Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day

May Day (aka International Workers' Day), for those who aren't historically minded, has since 1890 been a day to celebrate the international labor movement and commemorate the infamous Haymarket Massacre, when the Chicago police killed numerous demonstrators during a general strike (fighting for an eight-hour work day) in 1886. And for me, personally, it's the 112th anniversary of the birth my extraordinary grandmother, Helen Jannusch Timmel.

On this May Day, The Los Angeles Times reports that dockworkers at 29 ports up and down the West Coast of the United States have stopped work for the day to protest the US's ongoing war against Iraq.

I'm also heartened to see the Bangor Daily News's report that a Maine jury has refused to find six protesters arrested for civil disobedience guilty of criminal trespass. No one who regularly reads this blog will be at all surprised to hear that I found the following absolutely fascinating:

Brendan Trainer, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, prosecuted the case. He referred questions to District Attorney R. Christopher Almy.

“I think that the public in Maine is so disgusted with the war in Iraq that they demonstrated their disgust with this verdict,” said Almy, a Democrat. “And, that they are upset with [Sen. Olympia] Snowe and Collins for getting us involved in this debacle.”

State law, he said, does not allow the prosecution to appeal a not guilty verdict.

Almy, who praised Trainer’s presentation of the case, said the verdict most likely would affect whether his office prosecutes protesters arrested in the Federal Building in the future.

“At this point,” Almy said, “we’re going to have to consider the precedent that this verdict sets and we may very well have to consider giving these cases to the U.S. attorney to prosecute because this state court case may preclude successful future prosecutions.

“Also, I would like to say that Snowe and Collins got us involved in this mismanaged war and it may be up to them to persuade the U.S. attorney to take on these cases,” he concluded.

When informed of the verdict, Jen Burita, a spokeswoman for Collins, said Wednesday, “We are pleased that the matter has been resolved.”

U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby, who is based in Portland, said she would have to research whether her office had jurisdiction to prosecute people arrested in the federal building in Bangor. Many years ago, she said, protesters arrested at the Federal Building in Portland were prosecuted in federal court.

A woman juror who refused to be identified talked to the defendants on the courthouse steps after the verdict. She said that the war really did not factor into the verdict.

The juror said that the state did not meet its burden of proof on the first element needed to prove them guilty of criminal trespass - whether the protesters were in the Federal Building knowing they were not licensed or privileged to be there.

“I testified that I felt we had an obligation to be there,” Freeman said, when asked if he felt he had a right to be in the Federal Building after he had been told to leave.

He speculated that his acquittal and that of his co-defendants would increase the number of protests against the war.

Happy May Day to us all!

ETA: There is, as I write this, a march supporting Latino workers, in progress. I can hear more than one helicopter, monitoring it (probably out of concern for rush hour traffic than in any real interest in the march itself). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article noting some of the day's activist events.

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