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Arrests on Halsted: Radicals Clash with Police [3 June, 2009]

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Reports of an event on the night of May 30 have surfaced amidst rumors that a group of straight people marched through Lakeview’s North Halsted Street, and then set upon and attacked a group of gay individuals.  What is known is that a gathering involving a large group of people resulted in several arrests.

Windy City Times has spoken to several sources who were at or around the supposed events.  The main participants involved in the event were participants in a three-day convergence organized by a local radical queer group Bash Back! Chicago.  The event took place from May 29-31.  This reporter was a participant in the convergence (but not in the nighttime events of May 30) and spoke to fellow attendees as well as members of Bash Back! and eyewitnesses.

Preliminary reports indicate that there was no straight onslaught or march upon gays/queers.  Instead, the people we spoke to indicate that the trouble arose between police and Bash Back! convergence attendees.  The only reports of straight people marching down Halsted came from those who admitted to only having heard that on hearsay.

The Bash Back! convergence was organized around several workshops and caucuses.  Workshop topics included the growth of the AIDS pharmaceutical industry and the effects of intellectual property rights laws; the politics of passing; the ex-gay movement; gentrification and squatting and confronting sexual assault in queer communities.  There were also several caucuses designed for the transgender community, genderqueers and cisgender people.  (“Cisgender” refers to ‘someone who is comfortable in the gender he or she was assigned at birth.)

Following a full day of such meetings, a group of convergence attendees numbering from 100-200 got on the Red Line el.  There were approximately two to three cars filled with this group and, according to several accounts, members engaged in a peaceful but celebratory party on the train.  According to one Bash Back! member, who self-identified as “Leo,” there were dancing and chanting of slogans like ‘this train is for faggots only” and “One in Ten is not enough, recruit, recruit, recruit!” Leo said that while some people who got on the trains did get off upon seeing the large group, several also joined in on the dancing.  Bill Dobbs, an activist based in New York City, was on one of the cars and was with the group as it rode the train all the way down to the 95th/Dan Ryan stop and then back to the North Side.  The group disembarked at Belmont.

Dobbs emphasized that he was in the middle of the crowd and, therefore, not able to see everything.  He said that the group was “excited, with high energy, but pretty orderly.”  He also noted that “people came out of bars and restaurants to see what the excitement was about.”  According to him and Leo, the group moved up Halsted, and traffic was “accommodating” in letting the group move by.  At one point, four or five police cars appeared.  Police officers emerged from the cars and began to corral the group down Cornelia into a dead-end street.  According to Leo, “there were two police cars who sectioned the block off and pushed us into a dark street corner.  I ran out of the block so as not to be trapped.”  He said that he saw altercations between police officers and group members.

There have been consistent reports of at least one injury, sustained by someone when a police car apparently ran over their foot.  Dobbs said that he saw two police cars, one behind the other, and the gap between them widened at one point.  According to him, one of the cars sped up to make up the distance and then slammed on the brakes.  He also said that he saw somebody being arrested on the ground, and two people being taken to a police van and that he believed the police had truncheons out.  Dobbs added that “from what I could see, the police were very aggressive and even dangerous and quite possibly unprofessional.”

According to Dobbs, Leo and several reports from the convergence, there were four arrests.  Leo said that, to the best of his knowledge, the charges ranged from resisting arrest to assaulting police officers.  All four were released the next morning.

Both felt that the response of the police was, as Dobbs put it, “over the top, from what I saw.”  He said that “the police did not at all give a calm response and were too aggressive,” and that he did not hear them say, “clear the street.”  Another witness who was not part of the group was Gary Airedale, a member of the musical group Flesh Hungry Dogs, who was loading a truck with fellow members for a show at Hydrate, 3458 N.  Halsted.  He said, “I saw a bunch of guys marching on Halsted; I assumed it was a gay march but it wasn’t really organized.  I saw lots of cop cars herd them down Cornelia eastbound from Halsted.  There may have been a skirmish, but it was too dark to see.”  Taylor Ross was also present as the events unfolded and spoke to members of the group afterwards.  His second-hand reports corroborate the accounts of Dobbs and Leo: that “the police headed them off onto Cornelia.”  Ross said that he heard people “were good about videotaping and taking down police officers’ information.”  He also felt that “the police overreacted; the situation could have been diffused in an easier way.”

The Chicago Police Department did not return a call requesting details and its version of events. 

Originally published in Windy City Times, 3 June, 2009

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