Charges dropped in IVAW debate protest

Hannah Wolfe reports on a legal victory for activists brutalized outside a presidential debate.

Nassau County police injured several people in their assault on antiwar protests outside the presidential debateNassau County police injured several people in their assault on antiwar protests outside the presidential debate

IN A victory for antiwar activists everywhere, the Nassau County District Attorney's Office agreed last week to dismiss all charges against the Hempstead 15.

The Hempstead 15 are 10 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and five supporters who were arrested during a nonviolent demonstration at the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on October 15.

Mounted officers of the Nassau County Police Department charged protesters that night, resulting in a serious injury--IVAW member and former Army Sgt. Nick Morgan was knocked unconscious and his cheekbone crushed by a police horse's hoof.

The IVAW members had organized a nonviolent march to the debate site after their request to ask the candidates questions about their positions on the war was ignored by debate organizers. Marching in uniform and in formation, they led several hundred protesters to Hofstra's gates.

There, riot police arrested the IVAW members and pushed back the crowd, grabbing individuals and dragging them into the street. A mounted officer leapt his horse onto the sidewalk, trampling protesters.

While they were detained, IVAW members were verbally harassed by police and the women IVAW members were verbally sexually harassed. Morgan was taken to a local hospital with a broken cheekbone. The 15 were charged with of "disorderly conduct" and "failure to obey a lawful order."

Although a final hearing date has yet to be finalized, an "ACD" (Adjournment to Contemplate Dismissal) has been declared by the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. This means that no criminal action will be taken against the 15 as long as none are arrested again during the six-month ACD period.

"They have agreed to consolidate all of our court cases on one date (TBD) so that we and our supporters may be seen and heard together as we prepare to move forward now to federal court where our lawyer, Jonathan Moore, is filing a civil case on behalf of Nick Morgan and others," IVAW member Matthis Chiroux, one of the Hempstead 15, stated in a press release.

Hempstead 15 defense campaign organizers credit independent and citizen media, and bloggers, for their success in this case, noting that no mainstream press covered the event and the proceedings.

Chiroux now faces another battle. In May 2008, he declared his intention to fight his redeployment--this time to Iraq. Since the events at Hofstra, Army officials have sent Chiroux notification that they plan to prosecute him for his refusal."With a good amount of support," Chiroux said, "I believe we can win this thing and prove once and for all that service members have a right to refuse participation in the occupation of Iraq."

Chiroux has also established a Facebook support group: "I support Matthis Chiroux's decision not to go to Iraq."

Antiwar activists can draw important lessons from the Hempstead 15 campaign, which demonstrated the key role that organizing played in this victory. We have to take this victory and keep up the organizing, standing shoulder to shoulder with soldiers and veterans who are taking a stand against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.