In the 1990s the Office continued its tradition of representing militant and revolutionary activists and demonstrators, a tradition which originally encompassed the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, and SDS. We joined with the NLG to provide legal observers at demonstrations, and joined in the protests against U.S. involvement in Central America, South Africa, and the Middle East. We also represented activists who were arrested for acts of direct action and civil disobedience in criminal court, and activists from many different organizations, including student groups, the Emergency Clinic Defense Coalition (a pro-choice direct action group), Homeless on the Move for Equality, Greenpeace, Queer Nation, ADAPT (a disability rights activist group), activists protesting the lack of Latino hiring at the Chicago Transit Authority, and ACORN.
Several activist groups, including the Pledge of Resistance and Queer Nation, faced civil lawsuits for injunctions to curtail their activities. Queer Nation was sued by a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Indiana to enjoin protests concerning homophobic incidents and discriminatory hiring practices. The Pledge and individual members were served with emergency injunctions late in the evening at their homes by process servers hired by attorneys for the Water Tower Place shopping center management company, seeking to prohibit them from creatively bringing their message to holiday consumers by singing rewritten lyrics to popular carols. Jani defended these lawsuits, and the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to hold the activists in contempt but to issue no penalty.
Misdemeanor charges against activists were often dismissed as the prosecution feared the exposure of our clients’ courageous politics and the heavy-handed conduct of the police who were ostensibly assigned to “serve and protect” the demonstrators. Northwestern University activists against apartheid and CIA recruiting on campus prepared defenses only to have charges dropped on the eve of trial. During the early 1990′s a major antiwar mobilization against the War in the Persian Gulf yielded large numbers of protestors and arrests. In the winter of 1990, the “Chicago 19,” a group of steadfast activists who were arrested while protesting the Persian Gulf War, refused to negotiate pleas and demanded trials until their charges were also dropped. PLO attorneys were part of the Legal Committee on the Persian Gulf, coordinating the legal defense of arrested activists and providing legal counsel to conscientious objectors. PLO lawyers Erica Thompson (who had joined the office as a lawyer in1991) and Jani were themselves arrested in January of 1991, along with then Chicago NLG President Ora Schub and Pasquale Lombardo in the lobby of the federal building, gathering signatures for an anti-war statement which was to appear in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
PLO’s involvement with activist groups in the 90s was exemplified by work with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP CHICAGO). We and other NLG lawyers and students attended meetings to discuss legal issues, coordinated legal observers at demonstrations and provided representation in criminal and civil courts. ACT UP activists demonstrated, protested, met with officials and disrupted speeches, including a speech by then President Bush at the Hyatt which resulted in criminal trespass charges against four ACT UP members. At the National AIDS Actions for Healthcare in April 1990 more than 100 activists were arrested, many from out of state. We helped coordinate the legal defense of all those who were arrested on mob action and trespassing charges, negotiating pleas, demanding jury trials and attempting to conduct in absentia trials for out-of-state activists who chose not to return to appear in court.
At another large demonstration against the American Medical Association in June 1991, the Chicago police stepped up harassment and 27 ACT UP members were arrested and brutalized. One person was charged with a felony, that was reduced to a misdemeanor, and all remaining charges were subsequently dismissed. PLO then filed and litigated civil rights complaints on behalf of several of the demonstrators, and the cases were ultimately settled for a total of $80,000. To read further about our work representing activists and social movements, click here: Continuing to Defend Dissent.
HISTORY BY SECTION
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild