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2004-01-09

Protest Round-up: Anti-Ford Protests in LA; Man Fined for Holding Sign; Fired SF Chronicle Speaks; Teen Protester Faces Jail

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We will talk to a South Carolina man who was fined $500 for holding a protest sign; a former SF Chronicle reporter who was fired for his anti-war views; a New York teen activist who faces jail time; and an anti-Ford protester in Los Angeles. [includes transcript]

On Thursday, human rights and environmental activists repelled down a 32-story skyscraper near the Los Angeles Auto Show and unveiled a large banner reading "Ford: Holding America Hostage to Oil."

The protest was organized by Global Exchange and the Rainforest Action Network. On Thursday we talked to one of the protesters while she was on the side of the building.

  • Kate Berrigan, anti-war and social justice activist. She is the daughter of Elizabeth McAlister and Philip Berrigan.

Four teenagers from Ithaca, New York are scheduled to begin serving 4 consecutive weekends in prison today for their participation in an antiwar demonstration at a military recruitment center in December 2002. At the time of the action 3 of them were 17 and one was 18. They were convicted of third-degree criminal trespass and refused to pay any fines for their action. A judge has issued a stay on their sentence while the 4 young women appeal the decision.

  • Ana Grady Flores, 18, was sentenced to 4 weekends in prison for participating in an antiwar demonstration at a military recruiting station in December 2002.

Longtime political activist Brett Bursey was fined $500 on Tuesday after a judge found him guilty of entering a restricted area during a presidential visit.

Bursey is 55 years old. He was arrested in October 2002 for simply holding a sign that read "No War For Oil" outside a President Bush speech. He was charged with the federal crime of threatening the president’s safety and had faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Bursey was originally charged by with trespassing at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. But the state dropped the trespassing charges and local US Attorney, Strom Thurmond Jr., filed the much more severe charges of threatening the safety of the president.

  • Brett Bursey, South Carolina man charged with threatening the president’s safety for holding up a sign that read "No War For Oil" outside a Bush fundraiser. He was fined $500 yesterday for breaking a federal law designed to shield the president from harm.

The San Francisco Chronicle has announced it had reached a financial settlement with a former journalist it fired after he was arrested during an anti-war rally last year.

Technology columnist Henry Norr was participating in the massive direct action protests that spread across the Bay area on the day after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began.

The next day his column on computers and technology was pulled and he was suspended for a month. He was officially fired a month later.

At the time of his arrest last month, Chronicle policies did not ban participation in demonstrations. The paper’s ethics policy stated that, "The Chronicle does not forbid employees from engaging in political activities but needs to prevent any appearance of any conflict of interest."

Critics accused the Chronicle of firing Norr for political reasons. Not only had Norr protested the invasion of Iraq but he was also outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The Chronicle, announced the settlement in its pages Monday without detailing the deal. Norr remains in the Chronicle’s pension plan and has health care benefits through the newspaper’s retirement plan.

  • Henry Norr, reached a settlement with the San Francisco Chronicle after the paper suspended him last April after attending an anti-war protest.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today in this last segment, we’re going to talk about protests around the country. On Thursday, human rights activists, environmentalists, rappelled down a 32-story skyscraper near the Los Angeles Auto Show. We got a call from Kate Berrigan who was on the side of the building yesterday in a protest organized by Global Exchange and the Rainforest Action Network.

KATE BERRIGAN: This is Kate Berrigan. I am calling from downtown Los Angeles where I’m hanging off the state of a 32-story building called the Transamerica building. I’m here with Hayden Belowen. We have just hung a banner off the building saying, "Ford, holding America hostage to oil." And the reason we’re doing that is that with Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange is that two blocks away in the Convention Center here, the L.A. Auto show is happening. We really want to be encouraging Ford right now to pursue fuel efficiency. Ford is the only car company that doesn’t have a hybrid in progress. And the average Ford vehicle or the typical Ford vehicle on the road right now gets fewer miles per gallon than the model they did 80 years ago. So we really just want to encourage Ford to pursue that technology, which already exists and to be the environmental car company that they say they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what you mean when you say you’re hanging off a building?

KATE BERRIGAN: Well, Hayden and I each have a rope set up that are anchored on the roof and we have rappel systems locked into there as well as systems to go up. And we rappelled down with the banner, and tied it off to the building at the top and the middle and we’re hanging out here right now at the bottom. Yeah, the banner says, "Ford, that’s the Ford logo, holding America hostage to oil," and then there’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty being held up by a gas nozzle. Then it has Rainforest Action Network’s and Global Exchange’s logos at the bottom. And it says, jumpstartford.com, which is the name of the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: How long have you been hanging there, and are there people there who are trying to get you down?

KATE BERRIGAN: Yeah. I think we have been up here about an hour, something like that, maybe a little longer. I sort of have lost track of time. There’s maybe 20 fire department vehicles down on the ground, maybe police cruisers and my understanding is that there’s also urban response teams, fire department and police department up on the roof. They’re encouraging us to come down or come up.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you going to do?

KATE BERRIGAN: We’re unhooking our systems now. We’re going to make our way up to the top of the banner and unhook that and make our way down to the bottom of the building, which is probably another 17 stories or so from where we are now.

AMY GOODMAN: Kate Berrigan speaking to us as she was rappelling a skyscraper near the Los Angeles Auto Show, unveiling a large banner reading: "Ford, holding America hostage to oil," in a protest organized by Global Exchange and the Rainforest Action Network as we turn now from Los Angeles to upstate New York in Ithaca. Four teenagers scheduled to begin serving four consecutive weekends in prison today for their participation in an anti-war demonstration at a military recruitment center, December of 2002. At the time of the action three of them were 17, one was 18. They were convicted of third degree criminal trespass and refused to pay any fines for their action. A judge has issued a stay on their sentence while the four young women appeal their decision. We’re joined now by Ana Grady Flores who was one of those who has been sentenced to spend her weekends in jail. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ana.

ANA GRADY FLORES: Hi, Amy, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: First, tell us why you were protesting and what you did?

ANA GRADY FLORES: Basically, we were just —- the protests happened before the war started and we were trying to protest the war, and the upcoming war, and just educate our young men and women in the service that there are opportunities for them besides the military, and that we don’t want them to go and die in a war that is unlawful and unneeded, and we just wanted to let them know that we didn’t want them to go and fight and get sick with depleted uranium and things like that. So, there are about 300 of us that turned out that day for a silent walk through our local mall, and after that, we proceeded to another mall, after we were kicked out of that mall. We went across the street to another mall and proceeded in a die-in at one of our recruiter centers. There were 13 of us and four of us were underage. I myself was 16. Ana was 16. Una was 17, and so was Marie. Una and Marie are my cousins. We were able to lie there for an hour-and-a-half, and eventually they did arrest us and charge us with criminal trespass of the third degree, which is a misdemeanor. We then eventually went to court. We were separated from the adults. The adults’ charges were doped down to a violation. And our charge was stayed as a misdemeanor, which is a higher charge, and basically so they wouldn’t have to have a jury trial for the adults and they’re not aloud to give youthful offenders a jury trial. It wouldn’t cost them any money. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction when you heard that you would have to spend these weekends in jail?

ANA GRADY FLORES: I was very surprised because beforehand, we did negotiate — the day of our sentencing, we did negotiate with the D.A., and were being offered community service of our choice, and to pay a fine of our choice, but it had to be — to a non-profit organization, and we thought that was great. We were excited about that, and we decided we wanted to work with the American Friends Service Committee, and — which is the young people alternatives to the military, and we wanted to work just educating our young men and women here, about different alternatives, just like we said in the beginning, you know, that’s what we were there in the recruiting center for. And so the D.A. said that that was okay, and we needed to give $100 to a non-profit organization, and we agreed. But when we went into the courtroom, the judge said that that was not okay with him. And he was going to teach us a lesson, and there was — he was going to — I don’t know, he — he was ridiculous, but he said he was not accepting that, and he — and so, the D.A. had to decide something else. He said, okay, fine. We’re going to ask for $100 fine and restriction order from the military recruiter center.

AMY GOODMAN: Ana, we have ten seconds. So, the judge has said you have to go to jail, but now a judge has stayed this while you appeal this decision?

ANA GRADY FLORES: Exactly. We’re going to court Monday. We are not going to jail today. We are supposed to be scheduled to appear at the county jail at 6:00 p.m. today. But we are not because we did schedule an appeal on Monday of this week, and we are going to appear in front of the county court next Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ana Grady Flores, I want to thank you very much for being with us. As we move now down to South Carolina, looking at a piece that’s a common dreams newscenter, commondreams.org, from the San Francisco Chronicle by James Bovard. It says: "When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up 'free speech zones' or 'protest zones' where people opposed to Bush policies and sometimes sign carrying supporters are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of the media covering the event." Well, Brett Bursey was subjected to one of these. The long-time political activist was fined $500 Tuesday after a judge found him guilty of entering such a restricted area during a presidential visit. Brett Bursey, can you tell us what you did and about this fine, about being found guilty? Where were you?

BRETT BURSEY: Well, the debatable issue is whether I was in a restricted zone knowingly and willfully and refused to leave. The case that the federal government brought against me, they didn’t bring charges until five months after the incident. I was arrested at the time for trespassing by local police more than 200 yards away from the building that Bush is in holding a sign that says, "No War for Oil." And I’m approached and told that I have to go to the "free speech zone," which is about a half mile away. And after arguing with them for ten minute, I moved further away from the building. They told me I couldn’t be there. The only place I could be was the "free speech zone." The Secret Service ordered the local police to arrest me for trespassing. Five months later, I’m indicted by the federal government under a statute that regulates presidential threats, kidnapping, and assassinations. It gives the Secret Service the authority to establish a restricted area around the president. The judge believed the prosecution that I had the intent of being arrested, and that I knew that it was a federally restricted area. Though no one mentioned that at the time and as a matter of fact, what people were saying, what the police were saying was that I had to go to the "free speech zone," and I was arrested for trespassing. So, I lost the case, was fined $500. I was facing six months and $5,000, so the judge split the middle trying to make everyone happy. But we’re not happy. This is the first prosecution of the federal statute that empowers the Secret Service to set up these restricted zones around the president that they can keep everyone out of. And the "free speech zones" are now a separate matter. We have determined that the Secret Service is ordering local police to set these up, while the Secret Service’s own manual on demonstrations that we got under discovery, prohibits the Secret Service from segregating peaceful protesters from the general public. We have learned a good deal about the way the Secret Service is supposed to work and the way they do work, and we want to share that with people who may have a visit from George Bush or Dick Cheney, if he ever comes out of hiding. The Secret Service manual pages are posted on our website as of midnight tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Your website is?

BRETT BURSEY: www.sc, as in south carolina, pronet, as in progressive network. www.scpronet.com.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we are going to move now to San Francisco from South Carolina. The San Francisco Chronicle has announced it has reached a financial settlement with a former journalist it fired after he was arrested during an anti-war rally last year. We are joined on the phone by technology columnist — or well once technology columnist Henry Norr. You can tell us about this settlement and what happened?

HENRY NORR: Hi. Yeah, it was a pretty big victory for me, I think. I didn’t get the job back, but at least I made them pay a price for it. I got a financial settlement. I got my pension and some benefits, and best of all, I got to state my piece in the paper. We — they agreed to run a story in which I have would have a couple of paragraphs. And I got to explain that I was fired for my political activity, and that that was clearly illegal, and unfair and undemocratic. And so, I — I agreed to take the deal. I — I’m sorry that I didn’t get the job back in the sense —- not that I had such a burning desire to go back there, but I did want to make the point that their behavior was illegal. The problem was that they -—

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

HENRY NORR: They essentially said if I did get a reinstatement order, that they would never let me write again with a by-line. I would be buried somewhere. That was not a very attractive prospect. The counteroffer was — the other parts were pretty sweet, so I took it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Henry Norr, now former San Francisco Chronicle reporter. That does it for the program today.

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