Foes of Chicago closing six of its 12 mental health clinics in April will air their grievances today in a new venue – the Cook County Criminal Court.
Five protesters charged with trespassing at the since closed Woodlawn mental health clinic will use the “necessity defense” according to their attorney James Fennerty, who spoke at a press conference this morning outside the courthouse. Defendants invoke the necessity defense when they claim to have committed a crime so as to benefit the public good.
“These people don’t deny that they trespassed,” Fennerty said. “But they were doing it to prevent a greater evil — meaning the closing down of the clinics and people not getting their mental health care, and not getting their drugs or seeing their therapist.”
Fennerty anticipated the trial would last two to three days, as the defense has called on several witnesses to speak on city mental health care policies, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The defense said it was negotiating with Dart regarding whether he will testify.
Protesters started to occupy the clinic on April 12 and were stopped when police broke through the barricaded facility early in the morning of April 13 and arrested 23 people. The clinic shut down April 30, amid further protests including a sit-in outside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.
Chanting, “Who is the criminal? Rahm’s the criminal” this morning, protesters, who affiliate themselves with the Mental Health Movement and Occupy Chicago, claim Emanuel’s mental health care policies ignore the realities of the estimated 1,300 mental health patients forced to transfer facilities.
Demonstrators claim that the transition directly resulted in the hospitalization of some patients.
“Supposedly the city is reassigning people to new clinics,” says Rachael Perrota of Occupy Chicago. “But when some people go to their new clinic, they are either not on the list or cannot get an appointment. You cannot close half the system and expect it to keep working properly.”
Such arguments will now be made before a Cook County jury.
According to a 2007 University of New Hampshire law review article, protesters do not really use the necessity defense to gain acquittal from minor charges – as is the case here with the trespassing misdemeanor.
Instead, the necessity defense is used to educate a judge and jury about the greater evil they claim to prevent, in this case clinic closings. The Mental Health Movement has already fought to keep the issue alive for well over a year, even after the City Council approved Emanuel’s budget to close the clinics back in November.
This morning, members of the Mental Health Movement stressed that they might do more peaceful, if possibly unlawful, demonstrations.
“We will continue to fight to make sure people are kept safe,” said organizer and city health clinic patient N’Dana Carter.