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Ian Wise’s email to Mark Brown: ‘I am not an anarchist’

Here is the complete text of the email Ian Wise sent to Mark Brown after reading a column that included police testimony Wise recognized as referring to him:

On March 16th 2012, an undercover police officer named Nadia Chikko walked up to an address listed on a flyer for a punk rock show and looked around. She saw a skinhead sitting on a step and asked for a lighter, using it as an excuse to strike up conversation about his tattoos. The one on his left arm — of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata — really interested her. After a few minutes, she asked him if he knew where to get drugs. He made polite conversation but didn’t offer any help in the way of getting high. Nearly two years later, Chikko referenced this conversation while testifying against three young men dubbed the “NATO 3” that are currently on trial for domestic terrorism. She pointed this stranger out as a person of interest and said he warranted being investigated further.

I know about this conversation because I was one the sitting on the steps outside the show, waiting for a friend’s band to play. Two days ago, I saw my name and tattoo referenced in an article written by Mark Brown on the Chicago Sun-Times web site that went into a little more detail about the McCarthyist tactics being employed by the Chicago police to address the “anarchist threat” in the city.

The mention of me in the article puts me in the awkward position of sticking up for the politics of people that I don’t necessarily agree with. See, I am not an anarchist. Chikko didn’t ask “Do you believe in the total dismantlement of the government?” nor did she ask, “Given the chance, how many government buildings would you blow up?” She simply asked if I thought police could be trusted. My answer, it turns out, was pretty pointed. Of course police can’t be trusted. She quoted me as saying “police are oppressive and need to be stopped” though this butchering of my words deviates from the idea that I was trying to express.

The Chicago police department list one of their core values as “Obligation”, and describe that obligation to act as “either legal or moral”. They do not, however, point out the fact that morality and law do not always go hand-in-hand. When the law crosses moral boundaries, those laws become oppressive. The problem is not always the police, because police are just people. The problem is a system that has created a culture of oppression. I understand how dramatic that last sentence sounds, but so many things in our day-to-day existence have become so commonplace that we have lost sight of the fact that our personal autonomy is being chipped away at every day. People of color living in poor neighborhoods that are introduced to the correctional system at a young age due to lack of community guidance are being oppressed. People existing outside of the gender binary that are stopped by police on suspicion of prostitution are being oppressed. People who are unable to have honest exchanges with each other in social settings for fear of being overheard making “anti police” statements and being named at trial are being oppressed.

What is the threat Chikko and the CPD see in the anarchists? Is it just the word that draws attention to them, or is it this fear of militia groups that they’ve cultivated after watching Fight Club too many times in their man caves? Is the government soon going to put the black bags over our heads, throw us in a cell and tell us they will only let us out when we name names? If we are to name names, we can only name ourselves, because humans are sovereign beings. We may work together but in the end we stand alone.

If we are to follow text book anarchism, the names we could come up with would include any cop who ever bent a rule or walked outside the lines of protocol to help someone out. Any police officer that ever caught a 13 year-old kid with a bag of weed and made the decision to give him a ride home and maybe lend an ear has a little bit [of] that threat in them. Any teacher who lent a student a copy of Persepolis after the schools took it out of their libraries is just as guilty of anti state thinking as someone who made vague threats over the internet and currently stands trial.

When Chikko suggested that I “could be something worth looking into” I wonder what she expected to find out about me. Perhaps she would like to know what when I got the tattoo she was so curious about, I was 19 years-old and working third shift in a chemical plant for $7.75 an hour. I was a new husband and father trying to stretch every dollar as far as I could. I was fighting hard for the very little that I had at the time, and never took money from the government. I didn’t have a LINK card. What I liked about Zapata was a quote of his that translated to “I would rather die on my feet than continue to live on my knees.”

Perhaps she expected to find out that I had tried to join the military, but health concerns locked me out. I always looked up to my father, a proud member of the 101st airborne division, and wanted to follow in his footsteps. My grandfather and his two brothers all saw combat in Europe during World War II, and one of my uncles gave his life fighting fascists. This has always been a point of pride in my family. Maybe she expected to find that as a young, loud mouthed skinhead kid growing up in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, my problem wasn’t so much with police but with Neo-Nazi gangs that threatened to kill me when I was 15 because of my presence at punk shows and outspoken condemnation of racism. Did she want to know that I started working at 14 and saved up my money to put out records, put on shows, and publish zines?

The reason I bring up my own history is because there is the expectation by the police and the silent majority that young people who don’t conform to expected social standards are lazy and the only reason we complain is because we don’t want to grow up. They expect any political opinion we have to be derived from clever Internet memes or trendy, easily digestible political “documentaries” on YouTube. The truth is that most of us don’t want to grow up if it means shrugging our shoulders and saying “well, that’s just the way things are” so that we can ooze self-contempt sitting in front of Fox News every night.

What the police don’t understand is that bombs and rhetoric do not always bring on revolution, and that’s what they should have taken away from their time attending DIY punk shows. Revolution is sparked when people stop trying to impress each other and try to get things done. The Chicago police department also lists among their core values integrity, leadership, and courage. What is it they think we are doing by booking our own shows, having honest exchanges with people across class, color, and gender lines, and trying to remove ourselves in small ways from a system we see as corrupt? In a post-9/11 landscape where everyone is afraid of each other, we are the people opening up positive communication and trying to support involvement and creativity from people that are otherwise marginalized. If CPD expects us to stand trial for that, then I waive my right to attorney and choose to speak to the jury as my peers.

Ian Wise, Bridgeport

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