Police infiltration of protest groups upsets rights activists
February 19, 2004
BY FRANK MAIN Crime Reporter
Chicago Police officers infiltrated five protest groups in 2002 and launched four other spying operations in 2003 -- actions that civil rights activists are calling outrageous.
The investigations have come in the wake of a court decision that expanded the department's intelligence-gathering powers.
In 2002, undercover officers were assigned to attend meetings, rallies and fund-raisers of the Chicago Direct Action Network, the American Friends Service Committee, The Autonomous Zone, Not in Our Name, and Anarchist Black Cross.
Police zeroed in on the groups because protesters were threatening to disrupt the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue -- a meeting of international business leaders held in Chicago in 2002 -- according to an internal police audit obtained by the Sun-Times. The department made video and audio recordings of the protests, the audit said.
The department would not describe what organizations were targeted in 2003.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the police for targeting the American Friends Service Committee in 2002.
"We cannot imagine any circumstance that would justify the intrusive infiltration of such a peaceful group, and we hope that the city will open up all of the relevant files related to this matter to explain this disturbing action," Yohnka said.
Michael McConnell, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, said he was outraged that police infiltrated the anti-war group, founded in 1917.
"What was the officer's participation and did it affect the group?" McConnell asked. "This is a disturbing pattern throughout the country of infiltration of peace groups that are doing nothing more than fulfilling their rights of freedom of speech."
In Denver last year, he noted, the police agreed to investigate only people "reasonably suspected" of criminal activity after American Friends Service Committee members and others wound up in police spy files.
Chicago's new spying activity stems from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision in 2001 to modify the so-called Red Squad consent decree.
The federal decree, which dated to 1982, barred the city from gathering information on suspected terrorist and hate groups because it violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
In 2001, though, Chief Judge Richard A. Posner wrote that the decree "rendered the police helpless to do anything to protect the public." The court approved a modified decree that allows police to snoop on demonstrators and other groups.
"The department has demonstrated compliance with the consent decree on every level," said Sheri Mecklenburg, general counsel to police Supt. Phil Cline.
Under the modified decree, intelligence gathering must be documented. And internal and external audits are required to make sure the department is complying with the decree.