Freedom On Trial

The legal nightmare that followed the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, in which 420 people were arrested and held for up to 2 weeks in appalling conditions on unprecedentedly high bail ($20,000 for minor charges and up to $1 million for some defendants), has now moved into a horrendous situation in Philadelphia\’s Courts. Prosecutors are seeking to \”throw the book\” at 22 activists charged with felonies as well as hundreds of other non-violent demonstrators, and in response, hundreds are engaged in \”court solidarity\”-clogging the court system by demanding jury trials. The idea behind court solidarity is two fold: protect those charged with felonies, at the RNC punishable by years in jail, and remind the world that Philadelphia is in the middle of one big political trial.

\”There\’s a real consciousness on the part of most misdemeanor defendants with keeping solidarity strong with those facing harsher felony charges. The RNC 420 trials won\’t be over till the last felony case is dropped,\” noted a member of the R2K legal collective. All court hearings have been turned into political events, with rallies, puppets and demonstrators outside, and misdemeanor defendants inside disrupting the court proceedings by reading lengthy political statements to the court, sporting defiant statements on their clothes, pumping fists of power and cheering in solidarity with other defendants. In response, the police have harassed those on the street and the trial court judge has imposed a ban on statements being read in Court. Many defendants have attended Court with their mouths duct taped shut in protest of the judge\’s order.

The legal situation in Phili is a stark example of how threatened the system feels by the resurgence in mass, militant protest tactics since Seattle-and the lengths the system will go to break our movement and our spirits. The police response-and now the legal response-has treated protesters as the highest order of dangerous criminals. The fact that most are charged with minor infractions usually punished with a slap of the wrist-if at all-makes no difference. The response from the defendants is a powerful example of how to fight back.

The government wants to prevent any future protests by teaching radicals a lesson in Philadelphia. It is critical that the comrades resisting this oppression most directly-those fighting legal battles over the RNC-get the support from the radical community they deserve.

At this point, 220 misdemeanor defendants have requested jury trials to tie up the system. 110 others accepted a deal whereby they will pay a $300 fine, have six months probation and have the charge expunged from their record. Many of those forced by their life circumstances to accept the deal are providing solidarity and support to the remaining defendants.

Originally, defendants hoped to have 220 individual trials, but the Court granted a prosecution motion to consolidate many of the trials. About 12 misdemeanor trials will be of groups of defendants arrested together. Another 30 will have individual trials.

The legal defense is being organized by the R2K legal collective. According to one member, \”within this collective the defendants themselves decide what strategies and paths to follow. A good deal of our lawyers say we\’re crazy for some of our choices, but the point here is to keep the power in our hands and as much as possible not allow manipulation by lawyers or non-defendant entities. That doesn\’t mean the defendants don\’t listen at length to advice by lawyers and others involved in our support and defense.\”

The legal defense desperately needs funds to wage the large scale legal campaign in which they are engaged.

Send money (the main thing the legal defense needs) to the following folks: Philadelphia Direct Action Group, PO Box 40683, Philadelphia., PA 19107-0683, 215-701-7311, Make tax deductible checks to NSEF. The legal defense fund is requesting that people organize benefits nation-wide for RNC legal defense.