Protest On Trial: Six defendants arrested during Disrupt J20 protests on Inauguration Day fighting felony charges in court

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Katie Aguilera

On November 20, 2017, trial began in Washington DC superior court for six defendants arrested during the protests that took place on Inauguration Day.  More than 200 people were arrested that day after a small number of protesters clashed with police, smashed windows, and committed other acts of property destruction.  Six police were injured, and an estimated $100,000.00 in damage resulted from the violence.

The six now on trial are the first of over 200 arrested on Inauguration day who have all been charged with felonies.  Those charges include conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, inciting a riot, and multiple property damage charges, and come with a maximum ten-year prison sentence for each count.  Some have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and some have had the charges dropped.  But nearly 200 people still face felony convictions, and possible 60-year sentences, if found guilty.

The prosecution in this first trial has made it clear they don’t intend to prove that any of the six defendants personally caused any property damage or injury, but rather that all who face charges are guilty because they are all collectively responsible for the actions of a few.  US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said in her opening statement, “though there is no evidence the defendants caused any of the damage directly, the government considers the entire group of protesters to be responsible.”

 “The prosecution is pursuing a somewhat unusual strategy: Rather than trying to prove that any of individual defendant was personally guilty of destruction, prosecutors are arguing that all demonstrators present that day were aware and supportive of the violent intentions of the others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, in her comments, has repeatedly referred to the ‘black bloc tactics’ of the protesters as part of a message that everyone participating in the protest came with either the intention to commit violence or the knowledge that violence was part of the plan.”

Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press November 21, 2017

The government is arguing that all of the defendants conspired to cause the violence and rioting, regardless of whether they participated in any advance planning.  They argue that the defendants intended for the property destruction and violence to occur even if they didn’t cause damage themselves.  They argue that by continuing to move together down the street as some in their midst engaged in criminal behavior, everyone arrested became responsible for the resulting damage.

This idea of collective liability is what makes this trial so important, and all Americans should be paying attention.  The mere act of charging so many, with the possibility of such severe punishment, threatens to stifle legitimate protest and first amendment activity.  If exercising one’s right to peacefully protest comes with the risk of felony charges for the criminal behavior of others, many will opt to stay home.  If these six are convicted, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Kris Hermes, an organizer of a support group for the defendants called Defend J20, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “what the government is saying to us is, dissent is not an acceptable form of expression in this country, and if you choose to go out on the street and express yourself, then you risk being arrested and seriously prosecuted.”

Eoin Higgins wrote in an October 25, 2017 article for the Intercept, “by charging everyone together with conspiracy counts, the government seems intent on making an example of the J20 protesters.”  He also writes, “that the government’s case does not differentiate between actors and bystanders could be an indication of future clampdowns on protest.”

There are other very important aspects of this case, such as the tactics used during the arrests, the arrests of journalists covering the protests, the methods of evidence gathering employed in the months after the arrests, etc.  But the very fact that these defendants face these charges when there is no evidence they personally caused any damage should have us all very concerned.  Any threat to an individual’s first amendment right is a threat to all of our first amendment rights.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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Healing On The Range: A Look At Central Oregon Veterans Ranch

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Katie Aguilera

Alison Perry described the 19 acres of land situated between Bend and Redmond, Oregon, as a place of peace while leading a tour of Central Oregon Veterans Ranch on Friday, December 2, 2016. She said the ranch will help veterans find a sense of purpose and meaning, and it is designed to be a community for veterans, built by veterans.  Perry also described a desire to bring attention to the lack of services currently available for Central Oregon veterans in spite of the large number who live in the area.  She pointed out that veterans make up nine to ten percent of the Central Oregon population, numbering around 20,000.

Perry is the executive director of Central Oregon Veterans Ranch.  She has been working with veterans since 2003, including as a trauma therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  As she spoke with the group of around twenty-five people gathered for the tour, Perry described a couple of cases she had dealt with that inspired her to found the ranch.  She talked about the efforts that have gone into creating this place of healing, and the plans for its success.  Her determination to help veterans, and her dedication to this project were very apparent as she described her work and the ranch.

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The Central Oregon Veterans Ranch is a working ranch.  Currently it is home to numerous animals; chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, even mini donkeys.  The ranch plans to build a greenhouse for growing produce, and has received donations for this project from Central Oregon rotary groups.  Veterans can volunteer to help on the ranch, and Perry said just the day before the tour, 18 local veterans had come out to work, many of them dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Coming to the ranch, working on projects there, and helping with the animals, is therapeutic.  According to the ranch brochure, “studies and pilot programs prove that veterans engaged in farming and ranching and returning to meaningful forms of service succeed.  Combat veterans struggling to re-engage in their communities after returning from deployment become productive members of their community and beyond after participating in sustainable agriculture and ranching activities.”

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The tour ended with a look at the bright and airy home that will soon be opened as an adult foster care facility serving up to four terminally ill or aged veterans.  The home has been recently remodeled, with money from a private grant, and much of the work has been done by veteran volunteers.  It has been furnished with money donated by the Central Oregon chapter of 100 Women Who Care. There are three bedrooms for the residents, with four beds covered with beautifully made, red, white, and blue quilts.  There is another space for a live-in residential assistant, who is already living at the ranch, and described the job as a dream job.

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Priority will be given to Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange related illnesses, according to Perry, and the cost of the service is based on a sliding scale which will allow the ranch to serve indigent veterans.  The home will provide “an environment that fosters dignity, improves quality of life, and provides specialized care for the unique needs of the Veteran population,” according to the ranch’s website.  Perry pointed out that there are no veterans’ specific senior care facilities currently in Central Oregon, and she said the facility intends to place a lot of focus on healing at end of life from PTSD.

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The ranch is a beautiful place, with a stunning view of the Three Sisters and Broken Top. Perry said she has been told by volunteers that they feel a sense of peace as they cross the cattle guard at the entrance to the property, and she stated, “the property itself is an intervention.”  It is easy to see why it can bring peace and healing to anyone visiting or working there.

The Central Oregon Veterans Ranch continues to raise funds to grow the operation.  Currently they are inviting people to become a part of the First 100 Campaign by being one of the first 100 to make a donation of $1000.00 or more.  Those who do will have their name memorialized in a Peace Garden planned for the ranch.  Donations of any size are welcome, including donations of services, time, and goods, such as the coffee donated by Strictly Organic of Bend that was served during the tour.  Of course, there is also the weekly veterans volunteer day on Thursdays.  The ranch also invites anyone to tour the property.  More information can be obtained by calling 541-706-9062, and by visiting their website at www.centraloregonveteransranch.org.

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The Complex Power of Simple Acts

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Today, Brussels is locked down in fear of terror attacks.  Anonymous has warned that ISIS is threatening attacks all around the world tomorrow.  Three suicide bombers in Cameroon killed possibly as many as ten people.  People are fleeing horrors all over in mass waves.  And these things really aren’t “trending” on social media.

I ranted the other day about the ridiculous red cup thing because the effectiveness of such petty things at getting attention made me angry.  I took my flattened red cup out to the woods and shot it a few times.  That was fun, but it didn’t change the fact that we are still so divided and distracted.  It seems obvious that dividing and distracting us gets easier and easier as we turn more to our devices for our interactions with others, with the world.  We are turning increasingly away from face to face interactions and I’m not alone in thinking that it is stealing our empathy.

Yesterday, while driving along a busy street, I noticed a woman jogging along the road, waving at every car that passed her.  This is a somewhat small community, so it was conceivable that she knew the drivers of the cars ahead of me, but there was something odd about her wave that caught my attention.  So, I kept an eye on her as our paths converged.  She was wearing a white t shirt, and when I got close, I saw that she had written “I welcome refugees” on the shirt with a black marker.  I really wanted to turn around and pull over to talk with her but unfortunately I didn’t have time.

As I continued along with my day, I kept thinking about her.  And it hit me how such a simple act could have such a powerful effect on me.  She was going jogging anyway, and she decided she was going to use the run as a chance to make a statement.  She was showing publicly her support for refugees.  What she showed me was compassion, she reminded me of the importance of holding onto our humanity, in spite of our fear.  A simple form of activism as part of her everyday life set off a complex series of thoughts and feelings in me.

I think there are countless people going along with their daily lives, raging silently inside about all the mess and hurt in the world, and feeling a little alone in this distracted society.  But what might happen if someone randomly jogs by with a message written in black marker on their shirt, a simple message that shows that there is someone else out there who feels the same way?  Maybe people would begin to realize they aren’t alone.  Maybe more people would start jogging along too.

It doesn’t always have to be picket lines, sit-ins, stand-ins, die-ins, marches, chaining ourselves to things.  Those are all powerful, important, and successful at getting at least brief attention to an issue.  But what if we find more ways to incorporate activism into our everyday lives?  What if we take a little risk and show others what we believe?  I believe this could bring people together.  I believe it can start conversations.  I believe it can start a wave of awareness, and change.  I believe it can start a revolution.