Case dismissed against Occupy Rochester

January 16, 2012

Brian Erway reports on another failure for the city's offensive against Occupy.

ROCHESTER, N.Y.--Occupy Rochester marked an important victory on January 12 as City Court Judge Teresa Johnson dismissed trespass and code violation charges for 28 defendants arrested on October 29 in Washington Square Park, where Occupy Rochester was attempting to camp overnight.

Six days after that attempt, hundreds turned out for a march on City Hall, and 16 additional people were arrested at the park. The following week, Mayor Thomas Richards signed a negotiated agreement with Occupy Rochester, ceding the south half of Washington Square Park for an encampment, with automatic renewal given substantial compliance.

It was an incredible victory for the movement, and for their part, city officials also seemed content. They must have figured that repression carries a high political cost, so why not let the bitter embrace of a Rochester winter accomplish the same goal of forcing protesters out?

Thus far, however, as if in a cosmic flipping-off of the mayor's strategem, Occupy Rochester is enduring the warmest winter in anyone's memory--and now we're celebrating two month's of the encampment, and the agreement's first official renewal.

But what about the people who got arrested while trying to win the park in the first place? So great was the initial sense of good will flowing around agreement with the city that many activists believed city officials when they suggested they would ensure dismissal of the charges by the (county) district attorney. Instead, at the pre-trial hearing in December, the Rochester city attorney joined the case against the defendants.

It took Judge Johnson's January 12 ruling to put an end to the drama, and it's likely that all remaining defendants (48 were arrested in total) will have their cases similarly resolved.

The judge dismissed the charges on the shallowest possible basis--essentially technicalities--while also explicitly rejecting dismissal on grounds of justice or selective enforcement: issues of principle, leading almost certainly to appeals.

Occupy Rochester's successful push to form a permanent camp was won through the willingness of ordinary people to stand up and face arrest. Johnson's ruling vindicated that gamble, but it's one we may have to take again, sooner than anyone expected.

Rochester's own 1 percent would like our movement gone altogether, and Mayor Richards is already hinting at a springtime eviction.

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