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Preemptive Strike?

A handful of activists planning to disrupt Boeing's shareholder meeting at the Renaissance Hotel had barely made it out of their room when they were shown the door by a battalion of cops.

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On the morning of April 28 Ceylon Mooney sat in the Starbucks near Madison and State drinking a cup of coffee. On the floor next to him lay a banner that read "Boeing Weapons Crucify the Least Among Us" and a backpack containing 200 buttons with the names of Iraqi children who'd been befriended by activists from Voices in the Wilderness during a visit to Iraq last year. Next door in the Renaissance Chicago Hotel three other activists, two of them Voices in the Wilderness members, were in room 914, getting ready to disrupt Boeing's annual shareholders' meeting, which was to start at 10 AM in a third-floor conference room.

On his way to the Starbucks, Mooney had seen several police cars parked by the hotel. He wasn't surprised. There'd been lots of police at the Boeing protests he'd participated in leading up to the invasion of Iraq, including one on March 13, when he and ten other activists were arrested after chaining themselves together in the lobby of Boeing's headquarters, at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.

Mooney didn't plan to participate in anything more than a small protest outside the Renaissance. He didn't want to do anything that could get him arrested, which would violate the terms of his release on an I-bond after his previous arrest and could lead to jail time. But he did want to help his friends inside the Renaissance talk through their plans, so around 7:50 he headed to the hotel, leaving the banner behind to avoid calling attention to himself. He says several police officers were in the lobby, but no one said anything. He spent about 45 minutes in the room talking with Don Hangey, Sue Mackley, and Frank Raterink.

Around 8:45 Mooney and Raterink, who'd spent the night in the room, walked into the hall to wait for an elevator. Mooney was going back to Starbucks to pick up his banner, and Raterink wanted to step outside for a cigarette. They say the first elevator to open its doors held six police officers, including two Mooney recognized from his previous arrest. Raterink decided to wait for the next elevator, but Mooney got in.

"One of the officers I knew immediately said, 'You're under arrest,'" says Mooney. He thought the guy was joking. "My brain said, 'Just fly casual.' But, boy, were they smiling. They said, 'Hey, we've been looking for you. We were hoping to get you today.'" Before the elevator reached the lobby, he says, he was handcuffed and told that he was being arrested for trespassing and for violating his bond. He spent the next hour in a paddy wagon.

Raterink went back to room 914 to tell the others what he'd seen, then went downstairs to look for Mooney. He says that when he returned to the ninth floor two security officers and one policeman were in the hallway, and he almost bumped into the cop, who was holding a sheet of paper. "He looked at the piece of paper," Raterink says, "and looked me up and down." He says he could see that the paper had 15 or 16 photos of protesters, including him. He believes they were digital photos taken by Boeing security officers during the protests at their headquarters. "Lucky for me, I had changed my appearance," he says. "I trimmed my beard, cut my hair, and put on a suit and tie, so they didn't recognize me." But he says the officers stared at him as he went into room 914.

Hangey says he looked out the peephole a little later and saw six policemen and security guards in the hallway, one with his ear to the door. "We were getting a little paranoid," says Hangey. "Our plan was to disrupt the meeting, but it quickly became clear that we wouldn't make it." They thought that as soon as they left the room they'd be arrested, so they called another Voices in the Wilderness member, Bitta Mostofi, who brought them a camera to document whatever happened. Mostofi says that by the time she arrived only one policeman was standing in the hallway, and he didn't give her any trouble. But the other officers soon returned. Mostofi agreed to leave first to see what they would do.

"I walked out of the room and saw six cops, some of them in plainclothes," she says. "They were all shooting each other glances and fidgeting, pretending that they just happened to be there." She says she got into an elevator and was followed by an officer. The elevator stopped on the second floor, and the officer stepped out; when he noticed that she hadn't moved he got back in and followed her until she left the hotel.

Once outside, Mostofi called to say that she'd made it out. The other activists decided they'd try to get out too, then decide if they could still pull off some kind of protest. Raterink left first. He says after he got into an elevator an officer got in and followed him out of the hotel.

Hangey and Mackley left together. He took the stairs, and she headed for the elevators. She says a policeman told his partner he was "going for a smoke break" and hopped in with her. When he stepped out of the elevator in the hotel lobby, she hit the button for the third floor, hoping she could still disrupt the shareholders' meeting. She stopped in a rest room and started pulling the posters she intended to hold up out of her purse.

She says she heard policemen talking outside, one chastising another for not following her. Two female officers walked in, and she walked out. But then, she says, she was pulled into a stairwell by five officers, one of whom she recognized as First District commander John Risley.

She says she was questioned, had her bag searched, and was told that access to the floor was restricted. She told them she hadn't seen any signs saying it was. She says a male plainclothes officer said, "We don't want you here," then asked if she'd checked out of her room. She assumes he thought she was Laurie Hasbrook, the activist who'd booked the room. "He asked, 'Are you still living on such and such street, Laurie?'" she says. "So I knew he had gotten that info from the hotel. It seemed like an attempt at intimidation." She told them she just wanted to leave, and they escorted her out of the hotel.

Raterink and Hangey, who'd met outside, decided to wait until the end of the meeting, then try to make their point as the shareholders left. They reentered the hotel and sat in the lobby for 15 minutes. They say they counted around 30 police officers, but that no one said anything to them.

Around 11:45 they saw a large group of people coming down an escalator toward the lobby, and they figured the Boeing meeting was over. They got on the escalator going up and raised small posters of dead Iraqi children. Raterink yelled, "Here are your first-quarter human profits!" Hangey shouted, "Boeing bombs kill babies!" They say police and hotel security stopped them at the top of the escalator and sent them back down. At the bottom they saw Risley and several officers waiting for them.

Shortly after that Mackley returned to the hotel. "I thought, they can't just kick us out," she says, adding that she went to the front desk to file a complaint. "At that point I didn't want to pay for the room because of the way we were treated--we were harassed." She says she was returning the key card for the room, which cost $277.61, and talking to the hotel's director of security, Brandon Moore, when Risley walked up and asked why she was still in the hotel. She told him she was filing a complaint. She says he walked away, then sent over another officer, who told her the police needed to do "further investigating."

She says the officer took her into a luggage room and went through her purse. She asked why she was being searched again. "He told me I was being held because a bomb-sniffing dog had 'gone crazy' after going through the bathroom I was in," she says. "I told him, 'I'm here to protest a company that makes bombs. How can you think I would bring a bomb in here?' Then they brought this little dog to sniff my purse." She was surprised when they let her go, until she learned that Hangey and Raterink had been arrested after heckling Boeing shareholders: "I figured they were just looking for a pretext to hold me so I couldn't do the same."

After Mooney was taken to the police station he watched an officer fill out the arrest report. It states that he was "warned not to enter the hotel, was observed by hotel security entering the hotel elevator and was then found on the ninth floor." Mooney got upset. "I told him he knew very well I was never warned not to enter the hotel," he says. "I read him the riot act." The officer didn't change the report.

Hangey says his arresting officer read aloud as he wrote out his report: "He entered a secure room being used by Boeing and began to yell and scream, alarming citizens, putting them in fear of their safety." Hangey says, "It was funny. He looked at his partner and asked if it was OK to write that. His partner glared at him, then tapped him on the shoulder and motioned for him to step outside." Hangey says a few minutes later the officer came back, scratched out "secure" and wrote "conference." Raterink's report also states that he entered the conference room.

Mooney was charged with trespassing, Hangey and Raterink with disorderly conduct. Later that day the three complaints were signed by the Renaissance's Moore. Asked about the arrests, Moore said, "I have no comment whatsoever."

The activists were released from the lockup at 18th and State around 9 PM, and the next day they hired Tom Brejcha, the attorney who's been representing the 11 protesters, including Mooney, arrested at Boeing headquarters on March 13. Brejcha says that when that case first went to court, on April 25, the prosecutor, Mikki Miller, indicated that she was amenable to a deal, but at the next court date she told him she was "under orders from the top not to cut any." He thinks it was "a delayed reaction to the mass arrests [of protesters] on March 20--after that they were treating people guilty of crimes of conscience as harshly as people guilty of violent crimes." Marcy Jensen of the state's attorney's public affairs office says Miller disputes his account: "What she told the defendants' attorney was that her supervisor had instructed her not to drop the cases. We are always open to plea agreements."

Later, says Brejcha, Miller was again open to cutting deals. On May 19 one of the 11 activists, Lindsay Foreman, decided to plead guilty because she lives in Vermont and couldn't afford to stay and fight the case (the trial will be held October 8); she was given three months of court supervision. "I asked for six months," she says. "They said, 'How about three?' It was like as the memory of that event receded so did the city's vengeful mood."

Mooney and other activists think city officials have been pressuring police and prosecutors to come down hard on protesters and will continue to. Mooney points out that the city encouraged Boeing to move its headquarters here by offering more than $23 million worth of subsidies and tax abatements. "Maybe having made that much of an investment in Boeing, they think arresting protesters is needed to protect that investment," he says. John Farrell, another member of Voices in the Wilderness, says the money the city has thrown at Boeing is one of the main reasons the group has targeted the company: "Because the city has given them these incentives--money that could have been used for civic improvements--we have a vested interest in seeing that Boeing will be a responsible corporate citizen."

Neither Boeing's director of communications, John Dern, nor Daley spokeswoman Jackie Heard returned calls for comment.

Commander Risley denies that he and his officers have been pressured to come down hard on protesters. "I have a responsibility to the city of Chicago and to the activists," he says. "They are entitled to express their views, but if they break the laws I have to put a stop to that--within the limits of the Constitution." Asked why so many police were at the hotel, he says, "It might have been at my suggestion, because I didn't want any acts of vandalism and public disturbance."

Risley says he can't comment on Mooney's account of his arrest because he wasn't there. "I have to go by what's on the report," he says. But he thinks the question of whether Hangey and Raterink actually entered the conference room, as their arrest reports state, is a nonissue. "They made it to the floor where the conference room was located," he says. "They were, I'd say, about 100 feet from the conference room. There were numerous attendees leaving and being subjected to their shouting."

Risley also denies Raterink's claim that officers had photos of activists. "That's absolutely not true," he says. "These activists, I know a lot of them by sight. I don't need a picture. One of the guys on the escalator, I know him. If I'd seen him I would have known he was up to no good."

Risley says no one would ever be arrested just for being a known activist. "We don't arrest them just for being there," he says. "But when it becomes a public safety issue I take action." He says officers thought Mackley might be a threat to public safety after the bomb-sniffing dog checked out the third-floor rest room where she'd been. "At that point the bomb and arson squad was called in, and she was held while they investigated," he says. "I was actually glad she came back. As soon as that was cleared she was allowed to leave.

"These activists don't understand that I'm also here to protect them. Those guys yelling and jumping up and down on the escalator--could they have fallen off the escalator? Absolutely." He doesn't think the protesters can claim they were harassed: "They may have been placed under surveillance--and for good reason. But harassed? No."

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the Chicago ACLU office, wouldn't comment on the specifics of what happened to Mooney and the other activists. He says hotel guests should expect to be under surveillance in public areas, but they "would have an expectation of privacy in certain private areas--rest rooms, private sleeping quarters." He also says that as a private business, a hotel can make its own rules as to which areas people have access to. "What they can't do is to make an area open to the general public and restrict access to protesters," he says. "They can't deny access based on the content of your message." But they can "create rules that limit the ability of people to participate in that activity."

All three cases were scheduled to go to court on June 13, but Brejcha got the court date moved to June 10. He subpoenaed a Chicago Tribune photographer, Chuck Berman, who'd covered the shareholder meeting and shot a picture that ran on April 29 showing Hangey and Raterink being sent down an escalator by police and security officers. "That gives the lie to their claim that we entered the conference room and threatened people," says Hangey. Berman says that Hangey and Raterink "didn't make it anywhere near the conference room" when he was there, but adds that "it's possible they were there before I arrived." The Tribune invoked the state shield law to keep him from testifying.

Brejcha says he also sent a subpoena to Moore, the complainant in the case, stating that he'd asked that the court date be changed. But Moore wasn't in court on June 10. If the complainant doesn't show up that's usually enough to get a case thrown out, but the judge, Marvin Luckman, said that because the hearing date had been changed, he would give the state another chance to present its case. The three activists waived their right to jury trials and will have bench trials before Luckman on July 15.

After their arrests in April, Mooney, Hangey, and Raterink continued the Thursday vigils they'd been holding outside Boeing headquarters since February. On April 13 Mooney was arrested after making handprints in his own blood on the wall of the building and charged with defacing property; on June 25 the prosecutors agreed to drop the charges--as long Mooney didn't set foot on Boeing property for six months.

In late May the three were again on the sidewalk outside Boeing, two security officers looking on as Mooney beat on drums, Raterink played guitar, and Hangey passed out copies of a Reader story describing the tax breaks and subsidies the city and state had used to lure Boeing here. Passersby ignored the group. So did the employees walking in and out of the building. Mooney said it didn't matter. "You can't force people to pay attention or to care," he said. "All you can do is try to educate them. And the city has to respect our right to be here."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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