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News :: Organizing
The Progressive
14 Jun 2004
From the Progressive -- Boston Drops Bogus Bomb Charge Against Protester
McCarthyism Watch

We will be regularly updating the site with examples of the New McCarthyism that is sweeping the country.

June 12, 2004
Boston Drops Bogus Bomb Charge Against Protester

On May 26, Joe Previtera decided to publicly protest the torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. The twenty-one-year-old Boston College student and a few members of his anti-war affinity group went down to the military recruitment office on Tremont Street near the Boston Commons.

Outside the Armed Forces Career Center, on the sidewalk, he stood on a milk crate. He wore a black shawl and placed a black hood over his head. And he attached stereo wires to his fingers, imitating the now-notorious picture of the Abu Ghraib prisoner.

(To view Previtera in his costume, go to http://boston.indymedia.org/newswire/display/21845/index.php.)

"We wanted to humanize this issue by having people see in person a depiction of the torture," Previtera says.
He also wanted to make an impact on potential recruits.

"The location was strategically picked," he says, "to give people who were thinking of enlisting an alternative perspective of the military than what would be given to them by the military recruiter."

At first, the reaction was mild. "Some people were walking by thanking us," he recalls. "A group of men working next door said I should be there every day. Someone else came by and said, 'Disgusting.' "

One man from the recruiting center wasn't too happy, either. "He put his hand on my shoulder to get me off" the crate, but Previtera stayed on, he says.

After about forty-five minutes, the police showed up.

"One of the police officers called me a sissy because I was putting my arms down, and he said if I was like the guy in the real picture I should keep my arms out," Previtera says.

Then one of Previtera's fellow protesters warned him that the police were beginning to get aggressive.

"I stepped down from the milk crate and took my hood off," Previtera says. "There were four policemen right in front of me. I tried to walk away. They said, 'You can't go anywhere.' They said I had to wait because the bomb squad was coming."

To say the least, Previtera was not expecting this.

"I couldn't believe it," he says. "I just stood there in shock."

The police proceeded to arrest him.

"I asked them for what. And they said they would tell me down at the precinct," he says. "It was surreal."

Down at the precinct station, "eventually, they fingerprinted me and booked me," he says. "I was booked on disturbing the peace and making a false report of a location of explosives. And when I was in my cell I found out they added a third charge about a hoax device."

The police alleged that the stereo wires dangling from his fingers constituted a bomb threat.

"The Boston Police Department made a judgment that he was committing certain crimes and arrested him for disturbing the peace, making a false bomb threat, and possession of a hoax device," says David Procopio, press secretary for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office.

Previtera was held overnight.

"The police woke me in the middle of the night and showed me pictures of U.S. soldiers with smiling Iraqi children," says Previtera. "The officers told me these were pictures that I'd never see in the media, and that the Boston Globe and The New York Times were communist papers."

The next day, the district attorney asked for $10,000 cash bail, Previtera says. But after the protesters showed the DA pictures of the action, he reduced his request to $1,000. The judge had Previtera see a court psychiatrist and then released him on his own recognizance.

The Boston Phoenix and Boston Indymedia wrote stories about the arrest, drawing attention to the bogus charges.

On June 5, members of Previtera's affinity group returned to the scene of the alleged crime.

"There were about 45 people there," says Christian Williams. "I was the Abu Ghraib prisoner, so I put a hood on my head, though we didn't use the cords. Then we had someone dressed up as a Guantanamo inmate in an orange jumpsuit, and his mother was a downcast Statue of Liberty. One other person played Donald Rumsfeld."

(For a picture of this protest, go to: http://boston.indymedia.org/feature/display/22159.)

This time, they were allowed to protest without incident.

On June 8, the District Attorney's office essentially dropped the charges against Previtera. "We began a review of the facts to determine if any of the charges were warranted," says Procopio. "We spoke to police officers and witnesses, and after several days of our investigation, we determined that none of the charges were appropriate, and we basically terminated the prosecution."

"I was relieved," says Previtera. "But with torture continuing in U.S. military camps across the world, I'm keeping my good fortune in perspective."

Many lawyers and civil libertarians in Boston were appalled by Previtera's arrest--and by the felony charges.

"The charges were ridiculous," says Daniel Beck, one of the lawyers who defended Previtera. "These were not exactly your run of the mill charges. The atmosphere of anti-terrorism is starting to make the First Amendment disappear. The police do not have a healthy respect for the First Amendment, and it's getting noticeably worse."

The National Lawyers Guild, which helped with the defense, agrees with Beck's assessment. "We see an incredible severeness that is being applied to political dissent," says Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the guild's Massachusetts chapter.

"This is a very important story," says Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts. "It is yet another example of the sorry state of affairs within our society. What this guy got put through was serious. He wasn't interested in getting arrested. He was interested in raising questions for the public. This was a serious interference with his rights."

Previtera sees it the same way. "It was politically motivated," he says. "They didn't like what I was doing, and they are trying to suppress any voice of dissent."

He says he is considering suing the Boston Police Department "for unlawful arrest."

--Matthew Rothschild

This work is in the public domain
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