Listen up, kids, this is important! Today we’re going to talk about grand juries. With a side of intellectual freedom.
Look, we’ve got three people — Matt Duran, Kteeo (Katherine Olejnik), and Leah-Lynn Plante — locked up for contempt out in Seattle, WA. They’ve all refused to testify before a grand jury.
Grand juries are one of the government’s shittiest tools for squishing dissent. They were originally intended as a way for individual citizens to bring a matter before their peers to make the government do something about it. Today, though, they are a way for the government to intimidate and punish people who make noise, without those people having any recourse. Folks get hauled into court, without having been accused of anything, and are asked a bunch of questions. They are not allowed to have an attorney with them, and the room is closed and what goes on is kept secret. They must answer the questions — the 5th Amendment, which otherwise protects us from having to testify against ourselves, does not apply. If they refuse to testify — a choice that is usually a good idea in cases of political repression — they may be jailed for up to six months for contempt, in order to coerce testimony. If after six months a person has not spoken, they can be sent back for another six months, et cetera, et cetera, until someone gives up. Remember, these folks have not even been accused, let alone convicted, of a crime in the first place. The point of a grand jury is for the government to figure out if there’s anything floating around that they can prosecute someone for.
Back on July 25, if you’ll recall, Plante and Duran were a couple of the folks in Oregon and Washington states who woke up to the early morning sounds of their doors being smashed in by federal officers. Their residences were searched by feds looking for, among other things, black clothes and anarchist literature. Yesterday, before Plante went back before the grand jury and again refused to testify, she wrote:
On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year.
However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day. While we know that knowledge is powerful, we suspected that nobody used rolled up copies of the Stumptown Wobbly to commit property damage. We saw this for what it was. They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt. Since then, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have learned that this Grand jury was convened on March 2nd, 2012, two months before the May Day vandalism even took place…
As predicted, she was locked up after yesterday’s grand jury session. Matt has been imprisoned since September 13, including time in solitary confinement, and Kteeo since September 28. So, shit’s scary. But, we’re all in this together, and the best way to handle this is for us all to create and maintain a loving community and to take care of each other. Which is what grand jury resisters are doing, by they way — they are taking a hit for the rest of us. We should all be supporting these three, in word and deed, as much as we can, since they’re going so hard to protect our asses. Here’s some stuff you can do for Matt and Kteeo, and I’m sure there’ll be a similar round up for Leah shortly.
So, this is the Library blog, right? Let’s bring it back home. See up there where Leah writes about her house being searched? What did the feds take? Books, art. As many folks around the internet have noted, if the FBI came gunning into any of our houses they’d find black clothing and subversive literature.
Yo, feds, Senator McCarthy called, he wants his game plan back.
Aside from the 5th Amendment mentioned above, we are also supposed to be guaranteed rights of speech and press under the 1st Amendment, and the rights to free speech and assembly include freedom of association, as clarified by Supreme Court rulings. Now, I know some of us don’t truck with the idea of rights (Utah says, “The state can’t give you freedom, and the state can’t take it away. You’re born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.”), but it’s what we’ve got to work with right now.
And yet we have doors being busted down over books, and the printed word being taken away as evidence of… …something. That our three grand jury resisters hold certain political opinions, and know others with similar opinions, is enough to have gotten them into this spot in the first place. Librarians, our professional association has a lot to say about the 1st Amendment.
We’ve just come off of Banned Books Week. I hope you read something subversive! I always hope that, actually. I also hope that I don’t need to be too heavy-handed in drawing the lines between the FBI searching someone’s house for radical literature and the stuff we usually talk about when we talk about banned books. It is a matter of degree, rather than kind.