The Occupy Wall Street movement has been quietly racking up legal victories in court with the third case in a row being thrown out by a judge Wednesday due to an “insufficient” summons.
Occupy’s “freedom fairy,” Marni Halasa was ticketed by the NYPD for “impeding pedestrian traffic” during a protest at Zuccotti Park back in March.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that I was impeding pedestrian traffic with silk chiffon wings and Rollerblades,” said Halasa, who was ready to plead not guilty and request her day in court for the alleged offense.
“I wanted the case to go further to really challenge the law.”
Halasa added that she felt like her First Amendment rights had been violated.
The excellent Nick Pinto over at the Village Voice has been following Occupy’s legal battles in court and summarized the other two OWS victories.
In a single month, Occupy secured three court wins, beginning with the case of Alexander Arbuckle.
Arbuckle was arrested while photographing a march on January 1 and was charged with disorderly conduct for standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic.
That was the police version of the story—told under oath.
As it turns out, Officer Elisheba Vera lied to the court. Arbuckle’s own photographs from the evening place him squarely on the sidewalk during the march, and all video from the NYPD’s Technical Research Assistance Unit also showed Arbuckle standing on the sidewalk.
Additionally, livestreamer Tim Pool’s video from the march also corroborated Arbuckle’s version of events.
Pool’s video of the event (beginning around minute 31:50 and ending with the arrests around minute 35:00).
Pinto reports that this arrest is particularly ironic given Arbuckle doesn’t identify with the Occupy movement and in fact was working on an assignment for class to document the officers assigned to police it.
Arbuckle remarked, “I felt the police had been treated unfairly on the media.”
In “another black eye for the police,” Pinto reported on the second trial in which the NYPD’s version of events unraveled.
Jessica Hall, an OWS protester arrested on Novemeber 17, was charged with the ol’ reliable “disorderly conduct” for obstructing traffic.
During trial, Sergeant Michael Soldo told the court that he arrested Hall because she was blocking traffic.
But Soldo later admitted under cross-examination, and the NYPD’s own video confirmed, that it was the NYPD metal barricades that prevented vehicles from passing.
After Soldo’s testimony, Hall’s lawyers moved to dismiss, and Judge Matthew Sciarrino agreed that the prosecution hadn’t made its case.
The Village Voice:
“The police arrested people willy-nilly without any determination that they had actually committed the offenses that they were charged with,” Stolar told the Voice afterwards. “That’s what tends to criminalize protest activity.”
Across the country, Occupy protesters have achieved similar legal victories.
Back in January, about one-fourth of the cases filed against Occupy Los Angeles protesters were dismissed because of paperwork errors by police, and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who was arrested and charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration and Resisting Arrest during the NYPD’s eviction of OWS from Zuccotti on November 15, also had his charges dismissed.
Charges of a felony robbery and hate crime against three protesters from Occupy Oakland: Nneka Crawford, Michael Davis and Randolph Willkins were also dismissed.
Either these dismissals are the result of a pandemic of sloppy police work and unfortunate errors in the ticketing process, or officers have been knowingly and arbitrarily arresting protesters on trumped-up charges, and in some cases, later lying about it under oath in court.
As news of these arrests and dismissals trickled in over the past eight months, it might have been tempting to label these unjust arrests as isolated incidents. However, when one steps back to examine the big picture, it becomes clear there has been a systematic effort by police forces all across the country to stifle dissent, even if that means lying under oath in court.
The act of being arrested is not inherently an indication of guilt, and yet when an individual has his or her name blasted in the headlines as being an arrestee, the public automatically assumes guilt. Later, a two-sentence retraction hidden at the back of the newspaper is cold comfort to a vindicated citizen.
As Occupiers were being arrested over these past eight months, the public perhaps understandably, although naïvely, believed these protesters were committing crimes. But as these dismissals continue to occur, it’s clear the overwhelming majority of Occupy arrestees are innocent, and guilty only of trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.