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News ::
R2K is not Over: Boston-area activists among hundreds facing trial
04 Oct 2000
Modified: 20 Oct 2000
Numerous activists from the Boston area face trials in the coming months for both felony and misdemeanor charges from protests at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Public suppor may play a key role in ensuring a just outcome--and in stopping efforts to criminalize protest.
R2K Is Not Over

Boston-area activists among hundreds fighting charges

By Matthew Borus

Several Boston-area activists were among the 400-plus arrested this summer protesting the Republican National Convention (known as R2K). Local supporters showed their solidarity as they held events and raised money in Boston and made numerous calls to Philadelphia officials.

But the work is not over. Over 200 of those protesters are headed to trial in the coming months.

Activists gathered in Philadelphia to protest against the unjust priorities advocated by the Republican Party and the two-party system in general. August 1st, the day of most arrests, was specifically dedicated to protesting police brutality, the criminal (in)justice system, and the death penalty, with a particular focus on the cases of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners.

The majority of those arrested were charged with misdemeanors, and most received numerous charges. Most Boston misdemeanor defendants had at least seven charges. Over thirty people were also charged with felonies, including one man from Southeastern Massachusetts who could face nearly 40 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Over the past several weeks, activists charged with lower-level misdemeanors were offered Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, an arrnagement which would require them to pay a $300 fine plus $135 in court fees, while doing six months of unspuervised probation. After six months, their records would be wiped clean.

However, in a powerful display of solidarity, nearly 200 protesters have rejected that offer, electing instead to go to trial. These protesters asserted that the District Attorney had not engaged in good faith negotiations with those charged with felonies and high-level misdemeanors. In response, they decided to stand in solidarity with those who were more seriously charged, risking difficult trials with uncertain outcomes. "We are resisting the court's attempt to divide and conquer," said Alex, a defendant from the Boston area.

Some of those who rejected the offer also emphasized that their charges were false or inflated. Others also pointed to the brutal treatment they endured in jail. At the same time, they recognized that such treatment was part ofthe very injustice they were protesting.

Those who accepted the ARD offer appeared not do so out of a lack of solidarity or concern, but because pressing needs in their work and personal lives did not allow them to deal with the strains of a trial. Alex recalled one man, a school teacher, who accepted the offer but delivered a statement to the courtroom, calling ARD an unfair and coercive agreement and an attempt to "stifle our free speech." Immediately after this statment, the prosecutor declared, "The offer of ARD is withdrawn!" The man now faces a trial.

As defendants, both felony and misdemeanor, head to trial, they will need the broader community to stand by them. The police and prosecutors have already shown that they are willing to impose harsh bails, excessive charges, and inhumane treatment in jails. Public pressure will be important to ensure a just outcome.

The outcome of the cases will also be important to activists everywhere. If protesters are convicted and sentenced harshly, it could set a chilling precedent, potentially casting protest itself as a criminal activity.

In Boston, defendants and their supporters have established a local legal support team to coordinate outreach, action, and fundraising for legal defense (as well as providing emotional support). Others concerned about the situation are encouraged to get involved. The group is rapidly re-developing the www.r2kphilly.org website for support purposes, and people can also call the R2K Legal office in Philadelphia at (215) 925-6791.

Comments

Reaching Boston R2K Group
18 Oct 2000
Modified: 20 Oct 2000
Those who'd like to learn more about the cases as they progress and/or get involved in support work should contact the Boston R2K Support Group at bostonr2k (at) yahoo.com. Your help is welcome and needed!
See also:
http://www.r2kphilly.org