About a year ago my then-colleague Mick Dumke and I stumbled on a great secret that Mayor Emanuel wanted none of you to know.
His police were spying on ordinary citizens, whose only crime was to gather for peaceful protests that are supposedly protected by the First Amendment.
To figure out exactly who the cops were spying on, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Police Department. And then waited.
On December 10, 2104, the police sent us 26 pages of records in which almost all of the information was blacked out, apart from the dates when these undercover operations took place.
Mick and I then invented a fun-filled parlor game that goes like this: First, you look at when the police were spying. Then, you do an Internet search to see what was going at that time that might piss off the mayor. And just like that you have a pretty good idea of who the police are spying on.
Anyone can play—it’s more fun than Monopoly!
Based on the dates of the investigations, we deduced that the police—first under Mayor Daley, then under Mayor Emanuel—were spying on Occupy Chicago as well as activists and groups protesting the city’s Olympic bid, a gathering of the American Bankers Association, a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao, the NATO summit, and police shootings of unarmed black people.
In the case of the Occupy, NATO, and Olympic movements, the police had planted undercover operatives who pretended they were protesters.
Our story ran in March. But stubborn fellow that he is, Mick wasn’t content. He wanted to make the police reveal what they had redacted in those reports. So he appealed to the office of Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan, which acts as a referee in FOIA disputes.Thus began the great legal argument.
On one side, you had the city’s finest lawyers, arguing that the police couldn’t release any more information without endangering the lives of undercover police officers. On the other side, you had Mick—who never went to law school but has watched many episodes of Perry Mason—arguing that they can’t endanger the lives of officers if they don’t reveal their names.
On July 21, after months of back-and-forth and deliberation, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office sided with Mick, writing that “CPD has not explained how the release of the unredacted worksheets, which do not contain any information that would identify the undercover officer who participated in the investigations, would enable a person to ascertain the identity of an undercover officer.”
Let’s pause to consider the implications of this decision. Either the city’s lawyers are so bad that they got their butts whupped by a lowly reporter. Or Mick missed his true calling and should have gone into law, where he’d make even more money than he’s making in journalism. If such a thing is possible.
In any event, assistant attorney general Matt Hartman ordered the police to unredact most of the redactions. The city being the city, it took its own sweet time before sending Mick the good stuff. By then, he’d moved on to the glitz and glamour of life at the Sun-Times, where he now works as an investigative reporter.
Make sure you make him pick up the tab the next time you see him at a bar.
Over the last few weeks, Mick’s written two stories based on the unredacted information—and guess what? We were right in all of our original deductions about who the cops were spying on. Mick and I are now thinking about broadening our prognostications into stocks and sports.
Anyway, Mick, keep up the good work.
But be warned. You keep this up and Mayor Rahm may have the cops spying on you.