[Marxism] Peace grannies acquitted

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 28 07:37:40 MDT 2006


NY Times, April 28, 2006
Setting Grandmotherhood Aside, Judge Lets 18 Go in Peace
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS

They came, they shuffled, they conquered.

Eighteen "grannies" who were swept up by the New York City police, 
handcuffed, loaded into police vans and jailed for four and a half hours 
were acquitted yesterday of charges that they blocked the entrance to the 
military recruitment center in Times Square when they tried to enlist.

After six days of a nonjury trial, the grandmothers and dozens of their 
supporters filled a courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court to hear whether 
they would be found guilty of two counts of disorderly conduct for refusing 
to move, which could have put them in jail for 15 days. The women call 
their group the Granny Peace Brigade and said they wanted to join the armed 
forces and thus offer their lives for those of younger soldiers in Iraq.

The women — from 59 to 91, many gray-haired, some carrying canes, one 
legally blind, one with a walker — listened gravely and in obvious suspense 
as Judge Neil E. Ross delivered a carefully worded 15-minute speech in 
which he said his verdict was not a referendum on the Police Department, 
the defendants' antiwar message or, indeed, their very grandmotherhood.

But, he said, there was credible evidence that the grandmothers had left 
room for people to enter the recruitment center, and that therefore they 
had been wrongly arrested.

He then pronounced them not guilty, concluding. "The defendants are all 
discharged."

The women, sitting in the jury box at the invitation of the judge, to make 
it easier for them to see and hear, let out a collective "Oh!" and burst 
into applause, rushing forward, as quickly as women their age could rush, 
to hug and kiss their lawyers, Norman Siegel, the former head of the New 
York Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Ward.

"Listen to your granny, she knows best," crowed Joan Wile, 74, a retired 
cabaret singer and jingle writer who was one of the defendants.

Outside the courthouse minutes later, the women burst into their unofficial 
anthem, "God Help America," composed by Kay Sather, a member of a sister 
group in Arizona, the Raging Grannies of Tucson, which goes, "God help 
America, We need you bad, 'cause our leaders are cheaters, and they're 
making the world really mad."

The trial was extraordinary, if only because it gave 18 impassioned women — 
some of whom dated their political activism to the execution of Ethel and 
Julius Rosenberg — a chance to testify at length about their antiwar 
sentiments and their commitment to free speech and dissent, in a courtroom 
that attracted reporters from France and Germany.

Despite the judge's demurrals, the verdict was one in a series of victories 
for protesters who have been arrested by the New York police since the 
invasion of Iraq.

While more than 300 people were detained for minor offenses during 
demonstrations at the 2004 Republican National Convention, few were 
convicted. Also, earlier this year, a state judge rejected the city's 
efforts to quash Critical Mass, a monthly bicycle rally in Manhattan.

"I was sure we were sunk," said Lillian Rydell, 86, a defendant who 
testified during the trial that she went to "the school of hard knocks," 
instead of college.

"I love everybody," she said. The defendants called themselves "grannies" 
because they are all old enough to be grandmothers, even if some of them 
are not, and because in their view, grandmothers are a core American value, 
as patriotic as mom and apple pie.

Essentially, Judge Ross had found himself with grandmotherhood on trial in 
his courtroom. He seemed to acknowledge his dilemma when he said, in his 
decision, "This case is not a referendum on future actions at the location 
in question, on police tactics nor the age of the defendants or the content 
of their message."

He said he did not fault the police for making a decision in the heat of 
the moment to arrest the women last October, but he said that as a judge, 
he had the "luxury of time and hindsight" in which to consider events.

Before the verdict yesterday, both sides delivered their closing arguments.

The youthful prosecutor, Artie McConnell, allowed that it would be foolish 
of him to "cross swords" with a veteran civil liberties lawyer like Mr. 
Siegel on the First Amendment. "Luckily for me," he said, "I don't have to, 
because that's not what this case is about."

The case, he continued, was about breaking the law. "These defendants do 
not get a pass for who they are, no matter how noble their cause may be," 
he said.

If Mr. McConnell stuck to prose, Mr. Siegel did not hesitate to offer 
poetry. The defendants, he said in his closing, "tried to alert an 
apathetic public to the immorality, the illegality, the destructiveness and 
the wrongness of the war in Iraq." The grannies could not be punished for 
failing to obey a police command if that command violated their 
constitutional right to protest, he said.

When it was over, the grannies seemed ready to do it again. "The decision 
today says the First Amendment protects you to protest peacefully," Mr. 
Siegel said, addressing his clients outside the courthouse after the 
verdict. "So — go do it!"

And the grannies cheered.

--

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