I was arrested more than two years ago, thus have experienced multiple hearings, some in person, some online, depending on Covid conditions. This morning was one more, not mine, but for two friends, codefendants brought back to court for breaking bail conditions. I’m drawn to write as an basically good American citizen with a fair degree of faith in our court system. I recognize the privilege I have within this system, especially as a white person, yet now recognize some aspects of it that are new to me and very disappointing.
But back to today’s hearing. I would not have known about it, except that I participated in a demonstration a week ago, marching around the State House, calling for the right to drivers’ licenses for immigrants who are not yet citizens. Though I had taken the train into Boston by myself, there were hundreds of us there and I encountered a friend, Olivia, who I knew from previous protests. She told me about this hearing planned for today and I wanted to be there, for support. Coincidentally, at another climate protest on Wednesday, as I talked with another protester, new to me, I learned that he was Olivia’s dad! Small world, this activist world.
Back to today’s hearing. As we’ve experienced hearings during the past two and a half years, I have been fully appreciative when supporters have shown up to lend their emotional reinforcement to those of us under arrest and at court. Today’s defendants were arrested with me for trespassing at the coal-powered plant, and along with me, were released on bail, rather than being held in jail until our trial. An aside is how my bail was paid: a special fund maintained by New England Quakers paid my bail. As a Quaker, I had long known about this fund, never expecting that I would be a recipient! When I learned about their payment, I cried, feeling the fullness and the sweetness of their support for my actions.
Something I’d never been aware of is that when someone is out on bail, there are often other bail conditions that are part of the release, in addition to paying the bail money. For us, two additional conditions were that we would not return to the scene of our crime, the power plant, and that we would not take any further actions that would cause us to be arrested again.
I have been highly conscious of those conditions. Although I have been involved in dozens of other protests, I have very intentionally not risked arrest. It was one thing to spend an afternoon in jail; it would be another to spend days, months, or years there. Well, my two friends, who will remain unnamed, were not so cautious. I was actually with them and others during one of the protests when we stopped coal trains in the middle of a bitterly cold winter night. The difference between us was that I left, really just by chance, before I could be arrested again. My two friends lingered and were arrested.
So, once again, back to today’s hearing. We’ve done this multiple times, so we have a routine. At one of our first hearings, two years ago on the Valentine’s Day before Covid, we agreed to wear red for that in-person court appearance. It was glorious to see the courtroom filled with red-wearing friends that day! It was the start of a tradition that day; the defendants and our supporters each wear red, for solidarity, whether in-person or online, for all of our hearings. I’m not a big shopper, however, I bought myself one new sweater this winter, a beautiful red one.
This morning, the hearing was online, not on Zoom, but on the Court’s WebEx system, which has additional security controls. Court was scheduled for nine am, so the defendants, their attorney, and we supporters gathered on Zoom forty minutes earlier, just us. It was wonderful to see these familiar faces again, almost all wearing red. We’ve been together so many times from all over New England, getting to know each other, starting with required training in non-violent actions, continuing with multiple actions, and have grown close. The defendants started with a few words, expressing their anxieties. Next, our fabulous attorney shared her expectations for the proceedings, then, we each got to say a few words about our own lives. There were about twenty of us there. Our attorney reminded us of something that shocked me when I first heard it: although it is illegal for us to lie to a police officer or in court, the court system and police officers can lie to us, in fact, are expected to, as a way of getting information from us.
So, at risk this morning was my friends’ freedom: this judge could send them back to jail to await their trial. Just before nine, we signed off of the zoom call and called into the Court’s system, muting ourselves, so as not to disturb the Court call. The hearing lasted about 45 minutes. When it ended, we called back into the support call for a debriefing. It’s difficult to describe the powerful sense of being together that we shared. Zoom has its limitations, but it can’t stop that powerful response. My friends, defendants at this hearing, were certainly more relaxed than during our call before the hearing. The result of the hearing was that the judge (who we all liked very much) gave them another chance. If they are arrested again, they may be kept in jail until their trial. There were no additional fines or penalties.
I loved listening to our attorney, her quiet, calm logic. The judge was also logical and calm. During the various hearings I have attended, either as a supporter or a defendant, I have been surprised to observe so clearly something about the personality of the judge. Of course, each judge has his or her own personality; no one is neutral. What has surprised me is that our judges have so clearly indicated their degree of understanding and support of our cause — decreasing the human causes of climate change. A separate issue is whether or not our actions have been legal. An earlier judge even stated that our actions may be moral, though not necessarily legal.
Anyways, this judge sounded as if he is on our side, morally. The prosecuting attorney I didn’t care for so much. He didn’t sound logical to me, but I’m certainly not unbiased. What sticks in my head strongly is that police officers are taught to lie to us, are expected to lie to us to get the information they want.
My next hearing will likely be in March. The soonest possible date for the trial for me and my sixteen codefendants is June. These results of my activism have continued far longer than I expected.
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