#UCLA5 Trial: A Righteous Verdict Shows Wellspring of Anger and Potential

| revcom.us


Four members of Refuse Fascism, LA and the Revolution Club were just found NOT GUILTY in a case that should’ve never gone to trial. They were facing up to TWO YEARS in jail for speaking out when the fascist Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came to speak at UCLA.

How this happened is a story of people taking a stand against oppression, coming under unjust attack, and using every avenue they had—including the procedures of the courtroom itself—to carry that struggle forward. The fact that they were charged at all shows how late the hour is getting; the way that they won indicates that there is still time to reverse the march toward fascism.

Why were they arrested?

In February 2018, Steve Mnuchin was speaking at UCLA to a rowdy room of protesters hissing and booing. These included students, faculty and even a two-person theater troupe dressed as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI who passed out cake before the event in reference to Marie Antoinette’s cruel response to starving peasants, “let them eat cake.” Throughout his speech, Mnuchin engaged the audience, demanding to know why they were hissing and informally polling them about sanctions and wages. At one point, Mnuchin asked someone why they were hissing and they answered, “because you’re full of shit.” About 15 minutes in, three revolutionaries, including a UCLA student and an alum, spoke out exposing the role Mnuchin is playing as a member of Trump’s cabinet, the real world impact of his tax bill and sanctions that were being imposed on North Korea. No one else who protested was silenced, but within seconds of speaking, the revolutionaries were warned by UCLA administrators to stay quiet. We found out later that Louis XVI stood up and yelled out after Mnuchin’s speech, “All hail the foreclosure king!” and was able to get his point across. After less than 60 seconds, each of the revolutionaries was forcibly picked up and dragged out of their seats by the UCPD on the instructions of UCLA administrators. They were roughed up and bruised in the arrest and charged with disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.

Two other members of the Revolution Club were outside, alerting people to the arrests that had taken place inside, and they too were targeted and arrested with no warning. These two later had all charges dropped because they had committed no crime!

The defendants were given a seven day ban from campus which they defied to participate in a March 1 student protest, 11 minutes of silence for 11 million undocumented immigrants and again, several days later, to see the whistleblower Chelsea Manning speak on campus. Because of this, two of the defendants were also facing charges of “trespassing” in violation of this ban.

The LA City Attorney filed these charges six months later, simultaneously with charges from separate incidents from the Fall of 2017 when members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club blocked morning rush hour traffic on the 101 Freeway in downtown LA, with a 50 foot banner that said: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! See the sidebar on the upcoming Freeway9 cases. At the time, a total of 57 charges were brought against 11 defendants. This was a coordinated attempt to harass and criminalize these activists, bringing down charges with significant jail time. This was an outright political prosecution of people for their radical politics in an attempt to silence members of the Revolution Club and Refuse Fascism and intimidate people from joining with them or taking similar actions—a chilling silencing of protest and dissent in a time of consolidating fascism.

The filing of these charges, and overall prosecution of these cases, is also a product of an LAPD investigation that was run by the Anti-Terrorist Division/Major Crimes Division, which sent an infiltrator into Refuse Fascism meetings to spy on and record meetings and private conversations.  The Revolution Club has also been targeted at UCLA. Police reports revealed the UCPD was surveilling the Revolution Club, recording their activities and the license plate of someone with the Club when on campus carrying out constitutionally protected political organizing. The LAPD spying operation was approved by the Chief of Police along with a number of other high-ranking pigs. What we are still working to determine, and what all people concerned with civil liberties should demand be investigated, is the level of coordination in all this, with the City Attorney and other high-ranking officials in the Democratic-controlled LA City government, and how high up all this went.

What all this does reveal is how the people most determined to stand up to STOP this fascist regime—have been targeted for surveillance and repression, persecution and prosecution.

Political Persecution

As the accompanying story A Thoroughly Political Prosecution shows, the whole way these charges were brought and the case was prosecuted was on a political basis—in opposition to the prosecution’s claims that this was a cut and dried criminal case.

  • The prosecutor herself cross-examined the defendants as to their political beliefs and motivations, memberships, etc.
  • UCLA admitted initiating the arrests as part of a new policy that effectively would have prevented people from speaking out at Hitler rallies in Nazi Germany, or protesting against George Wallace when he used the state to enforce segregation. While UCLA claimed to uphold free speech, the actual right to free speech pertains to the prohibition of the government suppressing free speech and NOT masses of people protesting the government. Yet here UCLA uses the rubric of free speech to actually suppress protest against a major government figure!
  • Evidence that the cops had brutalized the defendants was suppressed until just before the trial ended, forcing the judge to drop the resisting arrest charges. This evidence also revealed that the cops had lied on the stand, as they had testified that there had been no undue force in the arrests.
  • The Revolution Club had been stalked and spied on by the University of California Police Department due to its political association.
  • After the arrests, the prosecutor then met with the University to “advise” them on their policy. Again, in the name of the First Amendment—which is supposed to protect the right of individuals and groups to speak from government suppression—the University was getting advice from the state itself on how to shut down dissent.
  • Finally, in his jury instructions, the judge decided not to include an important clause of the trespassing statute that ensures it should NOT be used to violate First Amendment rights!

A highly politicized courtroom

The proceedings were interesting from Day One. The whole process of jury selection (also known as voir dire) was very political and polarized. There were 60 prospective jurors from West LA, mainly professionals of all ages with some mix of nationalities.

While a few jurors spoke in favor of Trump, most had a visceral reaction against the whole administration. Some of the jurors spoke outright, “if this is a protest against Trump, I can’t be neutral.” One woman spoke in depth how her father was tortured in a concentration camp because of his political beliefs. She argued that sometimes you have to break the law and step outside of what’s acceptable to leave future generations with a better world.

In answering a question about her views on law enforcement, an older Black woman talked about what it means to be a Black person in America. She said she had friends who were cops but she has some bias against the police just from being a person of color in this country. In relation to free speech, she talked about the dangers right now because people are acting violently inspired by what others are saying, and pointed to the church shooting in Charlotte. When asked if she would decide based on what the law is she replied, “That laws are always changing. And that some laws were made to be broken. If people break some laws, it’s because they’re trying to make a change because there is something that needs to be changed.” She talked about how the role of a jury sometimes is not to hold the defendant to the letter of the law because it is the law that is wrong, not the defendants. Needless to say, she was kicked off the jury. But her comments helped impact the whole room.

A major question running through the whole voir dire was people’s views towards protest. Several people said protest was ok, “if it doesn’t inconvenience me.” For example, a travel agent complained about protests in India or Hong Kong because it was such a big professional inconvenience. A few people talked about the inconvenience of traffic jams caused by protest. But many more talked about the need for protest, including protest that steps outside the bounds of what society at that point believes “acceptable” in order to make change. One man who ended up being on the jury, when asked if he was a protester, answered, “I wish I had that much passion.”

Coming to a verdict

In coming to a not guilty verdict, the jurors felt they decided based on what the evidence showed—that the charges were illegitimate, that the defendants did not commit a crime, and even more that what they did was righteous.

A few of the jurors said they began to understand what the trial was really about when the defendants took the stand. They were not sure the defendants would testify and that all of them did was important. They got to know who these people were and why they did what they did and the jurors told us how impressed they were by the confidence and eloquence of the defendants. As one juror said, “you were not just passionate, but determined to really end these injustices.” Through the testimony, the cross-examination and the defense they came to understand why the protests took place with such urgency and what the stakes were in this trial.

A number of the jurors were upset this case was even brought to trial, and felt the civil rights of the defendants were violated. One juror said her jaw literally dropped when she watched Tala yanked out of her seat by the UCPD at the Mnuchin event, and that the whole thing upset her to tears.

Not only did ALL 12 jurors recognize that protesting fascism is not a crime, many of them were profoundly inspired. After the verdict was read, at least five jurors came out of the jury box with tears in their eyes, hugging the defendants and thanking them for what they did. One juror wants to join Refuse Fascism, and came to see through the trial why people need to act. After the trial, some of the jurors also talked about the impact the defendants’ testimony had on them. First, that all the defendants testified at all, when the jurors know this isn’t a requirement.

Some of the jurors also commented on the relationship the Defendants forged with their attorneys. The warmth and respect among the lawyers and Defendants shone through, including the rarity of this being a collective effort. In the courtroom itself, the lawyers worked as a team: cross-examining witnesses not only in relationship to “their clients” but to show the illegitimacy of the charges as a whole. They did this even after being reprimanded by the judge. This was different than the “every person for themselves” ethos that usually predominates with every lawyer defending ONLY their client. The whole defense team was acting with right, and truth, on their side and they treated the government’s case as having no legitimacy at all. The legal team included people with a lot of experience fighting political cases and others with none of this experience—but the combination of insights, legal knowledge and creativity, openness to learn from others and a continued re-grounding in the stakes and political nature of these cases forged something very powerful.

A Critical Lesson

Two years ago, these defendants acted with a farsightedness about the dangers of this regime and what the people need to do in the face of this. As they were being arrested, one of the defendants spoke to the audience: “Don’t be people who normalize or be a part of going along with this.” They called on people to act commensurate with the extreme danger of this regime: “We need to drive this fascist regime from power. And unite everyone who can be united, right now, in the streets... We refuse to accept a fascist America. Trump and Pence must go!”

They stood up when others didn’t. For this, they’ve been targeted, surveilled, harassed, brutalized, arrested and dragged into court. But in doing this, they began to break open a different dynamic: inspiring people broadly to stand with them and act themselves. There is a powerful lesson here on what can be broken open if you do not back down in the face of repression—and instead take your struggle to the people.

UCLA defendants

Outrageously, the Freeway9 cases are still pending, with hearings on October 21 and October 29. This includes two defendants who already went to trial ending in a hung jury with nine voting for acquittal. They are facing up to THREE YEARS in jail for sounding the alarm against fascism and instead of being celebrated, City Attorney Mike Feuer and the LAPD has harassed, surveilled and persecuted these heroes. Enough! Call Feuer to demand these illegitimate charges be dropped, 213.978.8100 or message @Mike_Feuer. Contribute to the legal and political defense. Spread this on social media.

A Thoroughly Political Prosecution

This level of political targeting, including major violations of the basic rights of the defendants, came to light throughout the trial.

• Despite the repeated claims from the prosecution that this was not a prosecution based on the politics of the defendants—and that the case was “as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” —the prosecutor repeatedly brought in the political mission of the Revolution Club in her cross-examination of the defendants and in her closing arguments. Instead of just talking about the crimes that the defendants were alleged to have committed, she brought in all these questions about their political views and motivations. She asked about people’s nicknames, their membership in the Revolution Club, the fact that the defendants are communists and brought in the content of their social media. The defendants, working with their lawyers, were able to turn the tables on this and expose—in open court—why they stood up against Mnuchin, why they’re on a mission to bring a whole better world into being, why they are motivated  to act  in the interests of the people of the world, why they felt so urgently compelled to stop a fascist regime and why this case was proof that what is being assembled in this regime is a DIFFERENT form of rule—one where the people will have no rights. All this inspired the jury—who through the case the defense presented came to understand the stakes of this case, and the need to protect the right to political protest.

• The whole political premise of the trial—that the defendants were preventing Mnuchin from exercising his rights by disagreeing with him! —turns the meaning of free speech on its head. The First Amendment forbids the state from suppressing speech. To prevent disagreement, even vociferous disagreement, with representatives of the state turns the whole thing upside down. It’s like saying if demonstrators chanted down Adolf Hitler or the racist Jim Crow Governor George Wallace they should have been dragged from the hall by police and jailed—which is in fact exactly what Donald Trump has called for in every fascist rally he has held.

• In the trial, three UCLA administrators testified for the prosecution, justifying a new UCLA policy and “arrest protocols” for controversial events. The UCLA Assistant Vice Chancellor of Campus Life testified that he initiated the arrests of the defendants according to a new UCLA protocol. The UCPD cops who made the arrest testified that they did not know what law had been broken, making the arrests on the say so of the UCLA administrators! This is a violation of basic police protocol. The #UCLA5 case is a test case for this new UCLA policy, a test case of a protocol that is unconstitutional and will be implemented to silence protest that dares to challenge fascism which has now ascended to power.

• The very same prosecutor trying this case held a meeting with UCLA administrators about how to handle free speech on campuses AFTER the defendants were arrested at the Mnuchin event. Again showing that the University—which should be protecting the rights of its students—is actively working with law enforcement to suppress and criminalize protest against the Trump/Pence fascist regime. This is facilitating, instead of stopping, fascism and the gutting of the First Amendment. THIS is how these protocols are being used—NOT to protect free speech but to shut down dissent. As defendant Atlas Winfrey put it, “you might as well go home and scream into your pillow because that is what they’re telling you is the only appropriate time, manner and place to protest. We’re in a situation where the ground from which we can oppose this fascism is being destroyed.”

• In a dramatic turn of events that brought the trial to a halt right before closing arguments, the prosecution revealed new evidence that forced the judge to dismiss the resisting arrest charges. The evidence included photos taken by the UCPD of bruises and scrapes on the two defendants that had been charged with resisting arrest and audio recordings that show the defendants were never read their Miranda rights even after they requested the right to speak to an attorney! This evidence proves that at least five UCPD cops lied on the stand when they claimed there was no evidence of police brutality against the defendants. Even though the jury had heard the lies from the UCPD, they were not allowed to hear why the charges they lied about were dropped or to see this new evidence. Also, the judge denied the motion for a mistrial, which the defense attorneys fought hard for.

• The judge erased an important reference to the First Amendment in the law in his jury instructions. In the trespassing law that two of the defendants were said to have violated, the law itself makes clear this does not apply when people are exercising their First Amendment rights. The judge ruled that the jury was not allowed to consider this aspect of the law in their deliberation! This was all the more outrageous because in the prosecutor’s closing arguments, she said that after all, this was a First Amendment case and the defendants violated Steve Mnuchin’s First Amendment rights by making a substantive argument in opposition to his fascist bullshit!


Get a free email subscription to revcom.us:

Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.