Vodak Settlement: Setting a Precedent for Demonstrations
Attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild recently settled a class action lawsuit brought against the Chicago Police Department on behalf of protesters falsely arrested during a 2003 anti-war demonstration. On March 20, 2003 nearly 10,000 anti-Iraq War protesters marched through downtown Chicago before police surrounded a large group, trapping and arresting more than 700 people without ordering them to disperse. A Seventh Circuit ruling on the case (Vodak v. City of Chicago, 639 F.3d, 738 (2011)) held that police can’t arrest peaceful protesters without warning because the demonstration lacks a permit. This decision bears new weight in light of mass arrests during the Occupy movement. The National Lawyers Guild attorneys reached a $6.2 million settlement in this case on the eve of a scheduled trial. The suit was litigated over the course of almost nine years by a team of NLG lawyers and legal workers including People’s Law Office attorneys Janine Hoft, Joey Mogul, Sarah Gelsomino and John Stainthorp, as well as People’s Law Office paralegal Brad Thomson, and attorneys Melinda Power and Jim Fennerty.
- We think it sends a significant message to Chicago and the Chicago Police Department that it must honor and respect people’s right to protest.
- It was the day that Bush had dropped bombs on Iraq. There was a massive outpouring of opposition, and people came down to the center of Chicago, to the Federal Plaza, which is the heart of downtown. There were 10,000 people and they marched on Lake Shore Drive, and this was all permitted by the Chicago Police Department. This was a spontaneous demonstration, there was no written permit, but the CPD allowed it.
- Toward the end of the march, they decided that they wanted it to be over. They proceeded to surround everyone on Chicago Avenue, and they prevented them from leaving, trapped them there for hours.
- They then proceeded to take over 500 people into police custody. 200 were released; the rest were arrested with bogus phony charges of reckless conduct.
- They mass arrested everyone in that area including joggers and people shopping. It had an extremely chilling effect for people participating or near a demonstration.
- The message to the Chicago Police is that they cannot mass arrest people without giving orders to disperse.
- The new changes in the Chicago ordinances are very scary, it does allow for this increased surveillance of protesters and individuals seeking to protest.
- We’re very well aware of what the law is and we will seek to vindicate people’s constitutional rights.
- I’ve been working on this case since 2004, when I first started at the People’s Law Office.
- The work that I’ve done is a tremendous amount of discovery work in terms of going through the video that was shot that night, by protesters, independent journalists, mainstream media and by the police.
- I did a lot in maintaining communication with class members. We had over 800 people that were taken into custody or held in the street for over 90 minutes.
- We obtained over 250 affidavits by people who had their rights violated that night.
- The majority of protesters were from Chicago or the greater Chicago area.
- I was one of the people taken into custody that night and released without being charged.
- I witnessed the police aggressively arrest someone and I started to point and chant “shame” and then I was targeted. The police tackled me, pulled me to my feet and struck me in the face, which broke my nose, leaving a wound that required five stitches.
- I spent the night in jail bleeding all over myself.
Guest – Attorney Joey Mogul, partner at the People’s Law Office in Chicago and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University’s College of Law. She focuses on civil rights cases involving police misconduct, criminal cases brought against individuals engaged in street demonstrations and other forms of First Amendment expression, and capital defense cases.
Guest – Brad Thompson, legal worker with the People’s Law Office in Chicago.
Locking Away Children for Life Without Parole
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life, without the possibility of parole. Last month, the US Supreme Court revisited the question of whether juveniles convicted of murder should be given mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court had once ruled against imposing death sentences on juveniles and imposing life sentences on youth who aren’t convicted of murder. Currently, 2,500 kids in jail are serving life sentences without parole in the US. 371 of those individuals are in Michigan prisons. Our next guest has been working on a lawsuit on behalf of 9 Michigan individuals who were sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were minors and who are being denied the possibility of parole.
Attorney Deborah LaBelle:
- The concept that we’ve been talking about is that both under international law and US law for civil matters, children are different from adults.
- The Supreme Court seemed to readily grasp that, they weren’t speaking about juveniles or teenagers or young adults, they spoke continuously on what to do about children who are involved in homicide crime.
- The court had two cases in front of them, both involving 14-year-olds, one in which the 14-year-old did not commit a homicide, but was convicted of either felony murder or aiding and abetting.
- That juvenile got mandatory life without possibility of parole, because the child was sentenced as an adult. The other case, the 14-year-old actually committed the homicide.
- There are a handful of states, Michigan and I think 8 others, who treat 17-year-olds always as adults for all purposes in the criminal justice system.
- Among the 38 states, there’s a whole range–some you can only get life without parole if you’re 16 and up, some allow it for 15-year-olds, some states allow it for a child of any age, Michigan is one of them.
- One of the justices talked about that. Is there an age at which we would all share a collective cringe? What about a 5 year old? What about a 10 year old?
- The frontal lobe area of the brain that really addresses impulse control and long term consequences, and control issues of risk management, is developing through adolescence.
- People draw the line at different ages; some say 19, some say not until 23 as you say.
- There’s a bright line that’s been drawn in civil law that youth have an age of maturity when they can vote, when they can decide to leave school, when they can drink in some places, when they can drive.
- There are these bright lines.
- Every other country who has signed on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits putting children in prison for life without possibility of parole, explicitly has recognized that this practice is banned.
- The only other country that hasn’t signed on is Somalia and they don’t quite have a government right now to do that.
- We stand alone in not adhering to that Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as we stand alone on approving this sentence.
- We have over 2,500 youth who are serving of life without any possibility of parole. About 70 percent are children of color. A third of them did not commit homicides.
- No one is arguing that there might not be circumstances in which a state could decide upon review that child couldn’t be released. The argument is that you can’t keep them in there without any hope. You have to give them an opportunity to demonstrate upon maturation that they have been rehabilitated and they aren’t a threat to public safety.
- We should think of putting children in places where we can nurture, council and believe in their rehabilitation and give them a second chance.
- I read transcript after transcript of judges saying, “listen I don’t want to do this to this 14- or 16-year-old, but I don’t have any choice.” What is the value of putting a child away with no hope? It’s certainly not a public safety issue, because that can be addressed by the state by having parole or review hearings.
Guest – Attorney Deborah LaBelle, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan’s Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative.