By David Swanson
Joy First reports from Mauston, Wisc., that Bonnie Block, a Madison grandmother and long-time peace activist, was found guilty of trespassing in a jury trial in the Juneau County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, and sent to jail.Sadly, this is not an April Fool’s joke.
Block, pictured at right, was compelled to either pay $232 or spend 5 days in the Juneau County Jail. Faced with that choice, Block said in Court:
“Your Honor, I asked for a jury trial in this matter so I could explain to the citizens of Juneau County my moral, constitutional, and legal reasons for opposing the drone training via handing out a leaflet at the Volk Field Open House. I also wanted to point out the absurdity of being arrested for trespassing at an event to which the public had been invited.
“However, the Courtâ€™s pretrial orders based on the District Attorney’s 25-point Motion in Limine precluded me from explaining this to the jury because the pre-trial orders prohibited any mention to the jury of the very issues that I believe constitute a defense for my nonviolent action.
“These prohibitions also made it impossible for me to testify on my own behalf because I couldn’t honor the oath ‘to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’Â And to top it off, there was the unilateral refusal of Volk Field Commander Romauld to honor my third-party subpoena to testify so he could explain the military rules and rationale that he considers the justification for my arrest.Â It puts the military brass above the law and I object.
“For these reasons, I can’t in good conscience pay the fine.Â It would be giving consent to the outcome of a legal process I believe was unfair and which sets dangerous precedents for those of us engaged in nonviolent civil resistance and seeking justice for victims of U.S. drone warfare. So I’ll ‘do the time instead of paying the fine.'”
After sentencing Block to 5 days in jail, First reports, Judge Paul Curran told Block that he would allow her to have lunch with her husband and son before reporting to the Juneau County “Justice” Center to begin her sentence.
First explains the background: “The trespassing charge was the result of a May 17, 2014, action in which Block and Fr. Jim Murphy took a bus tour of Volk Field which was part of the Base’s Open House to which the public was invited. As they left the bus at the National Guard Museum, they handed out a leaflet with four questions about drones to the other passengers on the bus. As a result they were arrested and ultimately charged with trespass. Block opted for a jury trial because she believed her constitutional right of free speech was violated as was her conscientious objection to drone warfare.
“Block, who represented herself in front of the 6-person jury, was prevented from mounting a vigorous defense as a result of Judge Curran’s pretrial ruling in favor of a motion which prevented Block from talking about international law, the U.S. Constitution, morals and ethics, and other topics important to the case. . . .
“The jury deliberated for thirty minutes before returning with the guilty verdict.”
Block is part of the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars which holds monthly vigils outside the gates of this Wisconsin Air National Guard Base. Since 2009, Volk Field has been training operators of RQ-7 Shadow drones that are part of U.S. drone wars.
But Charges Dropped in Syracuse
Meanwhile Ed Kinane reports from Upstate New York: “This afternoon in the Dewitt (NY) town court, after hearing about 90 minutes of motions, Judge Robert Jokl dismissed charges against four Hancock Air Force Base defendants ‘in the interest of justice.’ Arguing against Assistant D.A. Peter Hakes were attorneys Jonathan Wallace representing Julienne Oldfield and John Honeck; Kathy Manley representing Andrew Schoerke, and Kim Zimmer representing Mary Snyder.
“Their charges were trespass, two counts of disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration — a misdemeanor. The four perps were among 31 arrested in a nonviolent die-in at the front gate of Hancockâ€™s 174th attack wing (home of the reaper drone) on April 28, 2013, following a weekend drone conference here in Syracuse. For half a decade we have been charging Hancock with war crime and terrorism against the people of Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“This acquittal follows our March 19th ‘big books’ action at Hancockâ€™s main gate in which seven of us were arrested with similar charges. Arraignments will be in late April.”
Kinane’s report was generally taken to be an April Fool’s joke by drone activists around the country, but he says it is not. So, thank you to Judge Jokl for acting in the interest of justice.Î¦
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.