Notes from a Political Trial

The Oakland Seven were acquitted at 10:20 on the evening of Friday March 28 by four housewives, two Post Office clerks, a retired Colonel of the Marines, a statistician, a carpenter, an assembly-line inspector at General Motors, a defense plant tool and die maker, and the supervisor of construction in a radiation laboratory: by twelve people who the courtroom bailiff called “really a cross-section of life.” Juror number 12, a huge blonde lady who wore a sailor suit and sucked Tropical Fruit Lifesavers, had held out three days for conviction.

The Oakland Seven are young, white, and full-time politicians. The night they were acquitted, two of the Seven were in jail. Jeff Segal, who used to be anti-draft co-ordinator for national SDS, was serving a four-year sentence for refusing induction into the army. Mike Smith was in jail for sixty days for committing trespass and being a public nuisance during a demonstration in 1966. In 1968 Mike Smith starred in a movie about himself called The Activist. He worked in the Free Speech Movement, and spent six months with SNCC in the South. Five of the Oakland Seven had been Berkeley students. Four, including Mike Smith, were suspended for political activities.

Terry Cannon is twenty-nine, the oldest of the Seven. For two years he was an organizer for SNCC: he has written books about mathematics and he founded the newspaper The Movement. He is about to serve three months in jail for using profane language during a demonstration. The evening of the verdict, Frank Bardacke brought a television set into the courtroom and watched the San Francisco vs. Los Angeles basketball game. Frank Bardacke occasionally teaches political science. He is a political leader in the Berkeley radical community. Steve Hamilton was active in the Free Speech Movement. He lives in Richmond, an oil-town on the North Bay, and organizes among white oil-workers. Bob Mandel worked in SNCC for two summers. He used to be a full-time anti-draft organizer in Berkeley. Before the trial, Reese Erlich worked for the Peace and Freedom Party. He was almost late for the verdict on Friday night. The defense said they would start without him, but he arrived as the jury was walking in the door.

The Oakland Seven were prosecuted for conspiring to commit misdemeanors in October 1967, during Stop the Draft Week at the Oakland Induction Center. Stop the Draft Week was a week of demonstrations against the war and the draft: the Oakland Seven were tried for planning the demonstrations. Some of them had been on the Stop the Draft Week Steering Committee, some were Monitor Captains in the crowd. They were charged with conspiring (and combining, and confederating, and agreeing together) to violate Section 602(j) of the California Penal Code, Trespass, and Section 148, Resisting Arrest, or stopping a police officer from properly discharging his duty.

Under a California Statute, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is a felony. Resisting arrest is only a misdemeanor but agreeing to resist arrest …

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