activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: occupy wall street

pattern of entrapment by federal law enforcement continues unabated

Right in the nick of time, just like in the movies. The authorities couldn’t have more effectively made the Occupy movement look like a danger to the republic if they had scripted it. Maybe that’s because, more or less, they did.

That’s journalist Rick Perlstein’s take on the case of the Cleveland 5, who allegedly conspired to destroy a bridge with explosives this past spring. Like Bradley Crowder and David McKay, Eric McDavid, and now the NATO 3, the Cleveland defendants were apparently persuaded by agents provocateurs to think about breaking the law. The crimes about which they thought, however, never occurred.

But they still face charges, conveniently unsealed on May Day, of conspiracy and attempted use of explosives to damage property. They are scheduled to start trial on September 17.

The process of criminalizing dissent is facilitated in this fashion, by the construction of narratives that frame social justice activists as dangerous. The FBI continues to shape such narratives, consistently choreographing arrests of activists by employing informants or undercover officers to instigate illegal plans. Yet the federal government has sought to entrap violent white supremacists, the most significant domestic terrorism threat, much less often. Perlstein explains why:

The right-wing plots include the bombing of a 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane and the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009. Neither of their perpetrators, it goes without saying, had been arrested before they attempted their vile acts; neither required law enforcement entrapment to conceive and carry them out. It’s just too bad for their victims they did not fit the story federal law enforcement seeks to tell.

new york judge allows mass arrest lawsuit against police to proceed

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff decided last week that roughly 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters could proceed with a class action lawsuit regarding their arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011. The decision was a victory for the arrestees and their attorneys at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Attorneys for the police had asked the judge to dismiss the suit.

Judge Rakoff’s opinion also echoed a sentiment expressed more than 40 years ago in a dissenting opinion by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, acknowledging the value of activism. People labeled “troublemakers,” Rakoff wrote, “have forced us to focus on problems we would prefer to downplay or ignore.” In the same vein, Justice Douglas’s dissent in Epton v. New York (1968) stated:

Society, like an ill person, often pretends it is well or tries to hide its sickness. From this perspective, First Amendment freedoms safeguard society from its own folly.