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Review :: DNC
NEWSPAPER -Iskovitz L8+1
10 Jul 2004
(to editor: I spent too much time on the lead sentence and still am not satisfied. Maybe someone can come up with something better? Also: It’s 926 words. If you need to cut, I suggest the paragraph of Dan Beck’s quotes. You can knock 83 words off in one fell swoop, I’m not particularly attached to them.)

Nine Activists Still Face Felony Charges

Richard Picarillo, and the “Lafayette 8” still face felony charges and possible jail time. Joe Previtera and Aimee Smith have had their charges dropped.

The eleven defendants were arrested in four separate incidents in Boston and Cambridge between late March and early June of this year. Local activists and free-speech advocates worried that the series of arrests were a sign of increased intolerance among local police during the approach of the summer’s Democratic National Convention.

As Richard Picarillo stood at a police barricade, non-violently demonstrating President Bush’s March 25 visit to Boston, a federal officer ordered him to show identification. When he refused, Picarillo was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Picarillo already faces a felony charge of “posting” for an earlier incident in which he allegedly placed a sticker on public property in order to cover up a swastika drawn by a neo-Nazi. Posting carries a maximum two-year prison term.

On April 14, after eight members of Homes Not Jails, a local housing advocacy group, entered an abandoned gas station in Lafayette Square, Cambridge, two plainclothes detectives entered the building with guns drawn and ushered them at gunpoint out of the building where they were then arrested. Although the activists had entered the building in a symbolic action, normally a trespassing misdemeanor, the eight were charged instead with felonies of: breaking and entering, possession of burglarious materials, and “intent to commit a felony.” Prosecutors have not yet revealed what felony they claim the eight intended to commit, but are scheduled to do so at a hearing later this month.

Homes Not Jails members originally entered the abandoned building on April 3 in a symbolic action during the arrival of the statewide March Against Poverty. Police observed the entry from across the street and did not interfere. Members of the group began an ongoing clean-up of the site over the next eleven days, planting a tree and flowers in the lot outside. They were sweeping up glass inside the building when the police detectives arrived with guns drawn.

On May 27 Boston College student Joe Previtera stood in front of a downtown Boston military recruiting center on top of a milk crate, wearing a black hood over his head and holding wires in his hands, re-enacting the notorious Abu Ghraib prison scene. Recruiters called police who, after conferring with military officials in the building, called in the bomb squad. Although the building was never evacuated, and bomb squad members found nothing incriminating, police arrested Previtera and charged him with falsifying a bomb threat and possession of a hoax device, both felonies, and $10,000 bail.
The bail was eventually dropped, but Previtera had to undergo psychological evaluation before being released. All charges against him were subsequently dropped.

Eight days later on June 4, four members of MIT’s Social Justice Co-operative handed out leaflets to people entering the school’s commencement ceremony. Campus police told them to move, although the sidewalk they stood on was public, not MIT property, and they relocated to another spot on the sidewalk. About two minutes later the police handcuffed and arrested one of the women, MIT alumna and former Cambridge city council candidate Aimee Smith, and threatened to arrest the other three if they didn’t leave the area. The leaflets criticized the commencement speaker for supporting a proposed biological weapons research facility being planned in Boston’s residential South End.

Smith was charged with “disorderly conduct” and “disturbing a school assembly.” Soon after, the district attorney’s office offered to drop the charges against Smith if she agreed to pay court costs. She refused the deal. A month later, charges were dropped , presumably because there was no evidence against her.

“I think it’s a sign of the times, and not a positive one,” attorney Daniel Beck, who has represented all eleven defendants, said of the arrests. “Civil liberties are seen as dangerous. This whole terrorism thing is being as used as a way to suppress dissent, much as the threat of communism was used to suppress dissent in the Fifties…Anyone who is perceived as not agreeing with US foreign policy is perceived as dangerous, and I think that perception is really what’s dangerous.”

Evidence exists that police are also monitoring groups planning DNC actions. After the April 14 Lafayette Square arrests, Cambridge police told the local Fox TV news affiliate that the group was storing materials for illegal use during the convention, and implied a connection between Homes Not Jails and the Black Tea Society, a local anarchist group planning demonstrations during the convention.

According to Newsday columnist Len Levitt, Massachusetts state police and New York City police are known to have monitored a February gathering in Boston organized by the Black Tea Society. This information surfaced, Levitt said, when the Massachusetts police, spotting New York license plates, thought the New York police were outside agitators and attempted to arrest them

Numerous Black Tea Society members also claim undercover officers from Boston and New York began attending the group’s weekly meetings. The two suspected agents “gave strange email addresses which were the same except for the numbers at the end,” said Frank Little of Black Tea. “We traced the email addresses back to a domain space that was owned by the police.” After the National Lawyers’ Guild sent a representative to a recent Black Tea meeting to observe them, the suspected agents stopped attending.

This work is in the public domain