Facebook Post Used to Justify Setting $350,000 Bail for Arrested Black Lives Matter Activist Ja’mal Green in Chicago
September 26, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There is an important legal case in Chicago that, if allowed to stand, could set a very dangerous precedent nationally for not only violating due process, but for allowing the police, prosecutors, and the courts to use bogus legal charges and exorbitant bail as repressive instruments against protests and other legally protected forms of exercising First Amendment rights, and more fundamentally, against movements of resistance and revolution. This political act of repression cannot be allowed to set a precedent—everyone who stands for justice must be part of defeating it.
Nationwide, police continue day after day to murder and terrorize Black and Latino people, enforcing the system’s genocidal program, and they are almost never punished. But people who protest this police terror are brutalized and arrested, and there is a growing pattern of heavy charges being put on protesters for the “crime” of demanding that police murder stop. In Chicago a very visible young activist against police murder, Ja’mal Green, is facing nine felony counts for leading a peaceful protest July 9 against the police murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, at the Taste of Chicago, a major event downtown. Fellow protesters say the police version of events is completely untrue and that they just grabbed Ja’mal unprovoked. A video shows him standing on a barricade when a cop grabs him by the leg and pulls him to the ground.
Then even more outrageously, Ja’mal’s bail was set at $350,000, after prosecutors cited a Facebook post Ja’mal wrote after the Dallas police shootings. Even though the post clearly stated, “I’m not promoting it, but I’m not denouncing it either,” the prosecution argued that Ja’mal’s post illustrated a clear “anti-police platform.” Over Ja’mal’s lawyer’s objections that the posts were protected speech, the judge let the prosecutor’s arguments continue and said the posts “concerned” her and that Ja’mal was “not peaceful.” While she denied the post would influence her decision on bail, the judge then proceeded to set it at $350,000. Ja’mal’s lawyer called this out for what it is: “punitive” and “outrageous.”
Whatever one thinks of what Ja’mal said on his Facebook post or how he said it, this is speech protected by the Constitution, and it is a clear violation of his First Amendment rights to set his bail based on something he wrote on social media. Ja'mal’s attorney said, “That is the kind of bond you would set for a violent crime, not for a protest.”
Many prominent people spoke out on Ja’mal’s behalf, citing his contributions to the community, but the judge refused to lower the draconian bond. Broad support raised the funds for bond within a week and Ja’mal was released, but the judge put him on 24/7 house arrest with the stipulation that he must stay off social media. After more public outcry, these conditions were rescinded, and Ja’mal has continued to be outspoken about police terror, including as the public spokesperson for the family of Paul O’Neal, an 18-year-old murdered by the CPD in South Shore (see “Chicago Police Videos of Paul O’Neal Killing Released: Black Teenager Was Unarmed—‘It was cold-blooded murder’”) soon after Ja’mal was released from jail.
Ja’mal was a determined activist throughout the weeks-long protests last November through January against the police murder of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in cold blood by a Chicago cop. The authorities are terrified of the situation in Chicago since the McDonald videos were released in November. The ugly truth about the cold-blooded murder and the exposure of the cover-up to protect the murdering cop by all levels of the police department, the so-called Independent Police Review Board, the state’s attorney’s office, the City Law department, and the mayor set off a legitimacy crisis.
The deeply entrenched racist, brutal nature of the Chicago Police Department led by Obama’s own former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was exposed nationally and internationally for all to see, and they have been trying to stuff the outrage back in the bottle ever since through repression of the protests and by promising “investigations” and illusory reforms. But the relentless police murders around the country, including the CPD murder of Paul O’Neal and the resistance of the people in response, have repeatedly ripped the scab off the raw wounds of outrage. Protests continue to break out. In the face of this, the police intensified the attacks on Ja’mal and some of the other outspoken young activists, not just at the protests themselves, but monitoring their social media as well. It is worth noting that just after midnight on July 9, over 18 hours before Ja’mal was arrested at the protest, a Chicago police blog, Second City Cop, posted a jpg of the same Facebook post that the prosecutor used to depict Ja’mal as dangerous, and coupled it with a taunt to the police chief to do something about Ja’mal.
Eighteen other protesters were also arrested at the July 9 protest, and many of them had their phones confiscated for more than 10 days “for investigation.” Another protester, Louis, was charged with a felony and his bail set at $100,000, and 17 others received lesser charges. Jared, an activist well-known to protesters and police alike, was initially arrested on minor charges and released on his own recognizance. Then weeks later, he was arrested by police as he left his misdemeanor court hearing, and his charge was raised to a felony for supposedly spitting on a cop. On September 10, yet another of the activists against police murder, a 17-year-old, was arrested and charged with a felony “threatening a public official” for repeatedly challenging an alderman (captured on video) by saying, “What are you doing about our kids getting gunned down?” at a public park dedication.
Retaliatory arrests of protesters, as well as individuals, just for criticizing or recording police, in violation of their constitutional rights, is part of a national phenomenon. Even the U.S. Department of Justice report on Baltimore policing released in August had to comment on this:
The people of Baltimore have a constitutional right to observe and verbally criticize the police. “Since the day the ink dried on the Bill of Rights, the right of an American citizen to criticize public officials and policies is the central meaning of the First Amendment.” McCurdy v. Montgomery County, 240 F.3d 512, 520 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). We found that BPD officers routinely infringe upon the First Amendment rights of the people of Baltimore City, typically in one of three ways. First, we found that BPD unlawfully stops and arrests individuals for speech they perceive to be disrespectful or insolent. Second, we found that officers retaliate against individuals for protected speech through the use of excessive force. Third, we have concerns that BPD improperly interferes with individuals who record police activity....
For example, an officer in downtown Baltimore in 2011 “felt ... that it was reasonable” to order a young African-American man to leave the area because he “had no respect for law enforcement” and was “making idle threats towards a uniformed officer.” As the young man walked away accompanied by a friend, the two made additional comments mocking the officers and the BPD; 15 minutes later, the officer again spotted the two men in the same area and placed both under arrest for failure to obey. “The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principle characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462–63 (1987).... By ordering the young men to leave, and then arresting them for their comments, the officer violated their First Amendment right to peacefully and verbally criticize or oppose law enforcement officers without actively interfering with the officers’ lawful performance of their duties.
We cannot allow the police and the prosecutors and courts to get away with this blatant retaliation against Ja’mal or any of the protesters. The U.S. rulers, enforcing exploitation in the U.S. and worldwide with endless wars and unparalleled violence in the name of “democracy,” must not be allowed to increase draconian repression to crush righteous movements of resistance and revolution. This railroad must not be allowed to stand, and everyone with a conscience should work to stop it.
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