Brendan McCarthy, Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2006
After months of complaints about the conduct of Arlington Heights police, four protesters pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor battery charges for their roles in a demonstration last fall outside a meeting of the Chicago Minuteman Project.
The Chicago group is affiliated with a controversial national militia that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border to detect and report illegal immigrants.
The four protesters — Kara Norlander, 24; Rehana Khan, 24; Cynthia Gomez, 28; and Eric Zenke, 18, all of Chicago- — were arrested after police said they assaulted officers.
The guilty pleas, entered at a hearing in the Rolling Meadows branch of Cook County Circuit Court, left both law-enforcement officials and protesters claiming victory.
Supporters had waged a media campaign on behalf of the protesters, especially Khan, who complained that her civil rights were violated because when she was arrested, police removed the head scarf, or hijab, worn by observant Muslim women. Supporters also had urged sympathizers to call in to protest to the Village of Arlington Heights and the state’s attorney’s office.
The Minutemen, hailed by some as patriots who help the government and criticized by others as racist vigilantes, drew more than 100 supporters to the meeting last October at the Christian Liberty Academy, 502 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights.
Rick Biesada, a spokesman for the Chicago Minuteman Project, said protesters were making it impossible for his group to assemble peacefully.
“We had one group of law-abiding citizens who came to conduct a logical meeting on immigration inform,” he said. “They were swearing at us, refusing us our right to assemble. It was all about hate.”
As the meeting progressed, the protests intensified, and several demonstrators formed a human chain to block Minuteman supporters from entering, Northcutt said.
Norlander struck and cut a police officer, drawing blood, Northcutt said. Zenke struck another officer in the chest. As officers tried to arrest Norlander, more than 50 protesters encircled them, and Khan struck an officer in the forearm and shoulder with a closed fist. Gomez also struck an officer, Northcutt said.
With the strong support of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Khan’s allegations have made national headlines.
Khan said afterward that the removal of her hijab was a clear violation of her civil rights.