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Program Information
The majority of the RNC defendants reject DA
 Ben  Contact Contributor
Oct. 8, 2000, 2:26 a.m.
Sat., 9/30, marked the last of the
Producer: Ben
Uploaded by: gretchen
Rachel Szego 01 October, 2000

With spirits high and fists raised, RNC defendants defied the Philadelphia court this weekend. Saturday, September 30 marked the last of the 'status hearings,' the pre-trial dates set for the folks arrested for participation in or alleged intended participation in protests held during the Republican National Convention (RNC) this August in Philadelphia. On Saturday, almost 200 defendants (of the 420 people arrested) came before a Commissioner in a hearing during which upcoming trial or ARD dates were set.

The court room filled with defendants, many of whom wore patches that said "resist." On Friday, September 22, the day before the second date of status hearings, R2K lawyers had received a letter from the Commissioner presiding over the hearings denouncing the wearing of political slogans by defendants from he previous week. He tried to ban political slogans from the courtroom. While this information was received too late for those attending court on the 23rd, those preparing for September 30th dates were prepared for action. We would not allow the Commissioner to violate yet another Civil Right.

The Philadelphia court had been offering most of the defendants charged with low level misdemeanors what is called "ARD" or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, which is a form of diversion from the court system in which there is not admission of guilt or finding of guilt. ARD is a non-reporting probationary period during which an additional arrest would result in being returned to the original trial process. It also includes a restitution fee - in this case of $335 each, paid to the City of Philadelphia for "damages" that resulted during the RNC protests. Once the probationary period is completed and the fine paid, the defendant's record would be cleared of all charges resulting from the RNC protests. If all of the RNC defendants who were offered ARD accepted, the city would be paid approximately $100,000, the R2K support group concluded.

Saturday was also the return date for the initial group whose status hearings were held September 16 to respond to the offer of ARD extended by the Philly court system. On Friday night before the hearings, defendants gathered for an update and strategy meeting which extended late into the night. Here the group consensed on a one-sentence general statement about rejecting the court's offer for ARD: "We will refuse ARD and seek jury trials until those of us charged with felonies and high level misdemeanors arrive at satisfactory conclusions to good faith negotiations with the district attorney's office." This statement basically reiterated and clarified a statement made by the defendants who had appeared in court the previous week. Most defendants who chose to reject the offer for ARD read or paraphrased this statement, and some included an additional statement of their own.

A longer collective statement outlining the political rationale behind the protests, the ongoing court solidarity, and links to broader global movements was read by one of the defendants on behalf of the group. Regarding the defendants, the statement argued: "It is clear that individuals were and have been targeted, not for criminal activity, but for their political beliefs. We cannot let this excessive and cruel treatment by the police and the courts continue to set a dangerous precedent that discourages people from exercising their constitutional rights of peaceful assembly and free speech." It went on to critique District Attorney Lynn Abraham for failing to acknowledge any harm or wrong done surrounding the arrests. The statement also denounced the criminal injustice system in the US and proclaimed solidarity with the demonstrators being held in Prague following the protests against the IMF/World Bank meetings last week.

Individual statements included support for Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners, denouncements of the prison-industrial complex, calls for social justice, and challenges to global corporate domination. While statements were made defendants, crammed onto benches in the courtroom, raised their fists in solidarity.

Several hours into the proceedings, after about three quarters of the defendants had gone through the process, the Commissioner proclaimed that he had heard enough of the statements and that he would no longer allow defendants to speak on their behalf. The crowd hissed. When the next defendant tried to make his statement anyway, the Commissioner interrupted threatening to make us stand out in the hallway and come in for processing one by one. He and the R2K lawyers receded to another room to discuss this matter. The defendants quickly discussed the ramifications of pushing the issue. There was concern that it was better to have support for each defendant in the courtroom, particularly for a couple of people who would seek to remain either Jane or John Doe. The lawyers returned and we were issued into the courtroom next door to discuss the Commissioner's offer: one final person could speak on behalf of the rest of the defendants, and the rest would have to remain silent.

One defendant had created a simple sock puppet that he had intended to use for his statement, referencing the puppets that had been silenced by the raid at the puppet space, in which puppets were destroyed, people's personal belongings confiscated and 70 people arrested (some ridiculously charged with blocking a highway although they had been inside a warehouse!). Having the puppet make the statement was turned down, although the puppeteer was chosen to speak for the remaining group. In protest against the Commissioner's ruling, most of the rest of the defendants choosing to reject ARD returned to the courtroom with their mouths covered by duct tape or the slip of paper which contained the one-sentence statement. The puppeteer faced the judge with the puppet's mouth taped shut and issued the final statement.

From this point on as every defendant approached the Commissioner, fists were raised in solidarity. Gestures were used to indicate the choice for trial or ARD. As the couple of folks who wanted to remain Jane and John Doe approached, all of the defendants stood in solidarity. The Commissioner let their anonymous identities pass!! With the final defendant processed, a round of "Solidarity Forever" broke out among the defendants.

Out on the street in front of the court house a large puppet held up by several puppetistas and joined by a couple people holding signs awaited us along with some press. Defendants who hadn't been able to make their statements in court made them outside. And then the radical cheerleaders led a few rounds, including some new cheers, such as "Cop-arazzi" (as in paparazzi - it's about surveillance) and "The New Philly Chain Gang."

One of the originals, which echoed in the halls of the Roundhouse Jail in August, resounds:

R, is for Revolution

E, it's for Everyone

S, Subvert the System

I, Ignite debate

S, Smash the State

T, Tear it down



Let them know you're pissed!

Download Program Podcast
00:23:38 1 Jan. 1, 1
Criminal Justice Center, Philadelphia, PA
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Download Program Podcast
00:23:38 1 Jan. 1, 1
Criminal Justice Center, Philadelphia, PA
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548 Download File...