Supreme Failure: Chicago’s Anita Alvarez and the Campaign To Criminalize Citizen Monitoring of Police

mosaic_anita143x176Below is my column today in the Sunday Chicago Tribune on the recent denial of review by the Supreme Court in the Illinois eavesdropping case that we discussed earlier.


Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez ended up empty-handed last week — and all of Chicago can celebrate. Alvarez lost a U.S. Supreme Court mission that would likely surprise most citizens of this progressive city Chicagoans: to strip them of their First Amendment rights and to allow her to prosecute citizens for videotaping police in public.

Alvarez’s position was denounced as extremist by a federal appellate court and civil libertarians around the country. However, she refused to yield to the courts, to the Constitution or to the public — making Chicago a leader of a national effort to bar the use of a technology widely considered the single most important deterrent of police abuse. Alvarez is not alone in this ignoble mission, and this threat to the public is not likely to pass with her latest defeat.

It was 21 years ago that a citizen filmed the savage beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed car chase. The most chilling fact in the King case was that, absent the videotape, this would have likely been dismissed as another unsupported claim of police abuse.

Since that time, numerous acts of abuse by police have been captured by citizens — exposing false charges and excessive force often in direct contradiction to sworn statements of officers. These cases have increased exponentially with the explosion of cellphones with videotaping capabilities. Chicago has seen a long litany of such cases.

WBEZ-cop-videoLast month, the Chicago Police Department settled a case with an alleged gang member who alleged that Officers Susana La Casa and Luis Contreras took him to the turf of a rival gang and allowed Latin King gang members to taunt and threaten him. It is the type of case that would ordinarily be dismissed on the word of the officers, who allegedly gave false statements regarding the case. Lawyers for Miguel “Mikey” Castillo, however, found a videotape from a witness showing the officers laughing as Castillo cowered in their police SUV. It is the type of act that Alvarez argued should have been a crime — not the police harassment (which her office declined to prosecute) but the filming of the police harassment.

The same is true for the still-pending case of Brad Williams, who filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department in 2011 after he claimed to have been beaten by police in response to his filming an officer holding and dragging a man outside his squad car. Williams was told by officers that it was illegal to film police in public — the position advocated by Alvarez.

Loyola University Chicago professor Ralph Braseth was told the same thing in November 2011. Braseth was also videotaping an arrest as a journalist when he was detained and told that he was committing a crime. He was let go but not before a Chicago police officer deleted his video.

There remains a striking contradiction in the policies of Chicago officials. While Alvarez and others are pushing for the arrest of citizens who photograph police in public, Chicago authorities are also pushing for more and more cameras to videotape citizens in public. Thus, an American Civil Liberties Union report estimated more than 10,000 surveillance cameras are linked throughout the city to allow police to monitor citizens while Alvarez is trying to imprison people who monitor police in public.

When the latest case went before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the panel described Alvarez’s arguments as “extreme” in arguing that citizens filming police in public is “wholly unprotected by the First Amendment.” Alvarez did not have to adopt such an extreme position and she did not have to seek a reversal from the Supreme Court. Yet, she sought to overturn a decision by Judge Diane Sykes that chastised her for disregarding “the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-press guarantees.”

Alvarez, however, was not without one supporter on the court. Judge Richard Posner admonished the ACLU lawyer who sought to defend the rights of citizens and journalists. In oral arguments, Posner interrupted the ACLU lawyers after just 14 words stating, “Yeah, I know. But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of people’s encounters with the police.” He then stated openly what is usually left unstated by those seeking to jail citizens: “Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers. … I’m always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business.”

Alvarez and others appear to share the same suspicion and hostility. Across the country, police and prosecutors continue to arrest or harass citizens who film police — even after numerous courts have stated that such filming is a protected constitutional right.

The latest such case occurred last week in California. Daniel J. Saulmon was filming an arrest when he was stopped by a police officer demanding his identification and an explanation — neither of which Saulmon was inclined to give since he was engaged in a clearly lawful activity. The officer promptly arrested him, and he was held in jail for four days — ultimately charged with resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer. The video shows Saulmon standing at a distance from the arrest and never resisting in any way.

As a native Chicagoan, it was distressing to see the Cook County state’s attorney seek the reduction of guarantees of free speech and free press. With a crime wave sweeping the city and daily murders recounted in national media, one would think that Alvarez would have a few things more important to attend to than stripping away the rights of the citizens that she swore to protect.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University and editor-in-chief of the legal blog jonathanturley.org.

Date: Chicago Tribune, December 2, 2012

37 thoughts on “Supreme Failure: Chicago’s Anita Alvarez and the Campaign To Criminalize Citizen Monitoring of Police

  1. Exactly….. Gene….

    Do I recall a Florida Police Officer getting fired after disturbing people filming him off duty……

  2. Bravo. But, watch your back when you go back home Mr. Turley. They’ll be watching that “traitor” from DC.

  3. “Posner interrupted the ACLU lawyers after just 14 words stating, “Yeah, I know. But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of people’s encounters with the police.” He then stated openly what is usually left unstated by those seeking to jail citizens: “Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers. … I’m always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business.””

    This was for me the most telling point in this article. When a Judge sitting on the 7th circuit of the U.S. court of Appeals is able to make a statement such as this, on the record, you know that our Federal Court System is in trouble. People who understand the civil liberties bestowed upon U.S. citizens, like Professor Turley and the ACLU, have been sold out by politicians of both parties who have filled our courts with Judges who represent an authoritarian mindset. That this is the result of a concerted movement in Corporatist Conservative circles since the defeat of Barry Goldwater is without doubt. However, the result of this well-funded, though quite legal, conspiracy is that it was abetted by liberals who were more protective of their positions in the political establishment, than mindful of this threat to our civil liberties.

    The meme used as the basis for this ongoing campaign to remake America into
    a plutocratic society has been “original intent” as cozened intellectually by the likes of the Federalist Society. It originated in the horror of many conservatives with the “judicial activism” of the SCOTUS led by Earl Warren. The background of some of these men so vilified, was actually quite mainstream. Earl Warren was a popular Republican Governor of California. Hugo Black in his youth was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Yes it was true that also on SCOTUS was William O. Douglas, a Judge who: “…. was often at odds with fellow Justice Felix Frankfurter, who believed in judicial restraint and thought the Court should stay out of politics. Douglas did not highly value judicial consistency, or “stare decisis” when deciding cases.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas . However, for the most part this SCOTUS presided at a time of great social change and unrest in this country.

    The era of the Warren Court saw a country where Black people were subjected to the terror of “Jim Crow”; people were persecuted/destroyed for their lawful political beliefs; artists were censored for producing masterpieces deemed obscene by prudish special interests; “blue laws” enforced the Christian Sabbath;
    women were second class citizens despite having voting rights; and homosexuals were routinely persecuted, arrested and destroyed for their natural sexual activity. In its rulings the Warren SCOTUS tried to re-enforce the spirit of
    The Bill of Rights and our Constitution. Pillars of U.S. society were horrified at the rulings of this court, which actually were depriving them of their right to behave hypocritically by forbidding the masses from doing the things they did without fear of the Law. This SCOTUS upset the endemic class-ridden nature of American society.

    This is a brief, superficial background of how the concept of “original intent” was formed and the rest is the history of how its’ proponents were pushed forward into judicial positions and Law School faculties to expand upon and preach this “gospel”. The irony is that the “original intent” crowd, like Antonin Scalia, are in fact judicial activists of an oppressive sort, who ignore “stare decisis” when it suits their political beliefs.

    This decision and SCOTUS declining to review it is a hopeful sign. This battle to allow police infractions to be exposed to daylight is far from over. The ability to throw someone in Jail and thus cause them to incur the financial burden of defending themselves is one that is daunting to most of us. For many police and local governments, see NYC’s “Stop and Frisk”, it matters little that their case is throw out later, when they can produce a “chilling effect” when the moment is ripe.

  4. “This was for me the most telling point in this article. When a Judge sitting on the 7th circuit of the U.S. court of Appeals is able to make a statement such as this, on the record, you know that our Federal Court System is in trouble.”

    Wow. Thanks. Of course, I knew our federal court system was in trouble way before Posner came out with this particular gem. He said stuff in 1987 that I found pretty telling. And it is not just the “authoritarian” behavior of the federal judiciary that is the problem, but also the rampant corruption, the agreemanism, the corporate a55-ki55ing, and a goodly measure of garden variety stupidity hidden behind clerkwords.

    They’re — for the most part — a group of thugs bringing our country down faster than any other single force in action at the moment. And they’re the only game in town.

  5. Mike Spindell 1, December 2, 2012 at 10:44 am


    This was for me the most telling point in this article. When a Judge sitting on the 7th circuit of the U.S. court of Appeals is able to make a statement such as this, on the record, you know that our Federal Court System is in trouble. People who understand the civil liberties bestowed upon U.S. citizens, like Professor Turley and the ACLU, have been sold out by politicians of both parties who have filled our courts with Judges who represent an authoritarian mindset.

    ============================================
    Quite so Mike.

    I have information indicating that the federal bench is more to the right, “conservative”, than at any time since ~1937.

  6. Well done professor. And, thanks to the ACLU as well who is defending the right to videotape police in public doing their job.

  7. This is a major point in our eventual freedom rights: to conserve evidence of wrongdoing.

    Thanks to the professor for giving it major effort, and enlisting the support where it is critical—-Chicago.

    Since the police state is expanding and becoming more corrupt and powerful, this is a critical right and fight..

    Just as I believe my opinion of freedom of speech against corporate tyranny and indirectly from the mob, as expressed on the Lindsey Stone thread is of even greater importance.

    Freedom of thought can not as yet be forbidden, although some have tried. Freedom of thought without freedom to speak is not democracy. Time to put teeth in the words: ” I disagree but will fight to death for your right to say it.” (paraphrase)

  8. It is ludicrous when you know they are collecting all internet information and phone calls and storing this information. What is a citizen shooting and broadcasting some film from a camera on a personal phone when the government probably has that data already? It simply boggles my mind:

  9. Use lasers. Aim them at the cop cameras and burn them. Shoot right down the lens. Photo the cops 24/7. Photo this itchbay coming out of her house.

  10. When I worked for the Illinois State Appellate Defender everybody knew Alvarez was a dumb cunt who couldn”t argue herself out of a wet paper bag. As for Posner, who I argued in front of one time (successfully), he, Milton Friedman and Gary Becker have done more to destroy this c”unt”ry than any three people. If you have any doubts as to why this republic is over and out, just look to the University of Chicago: a J.D. Rockefeller production. What up Enrico Fermi? Bomb Hyde Park, please!

  11. Excellent article Professor. I echo Mike S’s comments about Judge Posner. His statements show a disconnect between an appellate judge and the constitutional rights he should be protecting.

  12. Is it possible to graduate from law school and fail to understand case law and the most fundamental rights American citizens possess to protect themselves from their government?

  13. Great job Ralph, it’s because of citizens like you that the truth comes out as long as the news don’t edit what they choose to show. Putting video into the media by a citizen needs to be ran at it’s fullest.

  14. Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither. Put government-run CCTV inside the homes of Alvarez and Posner and see if they like it.

  15. Thank you Ralph, nicely put!

    How is it that cops and judges (not to mention the police investigators in the departments) do not understand basic First Amendment rights?

  16. Pistol Whippin would be too good for her.
    It should be noted that the refusal of the Supreme Court to “hear” the case is really an affirmance of the decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

  17. We need not only court decisions affirming the right to film police, but laws passed with stiff penalties for police officers who try to prevent it. Good, honest cops ought to welcome video cameras–if they’re doing their job right, the videos will protect THEM as much as the people they’re arresting.

  18. Will someone please run against Alvarez! Her statements after Dan Webb’s
    report about police obstruction involving R.J. Vanecko were incredible and evidently not credible. How did she ever get in?

  19. Saw Anita Alvarez tonight on the 60 Minutes piece about forced confessions in Chicago.

    Alvarez came across as a corrupt, incompetent idiot. She belongs in Texas, frying innocent people. I feel sorry for the people of Chicago.

  20. Jeff,

    I’m no fan of Alvarez, but isn’t praying for her to be raped and beaten and for her attackers to go free a bit much?

    Not to mention, if you’re a Christian following the whole “God is love” idea and the Golden Rule, don’t you think praying for something like that is not only counterproductive but contradictory? If you’re praying to Satan or some other comparably evil imaginary figure, sure – go for it. But I don’t recall reading the Parable of the Rapists in any of the various gospels.

    Just a thought.

  21. Jeff:

    I have removed your comment pursuant to our civility policy. While usually enforced against comments made to other commentators, the rape comment direct at Alvarez was, as Gene noted, completely out of line. Regardless of how one feels about Alvarez and her controversial policies, wishing that someone is raped is offensive and obnoxious. I understand that you are simply expressing your anger, but I have to ask that you express such feelings in more productive and civil ways. We value all of our readers and commentators, but this blog is one of the few places on the Internet where we try to maintain civil and respectful discourse.

    Jonathan Turley

  22. Anyone catch her marvelous performance on 60 minutes last night? DNA evidence exonerated a group of kids charged with rape & murder. Not a bit of evidence tied the kids to the crime but DNA taken from inside the victims body was that of a known rapist/murder. The kids had been bullied into signing confessions, none of which matched by the way, and spent 15 years in prison.

    And there she was, saying despite the total lack of evidence against them & the presence of evidence the crime had been committed by a man know for that type of crime she was just positive they were still guilty.

    I turned to my wife & asked “Do you think she is really that stupid or does she just hope we are?”

  23. “Do you think she is really that stupid or does she just hope we are?”

    Frankly,

    She is ignorant, which is different from stupid. Stupid is a learning deficit, Ignorance is the inability to absorb information that doesn’t agree with your preconceptions. I would say she’s smart enough to get where she is, but that also she is profoundly ignorant and is not fit for her job.

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