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Open Letter to US Ambassador in Dublin

category international | rights, freedoms and repression | news report author Thursday January 21, 2016 18:21author by Justin Morahan Report this post to the editors

Jailing of Mary-Anne Grady for taking pictures of anti-drone protest

Mary-Anne Grady Flores a grandmother from upper State New York was jailed for six months and started her sentence on Tuesday last for taking pictures of an anti-drone protest. The letter below has been sent to the US Ambassador along with the Democracy Now account of the jailing

Dear Ambassador

I have just received notification that grandmother Mary Anne Grady Flores was sent to prison on Tuesday to serve a six month sentence in the United States for having photographed a non-violent protest against drones at a point where she believed she was entitled to take pictures of the protest.

Before posting news of this amazing prison sentence on social media, I decided to contact you to register my astonishment and to protest most vigorously about the sentence. I have forwarded to you the report and shameful picture that I received courtesy of Democracy Now.

As a human rights activist, it becomes necessary for me to complain about human rights abuses in countries around the world, including the USA. The outrageous sentence imposed on Mrs Grady Flores may not rank in kind with the recent executions in Saudi Arabia, or the horrors of Isis, or the threatened executions in Egypt, or indeed the continued incarceration of prisoners, including their torture, in Guantanamo Bay.

Nevertheless her incarceration is a human rights abuse. The right to protest is sacred, especially when it is non-violent. To send anyone to prison for taking pictures of a peaceful, non-violent protest is outrageous. Mary Anne was trying to prevent the killing of innocents far from the United States by US drones. How does this make her a criminal?

I call on you Ambassador to complain against this outrage to your President and to urge him to show moral support for Mrs Grady Flores. In October 1960, Presidential candidate John F Kennedy showed moral support for the jailed Martin Luther King in Atlanta by phoning Mrs Coretta King. Two days later he was released.

Mary Anne Grady Flores and Jonathan Wallace should be released forthwith. So too should all such peaceful protestors who are in prison in the United States because of peaceful civil disobedience, including many Catholic Workers and members of other non-violent anti-war protest groups. Many of these are in delicate health and many have passed away after ill health in inhuman prison conditions left them debilitated and physically but not morally weak.

As we face the prospect of "more of the same" or worse after the US elections, it is time for President Obama to show the same concern for the rights of non-violent protestors as he has recently and properly shown for the black people whose lives have been snuffed out by gun-toting police or the citizens including children murdered by gun-toting fanatics on the streets of the USA. It is also absolutely important that he stop the drone killings and recede from State violence himself.

With best personal wishes

Justin Morahan

author by Sean Crudden - imperopublication date Thu Jan 21, 2016 20:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Your letter is self-explanatory and nicely composed. To me that should be as effective as any peaceful protest. Thanks for sharing the letter.

Related Link:
author by Mike Novackpublication date Fri Jan 22, 2016 14:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Not the specific act (HOW she violated the court order) but that she DID violate the court order.

The problem is, when you are, for example, out on bail, in this case pending appeal on an earlier case, the court CAN impose conditions for while you are out on bail, and these can forbid you to do things that you would ordinarily be allowed to do.

So the reality here is that she was sent to jail for violating an "abuse prevention order" requiring her to keep a certain distance from named persons and places.

I don't know enough details about the case to know if "did not know" a valid defense against violating the order. Having gotten too close accidentally (defense = did not know the person was there) is sometimes a defense and sometimes not, depending on how reasonable that the named person be there. So ........ (some examples)

a) Ordered to stay away from a girl who was below age 21 ------ went into a bar and she was present.
In this case the "accident" defense would almost certainly be accepted because she could be expected NOT to be in a bar because underage for drinking.

b) Ordered to stay away from a person --- went to that person's place of employment, argued that encounter accidental because did not know the person had come in that day or was absent work. Not a snowball's chance in Hell. You have to stay away from anywhere that person could reasonably be expected to be. If a neutral place and that person shows up, you have to leave, cannot argue "but I was there first".

I have seen examples of much more severe conditions imposed by courts as a condition of an activist out during appeal. Like take part in NO actions (however lawful the action might be).

But please do understand something. The essence of civil disobedience is that what you are doing is NOT lawful. If your protest action is staying strictly within the law, that would be civil obedience.

BTW, the essence of her defense was an attempt to alter the meaning of a court imposed ABO. Yes, these are very frequently imposed when there is a threat of violence. Domestic abuse cases, assault and battery cases, and in pretty much any criminal case, to stay distance away form any potential witness. The defense argument here that this common purpose meant she could ignore when a non-violent purpose. I think I already explained the "accident" part of her defense. When ABO's are involved, there is a high burden on the one restricted not to violate. So not likely to fly "was careless, not paying attention, accidentally stepped over the line". But "I was safely back far enough, but somebody behind me gave me a mighty shove" probably would be (if believed that the person shoving wasn't "helping")

author by Justin Morahanpublication date Sat Jan 23, 2016 19:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What a load of rubbish you can write Mike. Even when what you throw in some half truths.

Mary Anne was found guilty of violating a "protection order", issued in 2012, NOT on foot of domestic violence or of any violence or threat of violence whatever, but on foot of a non-violent protest against killing drones, at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse New York. This base "pilots" unmanned drones that kill people in Afghanistan and trains the technicians who operate the drones.

The person who was being "protected" against her non-violent protest was none other than the Commander of the Drone Base, Colonel Earl Evans!

She obeyed the order but the following year photographed other non-violent protestors engaging in similar civil disobedience at the same base. It was for this she was sent to jail.

So you can try to transform her brave non-violence into legal jargon as the courts do. You cannot deny that she has been jailed, outrageously, for a non-violent action.

author by Mike Novackpublication date Sun Jan 24, 2016 02:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You are perhaps imagining that I am against civil disobedience? (or that I never take part in CD actions myself?)

You can indeed be sent to jail for non-violent civil disobedience. It is the essence of civil DISobedience that it is unlawful. It is the essence of civil disobedience that it is non-violent. If violent would be UNcivil disobedience.

But she was not (in this case) being sent to jail for civil disobedience at all but for violating a court order that was a condition of remaining out of jail pending appeal. It doesn't matter particularly that the act by which she committed the contempt of court was one of civil disobedience. IF you want to be out of jail pending appeal you might be required to agree not to do all sorts of things, some of which otherwise perfectly legal. You are NOT required to accept those condition, you can instead agree to remain in jail pending the appeal.

It is also common for us activists doing CD to accept those terms but violate them by continuing to do the forbidden activity (if we instead stayed in jail couldn't do the activity).

But b*tching and moaning about it? Getting jailed is part and parcel of being a CD activist. Though SOMETIMES you get away with it (for example, look up "Lovejoy's War" --- Sam Lovejoy did NOT end up going to jail! But I assure you, when he cut the guy wires and sent that 500' weather monitoring tower cashing to the ground he expected to, accepted being jailed.

Where I am (same area as Sam) we are now fighting a fracked gas pipeline. Still in the paper blockade stage of the fight, but if they get past that, then we will be doing other things, some of us CD actions that could get us jailed. Those who will do that if the need comes will be accepting the possibility of being jailed. Others of us might do violence to property hoping not to get caught, or like Sam, doing it and turning ourselves in, in either case accepting that we might end up in jail.

But I hope none of us do any of those things and then b*tch and moan (if and when we are arrested) "but I wasn't being violent to persons".

author by Justin Morahanpublication date Sun Jan 24, 2016 11:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mike It's not like the non-violent activists whom I know to criticise fellow activists who don't follow their own exact pattern of behaviour or to accuse them of moaning and bitching for putting the State on strict proof of the legality of its own actions against them.

Good for you if you have joined the non-violent activist brigade.

When you go to jail as you think you might I will be more interested in your comments.

author by Mike Novackpublication date Mon Jan 25, 2016 13:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I realize that this is hard for most Europeans (except perhaps the Swiss) to understand, but the US is a federal republic with some pretty strict divisions of powers and responsibilities between the federal government (government of the US) and the governments of the individual states.

That letter SHOULD have been sent to Andrew Cuomo (the governor of New York). He is the "executive" with the power to intervene, able to issue a "get out of jail" card. Not, for example, Obama, because she isn't being jailed by the feds but by a state court.

The only time you might ask the federal government to interne is when you think a (federal) Constitutional right involved. You would then address your complaint to one of the Supreme Court justices (or all of them; but since their politics differs, common to pick one you think would give sympathetic attention to the matter). It would be the 5th and 6th Amendments you would try to apply to this case. Don't think you'd have much luck. About the INITIAL matter, yes, and in fact part of what the appeal was about (excessive sentence). But if to be out of jail pending appeal having been convicted for X, "meanwhile, can't do X" is so a standard a stipulated condition that I can't easily imagine* a situation where it would not be.,

(*) OK, there is one. SOMETIMES there is an appeal because after conviction something comes to light making it rather clear the conviction was wrong. Now the person can't really be freed without the formal proceedings (appeals court orders new trial which then reverses the decision of the first). But minimal conditions might be imposed on that person to be out of jail awaiting completion of that process.

PS: I actually think the charge "contempt of court" is one of the most aptly named. Isn't contempt often exactly what we feel

PSS: I again recommend "Lovejoy's War". As long as you understand that so favorable an outcome for the activist is VERY unusual. Took the combination of a sympathetic judge allowing a necessity defense AND local feeling strong enough to bring "jury sovereignty" into play.

author by Justn Morahanpublication date Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

.. about the redirection of the letter to Governor Cuomo I tried same but there's no way to send him a message if you are not in the US. Maybe you could send him a copy?

Not that anyone would expect a result any more than one would from the US Ambassador here (there was none). But they are reminded of what is happening in their name and the action of Mary Anne and others is kept in the news.

We had our own success story here in Ireland. At the start of the Iraq war, the Pitstop Ploughshares [Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damien Moran and Ciaron O'Reilly] after a marathon run of court appearances were found not guilty of damaging a US warplane in Shannon without due cause although the damage was deemed to be in millions of euro. Similarly, Mary Kelly was acquitted on a similar charge. Mary Anne attended most of the court appearances. So you see she deserves reciprocal support as well as the more fundamental support of human rights activists.

Good luck with your non-violent activism.

author by O'Sullivanpublication date Mon Feb 01, 2016 14:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Amnesty International has a policy of asking its supporters to send goodwill messages to prisoners of conscience, so Justin's letter to the US ambassador about a hard-done-by activist follows a good tradition. Justin refers to Ciaron O'Reilly of pitstop ploughshares and the Catholic Worker. I hope Ciaron, a friend of Ireland, is in good form these days, presumably in Australia.

author by Justn Morahanpublication date Wed Mar 09, 2016 12:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

On 7 March Mary Anne was released on bail pending appeal.

On 26 Feruary she had written of her mother's serious illness and the fact that she had been granted a visit to her at home.

She wrote about that visit: "I walked, shackled, wrists to waist and ankles, to be at momís side, leaning over her to kiss her big smiling face. I told her over and over that I loved her, my tears wetting her soft cheeks. I asked if she was in any pain. 'No, Iím not in pain. Iím o.k.' She kept smiling and fell asleep"

Even in the midst of the dark fog of injustice you will always find someone who tries to light a candle and perform a deed of mercy.

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