Environmentalist Witch Hunt 2005
This week approx. 6 people were arrested in connection with alleged arsons and environmental activism (resulting in property damage) in the Pacific NW. I have said we needed to "support" them, and people have written me asking why I am asking people support "terrorists." The people who are charged with these crimes, themselves, do not call themselves, or identify as, "eco-terrorists." I can start my reasons for support there...that media labeling is divisive.
Environmentalist Witch Hunt 2005
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
This week (Dec. 7, 2005) approximately 6 people were arrested in connection with alleged arsons and environmental activism (resulting in property damage) in the Pacific NW ( http://portland.indymedia.org). I have said we needed to "support" them, and people have written me asking why I am asking people support "terrorists." The media and the government have used the word "eco-terrorist" to brand these people, throwing out that touted but rarely used maxim of "innocent until proven guilty." These people who are charged with these crimes, themselves, do not call themselves, or identify as, "eco-terrorists." I do not know why or who started this concept that using inflammatory words in the mainstream media was "impartiality in reporting" or even blind justice, but I find the use of "eco-terrorists" in the coverage of this case to be very egregious, and frankly, irresponsible.
So, why would I say something like "support" these folks who are being charged with these crimes on the federal level in an organized sting? And the reasons, oddly, have little to do with the individual cases themselves, or the crimes they supposedly committed. My biggest concern is that the current justice system does not provide fair hearings. Just by labeling these people "eco-terrorists" in all the media and court papers, it sets up a terrible slant on the outcomes they face. For the reasons of wishing for integrity within our justice system, I wish that these people were not flung with slander at the get go by the very government supposedly offering them a fair trial venue. That, right there, is alarming to me and makes me think we need to "support" them on a purely legal level.
Next, I have problems with the way the criminal justice system uses plea bargains to bully and coerce confessions out of people. It seems to me that what is going on is the government charges someone with incredibly serious crimes, puffing the charges up as much as possible, then they scare the plaintiffs to death, and then say, if you say you are guilty, we will reduce the crimes we are charging you with. How is that fair or uncoerced? That is coercion in the worst sense! In some cases, people are literally trading their life for that guilty plea, bargaining down to a manslaughter and/or life in prison sentence, rather than a death penalty sentencing. The only way a guilty plea could be believable is if the charges they plead guilty to were the same ones they were charged with originally.
I am also worried about those charged who will need to rely on public defenders. The public defender system is overworked and understaffed, as well as underfunded. And the tension from that spills over onto the clients daily. Many a person has gone to jail and never really understood what just happened, or what the crime they actually were charged with was! The criminal law system funds prosecutors at twice the level they fund the public defenders in most places and that is another unfair playing field that makes me seriously worry about the right to a fair trial these people are supposedly entitled to. Support can be in the way of helping people understand the charges against them, and many legal aid groups try very hard to help advocate around some of this mess. But I dread anyone new going into that mess.
I also think prisons don't work. I am not even sure what their goal is. Especially when they start using prisoners for slave labor, that starts getting very close to/is an outright violation of the U.S. Constitution which bans forced servitude. I am not sure what the point of warehousing people in jails is. Prisons do not benefit anyone, it seems. Yes, certain folks are out of control and we really need to deal with them. Such as sexual predators, child molesters, wife beaters, violent thieves, etc. But it seems like prisons just make people who were violent, more violent. And just putting a bandaid on the violence, rather than talking about what that is a symptom of, is getting us nowhere fast. It just seems like a ticking time bomb to have all these really explosively angry and hopeless men locked up behind bars like that. It just seems at this late stage in society we could figure out a more healthy and safe solution to some of these issues. Because the people charged this week did no bodily damage to anyone, which seems to be the standard practice of these environmentalist groups, it seems the use of the word "eco-terrorist" is used for some kind of dramatic effect and that is irresponsible behavior for a government and the media, in my opinion,
I also have trouble blindly accepting the U.S. government when they throw around terms like "eco-terrorist" in light of the whole Judi Bari/Darryl Cherney case (www.darrylcherney.com). This is from Darryl's website: "Darryl Cherney has written scores of songs about the actions he and his friends have taken defending the environment, fighting for civil rights, and protesting and mocking the political status quo...He has worked with Earth First!...successfully protecting... portions of the Cahto Wilderness, Trout Creek (both in Mendocino County, CA), Luna (where Julia Butterfly sat for two years in Humboldt County, CA), and even some individual trees (in California and Ohio). And he worked alongside his political organizing partner Judi Bari at building alliances between loggers, steelworkers and environmentalists. All the while writing and singing songs about it."
"While touring universities and organizing for a large, prototypical campaign called Redwood Summer, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were car bombed in Oakland, California. (www.judibari.org). The FBI and Oakland Police blamed the two (falsely) for bombing themselves and had them arrested. Judi was almost killed while Darryl was only slightly injured. Redwood Summer carried on regardless and serves to this day as a model for political campaigns nationwide. Judi and Darryl went on to sue the FBI and Oakland Police agents for violations of the United States Constitution. Tragically, Judi died from cancer in 1997. Darryl along with Judi's estate and their team of veteran civil rights attorneys took the FBI and OPD to trial in the Spring of 2002. A jury unanimously awarded $4.4 million for violations of Judi and Darryl's freedom of speech and their right to be free from unlawful arrest and illegal search and seizure."
And Judi Bari's site says, "(revised 6/19/02)On June 11, a federal jury returned a stunning verdict in favor of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney in their landmark civil rights lawsuit against four FBI agents and three Oakland Police officers. The jury clearly found that six of the seven FBI and OPD defendants framed Judi and Darryl in an effort to crush Earth First! and chill participation in Redwood Summer. That was evident in the fact that 80% of the $4.4 million total damage award was for violation of their First Amendment rights to speak out and organize politically in defense of the forests. "The jury exonerated us," said Darryl Cherney. "They found the FBI to be the ones in violation of the law. The American public needs to understand that the FBI can't be trusted. Ten jurors got a good, hard look at the FBI and they didn't like what they saw."
"It's really beyond our wildest dreams," said Darlene Comingore, Judi Bari's friend and executor of her estate who stood in for her as co-plaintiff in this suit. "We hope the FBI and Oakland and all the police forces out there that think they can violate people's rights and get away with it are listening because the people of the state of California and Oakland today said, 'No, you can't. You can't get away with it.' Lead attorney Dennis Cunningham said the message he hopes the verdict sends is that: "Ashcroft is doing precisely the wrong thing to abandon the (Levi) guidelines and let the FBI go after dissent with a free hand. It's clear that their intention is not about fighting terrorism, it's about suppressing dissent. That's what the FBI has always been about. Hopefully it will make Congress think twice about giving them a free hand."
That post above is circa 2002, but it is amazing how much that sounds like today. Another reason I worry and feel I need to support these people right now is that American spying history past, on its own citizens, is littered with flaws. In 1962, a national security "watch list," issued by the FBI, red-flagged all materials coming from Puerto Rico of an anti-American or pro-Soviet nature, peace groups going from the U.S. to the Soviet Union, and any American interacting on a regular basis with students in Moscow, or with the U.S.S.R. By 1972, the FBI's "watch list" expanded to include the previous groups with Puerto Rican or Soviet Union connections, plus U.S. protest and peace groups, including Women Strike for Peace, and also "extremist" groups, which included the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Progressive Labor Party. Persons sympathetic to North Korea, North Vietnam, Red China, and pro-Cuban individuals were now added to the list also. The FBI also maintained a list of "suspicious" people, who were to be rounded up in the event of a national emergency, as they were in positions to influence others "against the national interests," "due to their subversive associations and ideology. " This FBI roundup list included a) professors, teachers, or leaders, b) labor union organizers and leaders, c) writers, lecturers, newsmen, entertainers, and others in the mass media field, d) lawyers, doctors, and scientists, e) other potentially influential persons on a local or national level, f) individuals who could potentially furnish material financial aid." In 1962, MLKing, Jr. was added to this index. The NYTimes recently reported the FBI is again profiling political protesters in America, and included "anarchists" as an additional target group this time around.
As we moved through the 1960's and 1970's, American national security agents were confused as to who they should be spying on, who the enemy was, and what the status quo was they were protecting. At one point in the 1960's, black children trying to attend public school in the South were attacked by police as the enemy! In the 1970's, police thought non-violent anti-war student protesters at Kent State University were the enemy, and opened fire on them, on an American campus! Terms like "communists," and "extremists," came under more and more scrutiny, the more liberally they were applied across society in the 1950's - 1970's. In the 1960's, the line blurred between average citizens and government critics, politicians, professors, feminists, environmentalists, farm workers, students, journalists, hell, the Nightly News, were openly questioning the U.S. policy in Vietnam and Nixon's reign as president. So we are back to that place again. Where our government feels backed against the wall by the people and they are now nervous and uneasy and, frankly, armed and dangerous.
President Bush is anything but "eco-friendly," thus I can see how he would immediately exaggerate the threats from people who *are* eco-friendly. He is a pro-oil, pro-gas-engine-car president, which is nuts in this day and age. He will not move off the track that pays his family money: oil. He is friendly to miners who leave arsenic pits in the open to kill nearby wildlife when miners leave town. He is friendly to all kinds of corporate agendas that RUIN our environment. Certainly GWBush's environmental policies have done more damage (or "eco-terrorism," if you will) to the environment, internationally, than all of the environmentalists arrested this week.
Those are some of the problems I am having with all this labeling and the government's actions this week. As you can see, my reasons have very little to do with these individual cases, or the details of their cases. My reasons are more policy-based, revolving around my desire to see justice work, and to not see innocent people labeled before they are tried in court. Just as I was one of those who argued in law school that the worst child murderer in the land needs the most top quality attorney/public defender to make sure something that serious is represented in a fair trial, I also argue that no matter what the crime, we have some serious problems with the criminal law system in the U.S. But even more frightening is we have a serious problem with the Federal Homeland Security Department. It is very possible they are using these environmentalists to deflect from the concept that they failed in New Orleans and that no one is sure what they do with all their funding anymore. I am concerned with the problems in the criminal law system, but I am especially concerned when people are punished for politics, not crimes.
In the cases of other environmentalist activists of late, in Oregon, no less, sentencing guidelines were thrown out the window and excessive sentences were handed out based on politics, not the crimes. I fear that environmentalists are being profiled, much like racial profiling, and are particularly prone to being exploited by the justice system right now because there is a strange use of these sentencings as a political symbol. It feels like the courts are trying to make these excessive charges and sentencings to scare people from defending the environment from corporations doing things like logging old growth forests which cannot be replaced. I just do not like it when the courts make political sentencings, on the right or the left. The concept of "blind justice" is an ideal for a reason. And America should try to live up to that ideal.
I guess I have gotten to a point where I just simply cannot trust my government, which makes the innocence of my youth look far away. I do not trust that they can get the names straight on their "terror" lists, I do not have faith cops can investigate things properly, I do not have faith in our Dept of Homeland Security and their new or old Cointelpro programs. I do not like the lack of transparency in these grand jury indictments either. What are they hiding? I do not have faith in public defenders or in plea bargains. I have suspicions about the agenda GWBush's government is pushing as a very environmentally unfriendly cabinet. I am very suspicious and uncomfortable with the corporate agenda in America, which sacrifices air, water, land... for private profits, often unchecked. And I worry about the corporate power over the U.S. judicial system. But mostly, I worry that a bunch of people who could have contributed wholly in society will lose their freedom behind bars, for mistakes and flaws in the American justice system. That is pretty much what haunts me to say we need to support these people during this period. Too many people have been charged, or just held with no charges in this "terrorist" net, then released later, as innocent, for me to just believe someone is guilty of a crime just because they are accused or charged with crimes by the U.S. government. People *do* slip through the system, wrongly accused, all the time. With a justice system so riddled with flaws, one becomes sad at the human losses those flaws envelope daily. And with a track record like the U.S. has, regarding political prisoners past and present, it is very hard to "support" them in all this. Which leaves me to the support of those charged. Honestly, it doesn't matter what your stand on environmentalism is, these arrests are about political freedoms in my perception, and political harassment and profiling, not about whichever individual actions evoked this wrath.
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