According to attorneys for some of the 71 arrested protesters, many of them teachers, the District Attorney has not decided whether to file charges for trespassing, section 602 of the penal code, subsection Q – failing to leave a public building when closed “without lawful business.”
71 teachers and other protesters were arrested May 9 after about 200 of them gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol around 5 pm. The CHP told them the building was closed around 6:15 or so and began arrests a few minutes later.
Legal observers are expressing surprise the District Attorney is even considering pressing charges, especially given the financial woes of the county that makes it difficult to prosecute serious, violent crimes.
They were protesting budget cuts to education, and well as to social services, and most in the crowd were urging higher taxes on the very wealthy in the state, and an oil extraction tax.
A group of perhaps a dozen or two dozen protesters gathered outside of the Sacramento Superior Court building on Wednesday morning, to be ahead of a hearing, but a new hearing was scheduled for June 22, 2011.
They carried signs like “Tax Rich.” CT Webber, one of those who would have their hearing on Wednesday morning, told the Vanguard, “Over the last fifty years, taxes on the rich eroded to the point where now they only pay about $10 million out of an $89 billion budget in California.”
“They all got re-scheduled,” Larry Pilgrim one of the attorneys volunteering their time to help the protesters told the Vanguard by phone late Wednesday afternoon. “The reason they got re-scheduled is because the District Attorney is still looking at the information they have and deciding whether or not to file charges.”
The indication is that the District Attorney’s office may be reviewing and investigating the cases rather than simply rubber stamping the police report.
Mr. Pilgrim indicated that while the information that he has is from the protesters themselves, from his perspective it does not appear that they committed a crime.
There is considerable question about the amount of resources the DA would have to spend on pursuing charges against 71 individuals accused of basically voicing their opinions in the state legislature, the people’s house, trying to talk to their representatives.
“They were just expressing their concerns about the budget cuts,” Mr. Pilgrim said. “I’m hopeful they don’t [file charges] and I don’t have all the information yet.”
Most of them are teachers, students and professors with no criminal records.
“We really just hope for everyone’s sake that it just goes away,” he said as he declined to get into specifics about what had occurred that led to an arrest. “I just hope they review their information and decide to let it go.”
The Vanguard spoke to two individuals facing criminal charges in this matter.
CT Webber, one of the protesters, told the Vanguard he was surprised that they were prosecuting this. They had been told that they were just going to be cited and released, prior to the event.
However, when the protest occurred the orders changed. “Word came down from up high, wherever that is, and told them to book them, take them down to the jail and book them over there.”
He added that this is a message that the authorities were trying to send. “I think it’s trying to stifle dissent in California the same way they are stifling dissent around the world.”
He noted that while authorities like to stifle dissent, it is very counterproductive.
Xan Choi from Code Pink, who will be in the group with a hearing on Thursday, said that she’s outraged by the arrests and possible prosecutions in this matter.
“I am so hurt and so disappointed in our Democratic Governor and Democratic legislature who controls the California Highway Patrol,” Ms. Choi told the Vanguard outside of the courthouse Wednesday. She indicated that they were not just arrested by the highway patrol but re-arrested by the city. “We have actually been double-booked. That has never ever happened before,” she added.
“They were really afraid of what was going to happen that week in Sacramento, they were really trying to squelch democracy,” she added.
They called for a strike, no business as usual. She added that less than one percent of the people in this country control most of the resources. “For the past thirty years there has been an attack on the people in this country,” she added.
There has never been real equality in this country, but she said, “Now everyone is feeling it except for the people at the very top.”
This relates to all cuts, she said. “This legislature would rather cut money from the most vulnerable than to say we’re going to tax the rich.”
According to Cres Velluci from the Sacramento ACLU, “Instead of citing and releasing the group of 71, as they told me as the legal observer from the ACLU, I soon discovered they were ‘secreting’ them to the CHP office.”
He also confirmed that the protesters had been double-booked by both the CHP and the Sacramento Police Department. He called this, “unheard of.”
He added that they were held by police in plastic cuffs for up to 6 hours, and then they transported them to the county jail to be booked.
One professor, Mr. Velluci, said he was arrested around 6:15 pm on May 9 and was not released until 11:15 am the next morning. He told the Vanguard, “You could say they were just slow and incompetent but that only goes so far.”
He felt that after talking to the police, that the general sense was that a Wisconsin-type event was not going to happen here in California.
“There’s no reason for that, other than someone wanted to show the demonstrators this is not Wisconsin and the public cannot protest or occupy its own building,” Mr. Velluci told the Vanguard. “Hell, it’s not even Egypt where people peacefully demonstrated.”
He added that usually the CHP just cites and releases when it is more than ten people in a protest.
“It’s wrong that teachers and students were arrested for protesting at the state capitol, when the real criminals are those who waste our tax dollars on war and unneeded prisons,” Mr. Velluci told the Vanguard on Wednesday.
“Times are tough, the economy stinks, and these proposals that they were protesting were going to affect them economically drastically,” Attorney Larry Pilgrim said. “I don’t blame them for being upset and for protesting. It’s what America’s all about – their right to protest and be heard and express their concerns about something that affects them that much.”
“I think it is unfortunate that it turned into something where they are all facing criminal charges possibly,” Mr. Pilgrim stated.
While attorneys indicated that they hoped this went away, several told the Vanguard they questioned whether the charges could stand, which require that people not only trespass on public property after business hours but that they not have any lawful business.
As one attorney told us, it would be an interesting point to litigate whether a protest of government policies in the people’s legislature would constitute lawful business.
David Greenwald is a contributing writer for the California Progress Report. His online journal The People’s Vanguard of Davis uncovers the news in and around the city of Davis.