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Supporters protest Sharpton's jailing
Feds crack down after Vieques protest

by DOMINIC RENDA | June 8, 2001 | Page 2

NEW YORK--Rev. Al Sharpton is among the latest victims of a crackdown on activists fighting the U.S. Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for target practice.

On May 23, Sharpton and three other activists were given jail sentences for participating in a civil disobedience action in April at the Navy's bombing range on Vieques. That protest was the latest stage in a longstanding fight to stop the Navy from bombing and poisoning Vieques.

Judge Jose Fuste--who was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan--gave Sharpton a sentence of 90 days behind bars because he had a prior "record." That "record" is the result of a 13-year-old conviction for protesting the death of Michael Griffith, a young Black man who was killed by a racist mob in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood.

Sharpton and the others have become known as the "Vieques Four." Three days after they were jailed, supporters organized a demonstration of 250 people in New York to demand their release.

Dedrick Muhammad, of Sharpton's National Action Network, told Socialist Worker that the crackdown was "reflective of the way the United States has been mistreating the people of Puerto Rico and particularly the people of Vieques." Even Republican New York Gov. George Pataki called the sentences handed out to Sharpton and the others excessive.

But the federal trial court in Puerto Rico has stiffened penalties against anti-Navy protesters since the April demonstrations. Earlier in May, Puerto Rican independence leader Ruben Berrios was sentenced to four months in jail, the stiffest handed out so far.

"They're trying to intimidate Puerto Ricans," said Wilda Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Stop the Bombing of Vieques Legal Defense Fund. "But next time the Navy tries to bomb, we'll have three times as many people getting arrested."

Activists are planning new ways to step up the struggle--including the possibility of turning New York City's annual Puerto Rican Day parade into an anti-Navy demonstration. There have been daily vigils in front of the Brooklyn jail where the Vieques Four are incarcerated, and Sharpton has gone on a hunger strike to call attention to the issue.

The only people who should go to jail are the military leaders who continue to bomb Vieques.

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