[Marxism] Peace grannies acquitted
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
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,"
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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