DROP ALL CHARGES AGAINST JARED CHASE AND FREE HIM NOW!
At a pre-trial hearing held today (18 February, 2016), former NATO 3 defendant Jared Chase’s Cook County Public Defender Peter Benesh made an ineffectual attempt to obtain a court injunction prohibiting the shackling of Chase using a “black box” device, which causes physical injury to Chase, who suffers from Huntington’s Disease. Chase was in court to answer to charges of “aggravated battery to a corrections officer” – a Class I offense, punishable by between 4 and 15 years in the penitentiary. Yet Chase’s lawyer was repeatedly rebuffed by Cook County Court Judge Thaddeus Wilson for lack of preparation in not asking for this protective court order in the proper fashion.
We were informed about the hearing via the Twitter and WordPress accounts of “Free the NATO 3”.
In our experience attending hearings like this one (since circa 1979), defendants have almost always had a legal defense campaign orchestrated by one or another revolutionary socialist party. Having had more than a century of experience defending class-war prisoners, the communists know how to run an effective defense campaign in a politically-charged case like this. Understanding that, in political cases, legal precedent and rule of law have a tendency to fly out the window, the communists do not act as if it’s just “business as usual” defending a political activist: they organize media campaigns to get out their side of the story in defense of the accused, make sure that their physical presence is asserted before every court hearing with a protest outside the “temple of justice” and make sure that the lawyers in the case understand the nature of how the capitalist frame-up system works in cases involving anti-capitalist political activists. Effective tactics are employed to let the powers that be understand that the defendant does not stand alone in facing the charges; the revolutionary working class principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all” means that every worker in the USA – in fact, the revolutionary workers movement itself – is on trial, not just the defendant. Inside the courtroom they stand in solidarity with the accused when the defendant’s name or names are called. This always pisses off the judges – but the communists don’t mount defense campaigns for their comrades in order to have the opportunity to kiss a judge’s ass. Communists understand that it is imperative to make it clear to both the accused person(s) and the court and spectators that THIS defendant is not fighting his or her case by themselves – he or she has a strong and militant base of supporters closely watching every development in the case. Often times major court victories have been won only after huge national and international defense campaigns have made it politically extremely expensive for the bourgeoisie to railroad the defendant. These class-struggle methods have worked time and time again to expose the injustice of the capitalist system to the world; they alert the working class to the vital necessity of NOT acting as if these cases are just “business as usual”. The outrageous US government frame-up of the NATO 3 is an attempt by the capitalist state to intimidate the working class and crush political dissent. Workers must be awakened to this fact and taught not to cower in the face of such criminal conspiracies that the capitalist class and its justice system continuously launch against worker-militants.
For activist groups who are not part of the revolutionary socialist movement, like the NATO 3 folks, these historical lessons have not been incorporated into their defense tactics. Not having the revolutionary Marxist understanding that there is no justice for workers – especially communist or anarchist workers or trade union militants – in the capitalist courts, they tend to try to “play by the rules” of the court, allowing defense attorneys to kowtow to the judge’s every whim; they advise supporters to “keep a low profile” in and around the courtroom, often even going so far as to assert that the defense attorneys “know” this judge and know how best to “get on the good side of the judge” for a favorable ruling. More often than not, these class-collaborationist tactics result in complete disaster, with the defendants getting the book thrown at them. The defense attorneys then express “shock” at the “uncharacteristically severe” sentence handed out by their “friend” the judge. Revolutionary Marxists don’t fall for this bullshit.
Having been informed by Jared Chase’s supporters’ websites that the hearing today would occur at 9AM, I made certain to arrive early so I could participate in the demonstration that would undoubtedly occur before the hearing. But when I arrived at 8:45 AM, this is what I saw:
This was not good. When I expressed my disappointment later to a handful of his supporters in the court gallery at not having seen the slightest hint of public protest outside the courthouse, I was chastised for being so arrogant in criticising them since they had been attending all these hearings for all these years and I had not. As if that matters in terms of the simple expression of disappointment at seeing NO evidence of support outside the courthouse TODAY! These poor defense tactics usually don’t obtain much sympathy from the judges, who have been instructed by the political powers in the Cook County Democratic machine to “make an example” of the defendants.
While it is entirely understandable that Chase’s supporters are depressed and dismayed at the prospect of their friend spending up to 15 years in prison if he gets the maximum sentence possible in this case, that is no excuse for failing to organize an effective defense campaign and then expressing hostility towards supporters who express their dismay when they show up at court in response to an appeal for support and find no organized support at all!
Progress cannot be achieved by the workers movement if historical lessons go unlearned and if every generation just keeps making the same avoidable mistakes over and over and over again. Our capitalist class opponents have centuries of experience buttressing their class rule; they learn from their failures and don’t repeat the same stupidity twice! Likewise, the communist movement has nearly 200 years of experience fighting frame-ups in the courts of the capitalist classes all over the world. To fail to take advantage of the hard-won experience of the revolutionary communist movement is a major error on the part of any activist group that finds its comrades in a situation like Jared Chase is in.
It was no surprise in this era of mass apathy among US workers that – in Chicago, a city of 4 million – a grand total of 9 supporters of Chase (including this reporter) made the trek to the Cook County Courthouse for the hearing. It was held in a bizarre glassed-in courtroom in which spectators are entirely sealed off from the actual courtroom, which sits behind a semicircular glass-and-metal barrier that looks like something out of the original Star Wars movie. No photos could be taken of the courtroom because in the “free and open” court system of Crooked Crook County, the Chief Justice has banned all cell phones from the premises. Members of the public who wish to observe the proceedings in Cook County Courthouse at 26th St. and California Avenue in Chicago must not only pass a metal detector screening before entering the courthouse, but they must also place their cell phones, chargers and any other electronic recording devices in secure lockers (provided for free by the county) before they are allowed to enter the building. The criminals running the farcical “justice” system in Crook County Courthouse – widely acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt in the United States of America – must keep video and audio evidence of their many blatant miscarriages of justice hidden from the eyes of the working class at all costs.
The court hearing in room 303 (which was set for 9:00 AM according to the “Free the NATO 3” website ) never actually got underway until 10:05 when the “Honorable” Judge Thaddeus L. Wilson finally graced us with his presence. Wilson, who is black, has hung a large framed color photograph of the Rev. Martin Luther King on the door behind the bench in order to give the appearance (to the uninitiated) that in his courtroom, the respected principles of Dr. King are upheld. King would undoubtedly not be amused to know that his portrait is being utilized in this manner in a courtroom in Cook County, where brutal racist injustice is meted out daily to hundreds of primarily black and Hispanic defendants. Hundreds of people of color are daily shipped to this County Courthouse for “kangaroo court”-style bond hearings at which it’s “your money or the next two months of your life” while you wait in jail for your trial. Judge Wilson’s courtroom sits directly above a filthy, overcrowded basement prison dungeon where hundreds of people are crammed into holding cells awaiting trial; this is a place completely at odds with everything Dr. Martin Luther King stood for.
On the dark, smoked glass barrier that stands between the public and the “bar of justice” are affixed a number of printed and crudely hand-lettered signs threatening the citizenry – who are supposed to be those from whom Judge Wilson derives whatever limited power he actually possesses – not to do a multiplicity of things. “Absolutely No Food or Drinks Allowed in this Courtroom” one declares. “DO NOT ENTER UNLESS YOUR NAME IS CALLED” screams another. If a citizen dares to enter the courtroom he or she has paid for many times over with their taxes – what would happen? Would the altar of justice be rendered unclean by an unindicted citizen’s presence? Would it have to be then reconsecrated to the gods of justice, Crook County-style? No children are allowed to cry or call out to a parent, sister or brother they see being brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and prison rags: “Children must be kept quiet or you will be asked to leave!” Surely Martin Luther King would endorse all this! A child crying out at seeing her father for perhaps the first time in months or even years would be cast out of the room by the “honorable” Judge Wilson! Such is justice in Crooked Crook County, USA, run for the past 100 years by the “lesser evil” Democratic Party! Everything is crooked about this place: the huge cockroaches at the jail skitter crookedly across the floors and the walls; even the birds flying over this place seem to fly sideways. Let’s not even mention the crooked guards!
While we waited for Jared’s case to be called an attorney emerged from the courtroom into the spectators’ seating area to converse with his client, who was seated among us. They openly discussed their strategy right there where it could be heard by all the court employees and the judge via the intercom system connecting both rooms. There is no private place in this courthouse for attorneys and their clients to discuss their cases! The image of Martin Luther King gazes pensively down from the wall of Judge Wilson’s courtroom upon this farce. If only that portrait could come to life to tell Judge Wilson what it thinks about the monstrous scenes that have played out in that courtroom under its eyes day after day after brutal day!
Finally, at around 10:32 AM, Jared Chase is led into the courtroom. As he enters, I stand up in solidarity. “SIT DOWN!” bellows the “Honorable” Judge Thaddeus Wilson.
Chase is a big guy; 6 feet tall, perhaps a bit more. Thinnish but well-muscled in his brownish v-necked prison shirt and matching brown pants, he looks as healthy as can be expected – given the circumstances of his confinement in a hellhole Illinois state prison in Pontiac – to me, who has never seen him before. But to his friends he “looks very thin and gaunt, and his health is visibly not well.”
Chase stands erect, calm and collected; his hands are not manacled but I can’t see his feet.
There is some preliminary chatter between the judge, prosecutor and Jared’s Public Defender Benesh. Then Benesh asks the judge for a court order to prevent Chase’s being manacled with what is called a “black box”.
This high-security restraint is usually only used for the most dangerous inmates: murderers and terrorists. In spite of the fact that all of the “terrorism charges” that the government had brought against the NATO 3 were repudiated by the jury in the original trial, Chase is still being periodically subjected to this abuse by the prison screws when they transfer him to court for trial.
Benesh is asking the judge for a “court order” prohibiting the use of the “black box” on Chase. He states that there is an existing doctors’ order that these restraints not be used on Chase due to his suffering from Huntington’s Disease, which causes sufferers to shake uncontrollably. This shaking, combined with the harsh restraints, has been found to be causing injury to Chase, Benesh explains. The use of harsh restraints “cuts off circulation” of blood in Chase’s hands.
“Who do you want me to order to stop using the restraints?” asks Judge Wilson?
Benesh appears to be somewhat taken aback by the question.
“Who do you want the court order to be issued to? Eye-Doc?” asks the judge again, indicating the acronym for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), as if to prompt Benesh… who appears to fumble for an answer.
“In terms of transport…” Benesh begins to reply. “We are asking that the least restrictive means possible should be used.” He describes a less physically punishing type of restraint known to be used by IDOC.
Judge Wilson advises Benesh to “talk to IDOC… I am not in a position to order such a thing. You can file a Federal lawsuit against IDOC if they are not following doctors’ recommendations. If it’s within my authority I’ll do it. I don’t know of any need for extra security. But just based on oral statements I’m not going to do anything.”
It appeared that Benesh was unprepared to properly ask Judge Wilson for a court order, having not submitted to the court any legal document for the judge to review and sign! Not only that, but Benesh seemed uncertain who it was that he wanted the judge to order to stop using the “black box” restraint! Unbelievably poor preparation for the hearing by Benesh – not at all atypical for the Public Defenders here in the “Land of the Free(TM)”.
It’s pretty outrageous that the Public Defender’s Office had their client dragged in chains all the way to Cook County Jail from the dungeon at Pontiac Correctional Center – a distance of 100 miles – so they could challenge the state’s use of cruel restraints used when he is transported from jail to court and back, causing physical harm to him – and then the PD wasn’t even prepared to properly ask for and obtain the court order necessary to get the chains removed! Sadly, this kind of third-rate legal defense for the poor is common, not only in Crooked Crook County but all over the USA – and in all the “advanced” countries of the capitalist world.
Benesh then asked for a status hearing to be set for March 23rd. He appeared not to have submitted any requests for discovery of evidence such as videos of the alleged physical altercations between Chase and prison guards that led to the present assault on a prison officer charges against Chase.
The judge agrees to set a status hearing for March 23rd at 9AM and for the trial to begin on April 11th of 2016. Chase is dismissed and I stand up again in solidarity as he leaves; and I and all Chase’s friends and supporters leave the courtroom.
Moments later Public Defender Benesh comes out into the hallway and I introduce myself and ask him for his business card. He says “no problem” and goes back into the courtroom to take care of some other legal business. After a few minutes he comes back out again, accompanied by a female colleague, and I ask him a few questions.
I had heard from one of Chase’s supporters that there might be video evidence available in this case. Is Benesh aware of any? “Not that I’m aware of; and I don’t know if it would be helpful or not if there was” he replied. Surprised at his answer I ask “really? No videos at all?” (There are cameras all over the jails). “No I don’t know of any”. “Have you asked if there was any such evidence through the discovery process?” “No.” he replied.
“The next hearing on March 23rd; will Jared have to appear in court again for that?” I ask. “Yes, he’ll be appearing at all of the hearings”. This is a real ordeal for Chase, who has to come, shackled, all the way from Pontiac to Chicago, especially considering his health.
“What is the specific offense Chase is charged with and what are the potential penalties?” I inquire.
“He is charged with ‘aggravated battery to a corrections officer’, which is a ‘Class I’ offense, punishable by 4-15 years in prison” Benesh replies. Very serious, indeed. (For a description of the incident as related in a letter from Chase to a supporter, click here).
I ask Benesh if he has been on the case from the beginning of the NATO 3 trial; he says: “I just got this case two weeks ago from my colleague in the Public Defender’s Office. I had nothing to do with the earlier case; this case has nothing to do with the original one”. But of course, this is not true at all! This case has EVERYTHING to do with the earlier case; Chase is a political prisoner who was framed up by undercover cops in the first place! If that frame-up hadn’t been successful, this assault case would never have occurred!
This is what we meant earlier in this article when we spoke of the danger of having inexperienced defense attorneys who do not understand the difference between a typical criminal case and one involving a political frame-up. This lawyer appears to be unaware of the very political nature of the charges his client is facing. “Business as usual”; just another assault case in the hideously overloaded docket of the vastly understaffed and underfunded Public Defender’s office.
It’s too bad that the crew of “Free the NATO 3” supporters didn’t bother to talk to this new defense attorney for their comrade! They had all just walked away from the courtroom without even bothering to talk to their comrade’s new lawyer!
It was not a very impressive performance by the “Free the NATO 3” defense campaign.
Later on that evening, I checked the “Free the NATO 3” WordPress site to obtain more background information about the case and to see if they had written a report about the hearing; commendably, as we stated above, they had. Their article criticises that I stood up in solidarity with Chase as he was led into the courtroom: “While prisoner supporters have employed the tactic often to stand up when the defendant’s name is called in various cases, Judge Thadeus [sic – IWPCHI] Wilson issued an injunction in the NATO 3 case preventing supporters from doing so, and does not respond kindly to this. So please remain seated when Jay’s name is called, as protest tactics or standing up only backfires on Jay.”
This expresses quite clearly the touching faith that these so-called “anarchists” have in the “impartiality” of the US capitalist “justice” system!
The “Free the NATO 3” website operated by these folks appears to offer a decent amount of information about the case – including copies of Judge Wilson’s outrageous piece-of-shit injunction against displays of class solidarity for political prisoners who appear in “his” courtroom. Unfortunately, the amateurishness of the anarcho-reformists reared its ugly head again when we tried to download a copy of this fine example of legal treachery; we received a “404- File Not Found” error. We left a message on that page so the website admins could fix the problem; checking it again today a week later, we found that it has still not been corrected. We left another message, for what it’s worth.
This should serve as a warning to young activists trying to decide between joining a revolutionary socialist organization or a more loosely organized “anarchist” or other activist group. It a choice between joining a party of organized, disciplined revolutionaries who will know how to avoid a cheap police entrapment scheme and defend you if you get framed up on bogus charges or joining a group that will fall right into a trap set by a pair of half-assed Police Explorers who infiltrate their organization on the first try. In a revolutionary socialist party, youth members are taught about the history of police entrapment schemes; internal party discipline requires them to report provocations like the one launched against the NATO 3 defendants to party leaders, who know how to deal with these things properly. It would be almost impossible for this kind of entrapment scam to ensnare a youth member of a revolutionary Trotskyist party; for amateur “activist” and “anarchist” organizations, this is not the case. So choose wisely when you choose the revolutionary political organization you want to join.
One last glimpse of the “justice” that takes place in the “Honorable” Judge Thaddeus L. Wilson’s judicial chamber of horrors:
A tall, well-groomed black man in a new winter jacket stands calmly before the dais upon which Judge Wilson sits. A few feet to his right, a middle-aged, stooped blonde white female Assistant District Attorney is trying to make this man look like Capone times ten. She rattles off a seemingly endless number of arrests and convictions for petty offenses this man has suffered all his life for the “crime” of being a black man living in Democratic Party-run Crooked Crook County. She chatters on: case after case, from the 1990s to the present. Only after she has made it up to June of 2008 does the “Honorable” Judge Wilson stop her, saying tiredly: “That’s enough. I get the picture”.
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, refracted through the smoked glass barrier of the courtroom… but we swear we saw the left hand of Dr. King move in front of his eyes; his shoulders seemed to heave spasmodically. He appeared to be crying.
Thanks to the poor defense work today by Atty. Peter Benesh of the Crook County Public Defender’s Office, Jared Chase will once again most likely by dragged in chains – including the “black box” apparatus that is causing him physical harm – from Pontiac “Correctional” Center to Crook County Courthouse for his next status hearing on March 23; his trial is scheduled to begin on April 11.