a holding cell.

I was charged with obstructing traffic and failure to obey a police officer. The parade route was closed, without traffic to obstruct, but even so, I would have moved further ahead of the parade and walked faster, had the police asked me. The officers, who were following orders as politely and efficiently as possible, had only the most disruptive solution possible available to them.

As a community, I fear we blame the police for abuses of power but while expecting them to use powers of arrest on inconveniences; at least one member of the crowd called for me to be carried away. We need to look deeper than the police department to address injustice in Evanston, by working cooperatively with police to create effective checks and balances on police power and help citizens understand when it is and is not appropriate to call police. We need non-police solutions for minor problems and inconveniences.

One place to start is City code 9-5-18-1: refusal to obey an officer while violating City code. This redundant ordinance adds charges and increased fines while making it appear police have more power than they actually do. It appears on paperwork simply as “Disobedience to police in a public place.” Refusal to obey the police without an actual violation of law or ordinance is not a crime — it is, in fact, the right and duty of a free society to hold authority to a higher standard.

— Michele Hays, Evanston resident