In a family story I somehow never heard until a couple of summers ago, my kid brother, thirteen years old at the time, managed to create and explode a Molotov cocktail during the Rodney King Riots, April 1992. I was staying with my uncle in Huntington Beach, worlds away from South Central Los Angeles, if only some thirty miles South of the action. The rest of my immediate family lived fifty-five miles further South yet in a house on a cul-de-sac which backs up to apartments chock full of U.S. Marines. My brother saw what was happening on the news, looked up how to make a Molotov cocktail in a household encyclopedia, gathered the necessaries and some friends from surrounding houses, then strangely backlit the riot porn on many a neighbor’s screen with a fireball in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Police were called forthwith.
I recalled that story right about the time my two-year old puked all over his green dino snowsuit. We were jolting our way over snow-stormed, heavily trafficked roads for the first day of the trial of the NATO3 – Brian Jacob Church, Jarred Chase, and Brent Betterly, all in their twenties.
I’d reheated chicken linguine for dinner the night before. My stomach felt queasy now too. Had I reheated enough?
As I apologized to the driver and cleaned up best I could, a journalist I sometimes direct message with suggested that I might turn a recent Twitter spat I’ve had with a guy from the Globe and Mail into an op-ed for his competing outfit. Nice! But at the time, I knew I’d be having extra trouble getting into the morning’s proceedings as I kinda sorta tip-toe my way toward freelance journalism. (On the side: Main duties would remain as dad, new professor’s husband, and recovering street pastor for the time being.)
After minor hilarity getting a kid in a puke splattered dino suit (tail included) through security, smooth talking my way past a mostly deserted checkpoint en route to the NATO3 courtroom, a gawk at the half dozen broadcast cameras set up opposite the metal detectors and x-ray machines, and one dead-end elevator ride on the wrong side of the building, I arrived at the scene of the spectacle just as the last spectators, lawyers, and media are being let in.
The earlier checkpoint was where I (and my two year old?) would have had to make the 2-5pm window on Friday for an ID/background check, but I’m hoping indy media restrictions are less severe. Really, I know that I’m not getting in. I’m hoping for a story anyway, hanging around the edges.
Seven armed and uniformed and mostly quite bulky Cook County Sheriff’s men hovered around the second set of metal detectors, with others circling in and out of the court room and up and down the halls. Off to the side is a registration desk with two women, sometimes three. To the left for spectators, to the right for media.
At first they were sympathetic to my claim to be freelance media, having written a single op-ed for a major paper and this and that for various other publications. But they want letterhead or a credential or, if I’m doing it for my own thing – fine – but show us a business license. A business license? Me and the kid weren’t getting in that way.
Well, the restrictions were more relaxed than initially stated – even spectators were allowed pen and paper. Maybe at the break as an overflow spectator, but let’s see about restrictions on kids (not in the 8 page judicial order, unless I missed it). They were not gonna let me in as media but would fudge the background check and let me in at the break as a spectator. Wow!
But now they wanted my Name, ID, Address, Email (ah, what the hell, an old Yahoo account). I balked at giving them a cell number. No big deal. Astonished or confused women and men in suits keep passing by, asking what’s happening here. “Oh yeah, that thing.”
A Sheriff woman in plain clothes with a gun approached as I wait. She asked the judge. Nope, no one under twelve will pass through his doors for this. Judicial decorum. Wide latitude to control the court room. And etcetera. As expected. Well, we’ll wait and observe.
Sam soothed his belly with applesauce, runs toy cars across the hard-surfaced hallways, and asked for coins to feed the unusually low pay-phone nearby in the hallway.
Plan: we’d stay through the break then take notes as the battery of broadcast journalists filed their first stories at the break. And that’s when I gathered the bit I put a little fire to on Twitter yesterday afternoon.
Sam and I wandered from the 6th floor hallway down to camera row and back two or three rounds to kill time. And we’d caught interesting snippets along the way. An aggravated sexual assault case is happening in the courtroom in the same alcove as the NATO3 trial. Court veterans there are put out a bit by having to deal with all the extra cops and a second metal detector. As we head off one elevator: “thing is they didn’t hesitate to kill them.”
Ten minutes later in a hallway on the first floor: “well, now the other brother’s been shot and the FBI is involved now. Yeah, he’s paralyzed, but he can talk. So he can’t get here by public transit. Can you go with me? In forty minutes.”
These are real cases of people getting brutally raped, shot, killed, paralyzed. But that goes for normal in this courthouse. Everyone involved in these conversations treated them as, interesting for sure, but not particularly too far beyond run-of-the-mill.
The big show here is for the overgrown kids who couldn’t even manage to actually light the Molotov cocktails they had to get help from undercovers to make. When my brother Jeff combusted a fireball less than a hundred yards from dozens of Marine families while riots roiled ninety miles North, a couple of cops gave him a stern talking to and left it at that. Now, the mere possibility of Molotov cocktails is a threat to the existence of America as such, even if, as pointed out by one of the defense lawyers today, such minor incendiaries are regularly a part of Greek protests without having terrorized large portions of the populace there.
When they finally broke for lunch well after one, a credentialed reporter burst past me talking loudly and scornfully to a colleague: “alcoholics and potheads and they have all these weapons, yeah.” I quickly discovered she was from the local CBS affiliate, tweeted out the quote once I retrieved my phone from a small items locker, then went back and snapped a distant picture. NATO3 tweeters then @YourAnonNews picked up the tweet and soon the Internet had discovered the identity of this supposedly professional, unbiased reporter.
Dana Kozlov tried at first, in response to me, to deny that she’d revealed bias in her reporting then simply subtweeted: “Please watch #Nato3 report at 6. Both sides represented. @cbschicago” So I watched later. And, yes, both sides get their say, but the lead in (both the anchors’ and hers), narrative arch, and tone are heavily slanted to play up the state’s ridiculous agenda.
But for all the minor stir that created on Twitter, my favorite moment arrived earlier when I decided that I’d played it safe and stayed out of the way enough to ask the plain-clothes woman Sheriff what she thought of the Sun-Times article which called all of this so much Security Theater. “Well it’s not,” she said, “this is exactly how we treat all the high profile cases. I was here for R. Kelly and the Hudson family trials.” “Same judge?” I asked casually. “No.” So that’s it, then. It’s not security theater because how we treat trumped up terrorism charges is exactly how we treat it when it’s murder of a relative of a Grammy and Oscar-winning singer and actress.