political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual laws that criminalize activists: a case study

by Tim Phillips

On Thursday, the Berkeley Daily Planet published activist Carol Denney’s account of receiving a ticket last year for demonstrating against a proposed sit/lie law, which was ultimately defeated in November. On November 4, two days before the election, Denney sat on a chair on the sidewalk and played the fiddle with other musicians. According to her article,

We were trying to illustrate that simply sitting on a chair playing music, perfectly legal behavior under the law, would become a crime in two days if Measure S were to pass. … I had checked the law, checked with attorneys, planned every aspect of the demonstration so that no one and no one’s instruments would be jeopardized.

Yet a police officer gave Denney a ticket for obstructing the sidewalk. Two attorneys had tried to explain to the officer that she was misapplying the law, but her supervisor arrived and argued with them. The prosecutor ended up dropping the case after a couple of court dates. Denney concludes that the officers either don’t understand the law or are indifferent to it:

People can’t be accused of blocking a sidewalk for just being there, or for having a backpack or other personal items beside them, the law makes clear. But the police either don’t realize that or realize it and don’t care what the law actually says or what it was intended to do.

Every law that criminalizes activists is another tool officers can use in their attempts to disrupt demonstrations, so it was a victory that the proposed sit/lie law was defeated in November. But political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual laws that criminalize activists. This is because there are countless laws available for police to use against activists, such as other laws criminalizing homeless people that lend themselves to selective enforcement.

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