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Facing jail time for protesting Bush

By Lee Sustar | May 2, 2003 | Page 2

PROTEST TOO close to George W. Bush, and you could go to jail. A federal prosecutor in South Carolina recently filed charges against veteran activist Brett Bursey--simply for protesting Bush's appearance in Columbia, S.C., in late October.

Police had set up a "protest pen"--more than half a mile away from the airport where Bush was arriving. When Bursey decided to protest across the road from the hangar where Bush spoke, he was arrested for trespassing.

The state charges were dropped, but in March, the local U.S. attorney, J. Strom Thurmond Jr.--son of the former senator and world-renowned bigot--brought federal charges against Bursey under a law that allows the Secret Service to restrict access to areas the president is visiting. If convicted, he faces six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Bursey is under pre-trial probation, in which he is barred from leaving the state, forbidden from possessing firearms and subject to drug testing. "An armed federal agent showed up at my door and said, 'From now until your trial, I own your life,'" Bursey told Socialist Worker.

Moreover, because he is charged with a crime punishable by six months or less in prison, Bursey's case is set to be tried before a federal magistrate without a jury. "We've filed a motion for a jury trial--and I'm confident that if we had a jury, we would win," Bursey said.

Since 1992, only a dozen cases have been referred for prosecution under the trespassing law--and nine of those were later dropped. It's clear that Bursey is being targeted not because he was a "threat" to Bush, but because of his long history as an activist.

As director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, Bursey has been an outspoken figure not only in the antiwar movement, but in other important struggles--including the fight to free the Charleston Five, a group of dockworkers attacked by police during a peaceful picket and placed under house arrest on trumped-up charges.

Bursey was first arrested for "trespassing" in 1969--and at the very same airport, where he was protesting a visit by then-President Richard Nixon. The charges were dropped after the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that protesters on public property could not be charged with trespassing.

But today, the Bush gang and its henchmen like Thurmond Jr. think they can get away with railroading Brett and silencing opposition to their wars abroad and at home.

Send donations and messages of support for Brett Bursey to the Free Speech Fund, P.O. Box 8325, Columbia, S.C., 29202.

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