High-Stakes Trial Approaching: Videographer Attacked by Police Faces Almost Three Years in Jail
A high-stakes trial is approaching in Chicago, August 24. The prosecution, with the active collaboration of some "ethical humanists," wants to put a volunteer videographer in jail for videotaping a statement by Sunsara Taylor at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) objecting to her being "disinvited" to speak at ESHC on Nov. 1 ( "EHSC Calls Police Against Videographer," Revolution #182, Nov. 8, 2009). The videographer faces a maximum sentence of almost three years in jail.
This story began when Sunsara was approached to speak at the EHSC by one of its board members after he saw her on a panel at Columbia College in Chicago in April 2009. The EHSC Program Committee approved and scheduled Sunsara's talk on "Morality without Gods" for Nov. 1 (as well as for a separate workshop the day before).
However, as the Nov. 1 date of Sunsara's long-scheduled talk approached, a small group within the EHSC spearheaded an underhanded campaign to subvert the Society's stated principles and have her talk cancelled.
Sunsara did speak at the EHSC on Oct. 31, at a well-attended workshop on Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity. The audience included the president and several board members of EHSC. At the beginning of her presentation, Sunsara made a statement condemning her disinvitation and calling out the silent acquiescence of too many EHSC members. She also clearly said she would return the next day, "prepared to give my talk and giving the EHSC the chance, up until the last minute, to do the right thing." The entire workshop was recorded by a volunteer videographer.
The next morning, Nov. 1, Sunsara and her videographer did return to the EHSC before the scheduled program billed as "free and open to the public" and were welcomed at the door like everyone else. A few minutes later, Sunsara stood by her chair to make a statement challenging her unethical disinvitation and inviting everyone interested in the truth about her views and this outrageous disinvitation to come hear her talk in exile. She was never told to leave. The videographer silently stood near her, documenting her on his iPhone.
As Sunsara was finishing and saying she was leaving, an undercover cop and a uniformed cop rushed into the room with other plans. They grabbed the videographer and roughly dragged him away, ripping his shirt to shreds. When a crowd of people called for the police to stop the brutality and let him go, one of the cops even threatened to spray everyone there with mace. The videographer was pushed to the ground face-first, handcuffed and maced directly in his eyes, and multiple cops piled on top of him. He now faces charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and simple battery, for allegedly "striking" the undercover pig in the chest as he was being dragged, beaten and maced. As is typical in cases of police brutality and unjust arrest, the false charges are piled on as "cover charges."
In the face of growing opposition, the EHSC has continued to press charges against the videographer, and its leadership has spread more lies and distortions about both the circumstances of Sunsara's disinvitation and the events on Nov. 1. It has continued its quest to suppress discussion and debate about its unethical actions, working with the State's Attorney to file contempt charges against the videographer in an attempt to shut down his defense committee's website, http://www.dropthecharges.net/.
A strong legal argument was made against the contempt petition and supporters filled the courtroom. The judge could not rule in favor of the contempt charges without exposing that he was violating the legal system's own supposed rules and rights. Still, he said, "This is not a time for drama. This is a simple misdemeanor case. That's all that this is…" Quite a statement to make while hearing a contempt petition for a political website! The judge threatened to hold the defense committee's efforts against the defendant, saying "He [the defendant] can ask [the committee] to cease and desist until this trial is over...[because] this is not helping his case." Despite this, the contempt petition was defeated and the committee continues to build opposition to this outrageous prosecution.
Much has been done to mobilize people to oppose this attack and turn it around. Some members of EHSC have spoken out and even quit in protest against this outrageous arrest and prosecution. Big debate about it broke out in the blogosphere, including on P.Z. Myers' top-rated science blog Pharyngula, where Myers strongly condemned the actions of the EHSC for violating the most fundamental principles of humanist ethics.
Support is greatly needed to defeat these outrageous charges. Visit the defense committee's website at http://www.dropthecharges.net/ to learn more and see what you can do to turn this attack around. In the Chicago area, attend the trial on Aug. 24 at 9:30 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 5600 W. Old Orchard Road, Skokie, IL.