Collateral Damage in the War on Protesters: Neighbors of the NATO3 Cuffed, Held at Gunpoint
Photo Credit: Molly Knefel
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Whether or not they are guilty of illegal activity, the original three activists facing terrorism charges in Chicago and their six apartment-mates are not the only people who were raided and harassed the night of Wednesday, May 16, in the days leading up to the NATO protests. In this exclusive, three neighbors of the accused activists give their stories of aggressive, politically reactionary, seemingly incompetent and extralegal harassment by the Chicago Police Department.
In the apartment across the hall from the arrested activists, around 11:30 that night, Ben (not his real name) was coming out of his bathroom when his door crashed in and 25 to 30 armed police burst into his living room. One of them approached him, pointing a gun at his face and yelling at him to get down. When he didn’t get down quickly enough, the man shoved him to the ground and cuffed him.
“I thought I was being robbed,” Ben said. “They were wearing dark clothes, and I thought if they weren’t police, I was being robbed, and if they were, I didn’t know why this was happening.”
His apartment mate Olli woke up to two guns in his face, and was, he said, “rolled over and cuffed immediately” while other officers started going through the belongings in his room. They brought him into the living room and sat him on the ground next to Ben.
“That’s when the interrogation and harassment started,” Olli said. “It went on for a while, at least an hour and a half of them hurling insults and questions, really leading questions. The whole experience was really terrifying but it was also kind of hilarious, just the notions they have about whoever they were after.”
The police brought out Olli’s books on Marx, Bakunin, feminism and magic, and started asking questions about them. They called Olli and Ben “commie faggots” and “said we were gonna get our assholes widened in County, but we’d probably like that.”
They asked Olli, “You got Karl Marx here, do you like Hitler?”
“They were just rude, cruel and dumb,” Ben said. “Eight dudes would come in, they’d harass us for a while, then they’d leave and eight others would come in, and they’d ask us the same exact things again. They’d be surprised by things we had told them multiple times. They’d be like, ‘What, you guys live here? You don’t know those other people?’ And we’d be like ‘Yeah we’ve been saying that for an hour.’ There was no sense of progress.”
Meanwhile, at the apartment above where the activists stayed, another neighbor’s home was being raided. Jimmy had just gotten off a double shift at work, and heard some commotion downstairs, but wanted to stay out of it. All of a sudden an officer came to his door, and when he opened it, put a gun in his face and told him to come outside.
“He took my ID and my phone,” Jimmy said, “and said he was going to look through my phone, and if he saw something he didn’t like he was going to search my apartment.
“I told him he wasn’t going to search anything without a warrant. The screen on my phone was locked, so all he saw was this painting (Frank Frazzeta, “Flashman at the Charge”). He asked me what was the deal with the painting. I said ‘It’s Frazzeta, it’s for nerds.’ At that point he called for backup.
“Two other officers come up, go into my apartment guns drawn. I’m like really? That’s what you’re gonna do right now, just go in there? They said, 'Well if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about.' They probably searched my place for 15, 20 minutes, went through everything.”