UPDATE: Mike Anzaldi has been cleared of all charges. Read the post here.
We checked back in with Mike Anzaldi, the freelance photojournalist who was arrested by the Chicago Police Department October 22 at a crime scene. Thinking we’d hear about the status of his arrest, we were shocked to learn he’d been arrested again – and the second offense is even more outlandish than the first!
As we posted before, Anzaldi was arrested and his equipment was confiscated, and about 500 images were deleted from his memory card, when the Chicago police decided that he wasn’t allowed to film a crime scene from a neighbor’s private property. He was charged with obstruction and resisting arrest and his status hearing is set for November 19.
On November 3, Anzaldi responded to a report of shots fired at a church. When he got there, it turned out a man had brought a plastic gun into a shelter and there was no crime after all, but Anzaldi decided to shoot a few minutes of footage just in case. As he was doing this, he was approached by an officer who told him he couldn’t stand where he was standing and then asked to see his credentials.
This officer called his name into the dispatcher – here’s where it gets weird – and the dispatcher apparently told her to detain him. The officers on the scene were confused and clearly not in the loop, but nonetheless were following orders from above. After some back and forth with higher-ups, the officer told Anzaldi that there was some sort of problem with his ID but the computer in her car was broken, so she asked him to come to the station to clear things up. They promised it would take 15 minutes and they’d return him to his car. Anzaldi admits it was foolish of him to willingly go with them, but understand it from his point of view - it was not a crime scene, he had done nothing wrong, it was not a confrontational situation, and he never imagined anything would come of it.
Four hours later, and he’s still sitting in the station’s interview room when he’s told they are placing him under arrest. He is not given a reason, an explanation, or read his rights. They put him in a holding cell, where he spent the night. The next day was Election Day, which is a court holiday, so he was brought to Cook County Jail and in front of a TV judge, where his bond was set at $10,000.
“They charged me with the exact same thing,” Anzaldi says. “They know how it works. If you get charged with the same crime twice – especially in this case I hadn’t even gone to court on the first one – you can’t [be released]. They lock you up and you stay until you see a judge.”
To recap: A photojournalist spends the night in a holding cell, is then taken to one of the worst jails in the country to wait among felons and convicts, given a bail usually reserved for murderers and drug offenders - all for standing outside a church and taking video.
“There is no doubt we’re not playing by the rules anymore,” Anzaldi says.
When asked if there is some sort a blacklist in Chicago that he’s now on, Anzaldi says, “I don’t know if there’s ‘officially’ one, but clearly there is one. There has to be because this beat officer who was on the street had no idea who I was or what the issue was. She was told by the dispatcher, ‘Bring that dude in.’”
The second case was ultimately dismissed because the arresting officer didn’t show up to court and the judge threw it out. That doesn’t mean it’s over though; the state has 120 days to reinstate the case, which they later informed Anzaldi’s attorney they’d like to do. “My attorney said you can do that, but we’ve got video of you guys being stupid and you might want to see it before you go forward,” Anzaldi says. The state is supposed to review the video this week. “Hopefully, if they see it, they’ll have the brains to drop it.”
“I saw a funny – well, it’s funny now, but at the time it wasn’t as funny,” says Anzaldi. “When I was at Cook County in their lockup, there was a Xerox sign up on the wall that said ‘There’s no reason for it, it’s just police policy.’ And I’m looking and thinking, Jesus. This is exactly how they think.”
In the meantime, Anzaldi’s livelihood is, quite seriously, in jeopardy. Is he worried about that going forward? “Oh absolutely,” he says. “Now I’m totally stifled. There is no possible way that I can safely continue doing what it is I do, especially on the South Side. We all know sitting here today that I’m right and there’s an injustice here. But they don’t care. The Chicago Police are getting in trouble for torturing people, actually physically torturing people. They definitely don’t care that the first amendment rights of a photographer have been violated. They’ll put me in jail again and then that’ll be a third strike. They don’t let you out [for a third strike]. It’s not about right and wrong for them, it’s about what they have the power to do.”
While the Chicago media hasn’t been enthusiastic in covering this story, the attention of a few outlets, including ours, prompted the Chicago Police to launch an internal affairs investigation. They contacted Anzaldi for his side of the story, but he is not going to cooperate before the trial is settled - and he isn’t overly optimistic about its effectiveness anyway. “That’s cool, but obviously there’s a conflict there,” he says. “It’s the police department investigating the police department.”
He is, however, optimistic about his upcoming trial. “The key evidence in the first case is [CPD spokesperson] Monique Bond saying, ‘You’re fine to stand here.’ That’s the key because if I’m okay to stand here then I’m okay to shoot. If I can stand here, I can take pictures here. And no court is going to go against that because that would be ridiculous. Now you’re going to set a precedent? You’re going to all of the sudden tell people you can only photograph where the police say you can photograph?”
To put this in perspective, Anzaldi is not a belligerent hothead, he’s not anti-police, and he doesn’t look for trouble. His job is to document news events every day, and it’s in his best interest to maintain a civil working relationship with the city police and other officials. At the same time, he is a staunch proponent of first amendment rights and is not about to back down when he knows he’s in the right.
“I’m confronted every day because I do most of my work, if not all of it, in the city,” he says. “This doesn’t happen once a week. Every day a cop comes up to me and says, “Who the hell are you?” That’s usually how it starts. It’s not always, “Who the hell are you?”, sometimes it’s, “Who the fuck are you?’, ‘What are you doing here?’, ‘Who do you work for?’”
He continues: “I don’t respond well to that kind of stuff. I’m more the type who’s like, ‘Who the fuck am I?’ ‘Who the fuck are you?’ Since when do I need to identify myself to you? I know what the rules are. The rules in Illinois and the rules in most states are that you do not have to identify yourself if you’re not suspected of committing a crime.”
And since when is it a crime to take video of a building on a public street?
“I’m an expert in photography and photographer’s rights,” Anzaldi says. “It’s my job. I know what I can and can’t do. [Police officers], on the other hand, I don’t know so much. I don’t think that they’re actually experts in the law. I don’t think that’s part of their expertise.”
Monique Bond, the Chicago Police spokesperson, hasn’t responded to our request for an interview.
If you’re interested in contacting the CPD, go here.