But it was, in the end, what we had been asking for from the beginning. Yesterday in court, it was more like we skidded into the sweet spot of possible out comes. Thanks to the fancy footwork of our lawyers, the judge saw it our way about the added charges, and about the seriousness of the offense itself (he did deny our motion that the arrest was unconstitutional, but he said that this was an “unusual case”, meaning it was occupy related and not simply about blocking the street) and he gave us his own deal to get this to go away. We entered a straight plea, essentially bypassing the prosecutor for refusing to deal, and all got charged the same thing. A petty misdemeanor with a fine. (Which is what we, as a group, decided was acceptable 9 months ago when we had our first appearance).
Woo-hoo! To be clear, this isn’t a “not guilty” verdict. We didn’t go to trial and we didn’t win. The deal is just a reasonable thing to agree to. The reason the prosecutor had two of us singled out for harsher charges was because we had past arrests for political reasons and he wanted to make an example. For that same reason (our past experience) we were unwilling to take such a bad deal. The prosecutor was being heavy handed and we knew better. This kind of thing (engaging in civil disobedience as an act of free speech) USED to be a fifty dollar fine and a sharp reprimand about not doing it again for a year. Maybe you served some community service time (of your own choosing) something I would not have been at all opposed to because it enriches our community. It is a punishment that fits the crime. The fact that the city is being so hard on non-violent protesters is cause for grave concern. In context with the broader political repression that we are seeing from the FBI raids on activists homes, to the conduct of police in Anaheim, it becomes more and more important that we speak out (and stick together).
The first time I was arrested it was at a political protest with the Anti-War Committee. We were upset about the latest war spending approval or another, so we blocked traffic in front of then-senator Coleman’s office on University ave. We were there todemonstrate what check points and road blocks were like in occupied Iraq, where people were dealing with the consequences of war in a way U.S. citizens never had to see. The police chief, when asked by the press, said that while people have the right to Free Speech in this country, sitting down in an intersection was akin to yelling FIRE in a crowded theater- there are some things you just can’t do.
My response to that was, and has always been, that it isn’t illegal to shout FIRE in a crowded theater if there IS one. If there is a fire, it is our duty as concerned citizens to say something. In fact, to get up and DO something about it. If there is a crisis, it is up to us to respond! In this case, the crisis is home foreclosures. The banks are forcing people out into the streets while the houses sit vacant. Over 25,000 homes in the last year in this state alone. That is a crisis, if you ask me.
And the cost of my speaking freely about it that day was a fine or some STS (picking up trash on the side of the road for the county). But others are facing much more serious charges. The more heavily they charge folks, the more difficult it is to fight. And the city has made it clear that they are going for real convictions. And what started out being about the foreclosure crisis is now raising all kinds of questions about police misconduct, the clogged and dysfunctional “justice” system, and how Free our Speech can really be if non-violent protesters are going to be dealt with like this by the state.
For now, I am glad to be done with this battle, but we have by no means won the war. Now we need to rally support for the next group of occupiers up for court, the Cruz home defenders. I still believe the next step is to take this thing all the way to trial. People need to start standing up to the banks and to this faulty criminal “justice” system. We need to be ready to fight them in the streets, and in the courts, and in our own homes. The prosecutor said at one point that if we were allowed to “get off so easily” it would embolden other protesters and I think he’s exactly right. We need to empower people to stand up for themselves.Then we can win.
Peace and solidarity,