Is Illinois Taking an Artist to Trial to Silence an Outspoken Critic or You?

Editor’s note: This does not include the most recent info submitted by Chris on Thursday March 3rd

by Christopher Drew

Illinois just took a big step toward bringing artist C Drew (Chris) to trial for audio recording a policeman in public. On November 22, 2010 Judge Stanley Sacks ruled the State can use the recording discovered without a warrant on Mr. Drew’s recorder as evidence to prosecute him for the crime of felony eavesdropping for recording his own arrest for selling art for $1 in Chicago.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office appears eager to try Mr. Drew and convict him on a charge that carries a sentence of 4-15 years in a state prison to demonstrate their power to shield police from public scrutiny. Mr. Drew’s crime of audio-recording his own arrest is legal in 47 of our 50 states.

The artist, out on a $20,000 bond, continues to print and give away free art-patches in public. Mr. Drew invites artists to submit art-patch designs for volunteers to screen print on cotton cloth to be given-away pinned to literature promoting First Amendment literacy and awareness that artists’ rights to sell art in public are being blocked by unconstitutional laws in Chicago.

Mr. Drew, who has advocated for artists for 23 years as the Executive Director of the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center, says. “Chicago ranks behind many other cities nationally and internationally in the public forums it provides to its artists in which to sell their First Amendment protected work. We even rank behind Moscow. We don’t have one open-air arts market where artists can sell their art freely.”

Many people in Chicago think that Mr. Drew’s long time criticism of the City’s policy toward artists is the real reason Anita Alvarez is charging the artist with this extreme 1st class felony for audio-recording his own arrest when he was picked up for a misdemeanor, which was dismissed as soon as the court found probable cause for the felony eavesdropping charge.

In the past, this eavesdropping law, on the books since 1994, was rarely enforced against citizens and when it was, the arrests often appeared to be politically and/or racially motivated. More recently, arrests for audio-recording police have increased in Illinois.

A more sinister motive may be behind the Anita Alvarez assault on Mr. Drew. Many citizens are using their cell phones to expose wrongdoing by police. The State of Illinois may be using this high profile prosecution to educate its citizens that in Illinois they should not expect to use their cell phones to gather evidence of wrongdoing by police to protect themselves or others in court. In that sense, Mr. Drew’s case is a bad example for other states on how to shield police by limiting citizens’ rights to bring evidence into court. Although there is First Amendment case law on our right to video record police in public, there is none on audio-recording.

Edolphus Towns, Congressman from New York, has proposed a House Congressional Resolution, H.Con.Res.298, stating that governments should not use wiretapping laws to charge citizens for audio or video recording police in public when they do not interfere with the officers work. Maryland has dropped the eavesdropping charges against Anthony Graber who Time Magazine recently made famous. The judge in Maryland ruled on-duty police have no privacy to protect in public. Illinois disagrees.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against Anita Alvarez in federal court for enforcing this unconstitutional law against Mr. Drew and others. The State seems more aggressive toward the prosecution of this outspoken artist now that the ACLU is challenging Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, and the whole world is watching. What will the world see, the emergence of a new police state in Illinois or fresh case law that cements our freedom to bring truth from the public streets into our courts to do our democratic duty to oversee our public servants? Stay tuned for the answer.


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