Friday, May 18, 2012

Caught Up in Chicago's NATO Fever: I was Just "Detained" for Being "Suspicious." My "Crime?" Sitting on a Bench at Navy Pier and Feeding the Geese

There is a pre 9/11 America and a post 9/11 America. After that day a new lexicon came into being. The Patriot Act, warrantless wire tapping, GITMO, and the Department of Homeland Security were birthed in this moment of our “great national derangement.”

In all, the national surveillance apparatus was turned inward on the American people in ways that were unprecedented.

For example, as The Washington Post documented in its series Top Secret America, the 30,000 or so employees who listen in and monitor emails and phone conversations, do so both largely out of sight, and out of mind, of the average citizen. And that is the trick is it not? Power is an abstraction until you encounter it personally.

Chicago is in the grip of NATO fever. Police are everywhere. Helicopters and fighter jets are in the sky. The roads are being closed and public transit diverted. The city is in the midst of a spectacle. Before the city unofficially hunkers down for the weekend, I decided to go to Navy Pier—tourist trap, beach, convention center, Ferris Wheel spot and people watching place—and sit, read a book, and feed the birds.

I love animals. I am the guy who has a special voice for when he meets a new doggie friend. As one of my friends observed, while she gets all excited for babies, I could care less, as I immediately focus in on our canine friends. I am the guy who saves old bread for birds. I keep it in a plastic bag, a partial concession to my OCD (there is something fulfilling about watching the bread pile up), so that once or twice a month I can feed the pigeons that wait by the 'L' stop mocking the humans who are forced to rush to and fro in our middling work-a-day routines. 

But my real joy is the fantasy of raising a bird army that I could use to conquer the world. For that I need geese and seagulls. I go to Navy Pier in order to recruit them.

Over the course of several years, I have gotten pretty good at making friends with the geese. I imagine they know me as "He the human with the tasty garlic bread and barbecue potato chips." My bird foot soldiers are pretty cool. The geese will eat out of my hand. They even follow me when I go to sit down on the benches near Lake Michigan.

I would soon discover that this hobby and habit of feeding birds at Navy Pier, in a city deep in the throngs of NATO fever, can be a “suspicious” and dangerous thing.

Thursday, I noticed a low flying helicopter, one of many near the Coast Guard base patrolling overhead. Back and forth it went, tracing the perimeter of the fence which surrounds the compound. It was a curiosity. Nothing more—so I thought at the time.

Then a Chicago Fire Department boat pulled up and stopped at the peer, pausing momentarily at a point nearest to my bench. I ignored the boat. I was too busy fending off aggressive geese who were convinced that I had hidden bread in my bag, grumpy because I had cut them off from their treats. Those geese are tough folks, persistent and hard-headed.

A Chicago police boat pulled up in front of me as I put down my Star Trek novel and talked to a friend back East on my cell phone. These are the sights and sounds of a city getting prepared for protests and dignitaries. But again, I thought it to be nothing more.

A uniformed Coast Guard officer in green BDUs walked past the benches, through the crowds of lovers, families with strollers, and folks just enjoying the day, and passed me on his way to the base. He nodded. I nodded back. Nothing more as I talked on the phone with a friend about a new book about World War 2 and the Eastern Front that I was looking forward to buying this weekend.

In short order a security guard employed by Navy Pier began rousting people off of the benches. We were told to move for security reasons. Apparently, the show was over. With the dozens of other folks I walked away, preparing to get on the bus and head home, or perhaps take in a movie, a double feature of The Dictator and whatever other film that was playing soon and looked good.

Still chatting, I was abruptly approached by the same guard. He was a big man; “large” would be a polite description, morbidly obese a less kind but more apt one. In another life and with much more gym time he could be the Marvel comic book character the Kingpin. In this life, he was built more like the rapper Fat Joe--but with none of the charisma or personality.

He ambushed me, coming at me from my blindside.

“You are being detained sir.”

I was shocked. I wondered if this was a joke.

Excuse me, for what?

“You are suspicious and have been sitting on the bench for a long time.”

I am about to be disappeared, I told my friend. Listen in, you are a witness. I am at Navy Pier. If I don’t come home tell some people where I am.

I continued. Nervous. Trying to remain calm. Mindful of all the things that rent a cops who are poorly trained and ill-prepared can do. Fearful of an undercover cop showing up and trying to tag me with a “disorderly conduct” charge.

Be specific sir. Tell me exactly why you are stopping me. I was feeding the birds. Why stop me? Why not those people over there? Why me? What exactly are you detaining me for?

There is a report of someone with a Segway Scooter trying to sneak into the base. He has an accomplice and they were messing around the gate trying to get in.

I know you are on heightened alert, I calmly explained. You are also just doing your job so this isn’t personal.

I wanted to defuse this situation by offering up some common ground. This got me nowhere.

Are you profiling me? You still have not told me why you are harassing me. I clearly don’t have a scooter. I am alone. This is a public place. Is feeding birds a crime? The bench is a good 40 or so yards from the gate.

His radio chattered back and forth. The voices were very flat and routine. They sounded like generic characters from a video game like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. My friend on the cell phone made a pitch perfect observation: “This is fucked up. Is this really happening to you?”

The voices confirmed that “he is the guy; Keep detaining him.”

I would like your supervisor and their supervisor. I know my rights as a citizen. I am a tax payer, you have detained me. Someone is going to give me an explanation and an apology at the very least.

I am a letter writer by habit. That is the least I am going to do. Someone is going to answer my questions.

“Really sir?”

I pushed back a little, offering up a test of his reactions, telling my friend on the phone that college lecturers are now suspicious figures who try to infiltrate Coast Guard bases by feeding the birds.

This was an odd moment. The security guard looked nervous, maybe taken aback and surprised. Was I not what he thought I was? Could someone standing firm on his rights be a troublemaker? A nuisance?

I want your name. I want your supervisor’s name. And I am going to talk to them immediately. This is not over. I want to know why you stopped me and not someone else. I am innocent. This is a free country. I know my Constitutional rights.

The radio chattered some more. “He wants the supervisors. Okay. Find them. Confirmed, that is him. Are you sure? Confirmed.”

“Sir, the supervisors will be here shortly. Please wait and do not leave.”

A middle aged, hard looking woman emerged from an SVU. She was wearing an ill-fitting uniform, her inkjet printed badge hanging in a plastic sleeve around her neck, too low, over her now starting to deflate breasts as she was on the other side of 50 or so. She was a clock puncher, simply doing her job.

“Sir, there are cameras all over the base. There were reports of someone to trying to gain access to the base. You were the only person in their field of vision. We were told they had a Segway scooter and were trying to get into the base.”

Again ma’am. I clearly don’t have a scooter. I was some distance from the base. I acknowledged the Coast Guard officer on patrol. I sat there. Did I look nervous?

“You were there a long time. That is suspicious.”

You mean like all of the other people sitting there? I was there for one hour, max. Is that a long time? What about the people there much longer? Why me?

She looked a bit put off and annoyed. “You are not being racially profiled. It is a security issue. You were suspicious.”

Please explain again. Why me? What about me is particularly suspicious? Your camera must not be very good, to only see me and ignore all these other people, seems very odd.

No answer. She looked around for guidance. Her boss, the head of security appeared. He was visibly annoyed at having been summoned. He had a military bearing, wearing what looked like a “high and tight” haircut that had grown out. He was arrogant, an older white man who was used to being listened to and giving directions to others. He seemed petty, under a lot of pressure, but enjoying the excitement and his sense of self-importance. 

I introduced myself.

Hello sir.

He didn’t care, ignoring the gesture of professional respect and my supposition that we could talk as peers. Apparently not. This was his precious place and personal responsibility. I was an interloper who dared to talk back to the Grand High Vizier of Navy Pier.

“What is the problem?” he asked, ushering his staff away.

I was detained by your man here, I did nothing wrong. I want an explanation for why I was stopped. What criteria? I was feeding birds.

"I am under no obligation to talk to you, you are recording me on the phone, I am not talking to you. This is private property."

He turned and tried to walk away.

Sir, I am on the phone for my safety in case your staff tried to detain me. I will hang up the phone. My friend knows where I am and what is happening. I am not recording you.

“This is a secure area. You were near the gate.”

I was on a bench many yards away with other people. I was feeding the birds. Why me? This is a public place.

“It is not a public place. You are on private property. We can do as we wish. Listen, you see that big base there, this is NATO weekend. You were near it. I am not taking chances.”

I understand the need for appropriate procedures. But I am sitting far away, there are many people here. Why me? What about me is particularly suspicious? Do you have an explanation?

“You want some type of apology? Sorry. There you go.”

Utterly insincere.

No answer sir? What is your name and ID number?

Cold and polite I offered the following.

This matter is not resolved sir. Far from it.

Pissed off, the security chief walked back to his vehicle.

I left flummoxed and angered. However, I was not surprised given how security obsessed and terror deranged this country has become. Our rights can be violated on a whim by those who imagine themselves—correctly or not—as having some petty bit of power.

The real tragedy for our country in these times of terror, “security,” and perpetual suspicion, is that it is not so much that our Constitutional rights are violated, but that we are afraid to exercise them.

I could have walked away from the security guard. He cannot legally touch me. I knew this and was prepared to call the police myself if he assaulted me. But, I knew that he could lie, the police could arrest me for some b.s. faux reason, and I would be in jail. I also thought about how the Coast Guard--as part of Homeland Security--could quite literally disappear me for 72 hours. I would be held somewhere while they concocted some charge, punishing me for being an active citizen.

Some will argue the following: what is 40 or so minutes out of your life? There are terrorists out there. What of safety and security? You were not hurt. No harm. No foul.

My reply is a simple one: our rights ought not to be contingent. When people cannot sit in a public place and be at peace in their own company, person, and life, something is horribly wrong in this country. The public’s willingness to sign away their freedoms is why they will ultimately be responsible for this country’s undoing in the long run.

A friend of mine jokingly suggested that I look “vaguely Muslim…whatever that is.” I am a self-effacing, light brownish complected black guy ghetto nerd of average height who wears a goatee done up like a cross between Wolverine and a 19th century black gentlemen of letters. I also have a habit of wearing jeans, linen shirts, and as I did on that day, an Adidas or DKNY track jacket.

In post 9/11 America, and my adopted hometown of Chicago that is possessed by NATO fever, those affects are apparently enough to mark you as a highly trained saboteur (maybe I actually work for Cobra, Spectre or A.I.M?) who infiltrates Coast Guard facilities on Lake Michigan in order to strike a blow against America's freedoms...cause you know that is why the terrorists really hate us.

I am simple folk. I just want to feed the birds. I will be back there next week, sitting on the same bench, doing it again, if the powers that be will let me.


Anonymous said...

So is there an acronym for Feeding The Birds While Black? FTBWB?

chaunceydevega said...

@NandM. Maybe the birds tipped them off! Can't trust those winged beasts.

Anonymous said...

The National Security State. Not quite the change most of us had in mind is it?

Anonymous said...

So...when we write to you, do we address it to the Chicago penal institution or Guantanamo? This is your own dam fault CD. The man on the segue got away. If you can't run faster than a scooter then you should have worn your invisible cloak instead of your track jacket. I assume you left the hood in the down position...

Anonymous said...

Looks like the lightskinned brothers is dubbly suspicious in Chicago now. Could be profiled as mideastern islamofascists.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Dude, I got a couple of questions:

(1) What is "NATO weekend"?

(2) I've been hanging out on Navy Pier many times, drinking beers and smoking a doobie here or there, and I never even noticed there was a Coast Guard base. Where the fucke is it?

sledge said...

I'm proud of you CD for standing up for your rights. And sorry you got caught up in the BS. At least you weren't tazed or sprayed, usually those types of renta cops can't wait to play with their toys.

If I lived in Chicago I'd leave town on a recreational trip for a few days. I've already stated my aversion to idiots. I've got a strong feeling that there are going to be shit load of them both wearing storm trooper uniforms and Anonymous masks in Chicago over the next few days.

Psycho Town is what comes to mind.

Adam GH said...

You have been training your bird army CD. People are bound to take notice of non-state militias being formed on Navy peer, even if they are made up of birds...

Nevertheless: nice poise under fire. I loose my shit with the cops b/c of the exact fears you mention. Once a cop pulled me over right after I had seen the trailer for "Rendition". He then proceeded to acuse me of having a fake license, only to find out he had punched the numbers into the computer wrong. I was needless to say making my peace with the world -- giving me an even greater aire of suspicion.

fred c said...

Is Anon. really suggesting that Pres. Obama is responsible for the new national security state? I hate to tell you, but our precious freedoms have always been a beautiful fiction anyway. My prime time was one of political turmoil, the '60's, and it always seemed to me that in good times we have some rights, as long as we show proper respect at all times for all authority and for all of the decisions and needs of authority; but when times get tough, we lose all freedoms except the freedom to get your head cracked by a nightstick.

That Naked Lunch moment is quite a shock though, isn't it? When the mist clears and the monster becomes visible?

merlallen said...

We formed NATO in the first place to oppose the Warsaw Pact which doesn't exist anymore, why is there still a NATO?

chaunceydevega said...

@Sabrina. Those scooters are pretty fast.They would probably take me to one of those converted prison oil tankers that float in international waters for the real baddies.

@Anon. I should go out in blackface. Keep me safe.

@Comrade. You ain't been reading the papers. You busy being productive?

@Adam. They are a paramilitary organization. Utterly harmless. They don't shut down the tea party gun brigands, but come after my geese commandos?

@Fred. Ike was right.

@Merl. Power projection?

makheru bradley said...

A courageous judge responding to seven activists has temporarily blocked Barack Obama’s egregious assault on the US Constitution.

[In a 68-page ruling blocking this statute, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed that the statute failed to "pass constitutional muster" because its broad language could be used to quash political dissent.

"There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment," Forrest wrote. "There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention."]

If the US is still waging a “war on terror,” theoretically Barack Obama could at some point in the future be indefinitely detained by his own law for providing “substantial support” to “al Qaeda” in Libya. (LOL)

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." - Frederick Douglass

Anonymous said...

You didn't happen to be wearing a hoodie at the time? Can't do that.

Unless you're white and preferably rich.

Anonymous said...


"That Naked Lunch moment is quite a shock though, isn't it?"
That it is and we are of the same generation. By no means do I believe that Obama is responsible for our security state. What was it that that nomad character said? Oh yeah, he's a pawn. Obama is merely the culmination of a process that began when that first actor was elected president. Like a python the hidden PTBs have been tightening their grip every since. We are now on the threshold of full-fledged totalitarianism.

nomad said...

Did I say pawn? Slave!

"The mythic fairytale about the Osama Bin Laden killing was intended to make the public believe that Obama is in charge and he is a great war leader. But Obama takes orders, he doesn’t give them. There would be no difference if a slave or a robot was in the White House instead of Obama. Obama is worse than a robot and a slave. He is a psychopathic liar and killer who loves death and destruction."

Anonymous said...


sledge said...

Anonymous said...

"We are now on the threshold of full-fledged totalitarianism."

Looking around I'd have to agree with that. Only it won't be all of us.

Totalitarian governments have proven themselves through out history very effective at getting rid of those who don't agree with their line of thinking.

The only bright spot is that they also have proven through out history that they eventually fall.

nomad said...

"The only bright spot is that they also have proven through out history that they eventually fall."

Well, that's comforting. In how many lifetimes? Eventually don't all governments fail? Even the -WHERES MY IRONY EMOTOCON?- good ones?

sledge said...

nomad said...

"Well, that's comforting. In how many lifetimes? Eventually don't all governments fail?"

LOL! You have a point. Not to worry though. I'm sure the Rothschild's and bankers already have a contingency plan for that too.

They may be evil bloodsucking vampires and the scourge of mankind, but they've proven they are not stupid.

Anonymous said...


Just experienced what Black men lencounter 24/7...Negrophobia exists everywhere...

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with totalitarianism nor some assault on the constitution but the usual posturing of contempt for Black people...

I tire of o many people seeking to advance some complex excuse when as usual it is petty garden variety racism aka Negrophobia ..

I was at an open house today and white realtor follows me around the property of course while giving free reign to white couples checking out the house


Anonymous said...

"This has nothing to do with totalitarianism"

Much as I hate to disagree with myself, this is not Jim Crow as usual. This is Jim Crow plus. If you haven't noticed the fascism creep of the past decade you haven't been paying attention.

Anonymous said...

I mean, c'mon, man. This wasn't 50 cent. This was a respectable, probably impeccable, Negro.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for confirming my point the status of a negro does not matter when Negrophobia is in effect ,..

Anonymous said...

"Thanks for confirming my point the status of a negro does not matter when Negrophobia is in effect ,.."

On the contrary, in times such as these, respectable Negroes have their privileges revoked.

But let's think here. Though both CD and the security forces were acting like idiots; what else could CD have done to defuse the situation. We have already mentioned avoiding hoodies and possibly changing skin color. I was thinking maybe he should have found some authority figure and ask if it was okay to subvert the geese. Any other suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Eyes on Chicago

Anonymous said...

I have presented my argument again Negrophobia is a 24/7 reality for Black folks regardless of class or sature , celebrity negro or colored or Afro etc

sledge said...

How about an update from someone who lives in Chicago? Are the military jets still flying? I read on a police blog that they had 200 officers stationed at Navy Pier Saturday night and finally about midnight they put them on a bus and sent them home.

ish said...

Thinking this "This is a free country," was your first mistake.

CNu said...

I was at an open house today and white realtor follows me around the property of course while giving free reign to white couples checking out the house



That bowl of M&M's the realtor put there were an out-of-pocket expense for potentially qualified buyers Thrasher, not crusty looking, mama's basement dwelling free-loaders like you.

Sadly, po thang no longer enjoys the discretion to simply put your sorry monkey-ass out on the street, but at least she could exercise the discrimination of following you around and making you properly uncomfortable so that you would raise on up out of there, quick, fast, and in a hurry, and not interfere with her trying to do business with legitimate prospective buyers.

I think it's the stink of the mensroom to which you attend, and the way that you carry yourself that gets you put out time after time, crying "negrophobia".

Nah jiggiddy-jig - ain't nobody phobic of negros, folks just don't want any part of y.o.u.

Anonymous said...


Please stop with confusing me with Mr.Thrasher he really fucked your head up ...Wow your envy has no bounds. It must be tough never going to a open house to purchase a home... Poor fellow .... tee hee

fred c said...

If I may, status and respectability are not co-equal. I have known lots of people, in all of God's varieties, who had zero status but were perfectly respectable.

The Professor, sitting on the bench, had both status and respectability, but it wasn't enough, now was it? Yes, it's a problem.

Anonymous said...

It's never enough, Fred. Just ask Prof. Gates. But they are the elite lucky ones. Imagine what happens to black people less articulate than CD, which means virtually the entire black underclass, then you understand why so many of them are in our prisons.

fred c said...

I don't have to imagine it, Anon. Thanks for the very gentle nudge, but I've heard the stories eye to eye. Quite an education it was too, and those stories, and the forbearance and the kindnesses of numerous Black Americans over the years led me to my current, firm convictions.

Anybody out there think that was too ass-kissy? Well, (redacted; unimaginably vile epithet, Queens, New York, circa 1960).

nomad said...

Hats off to you, fred. It takes not only those kinds of experiences to learn this but moral character.