Daily Herald: Rhetoric flows as 4 plead guilty in protest

The court cases against four young adults arrested in Arlington Heights during an October protest aimed at the Chicago Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal immigration group, ended Tuesday with guilty pleas by all.

The rhetoric on both sides of the immigration issue, however, didn’t stop.

“This is an important victory for those of us who believe the Minutemen are the new Ku Klux Klan,” said Jed Stone, a defense attorney representing one of the protesters.

Rosanna Pulido, co-founder of the Illinois Minuteman Project, countered that the protesters “are a bunch of freaks and goons” who deserve a decade in prison for scuffling with police officers.

Rehana Kahn, 23, Eric Zenke, 18, Kara Norlander, 24, and Cynthia Gomez, 28, all of Chicago, pleaded guilty Tuesday in the Rolling Meadows courthouse to misdemeanor battery charges in exchange for one year of supervision, 240 hours each of community service and $230 each in fines. Resisting arrest charges were dropped.

If they are not arrested in the coming year, the battery convictions will not appear on their criminal records, which are otherwise unblemished.

The four were arrested Oct. 15 during a large protest at Christian Liberty Academy, 502 W. Euclid, over a meeting of a local chapter of a national anti-illegal immigration group that sends members to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

Tuesday’s court hearing — which was to be the start of a jury trial — drew an extraordinary amount of attention for a misdemeanor trial in a suburban courthouse, underscoring the divisive nature of the immigration debate in the local community.

Lance Northcutt, a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, described how the four each struck Arlington Heights police officers as they were arrested during the protest. His comments drew laughs from some in the courtroom who came to support the protesters.

“With respect to these officers, they had no choice to be there,” Northcutt said. “These officers were placed between two groups who did not like each other.”

Stone and two other defense attorneys told Cook County Judge Hyman Riebman they were proud that their clients stood up for their principles and exercised their right to assemble and protest.

Jim Fennerty said his client, Gomez, was pleading guilty because that was the best way for her to continue to protest against the Minutemen, “who really are a hate group.”

Riebman upbraided the attorneys for speaking their anti-Minutemen opinions during the hearing.

“My courtroom’s not a forum for any person’s agenda,” he said. “As hardworking and as courageous and as decent as these defendants are, those rights to the First Amendment cannot be used to violate the laws of the State of Illinois.”

Also arrested during the protest was Marco Quiroz-Rojas, whose whereabouts are unknown.

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