On Monday, November 2nd, seven defendants, flanked by their eye-witnesses and friends, appeared at Philadelphia Municipal Court for trial based onarrests at the "Army Experience Center" on May 2nd of this year. The charges against us stemmed from a protest which began at St. Stevens Church, and followed by a lively and raucous march to the Franklin Mills Mall where the "AEC" is housed. Escorted by Philly Civil Affairs police, and some local PD, hundreds of people gathered outside the storefront violent video gaming center aimed at pre-teen military recruitment, and voiced their dissent.
The hundreds that joined together shouted and chanted "SHUT DOWN THE AEC" and "WAR IS NOT A GAME!" and were determined to stop any of the youngsters trying to enter the center to spend their time playing war games on our tax dollars. Oddly enough, those of us who were arrested, placed ourselves in a silent vigil in front of the AEC, wearing death masks in all black clothing, and hanging around our necks were the names of the dead soldiers and Iraqis killed since the illegal and immoral invasion of that country.
Civil Affairs officers stood amongst all of us, and watched. Of course, we were videotaped and photographed compliments of the police the entire hour of our protest. There were about 10 of us in our silent vigil, facing the rest of the crowd out in the mall, with our backs to the police and AEC. I guess after the police decided that we had reached the limits of our free speech time, they announced they would start arrests.
The Captain in charge stood in the shouting crowd and pointed directly to us and said "and we are going to start with them!"
There we were standing quietly, somberly and very still, while hundreds of people were chanting, banging drums, yelling, carrying signs and making a ruckus. Civil Affairs started grabbing us by the arms and one by one placing us under arrest. By the time they were done, they arrested 6 vigilers and then one other person who simply asked "why are you arresting them, they aren't doing anything." So he was carted off immediately for asking a question.
We spent almost 6 hours in jail on charges of disorderly conduct, yelling, screaming, disturbing the general peace in the mall, and carrying banners. Huh? You say? Well that's how we felt, and that's exactly what was brought into the courtroom by our very adept defense attorney!
Our attorney announced as soon as our names were called by the court clerk that we were "ready for trial." The D.A. said that his witness, Captain Fisher, of the Philly Civil Affairs Division, who was the person in charge of the arrests, was on vacation, and therefore he had no other witnesses to present. So the judge asked what the defense was prepared to do. "Your honor, we are prepared to go forward. We have almost 15 eye-witnesses to present, which the district attorney is aware of, and all of the defendants are present." "We are prepared to challenge the charges since the defendants were conducting a 'silent vigil' in front of the location, were not blocking the entrance, and were arrested wrongfully as they were expressing themselves under their first amendment rights as the eyewitnesses will attest to and as I also have video to show the court"." And so on he said. The prosecutor looked not only perplexed, but disturbed. The Judge asked him how he would like to proceed, and he said that "for the record he would not be opposed to dismissing the case." "DISMISSED!" so said the Judge. YEAH us!
I was sitting in the row right behind the attorneys and I overheard one of the prosecutors ask "is this that army place in the mall?" "Oh, I heard about this."
After 8 months on a targeted campaign against the Army Experience Center, activists not only won their case in court based partly on maintaining our innocence and our freedom of speech and right to assemble, but put the place on the map so others can see for themselves what a disgrace it is to entice pre-teens into a military recruiting center by offering free play time on the most violent video games around.
This is just the beginning, so please come join us and check out our website at www.shutdowntheaec.net.
Editor's Note: In response to several inquiries, it should be noted as mentioned in the article that these charges stemmed from an arrest at the Army Experience Center in May 2009.
There were also seven arrests (including the writer of the article) made at the same site in September 2009. Those arrested in September included six activists and a reporter for OEN. The status hearing for that case is on December 1. The defense attorney requested an extension for discovery in order to gather information from the Department of Defense in addition to the Franklin Mills Mall and Civil Affairs. The trial date will likely be set at that time.