Arrested in one city, but not in another
Several of us in the Capital District have been busy trying to shut down Guantanamo. We've been holding demonstrations throughout the area -- Albany, Saratoga Springs and Troy.
Out of them all, Troy was the most frightening with the most uninformed and threatening comments shouted at us. One man stopped to make a comment and after we explained that 86 of the men held were cleared of any wrongdoing under the Bush administration, he offered, “You know what would help? A bullet through the head.”
Great, shoot innocent people to solve the problem.
Other people thought torture a perfectly acceptable act in which to engage. I confess that I did not maintain my peaceful demeanor the entire time and gently said to one person, “Now I know how the Nazis took over. Thank you.” Which I regretted immediately.
Saratoga Springs was interesting for another reason. Local peace activists have a good relationship with that police department, always filing for a permit just in case we get more than 20 people, and to let the police know that we're going to be out in our orange jump suits and hoods so they can plan for any safety measures they deem necessary.
We have met with the new chief, Gregory Veitch, and explained our moral stance of nonviolence which for some of us is a gospel leading. We are organized and we always have plans to have peace keepers on hand to deal with our members who may be acting in a way that we do not think reflects peace building. We have also been quite clear that if they have to arrest us it is OK.
“We do not see you as the enemy," I once said to him. “If you have to arrest us, we will not hold it against you and when we see you on the street we will still have a smile for you and will offer to buy you a cup of coffee.”
It is a city ordinance in Saratoga Springs, as in most other cities after 9/11, that people who are protesting cannot wear masks. At a Guantanamo demonstration on a Friday a few weeks back, I was almost arrested because I was wearing a hood and one of the people working across the street in city hall complained. The lieutenant on duty that day came out to talk to us and since we had not discussed any civil disobedience action as a group I took the hood off.
Now here I must digress, the good citizens of Saratoga Springs pay some of the highest taxes in the state -- and in New York that's saying something -- and our municipal workers (didn't they used to be called “civil servants”) have time to stare out the window on the taxpayers' dime? (Gosh I miss Carl Strock.) Anyways, that's another blog.
The next time we witnessed to close Guantanamo and stop torture we were organized and we were clear with the SSPD that we would not take off the hoods if asked. We see them as the “yellow star” of Guantanamo.
On the day of our permitted demonstration, as we were processing out to the corner of Broadway and Lake Avenue in front of the downtown post office, we spotted a SSPD cruiser with two officers. And I thought to myself, “They're already for us.”
We set up, and began to hand out pamphlets, process up and down the sidewalk, I was in the cage. The lieutenant came across the street from the police department and said, “How you all doing here today?”
We exchanged some pleasantries and he asked us our plans. From my cage I told him that we were going to hand out pamphlets and engage in some street theater.
He said to us, “OK. We have some officers in a car making sure you're safe and nobody bothers you. You probably saw them on your way down here.”
We had and we thanked him.
He shook hands with us and left.
After the vigil, we went over to the patrol car and thanked the two officers for looking out for us and they thanked us for being out there.
So, not only did we not get arrested, we got police protection, hand shakes and a thank you from the officers.
East Syracuse however is a different story.
I am one of the “Ash Wednesday 9” who were arrested on Feb. 13 at the Hancock National Guard base in East Syracuse for witnessing against drones. This is the arrest for which I have an order of protection against me for a man I have never met and who has never met me. (See blog “Miracle at Ash Wednesday Arrest” dated March 15, 2013). We were charged with “disorderly conduct." We had our pretrial motions hearing on July 17 with the trial date set for Sept. 26.
We will have a “bench trial” which means that a judge will hear the evidence, which pretty much means we'll be found guilty. I've seen prosecution lawyers reduce charges just to get a bench trial because most often the judge sides with the prosecution.
After Judge Jokel (who will hear the case) was done granting my motions, he looked at me and said, “If you're found guilty, I will take you into custody that evening.” (Translation: You're guilty and you're going to jail.)
So I've been telling people that I have an all-inclusive invitation to a publicly financed gated community for two weeks at the end of September. “Three hots and a cot” as they say.
It is nice to have fair warning so I can get my affairs in order, not the least of which is to assemble the books I'd like to read while I am contemplating my misdeed of trying to stop the killing of innocent people.