The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago disinvites Sunsara Taylor

Sunsara Taylor is a very interesting character. I’ve seen her speak at New York University on two panel discussions with Massimo Pigliucci and Paul Eckstein, both of which were titled “Morality Without Gods.” All three parties are non-believers on gods. Although both were recorded, I can still only find the first of those panel discussions on YouTube.

What was particularly unusual about those panel discussions was that two of the debaters either identified themselves as Communists or as arguing from a Marxist perspective, one of which was Sunsara Tayler. My impression of her was that she was extremely intelligent and was spot on in her criticism of religion, reminding me a little of Christopher Hitchens. But whenever she turned the conversation to Communism, I found her unconvincing. She’s definitely a rabble-rouser who will happily step head-first into controversy but ya gotta love anyone who has the honor of being called a “lunatic” by Bill O’Reilly.

But the reason I bring Ms. Taylor up is because of an incident that occurred in Chicago this past weekend. The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) invited her to speak at one of their meetings also called “Morality without God.” Sunsara had made the appropriate travel arrangements and everything was all set to go until the EHSC disinvited her at the last minute. According to her publicist, it was because they were uncomfortable with her social/political views such as her Communism as well as beliefs that she doesn’t really hold.

Sunsara initially responded with a letter:

This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from [an] organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing.

I have to agree. Now I don’t know all the facts here but it seems very shady for a freethought society like the EHSC that prides itself on its ethics and diversity of views to reject certain views from speaking simply because they don’t agree with them. I don’t agree with Sunsara’s Communism either but I think it’s a big mistake to exclude her for that reason as I think she’s a great asset to the atheist community. It’s a rare thing to find an atheist activist who can so move an audience with both intelligence and emotion. I don’t agree with Libertarianism either. So are we going to start disinviting Michael Shermer and Penn and Teller to speak too?

Sunsara’s letter even included several quotes of support from numerous individuals like:  Massimo Pigliucci, Chris Hedges, and Hemant Mehta, to name a few. And today I first heard about this incident from Brian Sapient of the Rational Response Squad, who also wrote an article supporting her. So she’s got “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta and the far less friendly atheist leader of the Rational Response Squad all supporting her. It seems like support is coming from across the board on this one.

And even one member of the EHSC offered to host her at his own home after the EHSC’s normally scheduled meeting time. Then on Saturday, Sunsara was running an unrelated workshop at the EHSC, where she directly addressed this issue:

Okay, she goes a little over the top towards the end there, but she’s not wrong. And while she was not re-invited, she attended the Sunday meeting and made a statement similar to the one she made the day before in the video while standing near her seat.

Then the story got weirder. A man videotaping her statement with her permission got attacked by cops who were called in by the EHSC:

Sunsara’s recounts the incident in her blog:

… plainclothes and uniformed police who had been called in earlier by officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) dragged out, maced and arrested a man for videotaping Sunsara Taylor as she stood near her seat and made a statement before the start of that morning’s program about the shameful cancellation of her long planned talk to EHSC that day on the topic “Morality without Gods.”

The shocking incident took place at the insistence of the president of EHSC. About 40 people witnessed the videographer being brutalized by the police in the foyer of the facility. An attorney demanded that the police stop brutalizing him when five officers piled on him as he lay face down on the floor. 6 police cars arrived within minutes.

Ethical? Again, I don’t know all the facts here and have only heard one side of the story. But I think the EHSC has some splainin’ to do.

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7 Responses to The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago disinvites Sunsara Taylor

  1. Evan Kane says:

    I am a member of the EHSC and here are some facts that I hope you find useful.

    Our Sunday speakers are chosen by a committee of nine people. In July, at one of the committee member’s request, Sunsara was provisionally invited to speak on a topic of morality without gods on November 1. The formal invitation was withheld until the committee was provided with a written description of her talk.

    The formal description was finally received on October 13. Some of the committee felt that the description provided was far outside the topic that was originally proposed. Sunsara was contacted about adjusting her talk to fit what the committee originally thought they were getting. She understandably refused to adjust her talk. The committee decided by a vote of 9 to 2 to cancel Sunsara as a speaker and the cancellation, with apologies, was emailed on October 19.

    (As a side note, I disagreed with the decision to cancel but in a democratic organization the vote doesn’t always go the way you want it to. I even started a petition to reinvite Sunsara but only about 20% of the society signed)

    From October 19 onward Ms. Taylor and her people demanded she be given the November 1 platform. Attempt after attempt was made to find a solution that, although not ideal for either side, was palatable for both. The society bent over backwards to appease this woman. She was given an October 31 platform that was well attended and a member of the society offered her home for Sunsara’s “speech in exile” on November 1. The only thing we would not agree to was having her speak on November 1. All we asked is that she not disrupt the Sunday platform. She did not budge an inch; there was no effort at compromise from her or her people.

    One plain clothes police officer from the Skokie police department was at the society the morning of November 1 because some members felt threatened by the fact that Sunsara would not commit to not disrupting the Sunday program. We had no idea what a Sunsara Taylor inspired protest would entail so the decision was made to err on the side of member safety.

    When Sunsara and her camera man showed up on Sunday they were asked not to enter the building, they ignored this request but no action was taken by the society and they entered privet property.

    After entering the building and our auditorium, Sunsara started to give her speech and her camera man started taping. They were asked to stop and let us continue our event in our building repeatedly. They refused and it is then that we asked the single plain clothes officer for support.

    When the cameraman acted aggressively toward the police officer he called for backup on his radio. Uniformed officers responded to that call. It took five police offers using mace to subdue him. One police officer was injured.

  2. mjr256 says:

    Thanks Evan for presenting the other side. I really appreciate it.

  3. Sunsara Taylor on the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago, or…
    Why I Was Dis-Invited, Why I Did Not Just Shut Up And Go Away, and Why It Still Matters

    The woman who coordinated my speaking engagements in Chicago has written an account of what transpired leading up to and on the day of my cancelled talk, November 1st, 2009. This includes a robust eye-witness defense of my videographer who was brutalized and arrested. Please read her statement here: [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/true-story-of-sunsara-taylor-and.html] as well as the statement from a lawyer who was present here [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/statement-from-attorney-martha-conrad.html] and join in demanding the charges be dropped!

    My invitation to speak at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago traces back to a talk that I gave on a panel at Columbia College last year entitled, “A Communist, A Buddhist and a Priest Sit Down to Discuss… Morality to Change the World: With or Without God(s)?” [which you can listen to here and here].

    The diversity of views among the panelists, along with robust challenges and deep questions from the audience, made this an exhilarating evening. I spoke openly of being a communist. Drawing from Bob Avakian’s book, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, I brought alive how his further development of communism places great importance on the need for the methods and means of all who struggle for liberation to be rooted in, and consistent with, our ends. In other words, if we want a world where the needs of humanity are valued above individual gain, where women are fully liberated, where all peoples and a diversity of cultures are respected and valued, and where critical thinking, the unfettered search for the truth, and individuality are fostered – then we must begin to live this morality now and we must struggle to bring that world into being. Others spoke from their own perspectives. Hundreds of students and others stayed long after the scheduled end, standing in the back and squeezing in on the floor in front.

    That night, a member of the EHSC Program Committee approached me and let me know that he intended to approach other members of his Committee and invite me to speak.

    Anyone who googles “Sunsara Taylor” can see quite easily that when I speak of morality I speak as a communist. I expose the immorality of a global system based on profit, a system that has patriarchy and the oppression of women woven into its very fabric, a system that thrives off of wars of aggression and legalized torture.

    In one of the easiest talks of mine to find online, an exchange with Chris Hedges entitled, “Atheism, God and Morality in a Time of Imperialism and Rising Fundamentalism,” I began with the story of Placide Simone, a Haitian woman who – like millions around the globe – was struck hard by the recent global food crises. I quoted news coverage, “’Take one,’ she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. ‘You pick. Just feed them.’” I made the connections between this real world nightmare and the “need” people feel for the illusory comfort that religion provides in the almost unimaginably unbearable condition of vast swaths of humanity under imperialist globalization. I further argued that religion, the weight of tradition and superstition (including the notion of “sin”), only adds to this suffering.

    I speak publicly on these and other matters not, as some now claim, out of a desire to “be in the spotlight.” I do this because I understand that even people who today often close their eyes to truths that seem too difficult, too big, too disturbing to confront, can be won to open their eyes, to think, and to act. To find that part of them that, together with others and the irrefutable evidence of both what is wrong and of the possibility of change, can be part of making those changes to this world and to ourselves in the process.

    All of this is informed by my worldview as a communist. At the same time, because this communist worldview is rooted in confronting the world as it actually is and as it actually can be, there is tremendous room for others, coming from their own worldviews but similarly committed to the betterment of humanity, to be enriched through an engagement with these views on morality.

    From all this, it is clear that the EHSC knew I was a communist from the very beginning. But, as the date of my long-scheduled talk approached, some began a drive to cancel my talk exactly because of these views.

    In his objections to allowing my approved talk to go forward, Anil Kashyap, the co-chair of the Program Committee of EHSC on October 13th wrote, “we specifically stipulated that it [her talk] was NOT supposed to focus on the revolutionary communism.” The actual focus of my talk, as it was clearly described and submitted to the EHSC, was to look at the profound changes that have been brought about by imperialist globalization and the moral crises this has contributed to, to look at the resurgence of virulent, fundamentalist religions in this context and to explore how this can be countered with a secular morality. Of course this was informed by my perspective as a communist.

    In further arguing to cancel my talk, Anil Kashyap, who is also a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, wrote, “A talk that claims morality is inconsistent with a global economy is nonsense. The first order fact that cannot be ignored is that the greatest anti-poverty program in history is the growth in China over the last 30 years. That was only possible because of globalism. That transformation has lots of problems, but more starving and desperate people have been lifted up faster than ever in human history.”

    This notion, that the last thirty years of capitalist restoration in China has been the “greatest anti-poverty program in history” is one I would have gladly disputed in an open exchange. I probably would have pointed out that between the years 1949 and 1976, under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung, life expectancy in China rose from 32 to 65 years, medical care was brought to the vast country-side, women were brought into education, the workforce, and public life, and for the first time in the history of China the food problem was solved. I would probably have pointed out that since capitalism was restored in 1976, 200 million peasants have become displaced and now cast about through the country, vulnerable to the grossest forms of sweatshop exploitation and that by some estimates as many as 20 million women have been driven into the sex industry for mere survival. Kashyap might have challenged me and I would have responded. In my view, this would have been great – giving people the chance to compare and contrast and form their own views.

    Rather than air his very different and strongly-held views on these issues, Kashyap and others argued for the cancellation of my speech. This is in keeping with, and contributes to, a broader chill on discourse that challenges the status quo and it is in keeping with a particularly virulent resurgence of anti-communist McCarthyism.

    A member of Obama’s team was recently pilloried for having once quoted Mao Tse-Tung, Glenn Beck regularly rants about so-called “communists” and “socialists” that are packed into the administration, and Obama himself is targeted as a “socialist” for considering any form of healthcare reform.

    To be clear, I am no supporter of President Obama and Obama himself is no socialist or communist. But I am a communist and this has everything to do with why my talk was canceled.

    To the degree that this cancellation was driven by the fear of any association with an actual communist at a time when such associations are being used to discredit people and drive them from their jobs, this is neither ethical nor practical. One does not stop anti-communism and repression by capitulating to it. Such behavior only fuels the hysteria, encourages those on the witch-hunt, and intimidates others. To the degree that those who suppressed my talk did so out of fear that my challenge to the morality of capitalism might have resonated at a time when so many are experiencing such a profound crises of confidence in capitalism, this is also indefensible. This cuts against stated principles of the EHSC as well as basic ethical standards.

    Today, people everywhere are groaning under the weight and the horrors associated with the current world order. The female half of humanity is routinely beaten, raped, disrespected and demeaned in a thousand ways and from every side. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of lives have been stolen by U.S. wars just in recent years, with no end in sight. Hundreds of millions of children are caught up in life-draining labor, with no chance of a childhood and no prospects for a future of anything more than continued suffering. Here within the U.S., millions are forced out of their homes by foreclosure, an epidemic of police murder and brutality stalks the lives of Black and Latino youth, and the government routinely spies on its citizens emails, phone calls and public spaces. All of these, and countless other unnecessary nightmares, are part of the great moral dilemma of our times.

    Yet, out of fear of conflict, out of fear of sacrifice, out of fear of standing out and having to struggle for one’s principles and ethics, these and other crimes continue, even though millions disagree.

    It is the phenomenon described so saliently in a poem by Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

    All too often these days, people voice their disagreement with these wrongs… but then they go about their lives. They acquiesce. They tell themselves that they couldn’t have won anyhow – but we can never really know that. Such “wise council” might have told the same thing to the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, the soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam, or the women who won the right to abortion.

    Today, progressive and radical thinkers across the country are routinely dis-invited, their speech is routinely suppressed, they are pressured to self-censor, the are fired or denied tenure, and the discourse of this society is routinely kept within “safe” limits that do not challenge a bloody status quo.

    To go along with this, and to contribute to this, is to do great harm. Indeed, the ideas that are allowed to circulate in society and the ideas that are suppressed, have everything to do with whether the crimes of this world will be allowed to continue or whether these will be called out, resisted and stopped.

    I ask that each of you reading this now add your voice against this act of suppression. Spread this letter. Send statements to the addresses below. Help open up a platform to these all-too-infrequently heard ideas by inviting me to speak. Write and call the EHSC and the Skokie police department to demand that charges be dropped against my videographer.

    Contact the EHSC at: office@ethicalhuman.org and 847.677.3334.

    Send copies of your letters, and make contributions to the legal defense by contacting: sunsaratour@yahoo.com

    To all in the Chicago area, join me this Sunday at the Best Church Of God: http://www.bestchurchofgod.org/.god/

    And, because you really have been lied to about communism, join me in catching Raymond Lotta at U of Chicago on Wed, November 11th, 7 pm Kent Hall Room 107. “Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong! Capitalism Is a Failure. Revolution Is the Solution.”
    Labels: anti-communism, censorship, ehsc, sunsara taylor
    posted by Sunsara Taylor at 10:21 AM

  4. Sue B. says:

    The True Story of Sunsara Taylor and the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago
    From Sue B., Volunteer Tour Coordinator for Sunsara Taylor in Chicago

    Since the cancellation of Sunsara Taylor’s long-scheduled talk at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago [EHSC] and the subsequent brutal arrest of her videographer on November 1st at the EHSC, there has been an avalanche of lies and distortions spread by members of the EHSC. While there are simply too many lies to refute them all, in this letter I will take apart the core elements of the mythology surrounding these events that has been constructed by the EHSC.

    I believe that part of the reason EHSC is persisting in deliberately misrepresenting what happened and spinning a story that fortifies an untruthful account is because they don’t want to confront the reality of how ugly this whole thing has been, how much it goes against their own principles.

    The unethical behavior of the EHSC began with the motivation of some on its program committee to cancel Sunsara’s talk based on crude anti-communism and disagreement with its content. In order to obscure these scandalous motivations, Sunsara’s words were taken out of context so as to invert their meaning and cause confusion. When many respected voices began to disapprove of the EHSC’s dis-invitation of Ms. Taylor, the EHSC shifted their rationale for this to a discussion of “process” and their “right to choose” who their speakers will be. When Sunsara continued to insist that the record be set straight on the real basis and motives of this cancellation, as well as the broader chill in society that it fits in with, the EHSC began to go after and slander her character. They whipped up a whole atmosphere of fear, justified only by the hysteria and the rumors that they themselves had created. Then they called in the police and set in motion events that would lead to the brutalization of a volunteer videographer and a situation where he is facing serious charges.

    Are they really willing to put a man away in jail to justify this and cover their mistake? Just how disposable is a person’s life, their freedom, and their reputation to these “ethical” people?

    One of the EHSC’s core arguments is that they have the democratic right to decide who their speakers will be. But Sunsara has repeatedly stated, “I have never challenged their bureaucratic ‘right to decide’ – I have challenged the wrongfulness of their decision and the dishonest and unethical way in which it was made. Even if they have the formal right to dis-invite me, that does not make their decision to do so morally or ethically right, any more than the fact that California voters have the legal right to ban gay marriage made their decision to do so morally or ethically defensible.”

    What are the “dishonest and unethical way[s] in which” the decision to dis-invite her was reached?

    As documented previously by me [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/10/open-letter-from-chicago-tour.html] and in a separate letter by Sunsara today [http://sunsara.blogspot.com/2009/11/sunsara-taylor-on-ethical-humanist.html], those who initiated the process that led to her cancellation were driven by anti-communism and a belief that Sunsara’s condemnation of globalization was “non-sense.” Additionally, Sunsara’s words were wrenched out of context and strung together in such a way as to imply that she opposes the rights of women and of immigrants. It was in the context of these lies and this anti-communism that a vote was very aggressively rushed through to finalize Sunsara’s dis-invitation before there could be any official back and forth with her and before any thorough discussion could take place.

    This unprecedented vote took place through an admittedly ad-hoc process, over the internet and phone, and without any formal record of the deliberations. It was only then, after the dis-invitation had been formalized, that individuals from the EHSC began to construct a procedural rationalization for this cancellation.

    One of the EHSC’s insistences that this has been about “process,” is their claim that the invitation to Sunsara had only been “provisional” and that their request to her for a talk description was because the Board was still deliberating over whether to approve her. In a letter issued on November 5th and signed by their president and several members of their board, they claim: “In July, at one of the committee member’s request, Sunsara Taylor was provisionally invited to speak on the topic of ‘Morality Without Gods’ on November 1. The formal invitation was withheld until the committee was provided a written description of her talk.”

    The only problem is, there was nothing “provisional” about the invitation. Sunsara’s November 1st talk on “Morality Without Gods” was confirmed in July. It was then listed in the EHSC’s October calendar that went out in September.

    After Sunsara submitted her talk description, she received the following note from the the co-chair of the program committee: “Thanks, Sunsara, for your reply. I appreciate your decision to speak on the original topic of morality without gods, though, of course, you might still touch on the topic of human nature, however you feel it is relevant. From your description of your talk, I will write a brief item in our November newsletter. It should stir up a lot of interest. It’s an aspect of humanist and secular thought that is not commonly heard.”

    In this same letter signed by the EHSC president and board members, the claim is made: “From October 19 onward Ms. Taylor and her people demanded she be given the November 1 platform. Attempt after attempt was made to find a solution that, although not ideal for either side, was palatable for both. The society bent over backwards to appease Ms. Taylor. She was given an October 31 workshop that was well attended and a member of the society offered her home for Ms. Taylor’s self proclaimed ‘speech in exile’ on November 1. Notice of the ‘exile’ speech was even made through the Society’s list serve.”

    None of this is true.

    In actuality, the Saturday workshop was set up last summer at the same time as the Nov. 1st talk, by a different Society committee, on a different topic, “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of Humanity.”

    Then, when Sunsara wrote to the EHSC to set the record straight about the many lies members of the EHSC had spread about her, the EHSC responded not by addressing the substance of her letter, but by raising the specter of canceling the Saturday workshop as well. On Sunday, Oct. 25, Matt Cole announced to his congregation that Sunsara’s Saturday workshop was “under negotiation” (as opposed to “scheduled”) – to an audible gasp in the audience. An emergency special board meeting was hastily called for the next night (against the EHSC’s internal rules as set forth in by-laws). The reason the Saturday workshop went forward is not because the EHSC was trying to make amends for canceling Sunday’s program, but because enough board members and others wanted to see this workshop go forward.

    Further, the “talk in exile” only happened because an individual stepped forward to provide a space at her home. This individual was so disgusted by the way in which Sunsara was dis-invited that she has formally resigned from the EHSC. For the EHSC to suggest that they arranged this location so as to accommodate Sunsara is the height of dishonesty as well as cynicism.

    By the time we get to November 1st, the EHSC has whipped up into a make-believe world of “threats” and “fears” entirely of their own making. They write, “Taylor would not commit to not disrupting the Sunday program. We had no idea what a Sunsara Taylor inspired protest would entail so the decision was made to err on the side of member safety.”

    The idea that fear and police repression are justified because someone who has never given any indication that they would carry out disruptive acts has not promised not to commit such acts is absurd and outrageous. Since when is it acceptable for people to be assumed guilty and repressed unless they jump through hoops constructed by the very people who have spread rumors and whipped up an air of fear about them?

    Sunsara made clear on Saturday, October 31st that, “I will be attending the Sunday gathering, tomorrow, right here at the EHSC prepared to give my talk and giving the EHSC the chance, up until the last minute, to do the right thing. If they refuse, I will be giving my talk in exile and asking others to join me at the house of one of the members of the EHSC nearby.”

    There were no “safety reasons” to move Sunday school off site. There was not “Sunsara Taylor inspired protest” to fear. There was no legitimate reason for police to be called in advance of Sunday morning’s program.

    For a basic account of what happened around Sunsara and her videographer, please refer to the statement from a lawyer who was there. (link)

    I was there and I can attest that Sunsara was never asked to leave the premises, never asked to stop speaking and that Sunsara (contrary to the claims of the EHSC) did not disrupt the Sunday program. Sunsara concluded her brief statement and left to give her talk off-site BEFORE the Sunday replacement program had even begun.

    It was during this brief statement that a plain clothes officer and a uniformed officer, without warning or justification, grabbed the videographer by each arm and pulled him out of the room. I, like most people present, thought the police were coming for Sunsara. Instead they went for the one documenting her statement, at the direction of the EHSC’s president.

    Given how many lies and how much unfounded fear had been whipped up around Sunsara, it made perfect sense that she would want someone to get a record of exactly what she did and did not say and do.

    If Sunsara were truly creating a dangerous disturbance, why did no one tell her to stop, arrest her, or insist on getting her actions on tape? Why, instead, did the EHSC president insist that the one person documenting what transpired be arrested and detained?

    The videographer was not told to leave, did not resist arrest, did NOT assault a police officer. He faces 3 serious charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and battery on a police officer. But it was he who ended up in the hospital being treated for injuries to his head, eyes, and wrists. The police sergeant himself had called an ambulance to the jail out of concern for his injuries.

    The complaint of criminal trespass is brought by Matt Cole. A police officer was overheard asking him, “Are you sure you want to press charges?” If there had been no charges pressed by Matt, there would be no charges at all. It is very typical in cases that involve police brutality that charges of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer are piled on to guard against being sued for the brutality.

    ***

    People are looking at this whole sick situation and think there must be some more reasonable explanation, it is just too bizarre — and, too frightening. But this is the unvarnished truth. Best to look at it. This is the logic that gets unleashed when censorship leads to lies to justify it; where anti-communist fear and distancing generate more fear and hysteria. People get vilified and driven off committees. Others get scared and shut up, or lose heart and patience for the arduous struggle to guard the truth and stand on principle against this. One man has been brutalized and charges have been pressed against him with serious potential consequences.

    Unfortunately, this situation is not over.

    We all have choices about what we will do now — and responsibility.

    Please contact EHSC and the Skokie police to demand these charges be dropped.

    Contact: office@ethicalhuman.org or call: 847-677-3334.
    send copies of your correspondences to me at: sunsaratour@yahoo.com.

    I invite your comments, criticisms, inquiries and support at: sunsaratour@yahoo.com.
    posted by Sunsara Taylor at 10:13 AM

  5. Statement from Attorney Martha Conrad Regarding November 1st at the EHSC
    I am a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois for the last 23 years.

    I was present at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago [EHSC] on November 1st. I personally witnessed the entire incident leading to the arrest and can lay out the salient facts of what occurred at EHSC that day.

    That morning, I entered the building behind Ms. Taylor and others about ten minutes before the 10:30 am program was to start. No one at any time told Ms. Taylor, the videographer or anyone else that they could not enter the event, which was advertised as being “free and open to the public.”

    I was close to Ms. Taylor and the videographer the whole time. Ms. Taylor entered the auditorium and sat down. A man, who I later learned was the director of EHSC, came over to talk to Ms. Taylor and told the videographer who was videotaping the interaction to turn off the video camera. He did so. At no time, did the director or anyone else ask Ms. Taylor or the videographer to leave. After talking briefly to the director, and before the official EHS program was to start, Ms. Taylor stood next to her chair and began making a short statement challenging the decision by the EHS to “disinvite” her. At no time during her statement was she told to stop. After approximately two minutes, the police came into the auditorium and Ms. Taylor stated, “I’m going to be leaving now.” At that time the videographer appeared to be recording Ms. Taylor’s statement with a cell phone. I then saw a uniformed police officer and a man in a baseball hat grab the videographer by each arm. I didn’t hear either give any instruction or warning. They proceeded to roughly pull on his arms as they took him out of the room. (Later, the man in the baseball hat identified himself to me as a police officer who had been hired to be there.)

    I followed them to the hallway, and saw officers repeatedly batter him. I turned away for a moment, and when I looked back the videographer was down on the floor. The police pulled him down the hallway and out of my sight. I pushed past some other people in the hallway and entered the foyer. I saw 4-5 officers piled on top of the videographer as he lay face down on the floor. I loudly announced I was a lawyer, and called out to them that the man had done nothing illegal. I demanded that they stop battering him.

    There were so many officers on top of him that it was difficult to see him. But I did see the officers bash his head against the floor at least twice. They twisted his arms behind his back and handcuffed him. A couple of minutes later, after the officers had taken the videographer outside and were putting him in the police car, I observed that one side of his face and neck was scratched up. One of his eyes was violently red and tears were pouring out of that eye and down his cheek.

    At no time was the videographer aggressive toward the police officers. At no time did he resist arrest.

    A sergeant on the scene approached me and claimed, gestering to EHSC and the EHSC people in front of it, “These people here are doing this. It is not us.”

    I went to the Skokie police station, where the videographer was taken. When I arrived I saw an ambulance there. I identified myself as a lawyer, announced my concern for the videographer’s medical condition, and demanded to see him. I was not allowed to do so. The same sergeant who I had seen at EHSC came out and spoke to me in the waiting room. He told me he had called the ambulance due to the videographer’s injuries. The videographer declined going to the hospital in the ambulance and flushed his own eyes of a chemical spray they had used on him.

    The videographer is charged with criminal trespass to property, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. These are very serious charges and totally unwarranted. Later that afternoon, the videographer was released after a collection was taken up to pay his bond. Immediately upon his release, he went to Skokie Hospital where doctors treated his multiple injuries to his head, chest and wrists. His case is set for November 18th, and I ask that you join in demanding that these unfounded charges be immediately dropped!
    Labels: arrest, ehsc, lawyer, police brutality, videographer
    posted by Sunsara Taylor at 9:54 AM

  6. […] on the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago/Sunsara Taylor debacle The other day, I blogged about the controversy that broke out at a weekend meeting of the Ethical Hu…, revolving around Sunsara Taylor, who’d originally been invited to give a lecture there but, […]

  7. Evan Kane says:

    Spoke with the Skokie police today and learned two interesting bits of information.

    1. The supposedly docile cameraman who was maced and arrested for “no good reason” has a long arrest record that not only includes violent crime but he has even been convicted of homicide.

    2. The camera that he was using to record the even was NOT confiscated by the police. What is on this tape that the Sunsara Taylor people don’t want us to see? They sure are quick to post everything else.

    The police report is now public for anyone interested in getting it.

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