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The Boys of Cell Block E

How a lawyer, a waiter, a teacher,a minister, and a tourist who stepped out of the Cheesecake Factory at the wrong time found themselves sharing a steel toilet.



Sometime between 8 and 8:30 PM on March 20, attorney Patrick Donnell was heading home from the Loop on a northbound 147 bus. A police officer stopped the bus at Chicago and Michigan and told the driver he'd have to take a different route. Donnell looked out the window and saw several more officers milling around the intersection. Wanting to know what was going on, he stepped off the bus.

Several blocks north, police had stopped thousands of antiwar marchers on Lake Shore Drive from spilling onto Michigan at Oak, so the marchers were now heading back down the drive, some of them turning off at Chicago Avenue. Among them were social studies teacher Bob Graham, waiter Sean Slive, and DePaul University chaplain Anthony Nicotera.

A little way north on Michigan, Jason Monteleone, a student at Iowa State, was having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with his girlfriend and two buddies. A short time later they left and, wondering what all the commotion was about, headed toward Chicago.

Within an hour Donnell, Graham, Slive, Nicotera, and Monteleone were sitting in a paddy wagon that would take them to the Fifth District police station. They all say they never heard any order to disperse. And they say police prevented them from leaving the corner of Michigan and Chicago, then arrested them.

Graham says one officer blurted out while restraining him, "All of you fuckers ought to be sent to Iraq. We've got guys dying over there today." Graham says that when he asked why he was being arrested the officer responded, "You ought to see what you fuckers have done to this city."

Nicotera, a 36-year-old who teaches a class in peace studies at DePaul, was at the antiwar rally that had kicked off at 5 PM at Federal Plaza. He'd spent the previous few weeks training volunteers to engage in "holy disobedience" actions to oppose the war, which was what he'd been doing the night before when he heard the news that Baghdad had been bombed. Graham, a soft-spoken 53-year-old who teaches at Downers Grove North High School, was also at the rally, as was Slive, a wiry 21-year-old who'd just graduated from Columbia College and was working at the Grand Lux Cafe. He'd talked ten friends from work into coming with him.

Around 6 PM the crowd began marching east along Jackson, Adams, and Monroe, then surged onto Lake Shore Drive. As the protesters moved north on the drive, Nicotera and other activists handed antiwar flyers to motorists.

He says, "We'd tell them, 'Sorry for the inconvenience, but there's a greater inconvenience being brought upon the people of Iraq.'"

Nicotera, Graham, and Slive say the reactions of the drivers varied widely. Some were curious, some irritated. Others honked in support and flashed peace signs. The three activists also say that the police were cooperative, moving ahead of the marchers to stop traffic. But Graham, who'd attended a couple of smaller marches before the war, thought something was off. "This was the first march I've been to where the full route was not divulged," he says. "People kept asking each other, 'Where are we going?' 'Is this the end of the march?'"

Nicotera was near the Drake Hotel when the police brought the march to a halt at Michigan and Oak. "It looked like they were defending the golden calf," he says. Slive says that was when the attitude of the police changed: "All of a sudden they got hostile."

Graham says he worked his way to the front of the crowd, told the police he wanted to leave, and asked what direction he should go. He says he got no response. "There was zero march leadership at this point," he adds. "No direction whatsoever." He saw that the police weren't preventing people from going north, but he needed to get back downtown to catch a Metra train. He decided to wait to see if he could go straight south.

Nicotera says he was tired and wanted to go home, but he'd participated in dozens of protests and sensed tension in the air. He decided to stay put: "I thought if things go wrong we're going to need people with nonviolence training around."

Eventually all three moved with the crowd back east and south on the inner drive, then followed the crowd onto Chicago Avenue.

Monteleone and his girlfriend Crystal Lounsbury, also a student at Iowa State, had come to town for a few days. They and their two friends walked out of the Cheesecake Factory around 8:30 PM. Monteleone says, "We saw cops everywhere putting on their riot gear." The four walked to the southeast corner of Michigan and Chicago, where Donnell happened to be standing.

Donnell says he didn't support the marchers' cause. "I'm a Quaker, so I believe in nonviolence," he says. "But I'm also a former navy corpsman. I understand war is sometimes necessary. I'm not for or against the war."

Donnell and Monteleone say they watched the marchers coming west on Chicago and saw the police line up across the street and down both sides.

Nicotera, Donnell, and Graham say that several cars got stranded in the crowd and that the police frantically tried to let them--but not the marchers--through. They also say that Michigan was blocked in both directions by police cars and officers, who were sending all passenger vehicles west, and that the police were stopping and emptying all buses, swelling the crowd at the intersection.

Graham says he again told the police he wanted to leave and was told to go back to Lake Shore Drive. He was relieved, thinking he was finally going home.

Monteleone and his friends, who were staying at the Westin at Delaware and Michigan, saw several police wagons and buses arrive and decided to leave. He says they told the police they weren't protesters, but the police weren't convinced and wouldn't let them go north on Michigan. They too were told to walk east, which they did, only to find another police line blocking access to the drive.

Slive says he and other marchers started to chant "Let us leave!" Then he watched a large group of protesters sit down in the street as an act of civil disobedience. He says the police dragged and pushed them onto the sidewalk, then arrested many of them.

Graham and Nicotera had both walked east, then turned back west after running up against the police line at the drive. They ended up on the northeast corner of Michigan and Chicago. "I expected an announcement to disperse," says Nicotera, but he didn't hear one. He says he walked up to the police and said, "We're here nonviolently. We'd like to leave. How can we leave?" He says they didn't respond. He saw some officers using their shields to push marchers. When two protesters pushed back he jumped between them and the police, trying to stop both sides from shoving.

Donnell says he heard some protesters call the police "fuckers," but he says most were polite. He saw one of the march leaders asking the police through a loudspeaker not to push because there were children in the crowd. She said, "Officer Friendly, we're not here to knock heads with you," but then she made a reference to the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. "It was something along the lines of 'You guys have a reputation,'" says Donnell, who watched seven or eight officers charge into the crowd and arrest her.

Graham says that at first the police seemed intent on arresting only people they thought were leading the protest. "They would break formation and go deep into the crowd, targeting anyone with a loudspeaker, people with drums," he says. "It seemed to be very methodical." But he says the police lines kept closing in, pushing protesters into an ever tighter crowd. "Once it became clear that everyone was going to be arrested, I asked as many people as possible if an order to disperse had been heard. Nobody had heard one."

According to Monteleone, he and his friends kept asking the police to let them leave. "They just said, 'Sorry, we can't let you leave,'" he says. Eventually his two friends were allowed to go, but he and his girlfriend weren't. They asked why but got no answer.

Donnell decided that things were getting too intense and asked the officers behind him where he should go. He says they directed him across the street to the northeast corner of Michigan and Chicago, but when he got there he wasn't allowed to leave either. And then the mass arrests began.

Nicotera, Slive, Graham, and Donnell all say most of the people they saw get arrested were simply grabbed by police and told that they were under arrest, though people who went limp were dragged. All four say they saw people get hit with billy clubs. Right before Nicotera was arrested, he saw a man with a large gash on his head plop down on the sidewalk next to him, though he doesn't know how the man got hurt.

Graham says the officer who arrested and swore at him "put my cuffs on with a vengeance." Slive says he was holding a placard high above his head when he saw three officers charging toward him. He says one of them knocked the sign out of his hands and the other two grabbed his arms. They lifted him off the ground and carried him to the sidewalk, then threw him down. He says one officer's boot was on his neck, pushing his face into the cement as another officer put on handcuffs. A library book fell out of Slive's backpack, and he told them, "Now that I'll have to post bail I won't have money for a library fee. Can you put the book back in my bag?" To his surprise, the officer removed his foot from his neck and put the book in the backpack.

Slive, his face black with dirt, was put in a wagon with 22 other men, including Graham, Donnell, Monteleone, and Nicotera. "For those who never took a ride in a police wagon," says Nicotera, "let me tell you, it's uncomfortable with 12 people." According to Donnell, who took down arrestees' names and phone numbers, and Slive, among the others in the wagon were three teenagers, including a 13-year-old, who'd been marching with their families, two guys who'd just been told to get off a Cottage Grove bus heading south on Michigan, a jogger who'd gotten mixed up in the crowd, and a Bush supporter who'd been heckling the protesters.

The wagon didn't move for about an hour. Graham says his handcuffs were cutting off his circulation. Many of the other guys managed to slightly loosen one another's cuffs, but they couldn't loosen Graham's. Some of them had cell phones and called friends or relatives to tell them where they were. Monteleone worried about Lounsbury--he'd watched her get arrested and put in a wagon with other women.

Shortly after the men's wagon got to the Fifth District station at 727 E. 111th, Graham, who'd been feeling increasingly faint, slumped over and almost lost consciousness. The guys near the back banged on the door. An officer opened it, cut off Graham's handcuffs, and slammed the door shut again. The group wasn't taken into the station until 11:45 PM, over two hours after they'd been arrested. Donnell says the officer who let them out of the wagon said something surprising, which he took to be a kind gesture. "He said, 'If any of you have anything illegal--weapons, contraband--get rid of it now.'"

Inside, the group's belongings were confiscated, and 16 of them--including Donnell, Slive, Graham, Nicotera, and Monteleone--were taken to cellblock E and put in an eight-by-eight-foot cell. It had a bench, a bed, a sink, and a toilet--but no toilet paper.

It was the first time any of the 16 had been in jail, except for Nicotera, who'd been arrested ten times before--four times just this year--for civil disobedience acts during antiwar protests. He'd never before been arrested without planning to get arrested--he'd intended to get arrested the following morning at Federal Plaza. Some of the guys in the cell were nervous, and Nicotera assured them that they'd probably be out in a couple of hours and wouldn't face more than a misdemeanor charge.

Donnell says someone blurted out, "Let's have a sleepover!" People laughed. An officer walked by humming "The Girl From Ipanema," and everybody in the cell hummed along. Donnell said that since they were in jail they should be singing the blues, so they started to sing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." They talked and took turns sitting and lying down, though nobody slept.

Donnell, Slive, Graham, Nicotera, and Monteleone all say no one was fed or allowed to make the customary phone call while they were in the cell. But there was none of the harassment they'd expected. "It was kind of anticlimatic," says Donnell. "One of the jailers did say 'We support you.'" Monteleone says, "Every once in a while they would make a sarcastic comment or say something to try to intimidate you. But what else could you expect?"

They say the toilet was the worst part. They kept asking for toilet paper and kept being told it was on the way. One guy said he couldn't hold it anymore, so everyone turned his back. Donnell says an officer walked by and said, "Oh, I guess you're not embarrassed to pinch a loaf in front of your buddies."

The three teenagers were released around 3:30 AM. Graham was let out at 5:30 AM, and an hour later it was Monteleone's turn. Their arresting officers' badge numbers weren't written on their arms, so they were fingerprinted and photographed, but not charged. They say they got no explanation for why they'd been arrested or why they'd been detained so long. Monteleone says, "They just said, 'Go ahead. Don't let us catch you doing something like this again.'" An aunt from Schaumburg picked him up and drove him to the 25th District station on West Grand, where Lounsbury was being held.

Lounsbury's arresting officer hadn't been identified either, but she was charged with "reckless endangerment of the public." She says, "At first they told us we'd get out on I-bonds, but later they said we'd have to post bond." Monteleone's aunt put up the $100, and the two spent the rest of the weekend at her house.

Slive was released at 9:30 AM. He wasn't charged with anything, but he says a friend who was in another cell at the same station was charged with reckless conduct and wasn't released until the next day. Neither of their arresting officers had been identified.

Donnell says he was told that an arresting officer would be "designated" for everyone in his wagon. He expected to be charged but wasn't. He walked out of jail at 11:30 AM.

Nicotera was released 15 minutes later. By then, more than 20 people had been arrested at the Federal Plaza during the protest he'd intended to participate in. He says, "I was told I would be released with no charges because they had to make room for a new batch." He got on the phone, calling other activists in an attempt to raise bond money and find lawyers for the people who were still jailed.

Looking back, Graham says the police response was unjustified. "They totally misjudged the crowd," he says. "I have no problem with the police blocking Michigan, but why didn't they lead people down State? By deciding to stop the march, the police created a situation that never had to happen."

"They totally overreacted," says Donnell. "It was a peaceful demonstration." He says he was sympathetic to the marchers because of the way the police clamped down on them and would like to represent some of those facing charges, but can't because he was involved.

Monteleone went back to Iowa two days after his arrest. He says he doesn't have any strong opinions about what happened, though he would like to hear some explanation from the police. Lounsbury, who'll have to return for a May 10 court date, doesn't seem angry about what happened either.

Several members of the National Lawyers Guild are offering pro bono services to people facing charges. Guild lawyers are also talking about filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all those arrested. "I think it's definitely warranted," says Slive. "The point is to show that the Chicago Police Department needs to be policed." Nicotera agrees. But Graham isn't so sure, and Monteleone doesn't think a suit is a good idea. "Maybe for those who were unjustly charged," he says. "But for someone like me it doesn't make any sense." He adds that he and Lounsbury still like the city. "We go to Chicago all the time. This isn't going to stop us."

Graham, whose right thumb is still a little numb, says he's trying to see the positive side of the experience: "I spent a fascinating night with three other teachers, an architect, a lawyer, a lecturer, a violinist, a financial consultant, some college students, one tourist, and one guy who is an argument for never legalizing marijuana." But he doesn't think he'll be marching again anytime soon.

Slive says his experience made him more political: "It was a very empowering arrest." He plans to be at the march scheduled for April 5.

Nicotera says he intends to get arrested again and will keep going to rallies and marches as long as Iraq is under attack or occupied. "When you're coming from the standpoint of faith-based nonviolence, the short-term results don't matter," he says. "In the long run it's a win-win situation, because it's about clinging to the truth." On the morning of March 23 he attended a "die-in" at Federal Plaza. He decided he didn't want to get arrested again that soon, so he stood at the corner of Jackson and Dearborn, loudspeaker in hand, chanting, "We are going to jail for peace. Have you been to jail for peace?" Across the street several protesters were being led into a police wagon.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry, Patrick Donnell.

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