Comes a Time: Is the Re-Trial of the Freeway9 Really a Case of Selective Prosecution and Political Persecution?
| by Coco Das, reprinted from the Pasadena Weekly
There are times in history when people must take unequivocal moral action. When we look back on the civil rights movement, how do we judge the bystanders? When the Nazi Party was consolidating its power, should the German people have accepted it, or should they have united to stop it before it was too late?
We are at a crucial juncture in this country. For more than three years, fascism has been unfolding under the Trump/Pence regime, but it has taken another leap with Trump’s acquittal in a sham impeachment trial. Our government has opened concentration camps, banned refugees, bludgeoned the concept of truth and rule of law, and purged those who do not march in lockstep with their program. The rights of immigrants, women, and LGBT people are under severe attack, while thousands cheer on white supremacist and misogynist rhetoric at Trump’s rallies. The environment is being desecrated as the climate crisis reaches a tipping point.
In this context, it is worth asking why the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has relentlessly pursued vengeful prosecutions against the #freeway9, members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club who blocked the 101 Freeway in 2017 with a 50-foot banner that said “Trump/Pence Regime Must Go.” Chantelle Hershberger and Alex Hernandez, two of the courageous activists who took part in this non-violent act of civil disobedience, have already been on trial once; last year, their case ended in a mistrial when a majority of jurors refused to convict.
Even amid revelations of illegal spying by the LAPD, Chantelle and Alex are being dragged back into court, facing three years in jail and heavy fines if they are convicted. This determination to prosecute non-violent protest is extremely dangerous, objectively suppressing badly needed opposition to a fascist regime. It also speaks to the compelling power of such protest. Imagine what might be possible if thousands of people who do not want to live in a fascist America acted with this kind of conviction. Imagine how that might speak to millions more who can no longer remain on the sidelines accepting the injustices of this regime.
Last week, defense attorneys submitted previously withheld recordings that were made when the Major Crimes Division of the LAPD sent a confidential informant into meetings of Refuse Fascism, an organization that explicitly calls for non-violent mass protest under the slogan, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” The recordings reveal that the confidential informant repeatedly attempted to entrap activists into making statements in support of violence. Repeatedly, he failed as the organizers reiterated their mission of non-violent mass protest.
The prosecution has tried to obscure the political content of this case. They filed a motion asking the judge to ban any mention of spying by the LAPD or the confidential informant. They also asked the judge to forbid the defense attorneys from asking questions about or even mentioning the first amendment; bar the defendants from explaining why they engaged in the protest, which the prosecution referred to as “political woes”; censure language such as “ripping babies out of their parents’ arms at the border”; and stop anybody within 50 yards of the courthouse from speaking out, carrying signs, wearing t-shirts, or handing out leaflets about Trump, fascism, immigration, or social injustice. This means that if the defendants or their attorneys were to mention what they were chanting during their protest, or talk about the deaths of migrant children under Trump’s immigration policies, they could be held in contempt of court and charged with a crime.
Alex and Chantelle’s trial has continued this week, with high stakes not only for them but for all of society and humanity itself. If they are convicted, it will have far-reaching implications for the right to dissent, especially against a fascist regime that so viciously attacks its opposition in order to advance its agenda. Whether or not the government has sanction to target and criminalize non-violent protesters has everything to do with the kind of future we want and our responsibility to act. We call on everyone who cares about justice to demand that the City Attorney drop the charges against Alex and Chantelle and all of the #Freeway9 defendants.
Call City Prosecutor Mike Feuer 213-978-8100 / Tweet @Mike_Feuer and demand charges be dropped against the #Freeway9
If you are in the L.A. area, attend the trial at Metropolitan Courthouse 6th Floor, Department 62 1945 S Hill Street.
DONATE to the battle to defend the Freeway9.
Coco Das is a member of the editorial collective of refusefascism.org. Visit and learn more about our new statement of conscience/call to act.