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First RNC Felony Sentence: Probation - Victory for Court Solidarity!

No jail for Joe! Joe Robinson was sentenced this morning on felony first degree property damage stemming from slashed delegate bus tires during the RNC. The judge rejected nearly all the prosecutor's wishes, sentencing Robinson instead to three years probation, a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service in an organization of his choice. The standing-room only courtroom was packed with about 50 friends and supporters, who all stood when Robinson's name was called. Judge Salvador Rosas - soon to become the judge for the RNC 8 - mentioned the action favorably before delivering the sentence, calling it "Gandhi-like."

Arguing for the state, the prosecutor claimed that Robinson's action warranted a harsher, rather than more lenient, sentence because of its political context. He also claimed that it infringed upon the constitutional rights of others, although he did not mention whether these "others" were humans or bus tires, nor exactly what those constitutional rights were. The prosecutor argued that the action "suggests discrimination against political beliefs."

The state asked for a sentence of six months in the workhouse plus five years of probation, with the prosecutor indicating he would object to a sentence of community service.

The defense, meanwhile, argued for no jail time. Robinson's public defender had entered into the record several letters of support, and three friends and community activists spoke on Joe's behalf. The three speakers highlighted Joe's strong community ties since the RNC, including his anti-war and anti-racist activism. Bill Drebenstedt explained the political context of Robinson's motives, listing the methods of peaceful protest that have failed and concluding, "we all need to take drastic action." He then drew attention to the solidarity movement in the room, saying, "you can be sure I speak for every one of them when I say: please do not send our friend to jail."

Robinson's public defender noted that the court has seen many similar cases in which offenders are given gross misdemeanors and the state has made fruitful negotiations, but that this case has been different. The state's first offer was 180 days with a guilty plea, and the state even threatened to "consider charging him as a terrorist" if the case went to trial, she said. But, the defense argued, this case is also different in the nature of the crime committed - a one-time, localized activity with a motive of social justice, not greed or hatred.

Judge Rosas briefly questioned the defense, stating, "His actions...infringed upon the rights of others and jeopardized peaceful protesters." According to Rosas, the tire-slashing "affected the atmosphere" in the city on September, and "turned what should've been peaceful protest into chaos in the streets." In response, Robinson's public defender stated, "we disagree on what caused escalations during the RNC" and that Joe's actions were not the cause of the assaults on peaceful protesters. She continued to say that cases such as this one, where the defendant is motivated by seeking positive social change and clearly does not intend to continue in the criminal activity, is why judges are afforded the ability to deviate from sentencing guidelines.

Finally, Joe spoke in his own defense. He told the story of his upbringing in conservative South Carolina and how he voted for George W. Bush in 2000 before coming to question the legitimacy of post 9-11 patriotism and the Iraq War, saying he felt "deep distress ... when the leaders of my country are committing atrocities in my name." He too listed the methods he had used to try and effect change before finding them insufficient, among them writing letters, voting and peace vigils.

"Unless I have a contribution of thousands of dollars to a campaign," he said, "it's hard for me to compete for their attention."

Robinson said that he "wanted to take a stand to let it be recorded in history that I disagree" with the government, and then told Judge Rosas that he now feels his action was not effective in achieving that particular goal. He told the court of his desire to create community now that the RNC is gone, and his inspiration at the bright, intelligent and organized post-RNC support structure. He even managed to speak of direct action: "I want to help people myself and do things that government should for people," Joe concluded. "In the future I want to create instead of destroy."

"I was hoping you'd end that way," Rosas remarked before delivering the sentence of 3 years of probation and credit for time served, to the relief of the defense and the community members and activists in attendance. He also ordered 100 hours of community service in an organization of Joe's choice, adding: "Perhaps in Ms. Gross' organization" (Communities United Against Police Brutality; Gross spoke briefly in Joe's behalf about the anti-racist work he has done). Finally, Rosas officially denied the motion to drop the charge from felony to gross misdemeanor, but added that it will be in the record as a gross misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation in three years. During probation, Joe will not be able to leave Minnesota for his home state of Washington without permission, and an amount of restitution will be determined by the probation department.

Rosas says he doesn't question Joe's motives, but does question his tactics, and that he admires people who have strength in their convictions. But he adds that he disapproves of taking one's convictions "one step too far" to "infringe on others rights" or "destroy property."

The acknowledgment of the court solidarity strategy from Rosas indicates that packing the courtroom does have an impact! The sentence also sets a precedent for future felony trials, and the proceedings provide clues about what strategies the Ramsey County prosecutors will try to use. Rosas, the judge for the RNC 8's upcoming sentencing hearing on Wednesday December 17, appeared moved by the defense's appeals to community work and social justice, despite repeating the "good protestor/bad protester" rhetoric which was a constant theme of the prosecutor.

In all, "Felony Fest Friday" proved to be an encouraging start to the lengthy post-RNC legal process. In addition to the sentence, a clear message was sent to the court: next time, you're going to need a bigger room!

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Views expressed on this website do not necessarily represent the ideas or opinions of the Northeast Anarchist Network or affiliated groups. Posts, comments and statements represent the individual user by which they are posted, or an individual or group cited within the text.