Well, I wasn’t actually punched in the stomach, but it certainly felt like it, leaving me surprised, hurt, with the wind knocked out of me.
It had been two months since their trial, my four friends and fellow activists. Their sentencing took place last Friday, delayed for multiple logistical reasons. Dozens of us showed up at the courtroom for support, another dozen plus on-line, many wearing red. We really had no idea what to expect, but were optimistic, believing that the judge was understanding of the moral reasons for the actions taken, if not in a legal underpinning for it.
His sentencing took nearly twenty-five minutes, with its complexity and his reasoning behind it. Within it, he differentiated between the defendants, who had each been found guilty of two charges, trespassing and trespassing on railroad property. The judge singled out Jay as the leader, though there had been no testimony suggesting that and, in fact, he had not been. Additionally, a second defendant, Johnny, was judged (exactly the right word in this case) with him to be more at fault than the other two, Dana and Dan.
Their sentences included three parts: six months jail time, to be suspended in return for five years/three years of no involvement in ‘conspiring’ or planning other actions, expenses to be paid for the firefighters’ and police officers’ time, and additional court fees to be paid. The time required of no involvement was longer for two defendants than for the others. The expenses were to be split among the defendants: 2/5 for the ‘leader’ and 1/5 for each of the others, thousands of dollars each.
Before he pronounced the sentences, the judge offered what appeared to be positive comments, saying that he believed the defendants to be good people, that, in fact, he would have been happy to have any of them babysit for his own children. Of course, he was grey-haired and unlikely to have children of an age that required babysitting. He contrasted the defendants with those who usually came through his courtroom, ‘thieves and drug addicts.’
Then, he punched me in the stomach, figuratively, by saying that what they had done was ‘civil disobedience for the privileged,’ thereby discounting it. Although I had not been arrested that day, I had been there with them and taken similar actions. He suggested that taking these actions was not the right way to change what’s happening to our planet, despite the fact that we have attempted all available means of changing the actions on the part of the systems, the corporations, that continue to pollute the earth for their own profit. Who, other than we, the privileged, can even begin to change what’s happening to our planet and to all of us, especially the unprivileged?
I salute and honor my fellow conspirators for enduring this trial, their two years of awaiting it on bail, and now, dealing with this harsh sentence. Among the effects on me was my recent decision to drop out of waiting for jury trial. Instead, I will accept my backstop sentence of thirty hours of community service and my “guilty” verdict. After anticipating this trial for more than two years, I am left with mixed feelings, including great relief and a measure of guilt for ‘giving up.’ Anyone able to support this work, including the financial sentences for Jay, Dan, Johnny, and Dana, can do so by clicking the Donate button at this site: https://www.nocoalnogas.org
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