Daily Herald: Protester trial will have protest of its own
By Kara Spak and Sheila Ahern Staff Writers
The Cook County sheriff’s police are mobilizing additional officers to the Rolling Meadows courthouse today for the start of a jury trial of five Chicago residents arrested during an immigration protest in Arlington Heights in October.
Authorities are preparing for a group of as many as 60 protesters, said Bill Cunningham, spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, but he added authorities question whether more than a dozen will actually show.
“We’re not anticipating any sort of difficulties,” Cunningham said. “We’re expecting a peaceful demonstration.”
Rehana Kahn, 23, Eric Zenke, 18, Kara Norlander, 24, Cynthia Linda Gomez, 28, and Marco Quiroz-Rojas, all of Chicago, were arrested Oct. 15 and charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and battery to a police officer.
The five suspects were part of a group of 500 protesting against the Chicago Minutemen Project, an anti-illegal immigration group holding a Saturday meeting.
The demonstration started peacefully but got heated when police say a group of protesters attempted to block a door at the Christian Liberty Academy, 502 W. Euclid.
When the protesters didn’t obey police orders to move, Arlington Heights police called for backup. More than 100 officers, many in riot gear and camouflage, responded from surrounding suburbs.
Defense attorneys claim the five were demonstrating peacefully and legally and police overreacted.
They face up to a year in jail if convicted.
The Council for American Islamic Relations claims Arlington Heights police targeted Kahn because she was wearing a hijab, or head scarf. Police later tore it off her head, said Christina Abraham, the group’s Civil Rights Coordinator.
“For her to have it ripped off her head is an egregious symbol of how some do not respect the religious practices of a person,” Abraham said.
Prosecutors claim the five came from the city to stir up trouble, forming a human chain, blocking a door and then refusing to disperse when police ordered them to.
The hijab incident was reviewed in October, said Cmdr. Jeffrey DuFloth of the Arlington Heights Police Department.
“It wasn’t torn off, it was removed for officer safety reasons,” DuFloth said. “The officer did nothing wrong.”
Weapons may have been hidden in the hijab, DuFloth said.
Village President Arlene Mulder has received e-mails, phone calls and letters from people supporting the anti-Minutemen group, but agreed with DuFloth saying the Arlington Heights police officers acted appropriately.
“There were hundreds of people there and they resisted arrest,” Mulder said. “When the police ask you to move, you move. Everyone has the freedom to attend a rally, but there are rules.”
Critics say the suburban police officers weren’t trained to handle either a large protest or a Muslim woman’s religious dress.
Village employees, including police officers, have received cultural diversity training in the past, but nothing specifically on the Islamic religion, Mulder said.
“I’m not sure that religions have been covered,” she said. “We certainly want to be more knowledgeable and if there is a training session out there, we’ll look into it. It’s an ongoing process.”
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