To the Editors:
Two trials that affect civil liberties are pending in Seattle. The defendants are charged in the first trial with “conspiracy” to cross state lines to incite a riot and to destroy federal property; in the second trial with “aiding, abetting, counseling, procuring, inciting, and inducing” themselves and others to destroy federal property.
The first trial involves seven persons who allegedly led a demonstration protesting the conviction of the Chicago 8. Two thousand persons were at the demonstration at a federal courthouse and several windows of the courthouse were broken. This trial has received inadequate news coverage in the national media, and few realize that the trial of the Seattle 7 is not the only political trial taking place there.
The second trial involves eight young activists who were indicted in May for their reactions to the events of the week of Cambodia, Jackson State, and Kent State. Each of them faces ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Their “crime” (at which several were not present) consists, according to the indictment, of “inducing” others to damage an overhead projector and a tape recorder located inside a US naval ROTC building. One of the more disturbing characteristics of both indictments is that no one has been charged with the alleged actual damage to the buildings or their contents.
Indictments in both trials came straight from the office of Attorney General John Mitchell in Washington, DC. A prosecutor from Mitchell’s Washington office has been in Seattle to oversee these trials. It seems that in Seattle, where 60,000 persons have been laid off by Boeing and other industries, the government is more concerned with stopping a movement for social change than with the pressing problems it has not yet dealt with. Additionally, it seems incredible that after the outrageous governmental actions in May in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Kent State, and Jackson State, the only federal indictments to emerge from these events involve protest that was essentially peaceful.
It is disquieting to realize that anyone of us who happens to be involved in any way with a demonstration that the government terms “violent” could be indicted under the statutes involved in the Seattle indictments.
The federal government seems determined to break the back of protest and to intimidate everyone from organizing and promoting demonstrations. The indictments, of course, serve notice to others throughout the country to be extremely cautious in organizing to protest. They also put an extreme financial burden on those persons who are willing to risk committing themselves to peace in Southeast Asia, not to mention the burden of a prison term for those who may go to jail for this commitment.
The first trial of seven people ended in a mistrial and the defendants await a retrial in prison where they are being held on contempt charges. The judge, who acted as plaintiff, prosecutor, and jury in issuing the contempt citations also refuses to set bail for the defendants pending appeal.
The second trial of eight people is due to come to court on February 15. The pattern in Seattle may be indicative of what threatens all of us in the future as the war continues. Our success in resisting these efforts at intimidation depends on you—on your being informed and on your much needed contributions.
For further information and contributions: Seattle Legal Defense, Joan Epstein, East Coast Coordinator, 238 Dorset Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., (212) 968-1144.