As the year ends and a new one is upon us, we wanted to update friends and supporters of Gregory on the struggle to defeat the politically driven prosecution he faces for videotaping a peaceful political statement by Sunsara Taylor with his iPhone at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago over two years ago.
After serving nearly two months of his unjust and completely unwarranted 300 day sentence, Gregory was granted bond and released from jail. In releasing him on appeal bond, the Court acknowledged the fact that he is not a flight risk, that he is not a “danger to the community,” and furthermore that his appeal raises substantial questions of law or fact “likely to result in reversal or a new trial.” Gregory was released just in time to attend Jazz for Justice, a benefit for his legal defense featuring jazz musicians Ted Sirota and Fred Lonberg-Holm.
Over the course of this past year we have completed the legal briefing portion of the appeal. Our initial appeal brief was filed in February, and the State received six months of extensions before finally filing their response in August. Our final reply brief was then filed in September, which powerfully and compelling dissects and exposes the political nature of the charges and numerous factual misstatements in the State’s brief before breaking down, point-by-point, the legal errors that contributed to this unjust and unlawful conviction and sentence. At the heart of the legal case is the State’s Attorney’s unprecedented argument that refusing to comply with alleged rules of a property owner equate to trespassing. However, under Illinois law, to be legally guilty of trespass, a person must be ordered to leave by the property owner or the owner’s authorized representative, and must be given time and opportunity to leave. In fact, during the trial the then-president of EHSC testified under oath that he never asked Gregory to leave before he was grabbed, dragged, and assaulted by the police. If this baseless legal argument is allowed to stand, it has dangerous and chilling implications for the public’s right to document public and newsworthy events. We are now awaiting word from the appellate court as to whether and when oral arguments will be held on the appeal. Read the final brief here.
As part of opposing this prosecution both inside and outside the courtroom, the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason raised funds to publish a statement in the March/April 2011 issue of The Humanist magazine, calling on those in the humanist community to speak out in opposition to this political prosecution and noting some of those who have, such as Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, PZ Myers and Bill Ayers.
We have also continued to open up discussion and debate around the larger political issues concentrated in the case. In the midst of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and the inspiring swirl of the Arab Spring that presaged the outpouring of dissent in the US, forums were held on the rising wave of political repression in the US that targets those who document dissent, protest and police misconduct – Smart Phones and Dumb Laws: Will Your Cellphone Make You A Criminal? Our February Smart Phones and Dumb Laws event was held just after the Egyptian people in Tahrir Square inspired the world. The panel included Gregory and Chris Drew, along with his civil rights lawyer Mark Weinberg. Chris Drew is an artist and activist who is facing up to 15 years in prison under Illinois’ egregious “eavesdropping” law for audio recording his own arrest while selling a $1 piece of art on the streets in an attempt to challenge Chicago’s peddling ordinance.
In November we held another Smart Phones and Dumb Laws event at DePaul University College of Law, after thousands of people occupied spaces across the country and faced police brutality and repression for peaceful political protest (including numerous journalists being arrested and brutalized, which has been documented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press – see Some journalists still facing charges after Occupy arrests). Gregory and his lawyer Jed Stone were joined by Chris Drew, Mark Weinberg, and Robert Johnson, Chicago civil rights attorney who successfully defended Tiawanda Moore from felony eavesdropping charges. Ms. Moore was prosecuted for audio recording Chicago police on her cellphone as she attempted to have a Chicago police officer investigated who sexually accosted her. Adam Schwartz of the Illinois ACLU also spoke about their federal lawsuit against Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez challenging the eavesdropping law, which recently had oral arguments at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Both forums were broadcast on CAN-TV, the Chicago local access television network.
Since his release from Cook County Jail on appeal bond, Gregory has continued to speak out about his case and other injustices and crimes of this system. In May, he was invited by students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to be the guest speaker at their Prison Arts Fest, which featured artwork from prisoners in Illinois.
When thousands of prisoners in over one-third of California’s prisons went on hunger strike to oppose the inhumane conditions of torture that many face in isolation in California’s “Security Housing Units” (SHUs), he published a statement and articles in support of the prisoners and he organized a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons in August that was reported on in Revolution newspaper (Correspondence from a reader who took part in organizing a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons)
Gregory has also spoken in university and high school classes in Chicago about torture in U.S. prisons, mass incarceration and police brutality, while organizing for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Read a report on the Chicago O22 action here.
On the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Gregory produced a video with his friend Anthony Wagner, Iraq veteran who was very active in opposing the wars and stopping youth from joining the military, who tragically died on November 3, 2011, just hours after marching on Wall Street with other veterans in support of Scott Olsen, who was shot in the head with a tear gas canister by police at Occupy Oakland. After Anthony’s tragic death, Gregory produced a video of a We Are Not Your Soldiers teach-in at Occupy Chicago that Anthony organized, where Anthony’s brother and mother spoke out against the war and its horrific effects.
Much has been accomplished this past year! Thanks to the support from many people, appeal bond was won and Gregory has been able to be a part of all of this work that his life is dedicated to – work he would not be able to do if he was sitting in a jail cell as the Skokie judges, Cook County State’s Attorney, and the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago want. Defeating these ongoing charges is vitally important not only to his life and his work, but for everyone who opposes injustice. We will continue to fight to overturn this unjust political prosecution and link up with others facing political repression in the coming year.