Chris Drew, street artist, faces class 1 felony eavesdropping charges after selling art for $1

photos/video/article by Nancy Bechtol
January 17th, 2010

Chris Drew, artist, Executive Director of the Uptown Multicultural Arts Center (UM-CAC) in Chicago, and First Amendment rights advocate for free speech, is facing trial for class 1 felony eavesdropping which carries 4-15 years if convicted.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney is the Prosecutor. Chris Drew, the Defendant, with his pro-bono Attorneys. In addition, the ACLU is in support of Chris, and additionally, has even sued the State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez. To date, numerous blogs and traditional media have come forward, heavily in favor of Chris Drew, and many were surprised by the charges. Among them are Channel 2 News, Derrick Blakely; WBBM 78AM Radio, Debra Dale; NPR, WBEZ; and the The Chicago Reader, to name a few.

An unexpected turn of events lead to this. Chris originally set out to challenge a 1994 Chicago Ordinance which equates artists as non-speech peddlers. As Chris puts it, “Art is Speech” which is not the same as selling socks or watches. Prior to this ordinance, artists could be found selling their art in downtown. The legendary Lee Godie, a naïve artist, would sell drawing and painting in front of the Art Institute in the 80s, as other artists would be seen around downtown as well. Not so today.

For a period of about a year, I documented Chris on his journey, as he and UM-CAC artists distributed art patches in downtown Chicago. Sometimes for free, sometimes for donation, and also selling them for $1.

On Dec. 2, 2009, Chris was selling art patches, for $1, as part of the FREE SAM, (Free Speech Artists Movement) He was arrested for peddling without a license, and peddling in a prohibited district. But the shocker came when at the police station, an officer found a small personal tape recorder in his red cape. The charge of Class 1 Felony Eavesdropping was added, with a bond of $20,000. At his first court appearance the misdemeanor charges of selling art in public without a peddlers license and in an area prohibited by the peddlers license were dropped. To the surprise of many, including Chris, there is a law in Illinois which appears to cover a person audio recording their own arrest. Others have been charged under this law as well.

As the videographer two of my videos of the arrest, as posted on YouTube, have been entered and shown in court as evidence. I will be called as a witness for the Defense at Chris Drew's jury trial which begins in April, 2011.

© Copyright 2010, Nancy Bechtol, All rights reserved

© Copyright 2010, Nancy Bechtol, All rights reserved

© Copyright 2010, Nancy Bechtol, All rights reserved

© Copyright 2010, Nancy Bechtol, All rights reserved

Nancy Bechtol
freelance photojounalist
APA
ID#949170