Report on the Sept. 7, 2018 Trial of Art Laffin for Poor People’s Campaign Action on May 29 Outside of Sen. McConnell’s Office Another Deeply Held Conviction!

Dear Friends,

On Friday, September 7, 2018, I was tried before Magistrate Judge Shana Matini in D.C. Superior Court as a result of the May 29th Poor People’s Campaign witness outside the office of Sen. McConnell (see below info about this action). I viewed the trial as an important opportunity to continue the witness of the PPC, this time in a courtroom!  While conveying the urgent message of the PPC, we were also faced with challenging an extremely difficult and limiting statute that I was charged under. Ultimately, I came out of this trial with yet another deeply held conviction!

By way of background, I was charged under a disorderly conduct statute which was changed several years ago to grant police wide latitude in ordering arrests. The subsection of the statute that I was charged with reads as follows:

(b)(1) It is unlawful for a person, alone or in concert with others, to engage in a demonstration in an area where it is otherwise unlawful to demonstrate and to continue or resume engaging in a demonstration after being instructed by a law enforcement officer to cease engaging in a demonstration.

(2) For purposes of this subsection, the term “demonstration” means marching, congregating, standing, sitting, lying down, parading, demonstrating, or patrolling by one or more persons, with or without signs, for the purpose of persuading one or more individuals, or the public, or to protest some action, attitude, or belief…

It was a long day dealing with the court system. All who were present to offer their support showed amazing patience and resilience. The trial, originally scheduled for 9:30 AM, did not actually begin until 12:55 p.m. During this break I received a remarkable phone call of support from 160 people involved in the PPC who were meeting outside of Baltimore. I am ever so grateful for this heartfelt solidarity as well as from an earlier phone message that was passed on to me from Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the PPC.

During the trial I represented myself. Mark Goldstone, an outstanding lawyer and friend who has assisted and represented activists in court cases dating back to the 1980’s, acted in an advisory capacity. The government put on its case, which included one witness, a U.S. Capitol police officer who arrested me, and submitting into evidence a short video and one photograph that was taken after I was arrested. I cross-examined the officer who basically testified that although he did not see me blocking or obstructing anyone, I was still obstructing the hallway.  He also said that I was “actively demonstrating,” chanting and praying. When the government rested its case, I offered a motion for judgment of acquittal which was denied.

After the judge called for an hour lunch recess, the trial resumed around 2:30 PM. I then began my case. I called two witnesses whom I questioned: Rev. Graylan Hagler and Sr. Ardeth Platte, both long-time friends and steadfast peace and justice makers, both of whom gave eloquent and moving testimonies. Graylan, who is senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church and co-chair of the DMV PPC, was the first to testify. While Graylan was not arrested for this particular action (he was arrested at several other PPC actions) he was present for the May 29th witness. He spoke about his ministry and the purpose of the PPC. During Graylan’s testimony we entered into evidence the “Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America Fact Sheet, April, 2018” and the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Fundamental Principles.”

Ardeth, a Dominican sister who is 83 and celebrating 65 years as a professed religious, testified next. She conveyed to the court her experience as an educator, an elected official and her decades-long work for nuclear disarmament and the abolition of war.

Both Graylan and Ardeth testified that our action on May 29th was a nonviolent witness whereby we were actually lobbying and advocating for policy change. It was emphasized that our presence that day was to be a “witness.” It was asserted that if lobbyists can lobby without getting arrested, why can’t we, as people of faith and conscience, do the same? They both testified that they didn’t see me or anyone blocking or impeding the Senator’s office or hallway. After they were both cross-examined by the prosecutor, I rested my case. The government then offered its closing argument and I offered mine (see below). Toward the end of my closing statement  Magistrate Matini interrupted me and said that she had given me enough leeway to speak about my views and that I should just stick to the facts of the case. I then proceeded to finish my statement.

Before rendering her verdict, Magistrate Matini, did something that most judges I’ve been before rarely do– she offered a supporting viewpoint to something I said. She said that there was additional information she wanted to add to my closing. Regarding my reference to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist Doomsday Clock now set at 2 minutes before midnight, she remarkably stated that she recently learned that the world is now closer than 2 minutes before midnight. She then declared that while she may share similar views that were put forth in the defense case, she was bound by the statute of the law and that there was sufficient evidence to find me guilty.  At sentencing I shared with her that I was a volunteer at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker and that despite the fact that she found me guilty I believe in my heart that I committed no crime. The government prosecutor recommended that I be fined $500. She responded by saying that as a judge she has latitude sentencing. She said she did not believe in fines because it is unfair to the poor who cannot pay them and while the rich can easily pay them. Thus, I was surprisingly sentenced to time served (the time I was actually police custody) with a mandatory assessment of $50 to be paid to the victims of violent crime fund. At the end of the hearing I thanked the judge for what she said.

I want to express my appreciation to Mark Goldstone, who did a superb job assisting me as legal adviser. I am also deeply grateful to Rev. Graylan Hagler and Sr. Ardeth Platte for being extraordinary trial witnesses. I am especially thankful, too, for all who were present in court offering their support–Sr. Carol Gilbert, Mike Walli, Kathy Boylan, Rev. Chuck Booker, Malachy Kilbride and Bill Barbieri–and for all those who could not attend the trial and who sent messages of support and were in prayerful solidarity.

In these turbulent times, let us continue to keep our eyes on the prize and hope on as we strive together to help create the Beloved Community!

With great gratitude, Art

 

Art’s Closing Statement

You have heard evidence form Rev. Graylon Hagler and Sr. Ardeth Platte about the Poor People’s Campaign nonviolent witness on May 29 and what they saw me do.

Regarding the legalities of the case, I renew the Motion for Judgment of Acquittal that I made earlier. Additionally, there is no evidence that I obstructed or blocked anyone from going into or leaving the Senator’s office, or that I was boisterous. Despite what the government has claimed, I did not unlawfully assemble. Simply put, my action was a lawful witness with people of faith and conscience who are committed to making God’s reign of justice, love and peace a reality in our country and world.

There is no evidence that anyone from Senator McConnell’s office asked me to leave the hallway because I was interfering with the work of the office. There is no sign saying that I could not be present outside his office or in the hallway

Why should I be arrested for nonviolently making an appeal to those in position of power that we can’t kill? Why should I be arrested for praying?

The action I and my friends took on May 29 is part of a long biblical tradition of n.v. resistance to injustice and killing.

I acted in the tradition of Jesus,  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Caesar Chavez of the United Farmworkers and Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker and countless other nonviolent peace and justice makers. Regarding Dr. King, why is it that we have a National Holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., who broke the law on numerous occasions in order to expose and resist violence and social injustice? Because we recognize that his actions were morally and legally justified and necessary in order to bring about constructive change and justice in our society. My actions, I submit, were in concert with Dr. King’s.

What do we do when human law conflicts with God’s law? Do we uphold human laws that sanctions injustice and killing? Or do we uphold God’s command to love one another and not to kill?

As a person of faith I believe we have to uphold God’s law first.

It was never my intention to commit a crime on May 29. I was simply trying to appeal to political leaders to avert more needless death and suffering by calling for an end to state-sanctioned violence and racially motivated killing in our society.

Since our May 29 witness there have been more war and gun-related deaths.

For example, just look at what happened on August 9, 2018 in Yemen, as but one of numerous gruesome acts resulting from the U.S. backed–Saudi war against Yemen.

On August 9, 2018 the Saudi military used a U.S.-made Lockheed Martin bomb in an attack on a school-bus in Yemen which killed over 50 people,  including 40 children,  in the market of Dahyan in Saada province. Here are the names of two of the children killed: Ali Mohammed Hasssan Da’i–10 years old; Ali Zaid Hussein Tayeb–9 years old. Imagine if these children were members of our own families or friends of ours–how would we feel? It is a grave miscarriage of justice that those responsible for this criminal act will never be held to account.

On May 29 I, and other friends in the Poor People’s Campaign, were witnessing to prevent such massacres from occurring.

On May 29 I, and others from the Poor People’s Campaign, were also appealing to the Sen. Majority leader to call for the conversion of  the U.S. war economy which, with the passage of the recent 2019 military budget bill, has reached a staggering $717 billion. How can this exorbitant military spending be legal when some 140 million people are living in poverty in the U.S.? How can such a budget be tolerated when last year 45 people in D.C. who experienced homelessness died without the dignity of a home? Just think how this massive misuse of money and resources could be better spent meeting urgent human needs. This money could instead provide health-care for all God’s children everywhere, housing for the homeless, and jobs for the unemployed. This $ could also go a long way to help alleviate poverty, provide clean drinking water in places like Flint, MI, rebuild Puerto Rico, and reverse the climate crisis by decreasing  our reliance on fossil fuels and investing in environmentally friendly renewable energy. Now is the time to convert our war economy, cancel plans for a Space Force, and disarm our nuclear arsenal, killer drones and all weapons of war.

On May 29, the Poor People’s Campaign was also trying to address the tragic proliferation of guns in the U.S. and to demand an end to racial violence. With some 300 million guns now in the U.S., the epidemic of gun-violence across the nation claims countless lives daily. And we continue to witness the horrific killings of people of color by police and vigilantes. In our action on May 29 we were pleading with Congress to ban assault weapons (and I would add all guns), and  demand an end to the scourge of racial violence and gun-violence!

If the victims were here and could grace this courtroom with their presence, what would they tell us?  What would the several million victims of U.S. warmaking in Iraq say to us? What would the tens of thousands of victims in Afghanistan and Yemen say to us? What would  the victims of the Charleston, Las Vegas, Orlando and Parkland shootings say to us? What would  Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Nia Wilson, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, to name but a few, say to us?

In his famous song, “Blowin in the Wind,” songwriter Bob Dylan sings: “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?  This question is as relevant now as it was when Dylan first sung this verse. How many more people have to needlessly die before we take action to prevent it?

Tragically, we live in a world where killing has become the norm. Renowned psychiatrist, Robert Jay Lifton, refers to the time we live in as one of “malignant normality,” where the abnormal has become normal. (I was interrupted by the Judge and had to abbreviate most of this paragraph which is in brackets). [Examples of this date back to when the Nazi doctors cooperated with the Nazi regime to kill rather than to heal. Today, psychologists continue this practice by participating in torture at Guantanamo.  And we now have political leaders, including those in the highest positions in government,  who have tried to normalize destructive behavior. This malignant normality is now most painfully evidenced by the fact that the ending of all life on our planet has become a real possibility. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has now turned it’s Doomsday Day Clock to 2 minutes before midnight, due to the colossal dangers posed by the apocalyptic twins of climate crisis and nuclear war.  And so, as Einstein once said, we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe].

St. Paul writes that: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

William Penn: “Always put justice above the law.”

Despite what the government has claimed and charged me with, this case is really about the love and justice that St. Paul and William Penn speaks about.

The task at hand before us all is to uphold the law of love and justice and to do all we can to nonviolently stop the killing, abolish war and all weapons, end systemic racism and inequality, protect and cherish the earth and all of God’s creation and to seek to create the Beloved Community. This is what I and my friends tried to do on May 29. I invite you, Judge Matini, and Prosecutor Mason to please join us in the Poor People’s Campaign as we seek to bring about a moral revival in our country that can help transform our political and economic order into one that is based on love, justice, nonviolence and, which has as its greatest priority, serving the common good.

Judge Matini,  I committed no crime. I submit that the police order to arrest me was not lawful. I believe that I, nor my associates, should never had been arrested as we were acting within our first amendment rights. I therefore ask you to find me not guilty.  Thank you for your patience in listening to me.

Published in: on September 9, 2018 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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