Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Break 2007 on Trial

A friend of mine is on trial today, tomorrow and Wednesday for protesting the war in Iraq last year. A lot of people who were arrested during the non-violent resistances to seaport militarization in Tacoma, WA are going on trial. On one particular weekend in Tacoma, police had ordered crowds of people to disperse from an area that was not actually being used to ship military Stryker vehicles (vehicles the U.S. Army is using more commonly in Iraq now). So it took everyone off-guard when police responded as if these symbolic resistances were somehow blocking the shipments. For three nights in a row the police peppered the crowd with rubber bullets and unleashed tear gas. The protests went on for twelve nights. My friend can be seen in this video sitting down in front of the police line before he was arrested. He spent the first days of his Spring Break in the city jail.


Nathan said...

So, the only reason for the rubber bullets and tear gas was because of a perceived blockage of military supply? Are the police being investigated for excessive force? What were the exact charges laid against your friend.

It is difficult to imagine this going on here in Australia, especially the force with which the police respond.

Acumensch said...

It's still difficult to imagine it here too.

It was not a perceived blockage. The police knew this area was about 2.5 kilometers from the area where the shipments were being loaded.

The police said the crowd was throwing things at them - which was said on television as well. I spent that weekend talking to reporters about why this claim was false - to little avail - even though the reporters used my footage for their broadcasts. Several people also spoke to police in a private meeting and they told us the "anarchists" were taunting them and things of that nature.

The only truthful charge the police have is that they ordered the crowd to disperse. Needless to say, everyone felt it was their right to protest and so they stayed and ended up eating gas and rubber bullets.

The exact charge against my friend is an "obstruction of justice" - which means essentially that he was not following police orders (the order to disperse.)

Acumensch said...

Actually the charge is "failure to disperse" - they changed it.

Nathan said...

I'm going to claim ignorance here, but... how does this effect the right to free speech? The act of protesting is symbolic to the right of free speech; seemingly, these rights have been stripped from the protesters in order to uphold the law, creating a state of exception. (you may see where I'm going with this?)

Acumensch said...

War is supposed to be the state of exception. Are you suggesting perpetual war? Absolute total war? Absolute total exception?

Given that most Americans are in a state of absolute stupor, it wouldn't be difficult to make huge exceptions to the freedom of speech.

It's already on the law books. Title 18 basically says unpatriotic persuasion during a time of war is a punishable offense because it influences morale negatively. Sections 2385 and 2387 to be exact.

Muser said...

A colleague from the Viet Nam War era opined that in every new era of protest, both the protesters and the police need to be "trained" again. I was astonished by how over-reactive the police were at the port. First of all excessive force is wrong by definition, but in the Youtube age in which everyone has a camera, it's also unwise and impractical. (I wrote the mayor and told him this.) Neither the protesters nor the police should think of the other as "the enemy" because neither is the real source of power. But the police are the pros, and they need to act like it and know what to do and what not to do at a non-violent protest. Good luck to Peter.

Acumensch said...

I think Peter is taking a strong stance by reasoning with a biased court where the judge has been leaning towards the prosecution in the other trials. But, there he stands, he can do no other.

It's good to see that people were doing things in their power to support the protest, like writing letters and informing the media. There was a civil case filed against the police department, which is why the city decided to prosecute after it had dropped most of these charges. So all of this has really become a form of retaliation, a tit-for-tat. Another person, who was a witness for one of these trials, has since been charged with "public expectorating" .