I Wanted My Day In Court
“Anti-Capitalist Meetup: We Demand Answers! Why were Occupy Boston Charges Dropped? by UnaSpenser”
Author’s Note: Some of this has already been posted in my previous diary. I was asked to write again and include a description of the circumstances of our arrest, the charges, my plea, and some of the process we have been through leading up to this precipitous dropping of charges. While there are those who want to say this is just a matter of incompetence or an overburdened system or laziness, that simply isn’t true here. The press is willingly manipulated in a calculated system of repressing and dissuading dissent, whistle-blowing, and accountability of those in power.
UPDATE: Jim P has asked that I summarize why I find it problematic that charges are dropped. That my post here is long – and it is. I need an editor. That he didn’t glean why it was an issue. Here is my response. I hope it helps:
The issue is that I wanted my day in court. To have a court ruling that the arrest was not legal. If that’s on the record, it is a deterrent to using this tool to silence political voices in the future.
They avoided that by dropping charges before the judge could issue a ruling. They waited 14 months, dragging us into court over and over, and then dropped the charges one business day before they might have their asses handed to them.
We need cases to get to a judgement, so there is precedence when they try this shit again.
They are wielding the power to arrest and to throw the system at you, at their will, and to then stop when they feel like it, to get away with a form of harassment toward anyone whose message they dont’ like.
As one of those awaiting trial, I find this whole affair, from illegal arrests, to injurious treatment, to 14 months of harassment via making us show up at multiple hearings, with many delays, to the propagandist stenography of the Boston Globe, to be a heinous abuse of justice.
Please keep reading to learn of the final bit of foul play by our government. They saw the writing on the wall and, once again, they abused their position of power and cheated justice and democracy.
Circumstances of arrest:
On December 10, 2011, the Boston Police Department arrested me for standing on public property. I had been on the property for a few hours prior the arrest. I had been on the property, off and on, for the previous 2 months. I came to Dewey Square – public land owned by the State of Massachusetts and managed by The Greenway Conservancy – to be part of delivering a political message to our government: we the people want justice for what the banks and elite class have perpetrated against this country.
Our message was clear, as is shown by the fact that these protests changed the public discourse. Until Occupy hit the streets, no one was talking about the inequity of power and justice between the 1% and the 99%.
Our message was still needed. Just because people were talking, doesn’t mean the issues were resolved or even being addressed by our government.
So, we had the right to stay in the streets and keep delivering this message.
I don’t believe it makes a difference – as our First Amendment gives us the right to assemble and address our grievances to our government, without any limitations of when and where being put on that right – but, in my case, I was not camping at Dewey Square. I visited one to three times per week.
I want to get back to that First Amendment statement. It is of tantamount importance that we all remember that it is our right to assemble and to speak out, at our discretion. It is not up to the government to tell us when, where and how we can assemble and speak. The whole point to explicitly naming this right is so that we, the people, maintain tools to keep abuse of power in check. Here is the text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
“Congress shall make no law”… They are not allowed to curb, in any way, our right to assemble and petition our government. They can’t say, “you’ve been out there too long.” They can’t say, “You can’t do that here.”
When we just idly accept these “free speech zones” and complain about the “nuisance” of a protest and even support the forceful arrests of people who are peaceably assembling, in any way, we are giving up one of the single most important tenets of democracy. There is no point to almost anything else we stand for, if we don’t stand for this. We are not a democracy without it.
Yet, I have been told that I deserved to be arrested and injured for my apparently heinous crime of standing in a public space and talking. I refused to bow to a militarily armed “authority” and walk away and be silent just because they wanted me to. For that simple act, I was treated as a “terrorism threat.”
new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.
Why aren’t people around the country outraged about this? Why aren’t we out in the streets until this kind of abuse of power is dismantled and the people who perpetrate it held accountable? There is a direct link between this approach to governance – at the service of corporations – and the apocalyptic destruction of arboreal forest land for the sake of putting more money into the coffers of the already rich.
As I told the Boston Phoenix,
“If I can watch people in Syria march when they know that they’re going to be shot at,” Nevitt tells the Phoenix, “then I can’t stand here and let our government tell us that we don’t have the right to assemble in a public space.”
Read more: http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/144030-catching-up-with-the-ongoing-trials-of-occupy-bost/#ixzz2KQxFazvg
How many people in the US cheered and supported the protesters in Egypt? Look at this statement from Obama, at the time:
“I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protestors. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.”
Except in the United States, apparently. The protesters in Egypt defended themselves by throwing rocks at armed agents of the government. They even burned down the headquarters building of the ruling political party. They turned a public square into an encampment where they controlled who came and went. For this, they were given international attention and our President proclaimed that they were within their rights.
Yet, here, at home, no such proclamations are made. No one threw rocks at government agents, or anyone else. No one burned any buildings. No one denied entry anyone else entry into any public spaces. Still, President Obama was silent when his own citizens exercises these “universal” rights. And people throughout this land have supported the repression of protest and the violent arrests. The vast majority have simply remained silent, going about their lives as though nothing is wrong. Basic, “universal”, human rights are being violated and suppressed in this country. The very foundation of democracy is being ripped out from under our feet. And the people who get the vitriol or lack of support are those who are saying something.
In a diary I posted two days before getting arrested, I explained why I was willing to take this risk. I implore you to ask yourself why you don’t care enough to do the same. Does it really take them coming for your or someone dear to you before you get how critical this is?
It was very disturbing to me to see the media report about how well the Boston Police handled the arrests of peaceable protesters. First, there is no justifiable reason to arrest people expressing their First Amendment rights. Second, it is an authoritarian abuse of power to approach those peaceful protesters, who are letting the police know they are willing to be arrested without resistance, with what was basically a battalion of fully-armed riot police, including big guns, large canisters of tear gas and a sound canon. (As someone with hyperacusis from a chronic illness, a sound canon would have been excruciatingly painful and likely deafening, for me.)
More important, is that Boston was one of the later cities to forcibly remove peaceable protesters. They had had time to see the public response to pepper spraying and rubber bullets. So, they came at 5am, in the dark, when no one was up. They pulled their trucks in to the square and kept the press back, so that no one could witness how they handled us.
They committed their abusive treatment more surreptitiously. For instance, I and eight other women were handcuffed and placed in the back of a transport vehicle. The inside was a metal box with metal benches. No seat belts. With our arms bound behind us and no body restraints, the truck was sped up just before making a turn and we were all whipped around inside the truck. The truck was then jolted to a stop and the back door flung open, as a police officer was yelling at us in anger. I suffered a permanent back injury from this. There are other injuries, but I will only speak of my own, as I don’t want to jeopardize anything for anyone else. But, the police department was given much public adoration for their gentle treatment. I suppose we should be thankful they didn’t send drones into Dewey Square or shoot us on site for having the audacity to gather and speak. That’s how many in public seem to view things these days.
In jail, I was not able to stand. My comrades made space for me to lie down on the cement benches in our cells. (I was moved to three different cells during my stay.) When I was called out, after several hours, to have my charges read to me and filed, I had to ask for a seat. We told the police that I was in pain. One of my beautiful sisters was so good about yelling out the bars to tell them that we needed medical attention. None came. I was simply processed as though nothing was wrong. (I would learn in the emergency room later that I had a ruptured disc and fractured facets.)
When my charges were read to me, they listed “trespassing” and “resisting arrest.” I laughed at the latter charge and asked how they could make it when I had asked the arresting office to help me stand up. The two officers present were not at the arrest scene. One walked away and came back a few minutes later and said, “we’re removing the resisting arrest charge. You don’t look like someone who would resist arrest.”
I was furious. What does that mean? I’m white and I’m a woman and I was in my late 40s. If I were a 23 year old black male would you say that? What if I were a transvestite? Of course I don’t look like I could resist arrest, now. I can barely walk because you injured my back!
That’s how our justice system works? A capricious decision by a cop based on how he views you in the station, even though he had nothing to do with the arrest and had never had an interaction with you before? One could say that I got the benefit of this by having them scratch that charge. Yet, I wanted my day in court over that charge. I was all too aware of how that subjective power is used against people that don’t fit the demographic that this cop is sympathetic to. I felt like a traitor to my comrades. Especially my comrades of color or youth or not perceived as a hetero cis-female. It wounds me deeply to gain any benefit from the systems of oppression while my fellow citizens are murdered, beaten, jailed and otherwise crushed by it. It is simply not right. I didn’t stand out there, risking my body, for this abuse of power. One reason I was willing to risk myself was for the sake of those for whom the risk is even greater, due to their demographic status. I want them to know that those of us who can benefit, don’t want to when it comes at their expense. I’m still furious about this.
We would later learn that although almost all of us had originally been told we had a charge of resisting arrest, when we got to our arraignment, only the men had that charge remaining. None of the women. I sat in Dewey Square with men and women. I behaved no differently from the man sitting next to me. On what basis were these charges meted out?
After about 8 hours of laying on concrete with an injured spine, I was released on bail. I was not told of any restrictions. I would not have accepted them. I would have stayed in jail.
Processing Our Case
I’ve lost count of how many hearings we’ve had since our arrest. I have been at the court house at least six times in 14 months. There were some motion hearings that defendants were not required to be present for. So, the City has attended at least 6 court appointments regarding my case, but it maybe closer to 10.
Of the 47 of us who were arrested on December 10, about half of us plead “not guilty.” I do not believe that I was trespassing. I was on public land. I was exercising my First Amendment right to free political speech to address my government. I cannot have been trespassing.
I did not accept any restrictions to my actions while the case was being processed. None of us, who plead “not guilty” did. Many of us have traveled out of state. Many of us have been back to Dewey Square. Many of us have been in other protest actions since our arraignment. Had the State tried to impose restrictions on me when I had not been determined to be guilty of any crimes, nor have I been shown to pose any sort of physical threat to anyone or anything, I would have defied those restrictions.
We made it clear from the beginning that we were going to fight these charges and fight them loudly. Our first motions were extensive requests for materials and statements from multiple governmental agencies regarding who was involved in monitoring us and determining what actions to take against us. We had seen Homeland Security trucks and various surveillance cameras on site. At one point, after we had filed a motion demanding to know if BRIC – a regional counter-terrorism agency – was involved in any part of the monitoring or decision-making regarding Occupy Boston, the DA had the chutzpah to return to the courtroom and tell the judge, “I asked somebody at that office and she said, “no.”"
The judge wasn’t too happy with that defiance of a court order. He then gave the order very specific wording which required signed statements from someone accountable.
This was the process. We would make discovery motions and the City would respond with delays and absurd statements that did not fit the definition of meeting discovery requests.
Fourteen months into this, and we were starting to feel that, not only were our charges bogus and the arrests illegal, we were now being denied our right to a speedy trial. We wanted the court to rule on the very legality of the arrests. To see if the court would support the notion that the police can arrest people who are doing nothing but gathering and speaking for sake of political expression.
That would have been one avenue of having our day in court. Having the court determine that the arrests themselves were illegal would have been a very strong political statement. We made our case for it in a hearing this past Monday. The judge said he would make a ruling this coming Monday.
Yesterday, on a Friday with a blizzard underway, one business day before the judge would have made a public ruling, the District Attorney let the Boston Globe know that the City was dropping all charges related to Occupy Boston. After 14 months, many court hearings, many rounds of being forced to comply with motions, and declaring that we must face criminal charges for our actions, they suddenly decided to drop the charges with this claim:
“There’s now parity with prior cases arising from the protests,” Jake Wark said. “They’ve served essentially the same sentences.”
Guilty. Sentence served. No trial.
My Reaction: (yes, this was an immediate reaction with fast-flying fingers. This is me being reactionary. I allow myself those moments. I had only learned of the news just hours before posting this.)
Occupy Boston Protesters: Guilty and Sentenced Without Trial
I wanted my day in court. It was clear, they were going to delay and delay. Over one year later, I still did not have a trial date. I was also never told with whom I would be a co-defendant. (we wanted one trial and the judge insisted we be broken into groups of 5. He then only named one group and the rest of us were left in limbo) All of this was designed to make it impossible for us to prepare. Trying to crush our resolve and our souls slowly.
When we pushed back and filed a motion for charges to be dismissed, the judge said he would rule this coming Monday. Preempting what the judge might say in court, the City surreptitiously dropped the charges today. During the beginning of a blizzard. On a Friday afternoon. Without letting any of the defendants know. We didn’t get the courtesy a single communication to us. We all learned by reading it in the Boston Globe. And that is where we read outright lies:
but at least five defendants will contest the dismissal in hopes of fighting the accusations on their merits.
um, we filed the motion to have the charges dismissed. the hearing for that motion was this past Monday. that’s on the public record. high quality stenography, I mean journalism, there.
“Our clients feel that they deserve a day in court to contest their arrests on constitutional grounds,” said Jeff Feuer, of the National Lawyers Guild, which is defending the demonstrators. “They were using a public park.”
that’s my lawyer. I wonder when they got that quote. I’m pretty sure that’s from an earlier time when we were being asked about why we didn’t accept a plea deal. Since we’ve had no contact from anyone about this latest move of dropping the charges, I doubt this is a contemporary quote.
A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said prosecutors decided to resolve the cases because the defendants had abided by certain restrictions imposed by the court for more than a year. Other protesters charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly had agreed to similar conditions in resolving their cases.
What restrictions? This is just outright fiction. I pleaded not guilty. I was not under any restrictions, as I had not been found guilty of any crime and I would not consent to be punished as though I had. I dare the Boston Globe to tell me exactly what restrictions I have supposed adhered to and to prove that I consented to and complied with them.
“There’s now parity with prior cases arising from the protests,” Jake Wark said. “They’ve served essentially the same sentences.”
This is their way of saving face. Trying to claim that we somehow accepted guilt by serving a pre-sentence. Who needs a trial when you can just get people to agree to “restrictions” and then say that they’ve “resolved” their case by “essentially” serving a sentence?
I will not stand idly by and be portrayed in the public as though I have served a sentence for a crime I did not commit. Nor will I allow our justice system to proclaim that they can determine, without a trial or a sentencing process, that someone has paid enough of a penalty that they can consider the case resolved. It’s bullshit. And makes me wonder what they thought the judge was going to say, on the record, on Monday.
Here is the press release about this from the National Lawyers Guild, who are representing us.
NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD, Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.
14 Beacon St., Suite 407, Boston, MA 02108
Tammi Arford (defendant): 617-686-8892 National Lawyers Guild, Mass. Chapter
Andrea Hill (defendant): 574-206-5632 617-227-7335
CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST OCCUPY BOSTON DEFENDANTS DROPPED
Boston, February 8, 2013. Today, without any notice to defense counsel or the defendants, Suffolk County prosecutors went into court and in an unscheduled, unilateral action dismissed the criminal cases that had been brought against five Occupy Boston activists which were scheduled to begin trial on Monday, February 11. The prosecutors also dismissed all of the criminal charges remaining against the other Occupy Boston activists who were still awaiting trial as a result of the mass police arrests in October and December, 2011.
We believe that the DA’s decision amounts to an acknowledgment of the unconstitutionality of the arrests and criminal charges that had been brought against hundreds of Occupy Boston participants, and shows that the state has finally
admitted that the demonstrations by Occupy activists were legal and constitutionally protected.
Fully ready to contest the charges at trial, the defendants and their representatives from theNational Lawyers Guild (NLG) had subpoenaed Mayor Menino, Police Commissioner Ed Davis, and Nancy Brennan (former head of the Greenway Conservancy) to explain why the City of Boston and its police department unconstitutionally applied the Massachusetts trespass and unlawful assembly laws to impinge upon Occupy Boston participants’ rights to assemble, to express their protected speech, and to petition the government. In addition, they had also subpoenaed Joshua Bekenstein and Mitt Romney (of Bain Capital), and Robert Gallery (CEO of Bank of America) to address their role in constructing and perpetuating excessive corporate power and an economic system that favors the wealthiest 1% of the population at the expense of the remaining 99%– an undemocratic system in which the voices of the people are ignored. The police action in arresting occupiers demonstrated that voices of conscience that speak out against
social and economic inequality are not only ignored, they are unlawfully silenced by the state’s use of violence, fear, threat, and repression.
This decision by prosecutors comes after 14 months of delay, during which defendants were repeatedly required to show up for court dates, only to have their day in court and their right to a jury trial delayed time after time. Defendants and their NLG lawyers spent months working to prepare a case that would potentially embarrass the City and set valuable precedent that would reaffirm the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
In making this decision, Suffolk County prosecutors have not only prevented the defendants from having their day in court, they have employed yet another way to trample upon those who voice dissent and discouraged them from challenging injustice and inequality in this country. In fact, a spokesperson from the District
Attorney’s office today admitted that these defendants, who never had the chance to present their case to a judge or jury, “served a sentence” imposed unilaterally by the actions of the District Attorney without ever having been found guilty of any criminal offense.
### END ###
Don’t be complicit in the repression of voices of dissent. Please take in the way this was handled: peaceful protesters arrested by using a battalion of militarily-armed riot police, then dragged through repeated courtroom delays, then charges dropped with a statement that they had “essentially” served a sentence. See how that works? Guilt determined and sentence handed down without the bother of a pesky trial.
Raise your voices, people. When these things happen, we need to yell louder that we will maintain our rights.
If you look in the comment section of that diary, you will see some people arguing that there is no malicious intent on the part of The Globe. It’s really just under-funded, lazy journalism. You will also see some arguing that the legal process is just a matter of an over-burdened system and incompetency.
I don’t buy it. This is the way the corruption of democracy works. Death by a thousand little cuts. Newspapers are struggling financially because they have abandoned their role and, therefore, don’t receive support. The role of the 4th Estate in a democracy is to be an independent check on anyone or any institution which manages to garner power over others. Instead, they’ve become a part of the power structure. Corporations have all the power in this country. Now, corporations own all the media outlets. When that shift occurred, when the mission of objective, investigative journalism in service to the public good was compromised for the sake of shareholder profits, the 4th Estate abandoned democracy. That they are a shell of themselves, with no budget and no journalistic integrity now and, therefore, don’t have the capacity to “intentionally” do a disservice to us all, does not exonerate them. They have made the choices which have landed them where they are. They made those choices in service to the 1%. It is not accidental that they can now look lame and beg for ‘understanding’ while they are complicit with the systems which abuse us.
If the courts are “over-burdened”, it is not because we have such high rates of criminal people who just have to be taken off the streets. It is because we have criminalized things for the sake of feeding a for-profit prison system and to maintain a system of oppression. We can relieve the court system of much weight by ending the prosecution of non-violent drug use, for instance.
In our case, the dropped charges had nothing to do with a court which was too busy to handle us. It wasn’t the judge who complained about having the cases processed in court. It was the DA who decided that we had already served our sentence.
It wasn’t incompetence, either. The City was very skilled at arguing against and evading our motions. They were very clear that we needed to be prosecuted for our audacity. There was never any indication that the Assistant DA handling the case didn’t know what she was doing. In fact, our attorneys expressed respect for her skills early on.
This was a calculated political decision. A series of calculated political decisions, in fact. The decisions to have Homeland Security trucks show up at the protest site was to intimidate us. The decision to arrest us was made to end the protest. The decision to do so with a military-style action was meant to frighten others from attempting to protest. The decision to push for our cases to be processed was to signal that it would be a long, painful process you would have to go through if you dared to protest. The decision to drop the charges before hearing what the judge had to say on Monday, was to avoid having a public record of what the judge would say on Monday.
I have no doubt about it. None of this was ever about whether we had actually committed any crimes. It was all about silencing dissent. Mayor Menino made that very clear, early on:
“I will not tolerate civil disobedience in Boston.
Civil disobedience is the cornerstone of democracy. It is a powerful tool that The People must use stop abuse of power. Voting is not enough. We are not relegated to one tool for our role in keeping democracy true to form. When those in power can control who runs for office, what we learn through media and what those people do once they are in office, you must use your other tools. Here in Boston, we enshrine this truth in our memorial site of the “Boston Tea Party.” An action against corporate interests controlling tax policy and fair trade. Yet, we now have a Mayor who made it known that he will crush any civil disobedience. You don’t think that Mayor is directing and/or strategizing the actions of the police and the DA? Think again. Our police chief is appointed by the mayor. Our current police chief has been on the job without the security of a contract for years, now. Every day, his job is only his if the mayor deems it is. Is that police chief going to defy this mayor’s wishes?
We now know that the FBI was monitoring Occupy. We know they helped coordinate the crackdowns and deemed peaceable protesters to be potential terrorists. The mayor of Oakland admitted that 18 mayors around the country were talking to each other about how to handle Occupiers.
None of this is about incompetence, laziness or an over-burdened system. It is about silencing voices which would demand accountability of those in power, justice for the “99%” and analysis and adjustment of our worship of predatory capitalism. Some aspects of the system have been crumbling to a state of auto-complicity for so long that we’ve become complacent. But that doesn’t make it any less unjust or any less responsible for the resulting oppressions.
Our responsibility, as citizens of a democracy, is to never become complacent. To never allow ourselves to be silenced or cowed into coerced obedience. When there is an attempt to repress our voices or deny us justice, we are obligated to speak louder and stand up taller. Every time. You know this is true. You know that there is no other way to maintain a just and sustainable democracy. Don’t vilify those who are pointing this out. Stand in solidarity. It is our only hope.