Reporter’s Notebook

Victory in the Trial of Four STOP “Stop & Frisk” Freedom Fighters—The Struggle Continues

by Li Onesto | November 25, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


November 15, Queens, New York. The jury in the trial of four STOP “Stop & Frisk” freedom fighters didn’t buy the prosecution’s flimsy case that tried to prove Carl Dix, Jamel Mims, Morgan Rhodewalt, and Bob Parsons were guilty of two counts of Obstruction of Government Administration and should go to jail for one year.

The six jurors came back with a NOT GUILTY verdict on both counts for all four defendants.

The jury did find all four guilty of one count of disorderly conduct, for failure to disperse—which is a violation and carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail. And on January 7, the day of sentencing, the four freedom fighters, their lawyers and supporters will be in court demanding NO JAIL TIME!

Shortly after the verdict, Carl Dix told Revolution:

"They were going to make people pay a heavy price for protesting against stop-and-frisk. They crafted it from the beginning, and they failed in this objective. They put on a case where they couldn’t provide any evidence. This verdict is a victory for our side. For this trial, we gathered support, including bringing together lawyers who wanted to fight this case. We spread the word and built the kind of fight that, in the end, prevented them from delivering their message and exacting the punishment they were aiming for. But the fight isn’t over. There are nine more people who were arrested that day who are going to be going on trial in Queens. And there are 13 people facing trial for Stop "Stop & Frisk" protests in Brooklyn. Freedom fighter Noche Diaz faces several additional trials, one in Manhattan and one in the Bronx. And all of this is part of the larger fight to stop mass incarceration."

What This Case Was Really About

Morgan Rhodewalt, Jamel Mims, Bob Parsons, Carl Dix, defense attorney Meghan Maurus and defense attorney Marty Stolar at Queens Criminal Court, November 15, 2012.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution

Morgan Rhodewalt, Jamel Mims, Bob Parsons, Carl Dix, defense attorney Meghan Maurus and defense attorney Marty Stolar at Queens Criminal Court, November 15, 2012.

The four defendants in this case were arrested as they participated in a non-violent civil disobedience protest against the NYPD's illegitimate stop-and-frisk policy in November 2011. But from the very beginning, the judge and prosecution repeatedly said this case had nothing to do with stop-and-frisk. Before the trial started the prosecution made a number of motions: They asked the judge to prevent the defense from talking at all about stop-and-frisk, saying “that’s not on trial here.” They argued against bringing in any First Amendment free speech issues. They said defendants should not be able to discuss their opinions about stop-and-frisk, that this would only "confuse the jurors." And the judge concurred on this, saying this trial was "not an opportunity for a soapbox" to discuss the nature of stop-and-frisk procedures.

The judge and the DA wanted jurors to judge the case only on whether or not the defendants had in some way obstructed the business of the 103rd precinct that day and committed the violation of disorderly conduct.

But the reason these four freedom fighters and 16 other people were arrested that day has everything to do with the fact that they were protesting the illegitimate, racist NYPD policy of stop-and-frisk, which stops and harasses hundreds of thousands every year, especially Black and Latino youth. The four had taken their message of protest right to the front of the precinct responsible for the 2006 murder of 23-year-old Sean Bell, a precinct that has one of the highest numbers of stop-and-frisks. And this protest was part of a whole campaign aimed at bringing public attention to the utter illegitimacy of this policy. THIS was why the DA’s office was set on making these freedom fighters pay a high price for the courageous stand they took that day. And the defendants and their attorneys, Marty Stolar, Meghan Maurus, and Tom Hillgardner, along with many supporters, were determined to defeat these efforts. 

The DA’s Lame Case

In pre-trial motions and opening arguments, the prosecutors claimed they would show how the defendants had disrupted important precinct business. They said they would prove that because of the protest, 911 calls went unanswered, prisoners couldn’t be transferred, and other important precinct functions were prevented. But by the time it came to closing arguments, the prosecution stood before the jury arguing that the defendants should be found guilty because.... one cop was a few minutes late to work and roll call was a little late that day... period. And even this assertion had no real evidence to back it up.

In fact, the commander of the precinct testified that the normal business of the precinct was NOT disrupted during the seven minutes the protesters were in front of the door. Defense lawyers pointed out how in fact it was the NYPD’s own doing—setting up barricades and creating a frozen zone where no one except cops were allowed—that prevented members of the public from getting to the precinct. Police logs, entered as evidence by defense lawyers, revealed that it is not unusual for roll call to be late. And the prosecution didn’t argue that there was any connection between this supposed late roll call and the demonstration outside the precinct.

A Pre-Planned Set Up

The prosecution’s main witness was the commander of the precinct, Deputy Inspector Charles McEvoy, and what was revealed in his testimony was a plan to set up protesters for arrest. In closing arguments, defense attorney Marty Stolar laid this out for the jury: Hours before the protest there was all kinds of planning—barricades were set up, cops from other precincts were called in along with police from Community Affairs, and a legal adviser from the NYPD Legal Bureau; a frozen zone was set up where no one could enter. When the protesters arrived they were stopped at the barricades. But after a very short while, the police actually opened the gate and not only let protesters in but actually escorted them to the front of the doors. Then, after only a few minutes, McEvoy gives a warning (without a bullhorn) telling people they will be arrested if they don’t leave. A few more minutes go by, another warning is given, and then the cops begin arresting people. From the time the gate was opened until the last arrest was made, only 10 minutes went by!

In closing, defense attorney Stolar told the jury, "Why did they open the gate and escort them to the front of the precinct? If the object [with the barricades] was to keep them from the precinct, they succeeded. They let them in, it appears, in order to give them the opportunity to arrest them... Why did they [the police] let them in? If the only reason was to arrest them, convict them, and make them pay the price, then you should not convict."

Freedom Fighters Take the Stand

Despite the repeated objections of the DA, upheld by the judge, to keep any testimony about the outrageous NYPD policy of stop-and-frisk and the murder of Sean Bell out of the trial and away from the jurors—this still came through.

The prosecution itself offered as evidence of the defendants' obstructing government administration a video showing the crowd of passionate protesters chanting, "We won't stop until we STOP 'Stop & Frisk'" and "We are all Sean Bell, NYPD Go to Hell." The jurors then saw the police arrest the freedom fighters as they continued to chant.

The jurors also had the chance to hear from three of the defendants. Jamel Mims, the first defendant to take the stand, painted a picture of how about 100 had rallied in the park, how people in the community had joined them, how they had marched through the neighborhood. He talked about the intentions of the protesters that day—not to stop business at the precinct—but to do civil disobedience as an “escalated form of protest” with the aim that with “these actions people would be challenged to confront this human rights issue.”

Morgan Rhodewalt testified next. He talked about being a Quaker and how at the end of 2011 he had came down from Massachusetts to witness Occupy Wall Street, bringing vegetables from his farm. Over six weekends he became part of Occupy at Zuccotti Park where he met people who were organizing to STOP “Stop and Frisk,” and joined in this struggle. The morning of the protest at the 103rd precinct he woke up early to make the 3½ hour drive to Queens. When asked what he brought with him that morning, Morgan said, "I brought my energy, inspiration, a warm jacket, tha'’s about it."

Carl Dix was the last defendant to take the stand. Dix explained, "We had determined previously that we saw stop-and-frisk in relation to larger issues. Some people wanted to lobby around this, pass laws, etc. But not enough people knew about this and we felt we needed to work on that part, do something to bring this issue to as many people as possible, about the injustice of this policy."

Dix also talked about what actually happened that day—putting the lie to the prosecution’s telling of events. He talked about how there was a very moving rally where people spoke out about their own experience with the police, being victims of stop-and-frisk and related issues like the police murder of Sean Bell. He talked about their determination to protest in Queens because of the high volume of stop-and-frisks from this precinct. And he also described how it was the police who opened the gate right behind him and then escorted the protesters to the front of the precinct, and then minutes later started arresting people.

Protest against stop-and-frisk in Jamaica, Queens, New York, November 19, 2011

Protest against stop-and-frisk in Jamaica, Queens, New York, November 19,  2011

The prosecution had tried to prevent all the real issues and actual facts of this case from coming out. A juror—who had stated she was against stop-and-frisk—was kicked off the jury after she was arrested for disorderly conduct as she left the courthouse. And the prosecution then tried to get a mistrial. (See "Juror Arrested and Kicked Off Jury, DA Calls for a Mistrial, Top Cop Testifies on Plan to Arrest Protesters...," Revolution #285, November 18, 2012) But the lawyers and defendants—despite repeated motions, objections, and jumping up and down by the prosecution—were able to give the jury a sense of what the trial was really about and what actually happened that day and why they should NOT be punished.

After the verdict was delivered, one juror said, "We didn’t want the defendants to go to jail because they didn’t do anything bad."

The Fight Isn’t Over

This verdict is a victory for our side. But the fight isn’t over. Nine more people who were arrested that day are going on trial soon and there are 13 people facing trial for STOP "Stop and Frisk" protests in Brooklyn. Freedom fighter Noche Diaz faces several additional trials, one in Manhattan and one in the Bronx. And all of this is part of the larger fight to stop mass incarceration.

As the trial was going into its last week, Carl Dix wrote:

"Mass incarceration has almost 2.4 million people warehoused in prisons across the country, two thirds of them Black or Latino. Almost 5 million people on parole or probation treated like second class citizens, discriminated against when looking for work, barred from living in public housing or receiving government loans, often not even allowed to vote. Racial profiling serves as a pipeline to mass incarceration. When you add in the loved ones of all these people, there are tens of millions of people living their lives enmeshed in the web of the criminal justice system. This comes down to a slow genocide targeting Black people....

"Despite the protestations of the judge and the prosecutors that this trial isn’t about stop-and-frisk, it’s clear to me that what’s on trial here is people’s ability and right to stand up and say NO MORE to stop-and-frisk and the whole way this country’s criminal ‘injustice’ system comes down on people. If they get away with convicting and jailing us without a fight, it will send a message that those who resist all the brutality and repression brought down on the people will suffer heavy punishment for doing that. On the other hand, winning this legal battle will inspire many more people to join in resistance to injustice and feed the hopes of many that the continuing disaster this system has been raining down on Black people can be taken on and beaten back." ("Reflections on Natural, and Man-made, Disasters and Standing Up Against the Oppression of Black People," Revolution online, October 31, 2012)

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