From strip searches to the NDAA, from stop and frisk to warrantless tracking, from police ripping cameras away from filmers to "free speech zones," from Guantanamo Bay to Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, the Bill of Rights continues to be eroded. But every so often someone manages to push back.
There is a chant that has become de rigueur during Occupy Oakland marches:
What Do We Do When Our Rights Are Under Attack? Stand Up! Fight Back!
It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to fight back against the police state, but in past weeks significant strides have been taken in Occupied Oakland and its environs. The ACLU, BAMN, the NLG, Berkeley, UC Berkeley students and Occupy Oaklanders have begun to try to undo the chilling effect the crackdowns and subsequent prosecutions of peaceful protesters over these last months has engendered.
Stay with me to read about five statements, lawsuits and events which have ocurred recently hereabouts.
Tuesday morning, on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse, Occupy Oakland staged a press conference denouncing Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's selective prosecution tactics and the issuing of stay away orders. From the press release:
Occupy Oakland activists, UC Berkeley students and civil liberties lawyers gathered today to reject a campaign of repression against protesters in Oakland and Berkeley, including unconstitutional stay-away orders from public spaces and selective prosecutions for trumped up charges such as robbery and "hate crimes."The videos from the press conference. That's me in the first video, behind Jesse, the speaker, with jacket and sans hair.
Jesse speaks to a wide range of grievances, including the fact that
... not a single police officer in Alameda County has been disciplined, relieved from active duty, or prosecuted for their role in several high-profile acts of violence and suppression of civil rights. This includes the officers who shot Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the head and videographer Scott Campbell in the leg with less-than-lethal munitions and the officers who beat Iraq veteran Kayvan Sabeghi.After the conference, one of its organizers spoke to a KCBS reporter about media bias, another factor loomed large in the fabric of how police beating on citizens and trampling their civil rights has come to be accepted by the general public. (scroll it to about 22:30 to hear him speak).
I'll give you an example ... Several months ago, there was an action where a protester was charged, according to a press release released by the police, with possessing a stick of dynamite. That charge never appeared in the arraignment, but that was something that was reported by the media as a FACT, rather than as an alleged thing... that's problematic, whatever the police department says the media is going to report it as fact and then it's not a fact -- there was no stick of dynamite, but that inflamatory charge is out there, it affects Occupy Oakland, it affects that person and everyone...That evening after the press conference, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to send a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and Alameda District Attorney Nancy O'Malley requesting that all charges be dropped against UC Berkeley students in regard to events of November 9th when they were brutally beaten by their own campus police. The letter states that the arrests and subsequent prosecutions have created
...a chilling effect on free speech and the right to peaceably assemble on public spaces..."Several weeks ago, when charges against UC students were first announced (yes, they waited more than three months to charge people with "maliciously blocking a sidewalk"), the ACLU of Northern California expressed similar sentiments:
These criminal prosecutions are nothing short of chilling. By singling out prominent and visible leaders of the protest movement, they chill students and faculty in the exercise of their free speech rights.These prosecutions have resulted in stay-away orders being issued to twelve students, prohibiting them from being within 100 yards of University of California property except to attend classes (an enjoinder utterly impossible to honor, since UC owns property all over the City of Berkeley). The stay aways were requested by the District Attorney and granted by the presiding judge as a condition of bail.
Starting in early January, stay-away orders had begun to be issued by the same prosecutor and court system to Occupy Oakland protesters, enjoining them from being within 300 yards of Frank Ogawa Plaza / Oscar Grant Park in downtown Oakland, adjacent to City Hall. Some of these stay away orders were issued because of actions that took place far away from the plaza, and some were issued to people for minor misdemeanors, generally dealt with using "cite and release." The obvious intent of these stay aways was to chill the exercise of free speech, as these people were and are prevented from participating in Occupy Oakland events that take place in Oakland's politically and historically symbolic square, and are prevented from speaking out in City Council meetings as many Occupy Oaklanders have been wont to do.
But the stay aways are beginning to unravel. A few days ago, in the case of four UC Berkeley students defended by BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) lawyers (who are also suing UC Berkeley and the UC Police for the events of November 9th on behalf of other students):
... one day before BAMN's legal challenge to the stay-away orders was to be argued in court, the Alameda County District Attorney requested and Superior Court Judge Yolanda Northridge granted the lifting of the orders against defendants Felarca, Joshua Anderson, Zakary Habash, and Jasper Bernes.A month ago, the ACLU of Northern California filed a lawsuit on behalf of four Occupy Oaklanders challenging the constitutionality of the stay-away orders on First Amendment grounds.
You dont lose your First Amendment rights because you have been arrested at a previous demonstration. Censorship in anticipation of possible illegal conduct in the future isn't just creepy, it's also unconstitutional and just plain wrong.The lawsuit is proceeding, albeit at the usual legal snail's pace. I look forward to the day a judge smacks down District Attorney O'Malley, but that day will likely be a while coming.
More actions against these miscarriages of justice will be taking place at both UC and in Oakland in the near future.
There are many ways to fight back against injustice, and all of them are a difficult road to travel. From having to gather a million signatures, to facing arrest for civil disobedience, to fighting the main stream media, to funding lawsuits and having the patience to see them through.
But never enough of them, and never for long. One thing is certain: the forces of repression will be back.