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You have the right to remain silent

Occupy Asheville trial speaks loudly

By Bill Branyon

"The people are rising in objection to grave injustices in this community, in the world. Most of those injustices go forward with impunity. The charges and sentencing that individuals have received for asserting constitutional rights for free assembly, and vigorous free speech in the public square, loses the fact that the larger criminals are going forth with impunity. I believe that the people will continue to rise and speak truth to power at whatever personal risk. The times require it of us.

Such was Asheville resident Clare Hanrahan's soaring rhetoric during what one might think would be in a political rally. But no, it occurred in a lowly basement misdemeanor court, Buncombe County District Court #1. There, Hanrahan and five of her friends sat quietly from 9am to 3pm waiting on Judge Patricia Young to call her case. Well" four friends. Activist Coleman Smith was thrown out by the bailiff for whispering one word to Steve Norris Norris had previously been found guilty for erecting an anti-mountain-top-removal wind mill in front of Bank of America across from Pritchard Park.

  The judge presided in front from a throne assisted by a clerk, three-to-ten lawyers swarming about, and six-to-eight, fully-armed policeman from the downtown district in yellow, high-visibility vests, perched patiently on the right side. That contrasted sharply with the approximately 120 of us crammed below into about fifteen low-rent pews, and cowed into completely silent attention. The room and ambience seemed like an underfunded grammar school with blinds drawn, bare, monotonous dirt-brown walls, and a low-paneled ceiling--with a very strict teacher.      "Judge, can you give us some idea when my case will be addressed?" asked Hanrahan when her name was roll-called, about an hour-and-a-half into the proceedings. "I have witnesses that need to know."

"Sit down and sit tight," said the judge softly, straightening her long blond hair. "You're getting your due process."

And so we listened to about fifty stories of those who'd been crushed by our corporate economy, their own bad decisions, or addictions. One man received five days in jail for begging 73 cents. A woman got hard time for stealing soft $24 ear buds from Wall Mart. Another man was sentenced for possessing over a half-ounce of a nonviolent, mind-altering weed-- with punishment added for carrying a pipe to smoke it in.    The portentous monotony was broken when some of the defendants already in custody spoke from a heavy metal screen cage on the right, called the "Tank." The judge also sentenced prisoners who amazingly appeared on a video screen on her left.

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ZZ Top's Monkey Wrenchers

None of the cases had much glamorous, court-room drama, with defendants mainly standing in front of the judge while court-appointed lawyers referred to them as if they weren't there. But Hanrahan's case was different. She'd decided to defend herself. The almost forty other Occupy-Asheville defendants had pleaded together at an earlier court date while represented by pro bono lawyer, Ben Scales. And, as ZZ-Top look-alike "Wezel," who was facing his own court Occupy court case soon, declared: "We'll do anything to monkey wrench the system."

The DA set up the case by interviewing Officer Travis Dike, who was present during Hanrahan's principal, alleged crime along with about 150 other marchers. "Did you see the defendant during the November 2nd, 2011 march?" asked the D.A.

"Yes, I saw her several times. It was that lady sitting there."    Finally!, we were in the Perry Mason realm that our TV-zombied nation knows so well! There were enough dramatic objections, sustainings and overrulings to make the long wait worthwhile . Upon cross-examination, Hanrahan contended: "By virtue of my being a familiar presence in the downtown area I am selected for prosecution."

"Objection," said the DA.

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"Sustained," said Judge Young. "Your statements must be phrased as a question."

"You could have arrested any of the 150-plus people marching," hammered Hanrahan, "weren't you discriminating due to familiarity, due to my transparency in the community?" Hanrahan was serving as a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer, and with six others was wearing the lime green hat to mark that role during the demonstration.

Then the DA introduced a police video of the November 2 march and rally. The video had been viewed by officers who issued warrants for arrest of selected persons. Hanrahan, officer Dike, the judge and the DA all leaned over together to watch it. For over twenty minutes the courtroom rang with police sirens, broken by the strident chants of the marchers including: "How do you stop the deficit? End the wars, tax the rich." Yet everyone sat quietly.

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Bill Branyon is a free-lance historian who has written three books: Blue Ridge Blues -- a respectful, science fiction look at Billy Graham; Asheville NC, circa 2,000 AD -- a historical faction about Asheville politics and culture; and now his first (more...)
 

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You have the right to remain silent