Are We Dismissed Too Easily?

Are We Dismissed Too Easily?
By Steve Clemens. Feb. 1, 2007

On February 1st, a group of peace activists gathered in the undersized Hennepin County Courtroom in Edina, MN to once again face charges of “criminal trespass” for entering the property of Alliant Techsystems, our local war profiteer and notorious manufacturer and seller of indiscriminate and illegal weapons such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, land mines, as well as rocket motors for delivery of nuclear bombs via missiles. 78 defendants were on the court docket and most had showed up for trial, claiming their innocence even though the Edina City Prosecutor offered a deal of only a $5.00 fine for those choosing to plead guilty. Many defendants were anxious to have the opportunity to speak in court about their convictions which led them to this collective act of resistance to this present war (where some of these weapons have been used) and to corporations profiting from war and offensive weapons which masquerade as “national defense”.

Before the trial began, the Prosecutor requested to meet with a smaller representative group of the defendants. When he inquired as to what we’d like to see happen, Tom Bottolene, a long-time member and often-times spokesperson for AlliantAction, the group coordinating the weekly vigil presence in front of the offices of this war profiteer stated, “We’d like to see these charges dismissed.” Patrick Leach, the Prosecutor for the City of Edina where Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has their world headquarters, readily agreed. He expressed his concern about the cost to the city of having a number of police officers waiting around in court, ready to testify against us rather than out performing their public safety roles.

AlliantAction has faithfully voiced opposition to the weapons made by ATK for more than ten years, with several hundred having been arrested for nonviolent protest over the years. Four times in that 10 year period juries have found defendants “not guilty” of criminal trespass charges after they have carefully listened to testimony about ATK as a war profiteer and maker of illegal, indiscriminate weapons. When defendants have been allowed to submit copies of International Law outlawing indiscriminate weapons to the juries, they have been acquitted. After two consecutive juries returned with “not guilty” verdicts within a week of each other in Dec. 2004, the City Council of Edina passed a new trespass ordinance which removed our right to a jury trial by making the trespass charge a petty misdemeanor. Now we could only receive bench trials before a Judge.

When we had the ability to present our case to a jury, the groups of defendants often cooperated with the prosecutor prior to the trial by stipulating much of the case against us, thus negating the need for police officers coming to court to identify us and give testimony about the “fact” that we were on ATK’s property and refused (nonviolently) to leave until arrested. This allowed us to focus our trials solely on the questions we had about the weapons ATK made and sold and its legality under International Law. As a form of protest to our right to a jury trial being removed by the new Edina City ordinance, our trial group chose not to stipulate the evidence against us, putting the burden back on the state to prove we were guilty of the crime of criminal trespass.

In our conversation with the Prosecutor, we stated that if we were able to testify in front of a jury of our peers, we were likely to resume our previous tactic of cooperating and stipulating to the evidence and thus speed up the process of the trial. To better place this discussion in its rightful context, it must be mentioned that there is at present an active appeal which disputes the legality of the new Edina trespass ordinance and the oral arguments will be heard on Feb. 7 with a decision by the Appeals Court required within 90 days. If the ordinance is overturned because it is more restrictive than the state statute or because it was passed by the City Council in a defective and illegal manner, the trespass charges against us would be thrown out. In light of that context, the Prosecutor stated that he would move to dismiss the charges against us. Tom Bottolene and Char Madigan agreed to plead "guilty" in an attempt to preserve our legal position with the appeal.

Part of the conversation with the Prosecutor also centered on the relationship between the police and the protestors. The representative group of defendants agreed that we wish to continue to make it clear that our protest is against the war profiteer rather than the city or its law enforcement personnel. However, the question that still remains: Who will hold ATK accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity?