Opposition builds against ‘LA’s Mubarak’
Activists spoke out today against City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s criminalization of non-violent political protesters. They called on Trutanich to drop the charges against over 30 activists, just moments after their pre-trial hearings at the downtown courthouse.
The hearings mark a significant shift in the city’s attitude toward dissenters. Typically, city policy was based on the idea that someone involved in a political cause was different from a criminal. Those engaging in non-violent acts of civil disobedience were granted a special hearing where defendants could negotiate deals outside of court.
But now Trutanich wants to throw the book at protesters, saying that non-permitted demonstrations were costing the city thousands of dollars for requiring policing and interrupting traffic-flow.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way [to protest],” Trutanich told the Los Angeles Times. “When you break the law, it’s a not a mainstream 1st Amendment activity. You have the right to protest; you don’t have the right to break the law.”
Activists targeted by Trutanich could face up to a year in jail. Many of them had protested against Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070 and demonstrated in favor of the DREAM Act. Others protested bus fare hikes and supported affordable housing. In one case, supporters of the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant amnesty to children of illegal immigrants attending college or in the military, blocked a Westwood intersection during a demonstration last year.
The new policy has garnered much opprobrium. An op-ed written by Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten called Trutanich’s actions the “latest abuse of his office’s powers.”
“You can exercise your 1st Amendment rights, so long as they don’t disrupt the commutes of the city attorney’s voters,” he wrote.
A headline to a blog post, written by Times’ columnist Steve Lopez, asked if the city attorney was “LA’s Mubarak,” a reference to the Egyptian dictator who was recently ousted after 18 days of demonstrations.
“Oh, give me a break, Nuch,” wrote Lopez. “In this disengaged, apathetic society, we need more protests, not fewer. … If you want to see the positive powers of protest, turn on the TV and watch what’s going on in Egypt.”
At today’s news conference demonstrators chanted “Our resistance will not be silenced” and spoke of a moral obligation to protest what they feel are unjust and bigoted policies.
John Raphling, one of the defense attorneys representing the activists, called Trutanich’s policy “the criminalization of dissent.” He said the protesters he represents were standing up to immigration policies that are tearing families apart and terrorizing immigrant communities.
“These people protested in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez, the abolitionists and the founders of this country,” said Raphling. “[They] have committed orderly, non-violent, peaceful and principled acts of civil disobedience against an evil policy.”
“Mr. Trutanich, for his own reasons of political posturing, has disrespected that great American tradition,” he added.
Activists were joined by Hatem Abudayyeh, an anti-war and solidarity activist from Chicago whose home was raided last year, along with 22 others, as part of an FBI-alleged “terrorism investigation.” Some have criticized the FBI’s investigation as a ruse to silence dissent. Abudayyeh is in LA to speak at a fund-raising event tonight.
“It is disconcerting and even embarrassing that the city attorney, in the wake of 18 glorious revolutionary days in Egypt, in which 10 percent of a population of 80 million people were in the streets calling for reforms and democracy, [would try] to criminalize people for being and doing the very same thing,” he said.
Trutanich has referred to some activists as “professionals” who get paid to protest. But Paulina Gonzalez, a member of Todos Somos Arizona, challenged that statement.
“Trutanich has called us ‘professional’ activists, but we are students, teachers, parents and others who have dedicated our lives to social justice,” she said.