Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Trial: Two Endangered Species, Polar Bears & 1st Amendment

I was one of the Abbate v. Ramsey plaintiffs. I was arrested unlawfully again at the October 22, 2007, protest covered in "Protesters Link War, Warming." I figured the charges would be dropped, but I have been on trial since Monday, February 4, 2008. We, 5 people who were at the protest dressed as polar bears and a man in a gray suit, wanted to avoid politicizing the trial, but the prosecutor, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, is a former journalist (maybe that should be in quotes--he wrote for The Globe tabloid) whose two greatest passions are the limits of the First Amendment:

"In this country, we have a First Amendment right to free speech. It is a sacred right that should not be abused."

And, trying to rehabilitate Bush's tarnished image:

"Falsely accused of disregarding the Constitution, arbitrarily sending American soldiers to their death and unlawfully invading another country for personal profit and exploitation, the President has faced devastating resistance from his own people, to say little of the rest of the world."

Shapiro has characterized peaceful anti-war protests at the Capitol as "obscene," "disturbing," and likely to "incite violence." Blind to the meaning of First Amendment and exaggerating the breadth of the Second, Shapiro sees anti-war protesters charged with D.C.'s law against unlawful assembly, in the same light as handgun activists challenging D.C.'s gun laws. In the courtroom he's "an eye rolling, sighing, retributive voice for punishment." He says that activists shouldn't appeal when they're convicted. Instead, he says, they should accept the consequences of their actions: “Dr. King, unlike the defendants in this courtroom, was willing to accept the consequences of his actions.”

He has proposed two preposterous legal theories that would eviscerate the First Amendment. Both have been accepted by Judge Rafael Diaz:

1. When protesters engage in civil disobedience in the street, anyone observing from the sidewalk who appears to have "common cause" with the demonstrators--the same political views, for example, opposition to war and global warming--can be legitimately charged with blocking the street.

2. Anyone who carries a banner--or is part of a group that has a banner expressing their cause, for example, a group of polar bears with a banner that says "Polar Bears for Solutions to War and Global Warming"--are per se blocking pedestrian traffic. According to this theory, even if the people holding the banner don't actually block anyone from waking down the sidewalk, they are still blocking the sidewalk. The ramification of this, of course, is to outlaw banners. If the judge decides the case against us on this theory, no one will be able to take banners to the Capitol for fear of being charged with blocking the sidewalk. The prosecutor wants to demote 1st Amendment protected materials to the level of illegal roadblocks.

It's possible that the case will wrap up on Monday, February 11, 2008. If you'd like to come, we're in room 211, starting at 12 noon, at the District Superior Courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave.


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The Swimming Polar Bear said...

That is utterly ridiculous. At least you know that other people care for your cause. Even children stars are getting into to...those kids from the naked brothers band are doing some special on the polar bears and global warming. The link is in my name if you wanna learn more about it

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