NY Case Tests Free Speech, Assembly
Friends, Family Protesting Murder Of Peace Activist Rachel Corrie Are
Arrested, Charged With Crime
Even in death,
the Rachel Corrie (inset) saga continues. At a New York branch of Israel’s Bank
Leumi, 18 protesters locked together as a human barricade across Fifth Avenue
on March 27, 2003. The demonstrators civil disobedience protested the death of
peace activist Corrie at the hands of a bulldozer-driving member of the Israeli
military. In addition, they were protesting the war on Iraq.
Sixteen of the demonstrators were subsequently
charged with “obstruction of government administration.”
And in another outrage, the New York City district
attorney defined protest speech as “criminal,” urging jail time for activists
who have a history of dissent.
Sentencing was postponed on April 19 with a motion
to set aside their “guilty” verdict. The non-violent “New York 16,” who were to
be sentenced that morning in Manhattan Criminal Court, still face possible jail
time on the recommendation of the DA’s office.
The case is being closely watched by civil
libertarians because of its shocking implications for free speech and assembly
and because it will set a precedent for New York City’s treatment of protesters
at the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC).
Sentencing was delayed until May 12, pending
review of “new” evidence, and evaluation of the fact that the DA relied on
dismissed or unsubstantiated charges in his jail recommendation.
The defendants are seeking to learn the reason
that the New York State Supreme Court granted the DA’s unusual request to
unseal some defendants’ records. The DA made his sentencing recommendation
based on the existence of the sealed cases. But most of these had been
dismissed, and almost none of them involved criminal charges.
Said civil liberties attorney Ron Kuby: “The DA’s
use of secret hearings and the dredging up of dismissed cases as bases to
impose a jail sentence are designed to deter activists from demonstrating at
the RNC this summer. The overcharging and criminalization of non-violent
protest is an unlawful attempt to deter future protest. It tells RNC
protesters: ‘Welcome to New York; now leave, with a criminal record.’ ”
The defendants also stated that the DA failed to
turn over video evidence to the defense. They asserted additionally that the DA
failed to notify defendants or even explain his petition to the New York State
Supreme Court to open the sealed records.
Council Member Annabel Palma of the Bronx stated:
“We live in a nation that at this moment is sending young men and women to
fight and die, saying we protect basic freedoms around the world. But here in
this country, the minute you exercise this freedom, you’re arrested, convicted
and possibly sent to jail.”
“The charge of ‘obstruction of governmental
administration’ was resurrected to prosecute protesters as criminals under
Mayor Giuliani,” said defendant Ora Wise. “It was part of an overt campaign to