Chicago: Warned not to smile

J Quinn Brisben, veteran peace activist and former presidential candidate for the Socialist Party USA, describes his arrest

I cannot tell you much about the anti-war demonstration at the federal plaza in Chicago on March 21, for I was arrested about three minutes after I got there, while trying to explain to a policeman that I needed the reinforced bath chair I was carrying because I cannot stand for a long time without pain. The chair and my cane were confiscated and I was handcuffed and put in a police van, along with 20 other demonstrators. We remained there on Jackson Street for an hour, then were taken to Area Two police headquarters on 115th Street, where we sat in the van for three more hours. My plastic cuffs were so tight that I lost feeling in my hands, and my general discomfort so great that I was close to fainting. I was finally taken to the cab of the van, where my name and address were taken and, after I mentioned my acquaintance with several police officers working out of that station, my cuffs were loosened. We had a jolly time in the van and later in our cells. I was, at age 68, the third oldest in the group, one of my seniors being the noted pacifist, Bradford Lyttle. The youngest arrestees were in their teens. Six in the van were experiencing their first arrest. We kept each other entertained with songs and a stream of anecdotes about the good old days. We were kept in the van because other vans ahead of us were being unloaded and processed. Once inside, my cane and chair were returned and five of us with alleged medical problems were segregated in a cell. I have no idea how many were incarcerated with us. Many in the jail were still there from arrests at earlier actions the night before. I had been able to call my wife from a cellular phone, which was for some reason not confiscated, inside the van, and later a detective allowed me to call her on his cell phone. We were not fed, but I had a granola bar in my pocket, which sustained me until 7.30pm. Shortly before 3pm, a detective announced that the five of us were going to be released shortly without paying the $100 fine, as many were required to do, since he had warned police officials about problems that might result from our alleged medical condition. However, our release took three more hours. Somehow, the elaborate new fingerprinting technology did not work well and we had to submit to it twice. I had to be admonished not to smile while my mug shots were being taken. One of our group was a US citizen who had been born in Malaysia, a country of which no one in the squad room seemed to have heard. He was not released, for undisclosed reasons, with the other four of us. His wife and daughter are in jail in another part of the city. Lawyers have been alerted to his plight. My wife reported that neither she nor dozens of other family members waiting for the release of prisoners were allowed into the station, but kept outside in 40-degree Fahrenheit [5-degree Centigrade] temperature, with a nippy wind. We were able to take two of my cellmates to a rapid transit stop and Brad Lyttle to his home in Hyde Park. Brad suffered a massive heart attack two weeks ago, but, as his friends would have predicted, that was not stopping him. My court appearance is set for May 1, the day I am supposed to address comrades in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, an engagement I intend to make. However, I shall try to avoid arrest between now and then, but, the way things are going, that may not be possible. Print this page