activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: occupy wall street

former correction commissioner writes that imprisonment is by its very nature destructive

Cecily McMillan elbowed a New York City police officer in the eye as officers cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protesters in March 2012. She recently served 58 days of a 90-day sentence on Rikers Island, a city jail. In today’s New York Times, the New York City correction commissioner from 2003 to 2009 has a letter to the editor regarding McMillan’s July 24 op-ed:

Cecily McMillan describes a grinding, degrading experience during her short stay on Rikers Island. Imprisonment is by its very nature destructive of human dignity, and the best antidote is for society to use it less often.

McMillan is a graduate student at the New School. Her attorney is appealing her conviction. She maintains that she struck the officer instinctively after he groped her breast.

police arrested thousands of occupy wall street protesters, but prosecutors declined to seek convictions against the vast majority

As in Oakland, where Occupy protests resulted in more than 700 arrests but only about 100 people were criminally charged, the vast majority of the people arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City had their cases dropped or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. According to today’s New York Times article,

… of the 2,644 people arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests, prosecutors only sought convictions in 421 cases; the rest were either dropped or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Of the 421 cases, 354 pleaded guilty, 56 were convicted at trial and 11 were acquitted.

Today Cecily McMillan will be sentenced for elbowing an officer in the eye in March 2012. McMillan said she struck the officer instinctively after he groped her breast. A jury found that McMillan deliberately hit the officer, but one member of the jury, who said he spoke for nine of of the jurors, wrote a letter to the judge urging leniency.

jury finds police officers not liable for occupy portland activist’s injuries

One day before the “pepper spray copdebacle at UC Davis in 2011, police officers gratuitously hit Occupy Portland activist Liz Nichols during a demonstration and pepper-sprayed her directly in the face. Nichols fell to the ground, was dragged by the hair through a police line, and was charged with three misdemeanors. According to last week’s Associated Press article,

[Officer] Paisley jabbed Nichols with a baton, and the baton then struck Nichols’ throat, according to video footage. Sgt. Jeffrey McDaniel then sprayed her mouth. A photographer for The Oregonian newspaper captured the moment.

Nichols’s attorneys at the Portland Law Collective filed an excessive force lawsuit on her behalf. Yet last Friday a jury found that the city of Portland and the two officers were not liable for Nichols’s injuries. That doesn’t necessarily mean the legal efforts were in vain, however. As CrimethInc. explains,

We should include the battle in the courts in our strategies, even if we don’t believe in the legitimacy of the law any more than our rulers do. In cities that have seen a lot of recent demonstrations and lawsuits, police departments are often more hesitant to beat and arrest protesters.

red river showdown: activist temporarily stops construction of tar sands pipeline

An activist locked his arm in a concrete capsule buried in the path of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline earlier today, stopping construction for at least two hours. Firefighters extracted him and he is now in police custody. According to Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance,

Fitzgerald Scott, 42, is the first African American to risk arrest while physically blockading TransCanada’s dangerous tar sands pipeline, and the second person to take action this week. … This week of action, called the “Red River Showdown,” is intended to protect the Red River, which marks the border between Oklahoma and Texas and is a major tributary of the Mississippi.

On January 20, 2012, Scott was arrested for wearing a jacket bearing the phrase “Occupy Everywhere” in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. After the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed the charge, Scott’s attorney, Jeff Light, filed a false arrest lawsuit on his behalf. For the past five months, Scott has been organizing against the Keystone XL pipeline and has met many people who are struggling to protect their homes from eminent domain. Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance promises that the direct action campaign against the pipeline will continue:

As construction on the southern portion of Keystone XL nears two thirds completion, no regulators or politicians show any willingness to halt the project… According to George Daniel, spokesperson for Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, “Scott’s action sends a clear message: because every other avenue has failed to stop this deadly project, we will blockade – all summer and on into the fall, if that’s what it takes.”

three activists jailed since nato summit lose motion to dismiss terrorism charges

The NATO 3, three incarcerated Occupy activists, were charged last year under the Illinois material support for terrorism statute. The statute was passed in response to the events of September 11, 2001. Its vague language allowed police and prosecutors to impose terrorism charges on the defendants for political reasons.

Today Judge Thaddeus Wilson denied the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss the terrorism charges, which were used to portray activists as dangerous on the eve of a large anti-NATO demonstration in Chicago last May. According to the defendants’ motion filed in January,

The prosecution used the vague statutory definition of terrorism to paint the anti-NATO protesters as violent terrorists, to discredit their demonstration and discourage people from marching on Sunday, and to justify their vast expenditure on law enforcement. The defendants were just pawns in this political operation and as a result of this vague and open-ended statute now languish in jail under exorbitant bail facing the most serious of charges.

The motion describes most of the prosecution’s evidence as “the defendants’ idle chatter, laced with bravado, and … egged on by … under-cover police agents.” The agents instigated “the alleged creation of … four homemade beer bottles of gasoline” and apparently retained possession of the bottles. Sadly, this case is just one of several examples of a pattern of entrapment in which law enforcement authorities choreograph arrests of activists by employing informants or undercover officers.

prosecutors in brooklyn bridge case obtained damning account information from twitter

Yesterday Malcolm Harris, one of approximately 700 people arrested during an Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011, pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. obtained Harris’s Twitter posts in September, because the District Attorney’s office argued that the tweets could show whether Harris knew about police orders he allegedly ignored. Judge Sciarrino reviewed the posts and turned over a few pages – the portions relevant to the disorderly conduct prosecution – to the District Attorney’s office.

According to today’s New York Times article, the prosecutors were right:

“They tried to stop us, absolutely did not want us on the motorway,” the writer, Malcolm Harris, posted during the march on Oct. 1, 2011, according to passages read by a prosecutor in court. “They tried to block and threaten arrest. We were too many and too loud. They backed up until they could put up barricades.”

The approximately 700 arrests are also the subject of a class action lawsuit still pending against the police.

lawsuit filed regarding arrest for ‘occupy everywhere’ jacket

On January 20, 2012, Florida resident Fitzgerald Scott was arrested for wearing a jacket bearing the phrase “Occupy Everywhere” in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Attorney’s office later dismissed the charge. On Wednesday, attorney Jeff Light filed a false arrest lawsuit on Scott’s behalf.

As in Cohen v. California (1971), Scott’s arrest was based solely on speech. In Cohen, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Paul Cohen’s conviction for wearing a jacket bearing the words “Fuck the Draft” in the Los Angeles County Courthouse in April 1968. It was the alleged offensiveness of the specific words he used, not the message itself, on which his conviction rested before its reversal. According to the majority opinion, “the State certainly lacks power to punish Cohen for the underlying content of the message the inscription conveyed.”

In Scott’s case, there’s nothing offensive about the “Occupy Everywhere” inscription. Even had there been, the Cohen opinion made clear that “we cannot … forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process.” In other words, Scott’s arrest was illegal.

occupy portland activist to file lawsuit against police for pepper spray incident

She’s motivated to protest by the plight of her parents. Her mother has multiple sclerosis and her father was disabled by a back injury. They’re both surviving on his Social Security disability checks.

That’s the Oregonian’s description of Portland State University student Liz Nichols, who, one day before the “pepper spray cop” debacle at UC Davis, a Portland officer gratuitously pepper-sprayed directly in the face during a demonstration. Nichols fell to the ground, was dragged by the hair through a police line, and was charged with three misdemeanors. The Multnomah County Prosecutor’s Office ultimately replaced those charges with traffic-level offenses, which Nichols is still fighting.

Tomorrow her attorneys at the Portland Law Collective will file an excessive force lawsuit on her behalf. The suit alleges that in addition to violating Nichols’s rights, Portland has an unconstitutional policy of allowing pepper spray to be used on demonstrators even when they pose no threat to the safety of others.

the occupy movement is a response to social stratification; it’s not ‘economic terrorism’

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Northern California confirmed that the FBI has been surveilling the Occupy movement. The FBI refuses to produce further evidence because, according to ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye, “to the FBI, political protests about economic policy pose an unspecified threat to national security,” which is the agency’s excuse for keeping the documents under wraps. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan apparently agrees with the FBI, having labeled the tens of thousands of people who participated in an Occupy Oakland strike last November 2 as “economic terrorists.”

We now know the FBI was specifically monitoring that strike, which shut down most of the city’s businesses and the Port of Oakland – one of the busiest in the U.S. (Full disclosure: I participated.) This isn’t the only time politicians have deemed activists to be guilty of “economic terrorism.” Yet it shows that even supposedly progressive politicians will treat a wide range of protest activity as threatening or terroristic, with little to no regard for the extent to which activists play by the rules.

Whether or not people believe the Occupy movement has the right ideas or engages in effective methods of protest, it is a natural reaction to the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. As the New York Times reported on Thursday,

The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in New York City last year as the poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa. … The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.

Protest is a product of such disparity. There are situations in which protest and terrorism overlap, but Occupy encampments and demonstrations don’t qualify.

authorities increasingly attempt to obtain account information from twitter

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. decided on Monday that Twitter must turn over an Occupy Wall Street protester’s tweets from a period of roughly three months. Judge Sciarrino will review the tweets and provide those portions that are relevant to a disorderly conduct prosecution to the District Attorney’s office. The prosecution resulted from an Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge last October.

Twitter righteously fought the DA’s office’s demand for the tweets. Yet prosecutors argued that the tweets could show whether the protester, online magazine editor Malcolm Harris, knew about police orders he allegedly ignored. The arrest was one of approximately 700 on October 1, 2011, which are the subject of a class action lawsuit still pending against the police.

Also on Monday, Twitter released its first Transparency Report, which listed the U.S. government as having requested user account information 679 times since January 1, more than in all of 2011. Twitter produced some or all of the requested information three-quarters of the time. “We notify affected users of requests for their account info,” the report says, “unless we’re prohibited by law.”