political trial, political prisoners

5thAve.16.jpg
serious street theatre: Rachel Corrie remembered on 5th Avenue, March 26, 2003


Barry and I slipped into Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday to show support for our friends and their friends, sixteen defendents caught up in the trial from mayhem (maybe the word "hell" should be reserved for even more horrendous judicial outrages likely still to come).

Thirteen months ago the group had been arrested for a totally peaceful street protest against the war in Iraq, against the continuing war on the Palestinians, and against the death of U.S. human rights activist Rachel Corrie. Ok, some traffic was disrupted on 5th Avenue. Now those arrested that day may be subject to restraint of their liberties during years of probation and, in the words of hanging judge Robert M. Stolz on Monday, they are "facing a possible sentence of up to a year in jail." A year in jail? For blocking cars? For trying to shake their country awake?

Stolz's mention of the serious stakes involved for the defendents followed immediately a thinly-veiled warning to their friends and familiy in the benches: "[This trial] is not for the benefit of Spectators." No, it certainly isn't, but can we know for whose benefit it is being staged?

This trial is an appalling abuse of the courts. We used to think that Giuliani's regime* was outrageous, but to experience an even more serious assault New Yorkers really had to wait until after the reactionary ascendancy which followed the 2000 election, after the misreading of September 11, after the terrorists won the war on terror the day it was announced, and after the totally political decision that New York City would be the site of the Republican Convention celebrating the arrival of the fundamentalists' brave new world.

Normally political protest which involves a police determination that the protestor
is somehow out of order results in a simple violation and the dismissal of all charges, assuming the person arrested does not run into the police again within a designated relatively short period of time, usually a few months.

I can't begin to go into the particulars here of how this judge and this district attorney (Morgenthau's lieutenant, Barry Glasser) have been mishandling the case of the "5th Avenue 16," but let me say that neither party is disinterested, and that the people's justice appears to be just about the last concern of both. Not incidently, aside from carrying an axe which will apparently never be ground enough, Judge Stolz has to be faulted for incredibly slovenly, unprofessional conduct. But then, these are also times which somehow accomodate a George W. Bush presiding over 300 million [or actually 6 billion] of his fellows.

Yesterday morning, for what was expected to be only the pronouncement of sentences, there were at all times a minimum of eight police officers in the courtroom on Monday (one for every ten people in the public seating area) and four of them wore bulletproof vests. I have been a defendent in civil rights cases, I have sat in courtrooms while others were tried for similar "offenses" and I have sat on the jury in one capital case. Never before have I have seen more than two officers in a courtroom, and none were ever wearing vests.

Clearly the City authorities and their directors in Washington are trying very hard to frighten us all into submission and to minimize the potential for the demonstrations and protest which are the only refuge for a people given no effective electoral choices. We can't let our self-appointed governors get away with this. The stakes are just too high. If we fail to stop these police state tactics now, we all will be paying for it for years, if not forever.

Clyde Haberman has written one of the very few media stories on this trial. He doesn't tell us enough, he provides no real context, and he may be trying to be too entertaining, but you'll at least learn that sentencing has been delayed contemplating the impact of new evidence. True justice's hope is that the defendents' lawyer will be successful in his motion for an appeal, but with this judge it must be a distant hope at best.

For more press and other information, including pictures, go to M26.org


*
Surprise! A former federal prosecutor, Stolz was originally appointed Judge by Giuliani, to the Civil Court in 1995. He was appointed to the Criminal Court by Bloomberg in 2003.



[image from Fred Askew]