activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: school of the americas

art is not a crime: charges against four school of the americas watch activists dropped

On May 14, roughly a dozen activists pasted a giant mural on the streets of the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, to commemorate some of the people who have been murdered at the hands of graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA). Four of the activists were handcuffed, arrested, held for six hours, and charged with “defacing public or private property.” According to School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch),

In response to the attempts by Washington, DC police to silence us, supporters throughout Denver, Colorado, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Los Angeles, California, Takoma Park, Maryland and UC Riverside, California, have put up more posters … to denounce the human rights violations that continue through the training of Latin American military and police at SOA/WHINSEC, funded through US tax dollars.

The charge carried a maximum penalty of 180 days in prison and a $1,000 fine. Yet today all the charges were dropped at the activists’ arraignment. More than 1,200 supporters from across the US and Canada had signed a petition asking the prosecutor, Ron Machen, to drop the charges.

activist writes graphic novel regarding when and how to file prison grievances

Terri LeClercq and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested in 1998 during a protest against the School of the Americas. Some of the protesters with whom they were arrested were sentenced to six months in federal prison. Their subsequent letters to LeClercq described inmates who suffered serious human rights abuses, such as denial of access to basic medication.

LeClercq decided to write a graphic novel regarding when and how to file prison grievances. The Prison Litigation Reform Act, enacted in 1996, comprises a number of provisions of the U.S. Code that constrain and discourage litigation by prisoners. It requires that in order to be heard, each claim raised in a lawsuit by a prisoner must have been properly exhausted – that is, sufficiently recognizable in a timely grievance to give prison officials notice as to the incident or incidents to which the prisoner objected.

The practical result of the “proper exhaustion” requirement, combined with the very short deadlines of most prison grievance systems, is that many prisoners are unable to correct their administrative filings when they discover mistakes or develop a better understanding of how to articulate their claims. Alternatively, some prisoners write letters to prison superintendents or other highly placed officials instead of filing grievances; but this generally doesn’t meet the “proper exhaustion” requirement. Prisoners who get their problems solved informally, without needing to file grievances, also may have failed to properly exhaust their administrative remedies.

To help inmates file grievances that protect their rights to bring lawsuits, buy a copy of LeClercq’s $10 book and donate it to an inmate or a jail or prison library. (Before mailing a copy to a jail or prison library, however, people are encouraged to contact the jail or prison to determine whether the book will be accepted.)