The young woman who asked Ian Wise for a light while he was smoking outside a punk rock concert in Pilsen on March 16, 2012, used the opening to steer the conversation to his tattoos and his views about the police.
Wise, 26, didn’t pay her much attention. She looked wrong for the crowd, too normal, but Wise just figured her for some suburbanite, maybe a friend from a band member’s day job, “trying hard to sound cool.”
Wise was there to listen to The Libyans, a band from Boston with a female singer from Chicago who is his friend. He’d arrived too early.
What he didn’t know until he read it in the Sun-Times last week was that the woman chatting him up was actually an undercover Chicago police officer hunting for anarchists in advance of that year’s NATO summit and that she later noted her suspicions about him in her secret daily activity report.
The police officer, Nadia Chikko, took special note of Wise’s tattoo depicting Mexican revolutionary figure Emiliano Zapata and said he’d expressed the opinion that “police are oppressive and need to be stopped.”
Wise would like it known that’s not exactly what he told her and that having a Zapata tattoo doesn’t make him an anarchist, let alone a subversive trying to overthrow the government.
In an email and follow-up interview Monday at his Bridgeport apartment, Wise concedes he did tell Chikko he didn’t trust police, and based on this case, who could blame him.
Chikko’s observations about Wise (she only knew him as “Ian”) came out previously during the NATO 3 trial, where she is the star witness in a misguided attempt by Cook County prosecutors to cast three would-be troublemakers from out of town as would-be terrorists.
In my opinion, the evidence hasn’t supported the terrorism charges, but what I also find alarming is how the trial has peeled back the curtain on Chicago police surveillance activities of law-abiding citizens during the run-up to that year’s planned summits.
It would appear to me the Police Department, having finally been freed from the constraints on its intelligence-gathering efforts brought about by abuses dating to the Red Squad scandal in the 1960s, lost its way again while hunting anarchists.
He has nothing really to do with the NATO 3 case. He doesn’t know any of the defendants. The only reason he was mentioned is that defense attorneys were trying to point out the extent of police spying during NATO and asked Chikko why she had made special note of him.
“It could be something to look into,” she responded.
That’s pretty scary. She has a chance encounter with a guy outside a punk rock concert, profiles him based on his tattoo, prods him into saying something antagonistic toward police, and flags him for follow-up?
In that case, Wise would like her to know that he got the Zapata tattoo when he was 19 while working third shift at a chemical plant for $7.75 an hour and trying to make ends meet as a new husband and father.
Wise, who has many other tattoos including one for a band whose music is stridently pro-American, said he wanted one depicting Zapata because he likes a famous quote often attributed to him: “I would rather die on my feet than continue to live on my knees.”
Wise says he’s no anarchist, not that he necessarily has anything against most anarchists, who he recognizes as adherents of just another philosophy on the political spectrum.
“A lot of anarchists aren’t violent people. That’s not their kick,” he said.
Wise says he’s not particularly political, which doesn’t mean he’s not philosophical. He calls himself a skinhead, but not the neo-Nazi kind with whom he has been at odds since being outspoken in his condemnation of racism while growing up in Alabama.
He says he would have liked to follow in the footsteps of family members who fought for the U.S. military, but he couldn’t enlist because of asthma.
Right now he’s working at bars and doing some freelance writing while looking for something better. The wife is now an ex-wife. He tries to do right by his kid. He has a cat named Rocky.
“I collect a lot of records,” Wise told me. “I mind my own business.”
What I think bothers Wise most deeply — and me as well — is that people like him landed on the Chicago police radar because they see the world differently than most of the rest of us.
They were the arbitrary starting point in a search for potential criminals — in his case because of a tattoo.