[Marxism] [ufpjnyc] ? did we all see the Times cover?

Todd Eaton redscares at mindspring.com
Fri Apr 28 09:02:10 MDT 2006

Not dismissed, acquitted--after seven grueling
days in court.   And "not a referendum on the Police Department"?  My ass.

   http://nytimes.com/   or
[CAPTION] They came, they hobbled, they conquered.
Dima Gavrysh/Associated Press
Members of the "Granny Peace Brigade" outside Manhattan Criminal Court today.

Grannies' Charged in Peace Protest Are Acquitted
Published: April 27, 2006

Eighteen "grannies" who were swept up by New York
City police, handcuffed, loaded into paddywagons
and jailed for four and a half hours were
acquitted today 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 non-jury trial, the grannies
— who said they wanted to offer their lives for
those of younger soldiers in Iraq — and dozens of
supporters filled a cramped courtroom today 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 18 women — gray haired, some carrying canes,
one legally blind, one with a walker — listened
gravely and in obvious suspense as Judge Neil
Ross delivered a carefully worded 15-minute
speech in which he said that his verdict was not
a referendum on the Police Department, the
anti-war message of the grannies, 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, had they wanted to,
and that therefore, they had been wrongly
arrested. He then pronounced them not guilty,
concluding: "The defendants are 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 elderly women 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, 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, the Raging Grannies of Tucson,
Ariz., 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 some length about their anti-war sentiments
and their commitment to free speech and dissent
in a courtroom that attracted reporters from as far away as France and Germany.

Despite the judge's protestations to the
contrary, the verdict was a rare victory for
protesters at a time when they have faced uphill
battles in other forums. Hundreds of people who
were arrested and detained for demonstrating at
the 2004 Republican Convention are still
embroiled in federal litigation charging the
police with false arrest and violating their
civil liberties. And the police continue to
arrest bicycle riders on charges of disorderly
conduct when they participate in monthly group rides called Critical Mass.

"I was sure we were sunk," said Lillian Rydell,
an 86-year-old defendant. "I love everybody!"

Essentially, Judge Ross had found himself with
grandmotherhood on trial for seven days in his courtroom.

The defendants were on trial for, as Judge Ross
put it in a casual aside, "protesting," and more
specifically, protesting the war in Iraq, by
sitting outside the Times Square military recruiting center last October.

But the defense tried to portray the trial as a
referendum on grandmotherhood itself, and milked
that all-American concept to the hilt, almost as
deftly as the defense in "Miracle on 34th
Street," the 1947 feel-good chestnut, milked the
American belief in Santa Claus.

The prosecution's case consisted of testimony
from police officers about how the women blocked
the door of the recruiting center, impeding entry
for anyone who wanted to sign up, although the
evidence suggested that the only people who
wanted to enlist on the afternoon of Oct. 17,
2005, were the women themselves, who said they
wanted to give their lives for those of younger
soldiers. But they were not allowed in.

The defense consisted of putting the 18 women on
the witness stand, one after the other, to
explain just what they thought they were doing
that day in Times Square. Their lawyers, Earl
Ward and Norman Siegel, former director of the
New York Civil Liberties Union, carefully asked a
series of questions intended to elicit what Mr.
Ward called the credentials of each defendant.

Mainly, these credentials consisted of the
women's ages and the number of children and
grandchildren they have. Only one, Vinie Burrows
Harrison, an actress, took the Fifth on the question of her age.

Carol Husten's reply was, "Seventy-four. Two kids."

Judy Lear's was 62, with "three adult children and two granddaughters."

Diane Dreyfus answered "Fifty-nine and
three-quarters," with "one stepchild, no grandchildren."

And so forth, up to Marie Runyon, who is 91, with
one daughter, two grandchildren.

But even without the cold hard numbers, the
granny-ness of the defendants was hard to miss.
They were not resort grannies, with dyed hair and
manicures. For the most part, they had let their
hair go gracefully, defiantly gray. Some carried
canes; others used walkers. Ms. Runyon, whom the
judge allowed to sit next to the witness box so
she could hear, wielded the white cane of the blind.

They were also women of accomplishment. Ms.
Husten testified that she had a master's degree
in guidance, plus 60 credits, from Hofstra, and
had worked as a guidance counselor "for truant
and dropout children" at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.

"I was very, very rarely a truant, Ms. Husten,"
Judge Ross interjected. Then he added sheepishly,
his face reddening: "For the record, I was not a
student at James Madison High School."

Ms. Rydell testified that she graduated from high
school in 1936, and that instead of college,
"went to the school of hard knocks," to which
Judge Ross observed: "I see that your education in that school is ongoing?"

Judge Ross frequently looked mortified, squirming
in his seat as if wondering how in the world he,
of all judges, had the bad luck to be chosen to rule on the grannies' fate.

Like the unfortunate Judge Harper in "Miracle on
34th Street," Judge Ross clearly recognized that
ruling against grandmothers — like ruling against
Kris Kringle — could be political suicide, or at
the very least make him a villain to grandchildren everywhere.

The prosecution was represented by two
fresh-faced assistant district attorneys, Amy
Miller and Artie McConnell, who, unlike the
grannies, declined to give their ages. They have
been taking cues from a supervisor in the front row.

To the prosecution, this was a case of disorderly
conduct. To the defendants, it was a test of the
constitutional right to free speech, and the
morality of war. One of them, Ms. Wile, testified
on Wednesday that her group had even had a
demonstration permit, although she had not
noticed, until Mr. McConnell pointed it out, that
the permit was for Duffy Square, two blocks north.

In the end, it came down to more prosaic
questions, like whether the grannies had been
inches or feet from the recruitment center door.

Isn't it true they were blocking traffic? Ms.
Miller asked, cross-examining Ms. Lear. Ms. Lear
replied that if someone had wanted to go through,
she would have moved over. "I'm a very polite person," she said.

"I'm sure you are," Ms. Miller agreed.

Wasn't their real objective to get publicity by
being arrested? "Did you personally believe you
were going to be allowed to enlist?" Mr. McConnell asked Ms. Dreyfus.

"I wasn't sure," she replied. "I do have a skill
set." She is a facilities manager and "could be
used to deploy equipment," she said.

But, the prosecutor insisted, was she prepared to go to war?

"Yes," Ms. Dreyfus replied. "I was totally
prepared. I had just recently gotten divorced. I was ready."

The grannies burst out laughing, and a red blush
spread, once more, over Judge Ross's face.

"The defense rests," Mr. Siegel said Wednesday
after the last defendant testified, and the
grannies seemed to collectively sigh.

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