Sentenced for standing up to anti-Muslim hate

THIRTY SUPPORTERS packed a small courtroom August 10 in New York City for the sentencing of Michael Williams, a 38-year-old father of two who faced up to seven years in prison for defending himself and a group of young Muslim women from a racially motivated attack.

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A shaken and tearful Williams was visibly relieved when the judge rejected the prosecution's recommendation and sentenced Williams to just 90 days in jail followed by five years of probation.

Williams has endured a hellish 18-month ordeal for his decision to protect himself and those around him from racist abuse. "Michael's conviction--despite unchallenged evidence of self-defense--reflects the prosecution's orchestrated campaign to punish and intimidate those who stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry and for Palestinian rights," according to a statement by Al Awda-NY, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition.

On January 11, 2011, Williams traveled from his Massachusetts home to New York City to participate in a Palestine solidarity march. After the protest, he witnessed Joe Kenny harassing a group of Muslim teenage girls, yelling, "Go back to your country you [expletive] terrorist." Williams picked up his bullhorn and began to speak out for the young women's right to be there and to support their cause.

Enraged, Kenny pursued Williams, assaulted him and took the bullhorn, though not before allegedly being struck in the face by the bullhorn. Despite witness testimony and photographic evidence corroborating that Joe Kenny pursed Williams and that Williams repeatedly backed away, Williams was arrested and charged with first-degree assault.

During a politically charged trial, the prosecutor was allowed, despite defense objections, to grill witnesses about their political views, asking one teenage girl if she believed Williams was a "martyr for the Palestinian cause" and asking another about his opposition to a potential U.S. war with Iran.

During deliberations, the court refused to answer the jury's questions about the law regarding self-defense. Despite this, the jury dismissed the more serious charge but did convict Williams of second-degree assault.

At his sentencing, Williams, a union drywall taper and Little League baseball coach, described the strain he has suffered as a result of this unjust prosecution--more than a year of commuting countless hours from his home in Massachusetts for court appearances, missing days of work, falling behind on his mortgage, the pressure all of this put on his marriage and family. He broke down at the prospect of missing out on years of his childrens' lives.

Defense counsel Lamis Deek indicated that she would be making an immediate application for bail pending appeal, and supporters vowed to continue the struggle to defend Williams and overturn this unjust conviction.