By MIKE FERNER
Yesterday afternoon, drinking a cup of coffee while sitting in the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center on Chicago’s south side, a Veterans Administration cop walked up to me and said, “OK, you’ve had your 15 minutes, it’s time to go.”
“Huh?” I asked intelligently, not quite sure what he was talking about.
“You can’t be in here protesting,” Officer Adkins said, pointing to my Veterans For Peace shirt.
“Well, I’m not protesting, I’m having a cup of coffee,” I returned, thinking that logic would convince Adkins to go back to his earlier duties of guarding against serious terrorists.
Flipping his badge open, he said, “No, not with that shirt. You’re protesting and you have to go.”
Beginning to get his drift, I said firmly, “Not before I finish my coffee.”
He insisted that I leave, but still not quite believing my ears, I tried one more approach to reason.
“Hey, listen. I’m a veteran. This is a V.A. facility. I’m sitting here not talking to anybody, having a cup of coffee. I’m not protesting and you can’t kick me out.”
“You’ll either go or we’ll arrest you,” Adkins threatened.
“Well, you’ll just have to arrest me,” I said, wondering what strange land I was now living in.
You know the rest. Handcuffed, led away to the facility’s security office past people with surprised looks on their faces, read my rights, searched, and written up.
The officer who did the formalities, Eric Ousley, was professional in his duties. When I asked him if he was a vet, it turned out he had been a hospital corpsman in the Navy. We exchanged a couple sea stories. He uncuffed me early. And he allowed as to how he would only charge me with disorderly conduct, letting me go on charges of criminal trespass and weapons possession—a pocket knife—which he said would have to be destroyed (something I rather doubt since it was a nifty Swiss Army knife with not only a bottle opener, but a tweezers and a toothpick).
After informing me I could either pay the $275 fine on the citation or appear in court, Ousley escorted me off the premises, warning me if I returned with “that shirt” on, I’d be arrested and booked into jail.
I’m sure I could go back to officers Adkins’ and Ousleys’ fiefdom with a shirt that said, “Nuke all the hajis,” or “Show us your tits,” or any number of truly obscene things and no one would care. Just so it’s not “that shirt” again.
And just for the record? I’m not paying the fine. I’ll see Adkins and Ousley and Dubya’s Director of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, if he wants to show up, in United States District Court on the appointed date. And if there’s a Chicago area attorney who’d like to take the case, I’d really like to sue them—from Dubya on down. I have to believe that this whole country has not yet gone insane, just the government. This kind of behavior can’t be tolerated. It must be challenged.
Mike Ferner served as a Navy corpsman during Vietnam and is obviously a member of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org