7/13/2010 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Courtwatch: Sentencing Hearing for Isaac Peters and Michael Lawson
  • AETA 4 Case Dismissed
  • Minneapolis to Oakland: Cops Kill
  • Grant Family to Mehserle: Your Letter is Bogus
  • Cops Shilling for Corporations, Crushing the First Amendment
  • BP Oil Execs Not in Prison but These Amazing People Are

Courtwatch: Sentencing Hearing for Isaac Peters and Michael Lawson

Wednesday, July 14 at 8:15 a.m.
Hennepin County Government Center

Isaac and Michael were arrested on March 4th for protesting against Ribnick Furs, using their natural voices and standing on the sidewalk--conduct that is normally considered First Amendment-protected activity. However, MPD cops Lance Faust and Monica Boelter and the Hennepin County bench are apparently unaware of the First Amendment, as Isaac and Michael were convicted. They will be sentenced tomorrow but are working hard to raise funds and resources to appeal the conviction. Interestingly, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Siegal was in court throughout the trial--something that rarely happens--so clearly there is some unnatural interest on the part of the city in this case. With the possibility of hosting the DNC, could it be that the city is trying to set a new low for tolerance of free speech? Please come out and support these two activists AND free speech in Minneapolis. For more info on the case, go to http://deathtrade.wordpress.com/

Fight Back for Free Speech
Demo at Ribnick Furs
Wednesday, July 14 at 4:30 p.m.
224 N First Street, Minneapolis
We will demonstrate outside of Ribnick Furs as a way of pushing back against the assault on free speech represented by the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Isaac Peters and Michael Lawson. Free speech is not a crime!


BREAKING: AETA 4 Case Dismissed

http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/aeta-4-case-thrown-out-dismissed/3015/

A U.S. District Court has thrown out the indictment of four animal rights activists who were charged with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, because the government did not clearly explain what, exactly, the protesters did.

When Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo were arrested in 2009, prosecutors said little other than that the group allegedly chalked slogans on the sidewalk, distributed fliers and attended protests. Later, when they were officially indicted, the government was still tight-lipped about how their non-violent, above-ground protests amounted to “terrorism.”

In response, the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney Matthew Strugar led an effort to have the indictments dismissed. In short, they argued that the charges should be dropped because they seem to involve only protected First Amendment speech, but that in order to make that argument the defendants’ speech must be clearly identified.

Here’s an excerpt from Judge Ronald M. Whyte’s ruling:

In order for an indictment to fulfill its constitutional purposes, it must allege facts that sufficiently inform each defendant of what it is that he or she is alleged to have done that constitutes a crime. This is particularly important where the species of behavior in question spans a wide spectrum from criminal conduct to constitutionally protected political protest. While “true threats” enjoy no First Amendment protection, picketing and political protest are at the very core of what is protected by the First Amendment. Where the defendants’ conduct falls on this spectrum in this case will very likely ultimately be decided by a jury. Before this case proceeds to a jury, however, the defendants are entitled to a more specific indictment setting forth their conduct alleged to be criminal.

As background, a fierce campaign has been being waged in California against animal research at the University of California system. There has been a wide range of both legal and illegal tactics. Illegal tactics have included the destruction of UC vans, and an incendiary device was left at the home of a UC researcher.

The FBI and local law enforcement haven’t been able to catch the people responsible, though. They’ve only cracked down on the above-ground activists, like the AETA 4, who protest and create fliers.

The previous version of the law was used to convict the SHAC 7 for running a controversial website that posted news of both legal and illegal actions. This case, the first use of the new Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, was clearly an attempt to use this sweeping legislation even more broadly against First Amendment activity. This ruling sternly rebukes the government’s attempt to take activists to trial for “terrorism” without even explaining what they have done.

To be clear, though, this case is not over. The government can still re-indict the defendants with an amended bill of particulars that clearly outlines their alleged actions.

This is a victory worth celebrating, and it should also be inspiration for renewed organizing. Corporations and the politicians who represent them have been pushing this “eco-terrorism” and “animal enterprise terrorism” legislation for years, and they will not sit quietly as the flagship case of their pet scare-mongering law is tossed aside. If prosecutors choose to re-indict, it should be at their own peril; the animal rights and environmental movements must be ready to respond even more loudly, more forcefully, that activism is not terrorism.


MINNEAPOLIS TO OAKLAND: COPS KILL

A demonstration came together last Friday night to protest the outrageously unjust verdict in the Oscar Grant case. You'll recall that this is the case in which some young African American men were pulled from a BART train in Oakland, CA last New Years Even and subjected to racial slurs and beatings by transit officers before Officer Joseph Mehserle pulled his revolver and shot Oscar Grant to death as he laid face down on the transit platform. Grant was unarmed. Immediately, the transit authority went into spin mode, blaming the victim and his friends. They might have gotten away with it except that dozens of people videotaped the incident and, although cops immediately siezed a number of cell phones, they were not able to grab them all.

During his trial, Mehserle put on a display of crocodile tears as he claimed he thought he was pulling his Taser. However, a careful review of the videotape shows that Mehserle did, in fact, have his Taser out just a few seconds earlier but put it away and unholstered his gun. Just before shooting Grant, he shouted "f*ck this shit." During trial, Mehserle claimed that he was shocked afterwards and tried to apply pressure to the wound but the video shows that he methodically cuffed Grant and made no efforts toward providing first aid, while the other cops ran around seizing cell phones from witnesses. Despite these obvious inconsistencies, the all-white Los Angeles jury (the defense had the case moved out of Oakland) found Mehserle guilty only of involuntary manslaughter, the lowest possible charge. He faces, at most, 2 to 4 years in prison but could be given probation. Sentencing is scheduled for August 6.

The demonstration Friday night was in solidarity with Oakland, which erupted in protest over the lenient verdict. The crowd of about 150 people took the streets behind the banner OAKLAND TO MPLS: COPS KILL. The demonstration seems to have caught the cops off guard as the march took the full width of westbound Lake Street from Chicago to Lyndale, stopping at the 5th Precinct along the way. At Lyndale, the march made a u-turn in the street and held eastbound Lake Street all the way back to Chicago. Along the way, people poured out of buildings and left bus stops to join in. Cars honked enthusiastically and people shouted their support out of car windows. Clearly, the march gave great heart to the community. At the transit terminal on Chicago and Lake, protesters remained in the street, holding a dance party and rally despite the half-dozen cop cars assembled in the area. People vowed to continue fighting police violence here as we stand in solidarity with people everywhere who are experiencing the boot of police oppression. All in all, the event was a great success.


GRANT FAMILY TO MEHSERLE: YOUR LETTER IS BOGUS

In the aftermath of the verdict, killer cop Joseph Mehserle wrote a letter to the Grant family that appears staged to build sympathy with the judge prior to sentencing. You can see the letter here: http://www.mercurynews.com/twitter/ci_15478265?source=rss&nclick_check=1 The family, however, isn't buying it.

Grant Family Rejects Mehserle's Apology
http://cbs5.com/local/Mehserle.apology.letter.2.1798731.html

OAKLAND (CBS 5 / KCBS) The family of Oscar Grant III spoke out Saturday about the involuntary manslaughter verdict in the Johannes Mehserle murder trial. They also addressed the former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer's letter to them about the killing of the young man from Hayward.

Grant's uncle said the family doesn't consider the letter to be a "real apology."

Standing alongside faith-based leaders in Oakland, Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson said the letter was phony and timed to get a sympathetic response from the court prior to sentencing.

"This is a letter that was purposely designed to influence the judge as well as the jurors to bring about what he got," said Johnson. "Sadly to say, we're not buying it as a letter of apology to us, and the public does not believe it as we don't."

Johnson told reporters and churchgoers at the True Vine Baptist Church that the family has been strategizing toward a federal civil rights prosecution of Mehserle, who was convicted last Thursday of involuntary manslaughter in the New Year's Day 2009 killing of the unarmed Grant on a BART platform.

"So let it be clear that the Department of Justice will get involved in this case," Johnson said reassuringly.

As for the damage to the 100 Oakland businesses following the verdict Thursday night, Oakland Minister Keith Muhammad said certain actions are permissible.

"When justice is not served there is an anger that God permits in the heart of those who have suffered injustice," claimed Muhammad.

Oscar Grant's mother Wanda Johnson was present at the news conference but chose not to speak.


COPS SHILLING FOR CORPORATIONS, CRUSHING THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Not just a local phenomenon...

THE BP/Government Police State
By Glenn Greenwald

July 06, 2010 "Salon" -- July 05, 2010 -- Last week, I interviewed Mother Jones' Mac McClelland, who has been covering the BP oil spill in the Gulf since the first day it happened. She detailed how local police and federal officials work with BP to harass, impede, interrogate and even detain journalists who are covering the impact of the spill and the clean-up efforts. She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who -- after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because "BP didn't want him filming" -- was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official. McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding: "One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff's office."

Today, an article that is a joint collaboration between PBS' Frontline and ProPublica reported that a BP refinery in Texas "spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies" two weeks before the company's rig in the Gulf collapsed. Accompanying that article was this sidebar report:

A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

No charges were filed.

Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.

According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be "taken in" if he declined to comply.

ProPublica's Paul Steiger said that the reporting team told law enforcement agents that they were working on a deadline for this story about that facility, and that even if DHS agents believed they had a legitimate reason to scrutinize the actions and photographs of this photographer, there was no reason that "should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company."

These are true police state tactics, and it's now clear that it is part of a pattern. It's been documented for months now that BP and government officials have been acting in unison to block media coverage of the area; Newsweek reported this in late May:

As BP makes its latest attempt to plug its gushing oil well, news photographers are complaining that their efforts to document the slow-motion disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are being thwarted by local and federal officials -- working with BP -- who are blocking access to the sites where the effects of the spill are most visible. More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.

The very idea that government officials are acting as agents of BP (of all companies) in what clearly seem to be unconstitutional acts to intimidate and impede the media is infuriating. Obviously, the U.S. Government and BP share the same interest -- preventing the public from knowing the magnitude of the spill and the inadequacy of the clean-up efforts -- but this creepy police state behavior is intolerable. In this latest case, the journalists were not even focused on the spill itself, but on BP's other potentially reckless behavior with other refineries, and yet there are DHS agents and local police officials acting as BP's personal muscle to detain, interrogate, and threaten a photographer. BP's destructive conduct, and the government's complicity, have slowly faded from public attention, and there clearly seem to be multiple levels of law enforcement devoted to keeping it that way, no matter how plainly illegal their tactics are.

UPDATE: More evidence here (h/t bamage):

Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week.

It's a move that outraged observers have decried as an attack on First Amendment rights. And CNN's Anderson Cooper describes the new rules as making it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure". . . .

[S]ince "oil spill response operations" apparently covers much of the clean-up effort on the beaches, CNN's [] Cooper describes the rule as banning reporters from "anywhere we need to be" . . . .

A "willful" violation of the new rule could result in Class D felony charges, which carry a penalty of one to five years in prison under federal law.

The new rule appears to contradict the promises made by Adm. Thad Allen, the official leading the Coast Guard's response to the oil spill.

"Media will have uninhibited access anywhere we're doing operations, except for two things, if it's a security or safety problem," Allen told ABC News in June. . . .

"[T]o create a blanket rule that everyone has to stay 65 feet away from boom and boats, that doesn't sound like transparency," [said Cooper].

The rule has come under severe criticism not only from journalists but from observers and activists involved in the Gulf Coast clean-up.

"With this, the Gulf Coast cleanup operation has now entered a weird Orwellian reality where the news is shaped, censored and controlled by the government in order to prevent the public from learning the truth about what's really happening," writes Mike Adams at NaturalNews. . . .

Reporters have been complaining for weeks about BP, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard working to keep reporters away from wrenching images of oil-covered birds and oil-soaked beaches.

We've frequently heard excuses that the Federal Government has little power to do anything to BP, but they certainly seem to have ample power to do a great deal for them. Public indifference about such things is the by-product of those who walk around like drones repeating the mantra that political officials know what's best about what must be kept secret, and that the Threat of Terrorism (which is what is exploited to justify such acts) means we must meekly acquiesce to such powers in the name of Staying Safe.

UPDATE II: From The New York Times, June 9, 2010:

Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials.

To some critics of the response effort by BP and the government, instances of news media being kept at bay are just another example of a broader problem of officials’ filtering what images of the spill the public sees.

This is clearly a deliberate and systematic pattern of preventing access and coverage that has been going on since the beginning of the spill. And, as we find in so many realms, it's impossible to know where government actions end and corporate actions begin because the line basically does not exist.


BP OIL EXECS NOT IN PRISON, BUT THESE AMAZING PEOPLE ARE

The Toronto Sixteen
Supporting the Prisoners of the G20 Police State
By PETER GELDERLOOS
July 7, 2010
CounterPunch

This week, my mind is with the sixteen Canadians who will be transported between their maximum security jail cells and the court to determine whether they will be held in prison until trial or released on extremely restrictive bail conditions. They are accused of organizing the protests against the elite G20 summit of world leaders that took place in Toronto at the end of June. At these protests, thousands of people took to the streets in opposition to specific policies of these twenty leading world governments or in negation of the global political and economic system in its entirety. Protestors enacted their disagreement and outrage in a variety of ways that included protest, counterinformation, and property destruction targeting the summit security forces and several major corporations.

In all, over 1000 people were arrested during three days of protest, many of them detained based on their appearance, put in cages, sexually harassed or assaulted, injured, denied food, water, legal and medical attention, and otherwise abused. Of those thousand plus detainees, these sixteen are facing the heaviest charges, accused of conspiracy as the supposed ringleaders of the mayhem.

Some of them were arrested in early morning raids, forced half-naked out of bed at gunpoint, assembled on their lawns and handcuffed in the pre-dawn darkness, and hauled off to jail. Others were picked up while biking or walking around town, sometimes by plainclothes cops making lightning grabs, a tactic perfected by the Stalinist police (the cops are internationalists, you see, and their methods for control travel across borders with much greater ease than they allow the rest of us).

None of this should be surprising. Powerful men in suits convening to discuss world problems; heavily armed police kicking down a door and sticking a gun in your face - this is the most ordinary juxtaposition imaginable in a democratic society.

The G20, just like the G8 and just like the International Monetary Fund or World Trade Organization and just like capitalism as a whole, is an act of exclusion, and when the stakes are this high, exclusion is always a violent thing. The governments that compose the G20, like all governments everywhere, base their power on forcibly excluding anyone else from making decisions that affect their lives. When the G20 convene to talk about global warming or financial crises- problems which they largely created, which they profit from immensely, and which they will escape the worst effects of - they are not making decisions in any positive sense, so much as preventing all the rest of us from addressing these problems.

Unfortunately, the policies of the G20, and the tactical question of the protests against it, generally appear as separate issues in the progressive alternative media. But in reality, it is impossible to draw a line between the harmful consequences of governmental and corporate policy, the elitist way in which they determine that policy, and the extreme level of police control that accompany their summits.

The fact that the global economy functions simply to keep capital moving, regardless of who is harmed in the process, the fact that elite institutions and politicians can respond to capitalist crisis by funneling billions to the banks and kicking normal people out of their houses, and the fact that people who protest this are surveilled and brutalized through a program of counterterrorism, are all aspects of the same truth: being robbed of our ability to live with health and dignity and being prohibited from intervening in our own lives are the same thing. The gun in the face and the televised speech are two motions in the same process.

Because this kind of authority always provokes resistance, another fundamental process of authority is not to beat down resistance so much as to discipline it to follow the rules. So, RBC can fund gentrification and oil drilling, British Petroleum can kill their workers and destroy the Gulf of Mexico, border guards can murder immigrants, cops can torture youths, the normal functioning of the Canadian economy can murder over three times as many people through workplace "accidents" as are claimed by homicides, but if protestors smash a bank window or light a cop car on fire, they are denounced as violent.

And above all, this operation is carried out by fellow protestors, who echo the media and Canadian politicians in describing the property destruction that occurred in downtown Toronto as a tragedy. But downtown Toronto already was a tragedy. What more human response could there be to a financial district - an urban space devoid of life, deprived of affordable rents, scoured of autonomous livelihoods, subordinated to the needs of traffic and commerce, held under the eye of surveillance cameras, occupied by police, and plagued with corporate outlets and banks - than to destroy it?

Yet curiously, a chorus of liberals are reproducing the tired lie that only agent provocateurs could possibly be audacious enough to attack the system, that the Black Bloc is comprised partially or entirely of infiltrators.

I can assure these liberals that there are thousands of anarchists in North America who would love to trash a police car or a bank. There are millions of other people who would love to do these things as well. The fact that so many liberals denounced these actions would suggest that liberals, along with rich people, are one of the few demographics who don't harbor any rancor for cops or banks, or that they are the political equivalent of Victorians, suppressing their appreciation of something that is both healthy and necessary. This level of denial reminds me of the hacks who decried the violence in the Canadian newspapers, speaking of provocations by an irresponsible minority, while the accompanying photographs, careful to always to show only individuals or small groups damaging property, could not hide the huge crowds gathering around the delinquents, composed of unmasked, normally dressed people, taking pictures and smiling as they watched the destruction. Those bystanders knew what anyone who is still human knows well: that a burning cop car is a beautiful thing.

Anarchists are great organizers: some of us participate in the community groups you admire, set up the alternative media you rely on, arrange housing and logistics for the protests you attend, carry out the direct actions that revitalize the campaigns that are important to you. It should be safe to assume that at least sometimes we could manage to commit a little property destruction without the help of police infiltrators.

It might also be safe to suggest that those dissidents who mirror the police and politicians in their sycophantic denunciation of "violence" share some other points in common with the authorities. Namely, they assist in the same project of democratic government, which is to convince people to participate in their own exploitation, whether through elections or profit-sharing or whatever other gimmick, and to insist on the validity of rules that will always be applied more harshly to us than to the elite.

The pragmatic justification is that the violence distracts from the real issues, but it is long past the point where we have to recognize that the media will never talk about the issues, except to allow them to be reframed for the benefit of the economy and the government. This police operation only works if dissidents participate. If we continue to focus on the reasons for fighting back against the system by whatever means, and there will always be an uncontrollable diversity of means in a diverse struggle, then there will be no distraction, except for the distraction of the corporate media, which is ever present. Either the media will pull their hair out about our violence, or they will turn the spotlight on the latest celebrity news, the latest politician's speech. To talk about anything else, anything real, is up to us.

To talk about broken windows when the G20 come to town is to participate in a policing operation that has our doors broken in and guns pointed in our faces, regardless of whether we justify this collaboration with a discourse of nonviolence or one of security. It is to contradict even that most tepid of progressive cliches: people over profit.

To consider questions of guilt or innocence in the case of these sixteen people facing conspiracy charges is to indulge in all the hypocrisy of a judge, a prosecutor, or a cop. It doesn't matter that most of these people were already arrested when the property destruction occurred, and it doesn't matter that they didn't lead any conspiracies because we anarchists don't have leaders, and we certainly don't need them to carry out a little bit of vandalism.

What matters is that when all those workers died, when all those people were evicted, when all that money was taken from us by the banks, when all those bombs fell, when all that air and water were poisoned, no one in power was punished and it didn't matter whether rules were broken or followed. To speak of rules and laws is to perpetuate one of the greatest lies of our society.

What matters is that a great many more banks and cop cars will have to be thrown on the trash fire of history before we can talk about a new world, so we'd better stop getting so upset by such a modest show of resistance.

What matters is that the $1.3 billion security budget that accompanied the G20 summit is not a concern of the past. The police still have all that new crowd control weaponry and training, and they still have yet another experience of grinding their boot in our face and getting rewarded for it, while we have yet another experience of putting up with total surveillance and control, of being disciplined to get used to it.

This is their vision of the future: cops and security cameras everywhere, preemptive arrests for simply planning or talking about resistance, people with masks or spraypaint or eye wash for the teargas being treated as terrorists. We can either get used to this future, and continue to believe in the validity of their rules, or we can fight back. For just as there is no difference between dispossession and disempowerment, there can be no line between opposing what the G20 stand for and showing solidarity to those who have been arrested for fighting against it.

One of the best ways to keep up the pressure on the banks, the oil companies, the war profiteers, the media, and the politicians, is to support those who are facing charges for organizing resistance.

Because none of us are free until all of us are free.

Peter Gelderloos is the author of How Nonviolence Protects the State.


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