Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The NATO 3 farce
When the NATO protests were going on in Chicago, in May, 2012, I thought they were, for the most part, pointless street theater by young people looking to inject a little drama into their lives by splashing around in ours. They weren't particularly worked up about NATO per se, not about Western nations banding together in a defensive organization—that's what NATO supposedly is—so much as complaining generally about living in a 21st century Western capitalist society. The protest seemed an unfocused Mardi Gras, the prom for the Occupy Chicago movement, then still camped at at LaSalle and Jackson, demanding, well, something. Attention. Thus the protests splintered off into all sorts of tangental issues, like the people who lay down in the street off Michigan Avenue and covered themselves with chocolate syrup to decry, if I recall correctly, some kind of coal tar pollution somewhere in Canada.
As with Richard J. Daley in 1968, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanual, made the situation worse through his heavy-handedness, trying to push through City Council all sorts of new regulations that would hamstring protesters and saddle them with huge fines. They seemed a match set, the big talking protesters hot for attention, and the cautious mayor, afraid of grungy kids getting their messy fingerprints all over his shiny World Class City.
So the marchers marched, the cops watched, the world yawned and the meetings transpired more or less without major incident.
Just when the whole thing is beginning to recede into memory, comes the official prosecution of the "NATO 3," a trio of Floridian mopes arrested after boasting to undercover Chicago policemen about shooting arrows and slingshots, for making molotov cocktails under the cops' close supervision.
As my colleague Mark Brown has crisply pointed out in a series of columns, even fanned by vigorous police cheerleading, the weak mopery of the defendants hardly approaches the level of crime, never mind terrorism.
But just as Occupy Chicago served a purpose, almost despite itself: to hold a mirror to the inequities in our society, and draw attention to aspects we comfortable lumpenproletariat choose to ignore, so these supposed terrorist cases have value, too. They give pause to the thinking citizen, highlighting a continuing danger to our freedoms: overzealous policing. Notice the ponds where the government is always fishing for terrorists -- in protest groups, in mosques, in coffee shops (laughably targeting the granola and patchouli oil anachronism of the Heartland Cafe, as Mark also chronicles). You have to wonder, if the feds started infiltrating church groups and paramilitary organizations, how easy would it be to goad a few soft-minded fools to tip-toe up to illegal acts and then be arrested. My bet: pretty easy.
None of these people on trial are Lex Luthor, none did any harm, despite their big talk, and while a sentient government would have slapped them on the wrist and turned them loose long ago, we do not have that government, and thus they face decades in prison. Frankly, the prosecution is a good thing, because it reminds us that those protests, despite their ludicrous street-theater aspects, did have a point, lurking under all the hyperventilating hyperbole. Power corrupts. The Chicago cops are trying to rationalize all the effort they put into skulking around hotbeds of 1960s activism by bagging this trio. Is there anybody following this case who is sincerely hoping these guys are taken off the street? Anybody who thinks three prison spaces should be used for them, and not for more dangerous actual criminals? Last time I looked, bad intentions were not a crime. If they were, we'd all be in prison at one point or another.