By Patricia Nell Warren
Gazette's Introductory Note: It’s a little sobering to realize that the American Civil Liberties Union will spare no effort to protect our right not to hear "Nearer My God to Thee" played at a football game by a High School band, yet it does not even seem to notice when parents are forced to vaccinate their children against their will or a mother has her child torn away from her for refusing to submit to a questionable medical intrusion. So strong a religion has the Church of Medicine become that even the ACLU, fearful of the wrath of the Medical Inquisition, keeps its eyes closed where medicine is concerned.
During 2000 as awareness of the inadequacies of the HIV superstition began to grow rapidly, Dr. Mark Wainberg of the International AIDS Society publicly demanded that those who question the official dogma of the “AIDS” establishment be jailed. There was hardly a peep of protest from the press.
And President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was thrashed without mercy by press, politicians, and sickness professionals alike when he dared suggest that it might be wise to take a second look at the HIV-causes-"AIDS" hypothesis. (See http:www.pwgazette.com/mbeki.htm for details.)
Since the beginning of the "AIDS" era, there has been a stubborn and rapidly growing group of dangerous subversives who are HIV atheists. I am proud to count myself among them.
This superb article by Patricia Nell Warren is not about HIV. It is about our rights as Americans to openly state and discuss our opinions, whether those opinions conflict with those of the Church of Jesus or the Church of Robert Gallo.--Gene Franks..
The article is reprinted with the author's permission and first appeared in the June 2001 issue of A & U. magazine.
"Today the United States has suddenly junked its respect for civil disobedience. Quietly, when Americans weren't looking, law enforcement and legislators have slapped a high markup on the penal price of protest."
On April 2, a courtroom drama unfolded as Judge Thomas Mellon faced ACT UP San Francisco members David Pasquarelli, Michael Bellefountaine, and Todd Swindell. Last year, when the three men went to a Project Inform meeting, intending to protest PI's recommendations of drugs that can have serious, sometimes fatal, side effects, a scuffle broke out. The three were arrested, and had the book thrown at them by the San Francisco district attorney's office. The jury didn't buy the felony charges, including those for assault. But the three still faced sentencing for misdemeanors: disturbing the peace, unlawful assembly, participating in a riot. Possible maximum: one year in jail and a $2,000 fine for Pasquarelli and Swindell, plus six months and $2,000 for Bellefountaine.
A year behind bars for such minor offenses?
Even in the worst of times, our country has traditionally allowed wiggle room for civil disobedience. After all, the U.S.A. was founded on an act of disobedience called the American Revolution. In the early 1800s, Henry David Thoreau infuriated Puritan autocrats by refusing to pay religious taxes mandated by Massachusetts law. Was Thoreau jailed for a year? No. In his landmark essay "Civil Disobedience" he tells of passing one night in the local calabozo.
In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus, in a time of unrelenting segregation law, when blacks were still lynched in the South. Was Parks jailed for a year? No. She was arrested and fined $14. In 1958 the Rev. Martin Luther King was fined $14 for ignoring a police order at a demonstration. (King chose fourteen days in jail rather than paying the fine.) Through the '60s and '70s, the campus takeovers, anti-war marches, and grape-pickers' strikes, these arrests were usually treated like parking tickets. Charges were summary, and the cops let you go. A long arrest record was an activist's badge of honor. Only a few did serious prison time because they advocated overthrow of the government.
Today the United States has suddenly junked its respect for civil disobedience. Quietly, when Americans weren't looking, law enforcement and legislators have slapped a high markup on the penal price of protest. They now consider that kind of activism to border on "domestic terrorism," and are prosecuting it under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the way organized crime and harassment of abortion clinics are now prosecuted. A key court decision, NOW v. Scheidler, has "created outrageously prohibitive sanctions for what are essentially minor violations of law," according to Crisis magazine. Nonviolent protesters are being hammered with huge bails, huge fines, multiple counts, and many months, even many years, in prison. A single arrest can now destroy your life.
Indeed, many students who demonstrate about campus issues like affirmative action have no idea how bloodthirsty the law has gotten...till it's too late. Several years ago, a seventeen-year-old I know was arrested at an anti-David Duke fracas at Cal State Northridge. He thought it would be a lark, but was shocked to find himself facing three felony charges, possible trial as a violent adult, and the first of "three strikes, you're out." Only vigorous lawyering by his parents got him probation as a juvenile.
Last year was a watershed in American history -- the thunderclap reappearance of large-scale sixties-type demonstrations. We live in a new age of festering social problems, but we also face new government hostility to dissent. During the World Treaty Organization meeting in Seattle, as well as the Republican and Democratic conventions, protesters found themselves facing police trained for urban war. Cops overreacted and arrested bystanders, medics, and media people as well as actual demonstrators. Some were slammed with million-dollar bails and held for days without being notified of charges or allowed to call lawyers. Thanks to ACLU involvement, many got their charges dismissed, but the unlucky are looking at long months or years in prison. Most major media avoided covering these trials or even noting the erosion of our American right to protest.
The punitive new attitude toward protest is part of a general obsession with crime-busting and prison-building. In a recent Salon article titled "Hooked on Prisons," Maria Russo wrote, "In the aftermath of the Cold War...prisons are now seen primarily as sources of jobs and revenue, rather than as places for rehabilitating criminals...There are, of course, other factors at play in the prison boom: The crime rate may have fallen steadily in the last decade, but the length of the average prison sentence has gone up." Another author, Joseph T. Hallinan, tells in his "Going up the River" how the rise of mandatory-sentencing laws, in particular those for drug offenses, are packing the prisons with nonviolent offenders serving long terms. Protesters now get essentially the same treatment as drug offenders.
A similar erosion of protest rights is happening in Canada, where one nonviolent logging protester, a seventy-one-year-old grandmother was sentenced to one year in prison.
I'm alarmed by this trend -- especially as it impacts growing outrage around abuses in our medical system. Evidence of harm done by some AIDS drugs has piled so high that the federal government about-faced in January, withdrawing earlier fulsome recommendation of "hit early, hit hard." The government had known about the drug problems for years -- side effects were openly discussed at the 1998 Geneva AIDS conference. Yet Washington waited for three years, and risked countless lives, before acting.
Rising outrage at the inhumanity of our medical system, and ongoing revelations about the dangers of many drugs and vaccines rushed through FDA approval, is creating a growing crisis of confidence among patients, families, and doctors. Healthcare issues have already sparked demonstrations -- like the people in wheelchairs who besieged the DNC headquarters in Washington to demand increased healthcare choices. The stage is set to view health protesters as "domestic terrorists."
The HAART meltdown, in particular, creates acute political discomfort for state and city public-health officials, as well as for pharmaceutical companies, health nonprofits, and AIDS service orgs, who took hard-line positions on AIDS drugs and suddenly found the rug yanked from under them when "hit early, hit hard" bit the dust. In San Francisco, where public-health officials view themselves as the point guys for national AIDS policy, conflict between AIDS dissenters and AIDS defenders has reached the boiling point. A punitive sentence for the ACT UP three would have a national impact -- one more nail in the coffin of legal protest. The three men were convicted only for first-time misdemeanors. How would society benefit from their long imprisonment when Uncle Sam admits to the very problems they were protesting?
That day in San Francisco, Judge Mellon's fax machine smoked with incoming messages demanding the maximum punishment. Mayor Willie Brown, who seemed to have forgotten that assault charges had been dismissed, characterized the defendants as violent criminals. Some faxes, including mine, called for leniency. The defendants rejected a three-year probation deal. In the courtroom, before a packed crowd, the judge sentenced Swindell and Pasquarelli to 120 days in the county jail. Bellefountaine got sixty days. The three were fined $1,000 each. The men's attorneys immediately appealed.
Said Swindell: "The Mayor and District Attorney need to get a clue: wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to criminalize political protesters and stamp out AIDS dissent won't fly in San Francisco."
I never thought I'd see the day when a $14 fine looked lenient. Thoreau's essay may still be required reading in school, but if Thoreau and Rosa Parks were arrested today, they'd wind up in orange jumpers behind razor wire. Americans who assemble peacefully to protest corporate greed, environmental destruction, and human rights are being sent a chilling message. That message is meant for health protesters as well.
Copyright© by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved. Patricia Nell Warren's newest novel, The Wild Man, is now available at bookstores everywhere or at wildcatpress.com. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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