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Facing prison for protesting

By Nicole Colson | December 7, 2001 | Page 2

"OUR GOAL is for the people involved to serve jail time." That's what Hartford, Conn., prosecutor Jeff Lee declared last week --as he sought 10-year prison terms for two student antiwar protesters. "We suspect the defense might try to reach a plea, but we have every intention of taking this case to trial," he sneered.

The incredible charges stem from an October 25 antiwar demonstration of more than 200 activists. Although the march was peaceful, police claim that a few protesters strayed from the sidewalk--and used this as an excuse to attack.

"Halfway through the march, some cop cars started showing up and driving alongside of us," Jason Capell, one of those arrested, told Socialist Worker. Then police began using batons and pepper spray on demonstrators.

A 61-year-old protester had his ribs broken. Another man was forced onto the ground, pepper sprayed and beaten by police until his head was bloody.

"A police officer stepped in front of me--full riot gear, with his baton up in front of him," said Capell. "He asked me where I was going, and I just told him that I was walking down the sidewalk. And he said, 'No you're not.'

"As soon as I asked him where I could go, he put handcuffs on me and started walking me towards the police van. And my charges are inciting a riot, interfering with police conduct and disorderly conduct."

In all, 18 demonstrators were arrested and taken to jail on similar charges. In a clear effort to discourage protest, bail was set ridiculously high, at between $15,000 and $50,000.

According to Capell, police specifically targeted leaders of the demonstration. "A lot of us were asked numerous times, 'Who are the leaders?'" he said.

"It appears that this came down from the higher-ups, whether it be the mayor or the chief of police, to nail us with high charges. Because that sends a message out to people. They're trying to scare people from speaking out against this war and what's going on."

Capell said that it was important for antiwar activists to continue speaking out. "It's definitely scared a lot of other people," he said. "It's a really important time for people to be very vocal and open about where they stand on these issues."

Donations to the legal defense fund for the Hartford 18 can be sent to: Free Speech and Legal Defense Fund, 13 Farview Ave., Danbury, CT 06810.

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