While Occupy might not be grabbing as many headlines as of late, many of the cases from previous years’ incidents are finally reaching their conclusions in court. The good news is that the outcomes are overwhelmingly in favor of the activists, showing that even if the police and state are seemingly going above and beyond to obstruct dissent, the courts are paying more attention to the Constitution.
1. Last week, a jury acquitted a dozen Philadelphia Occupy activists charged with conspiracy and trespassing for holding a sit-in at a Wells Fargo bank. Apparently, the jury agreed with the protesters that the message of the protest was important enough to override the trespassing charges. But it was the judge, Nina N. Wright Padilla, who seemed most impressed with the twelve people on trial. Calling them the “most affable group of defendants [she’s] ever come across,” she shook all of their hands after the trial and said, “I hope you continue your work in a law-abiding way.”
2. Michael Premo was found innocent in New York City’s first Occupy trial to go before a jury. Police had trumped up charges against Premo, alleging he had rushed at an officer and knocked him over, breaking one of the officer’s bones. When Premo insisted he did no such thing, his lawyer asked for the police’s video footage of the incident, which they claimed did not exist.
So instead, she turned to citizen journalist footage and found a clear shot of the arrest. The video showed that it was the officer who violently tackled Premo, not the other way around, and that the officer’s account was fabricated. Moreover, the footage shows a police officer nearby filming the scene.
Will the police be tried for lying, creating false charges, and obstructing evidence? Don’t hold your breath. As Premo declared after his trial, “There is no justice in the American justice system, but you can sometimes find it in a jury.”
3. Seven members of Occupy Austin who faced significant prison time had their sentences reduced to time served. Although their crime – chaining themselves to PVC pipe at the Port of Houston – was a peaceful act of civil disobedience, they were still facing felony charges. Therefore, it became all the more important to drop when it was discovered that three undercover Austin police officers had infiltrated the Occupy group and goaded the protesters into this act, which they knew would carry a significant prison sentence.
4. In Chicago, 92 Occupy activists arrested in a raid at Grant Park had their cases summarily dismissed. Judge Thomas Donnelly found that the park’s supposed curfew law was enforced rarely and inconsistently, meaning the police’s crackdown was a targeted attempt to infringe on First Amendment Rights. Although over 300 protesters were arrested in the park over the span of a week, most of the people previously accepted an offer to complete community service without receiving a conviction. Sarah Gelsomino, a lawyer representing some of the activists said, “Hopefully this sends a clear message to the city that they must better respect the First Amendment rights of protesters no matter what their message might be.”
5. A similar case in Cleveland, Ohio may have opened the door for another occupation. Two activists who were found guilty of staying overnight in a park in defiance of the park’s curfew contested the case to the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals. This court agreed that the initial decision ignored these individuals’ First Amendment rights and overturned the ruling. This case helps establish an exciting precedent – particularly in Cleveland – for the rights of demonstrators.
It’s nice to see that since the first Occupy Wall Street trial a year ago, the court verdicts are still siding with the protestors. It is no wonder that District Attorneys keep trying to get arrestees to agree to lesser plea deals in order to avoid trials that could embarrass the state.
All of this recent success might have inspired Occupy to take on a new case; and for once, the group is not the defendant. This time, Occupy has filed a lawsuit against every Wall Street federal regulator. The suit alleges that regulators have still not enacted the Volcker Rule, a key component of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
Photo Credit: Timothy Krause