Activist Trials

©2005 L.Timmel Duchamp

Extracts from the personal correspondence of L. Timmel Duchamp

22 March, 1990
Thursday afternoon

I'm getting so back into the book now that I'm regretting having obligated myself to helping coordinate meetings. I feel like I need to be completely absorbed into it, which I can almost be (except for the damned legal defense). Even interrupting everything for the march on Saturday & the reception for Gloria Galan on Sunday is going to seem like a major intrusion. It's as though the factors that make books so liable to resistance can't be overcome except in nearly absolute solitude...

I talked for quite a long time to one of the people who are dispensing with the legal motions. He was the one who announced during the pre-trial hearing that he didn't accept the court's authority. By making motions etc. (which won't be taken seriously by the court), he says, we're playing by the system's rules, playing the game, going along with nonsense. All of which detracts from the major purpose of our civil disobedience. & he warns that the more we go along with, the more disempowered we become. He says that he & his group are going to refuse to stand for the judge & will address him as "Mr.____" rather than "Your Honor." That we were all suffocated in the courtroom on Friday, that it was as though the life were drained out of us even though most of us showed up full of the same feeling of having done the right thing that we had when we were arrested... This guy said he himself had once been a lawyer—& that they'd all been through the process many times before.

He has raised a lot of questions for me. It would have been helpful if one of these people had showed up at the first two meetings post-arrest to raise the basic issue—but since they didn't, our meetings followed the lawyers' script. On the one hand I agree that playing the game is dis-empowering & morally repugnant. But on the other hand, by getting arrested we have more or less gotten ourselves caught up in the game. So the question then becomes to what extent we ignore the rules. The guy I talked to said he would come when told to come—& will serve whatever sentence he's told to serve, too. But no more.

Needless to say, if this had been brought up at the first two meetings it would have caused a lot of grief. & possibly dissension. It's been pretty clear that people aren't sure what the "correct" line on solidarity should be at this point—my guess is that like me, most of the other first-timers don't have anyone to discuss the circumstances with (since anyone not in the situation gets instantly bored & impatient with an attempt to talk in detail about it), & of course the training never goes past release from jail. We all know about jail solidarity: & it's been obvious to me from the time of my release that the same principles of jail solidarity could be interestingly extended past release... Except that once one is finished with that stage of it, the general idea seems to be to get the law off one's back as fast & painlessly as possible. Part of the problem is that most of us weren't part of a bonded affinity group—that's where such decisions can be made (& clearly that's what has been happening with the group of nine who are refusing to attach the lawyer's motions)...

The other thing, of course, is my ambivalence about practical political behavior. I do, after all, support the ACLU. & they play by the rules—as do the lawyers want to make the motions & do their best to use those rules to ameliorate the effects of the system. Clearly, the ACLU is a reform-minded organization, not revolutionary...

3 April, 1990
Tuesday evening

… & then on Sunday evening I had my potluck meeting with other defendants & lawyers (the potluck part of it being, we decided, necessary since we need to know one another above & beyond our common aim & plight).

I'm trying to prod CISPES into doing press coverage for our trials, but I don't think they're going to do much. What they really should be doing is planning pickets etc. at the Public Safety Building on the days of our trials. It's an ideal focus for action—but I suspect they'll do nothing with it at all. The first trial—of the people not making motions—(the "religious" or "Christians" the lawyers have dubbed them) will be on April 11. It will be interesting to find out how much their judge allows them to say & what kind of case the city is going to make. The lawyers didn't talk much about how weird the whole thing is, but the one who gave me a ride home on Sunday night sounded rather gloomy about the future of civil-disobedience actions in Seattle. I think it's pretty clear the city's hoping to break us with these trials. Whether a judge is going to go with the jail request is another matter, though. But as I said, I'm trying to prepare myself for it. Our group on Sunday night was not demoralized. (Of course not everyone showed.) My only problem is spinning speeches in the night, keeping me from sleeping, when I know I probably won't be allowed to get more than a sentence or two out before they shut me up. My idea is to talk about specific individuals who've been killed in the last few months with names & other personal details rather than rant against the Bush administration. The right-to-lifers are apparently allowed to go on ad nauseam, because the city's legal strategy depends upon the right-to-lifers pissing the hell out of juries. They actually read the Bible to juries, as well as lecture & harangue them.

Friday afternoon (April 27, 1990)

I wonder if it's going to rain every time I go to court?

Have discovered there's another trial besides all the ones I knew about, scheduled for Tuesday. (May decide to give that one a miss.) Interestingly enough P____, the woman T_____ once introduced me to at one of the December Fed Building Vigils (she's an Agape member, T says, & an "occupational C.D. person" who burned out doing too much jail time: I gather if you acquire a record they start keeping you for months & months & months in King County jail), has been attending every trial. & she was there today, too.

But to get down to the hearing. Most of it wasn't argued verbally, but in briefs (anent which the judge commended the eight defense lawyers, saying that never in his ten years on the bench [I gather judges are always numbering their years on the bench] had he seen lawyers treat the court's time with such respect). It came down to the judge tossing out the pedestrian interference charge (which is currently being challenged in the State Supreme Court) on the grounds that it's an unconstitutionally vague law. He ruled against most of the other motions, except to reserve the possibility of ruling on one of them only AFTER the trial—saying that its argument depends upon an interpretation of evidence which the defense & city don't agree upon. So we're going to trial on Failure to Disperse.

I talked to P____ at length before the hearing. She didn't think the police were especially hot on this case or that the city was out to shut down protest—she is apparently still assuming they're going to reduce or drop the charges—but she's going by past behavior.

Discovered that not everyone arrested on Jan. 23 intended to be arrested—the police apparently went after some people who were walking away, after the intersection had been cleared. The woman who told me about this was pissed as hell.

Two humorous moments in the courtroom. The first came before the judge got to our case. The city called the name of some other defendant it was prosecuting (who never showed up)—viz., William Secord. At the name *Secord* a rustle & titter spread through the courtroom (while the city was asking for a bench warrant), & one of our lawyers made some kind of joke (I can't remember exactly what it was) & then the judge chimed in with a comment about "General Secord" which swept the entire courtroom into hysterical laughter. (More jokes followed.)

The second bit of humor occurred when one of the members of our group of defendants walked in carrying a CISPES megaphone. All of us had the exact same fantasy image of her having brought it to use in court. & so there were giggles & elbow-nudges from person to person up & down the spectators' pews.

More (judicial) humor involved the names the judge dubbed various groupings during the pretrial hearing—for example, the "Christians" (as in the Christians vs. the gladiators?), as the first trial group were called, & the "me-too defendants" (for pro-se defendants like me, who appended the lawyers' motions to their own cases). The judge made it plain that he enjoyed having us there. & a whole slew of lawyers came to watch—wanting to hear R____ A____, long hair now neatly tied back, his beard hanging down over his silk necktie, his navy pinstripe suit impeccable, argue his four motions. (One of the lawyers who came to watch told us he's got "the wonderful eloquence & precision of Shelley." She seemed thrilled at the prospect of hearing him speak.) A_____ reminds me of a combination of MD & DH, improbable as that combination might seem. He's usually pretty disreputable-looking, based on my glimpses of him at marches, demos, & defendants' meetings.

One aspect, by the way, of my spending so much time in court is that it's helping to desensitize me to its powers of intimidation. Did I ever tell you to what extent the courtroom atmosphere freaked me out when I testified as a witness in that attempted rape case?

Oh, & one other note, about the lovely justice of our system. There appeared before the judge, dressed in jail clothing, a 66 year old black man, charged with driving without a valid driver's license. Because he couldn't afford bail, he was in jail, had in fact been there for 30 days. (He'd been in jail another time before that for 45 days, only to have the charges dropped—there's nothing like being imprisoned for not having money to pay bail: it's our system's equivalent of 19th-century Britain's debtors prison.) Anyway, this man had been arrested shortly after he'd had major surgery, something called an abdominal-vascular bypass. While in jail his incision didn't receive proper treatment & got all fucked up. Finally they took him to Harborview [Hospital] to have it cleaned up. & of course the nutrition in the jail is for shit. Now get this: this man was busted in the first place for driving himself to the doctor's—he was apparently in a state of extreme stress at the time, perceiving himself in medical emergency (& you know someone like that's not going to call an ambulance & probably feels he can't afford a taxi)... the whole thing was so pathetic & enraging to hear. The judge agreed to let him serve his sentence at home (which apparently will be very costly to him—his attorney mentioned the high costs of home imprisonment to prisoners)...

Which reminds me. We were all talking about that horrid appendicitis case. The lawyer who came to watch advised me, in the case that I draw jail time, to write letters beforehand, to make sure everyone's aware of liability for a possible lawsuit should I in fact suffer a cardiac arrest for not getting my medication. She says only such advanced warnings to them will ensure I get my medication. Sounds like a headache—phone calls, maybe going to an office to talk to somebody, & then letters. Hopefully there won't be any jail time. THIS judge didn't seem to think there would be (provided that we didn't do like "the Christians" did & refuse to do community service—something he directly referred to: implying that it's been the talk of the Seattle Municipal Court).

May 5, 1990
Saturday afternoon

I've been involved in a lot of discussion & planning around the trials. We had another big meeting last Sunday. (This will be the last.) I spoke at length about the Christians' trial &, I hope, started to overcome some of the resentment most of the other defendants were feeling towards them. It was so depressing to hear someone describe them as "obnoxious" for "going off on their own" (i.e., refusing to file motions), & to see that no one had even bothered to try to understand their reasons for doing so, much less their reasons for refusing to do community service). I think I did finally get through to them—for a number of people have started saying they're "grateful" to the Christians for what they did. & some people now feel so admiring of them that they're organizing a vigil for the Thursday evening of their week in jail. It appears that they're going to have some people walking them to the jail—but since they're going in on the first day of the last trial (which is to say, of my trial), we decided we'd better organize something else that those of us on trial can also attend. I need to talk to one of the defendants scheduled for trial on Monday—the day after tomorrow—in order to make sure the city didn't offer a deal or drop the charges down to a traffic violation at the readiness hearing yesterday morning. It's possible we won't have to go through the rest of the trials—though at this point no one's conjecturing anything because, as one of the lawyers pointed out last Sunday night—the city is behaving irrationally in their handling of these cases. (If the city drops us down to traffic offenses, we won't be allowed to argue the charges at all, & will have to pay the set fine unless the judge can be talked out of it. Though of course, if we wanted to follow the Christians' example, we could always refuse to pay the fine & end up incarcerated for it...)

I'm so glad that the general attitude toward the Christians has changed. To not even try to understand difference from the group—that deeply disturbed me. & then to be resentful at others going farther than one is willing or prepared to go oneself... It's not as though the Christians ever showed superciliousness or superior righteousness or anything like that: never do they suggest that others should be doing what they're doing—except, perhaps, by example.

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