(I wanted to be there for the whole trial but—as for some others, I suspect—inescapable obligations prevented that. Others weren’t able to attend at all. I’m only going to describe what I felt were some of the key points in the consolidated trial of Glenn Morris, Rev. JulieTodd, and Kareena Montoya before Judge Claudia Jordan in Denver County Court from Wednesday through Friday this week during the time I was able to be there. I’m sure others will be posting, as well).
Ø Early on, the city tried to rein in the ambiguity present in justice (and in reality) and press for the most rigid kind of “law and order.” Conduct, not content, was the rallying cry of assistant city attorney Melissa Drazen-Smith and it mattered not one whit whether the content was Nazi hate-speech or moving oratory by MLK. “Don’t listen to their opinion. Don’t listen to their words,” she said. After all, there was always the option to picket, petition, lobby, write letters, call your Congressperson, etc.—none of the lunch-counter liberation of the civil rights era or the tactics of a Gandhi or Lech Walesa or the impassioned plea of Native activists for the truth about the Columbian holocaust and legacy to be heard.
Lead defense attorney David Lane swept this from the board by asking whether, in the letter of the law, it made sense for police to follow a motorist traveling one mile over the speed limit—technically a violation--in order to issue a ticket. And, as the Nuremberg trials showed, Nazis were “just following orders.” He pointed out that MLK “technically” broke the law, but that the criminal justice system is, after all, to do justice. “No case anywhere is more important than this case,” he said, because the relationship between the government and its citizens is the most important thing anywhere. Jurors should not be “computerized robots doing a computerized robot job.”
Ø The city repeatedly raised the specter of “violent” protest, ignoring the fact that in many years of confronting the Columbus Day parade there have been no violent incidents or convictions for physical violence by demonstrators—but this year, if not in other years, police used batons and pain compliance (even after compliance had been achieved), not to mention the implicit violence of hate speech. (Why does one have the feeling that Drazen-Smith’s admonition to petition, lobby, or write letters to Congress wouldn’t produce justice against this kind of state violence?)
Ø There were down-the-rabbit-hole moments galore. The city showed a half-hour video that evidently was to depict the disorder and potential “violence” at the Columbus parade, and to demonstrate that the police issued a command to clear the street three times. In fact, the video portrayed a peaceful but spirited cacophony of banner-waving and drumming, chanting, and singing that essentially drowned out any police bullhorn commands and that depicted a street full of cops, bystanders, and demonstrators mostly just milling about. Nothing about it seemed a “significant” impediment to much of anything, frankly.
Showing of the video also underscored another anomaly—the city was able to talk about past parades and to introduce material not restricted to Morris, Todd, and Montoya, but the defense was told not to do so. Though of direct relevance, the defense was not to mention the fact that U.S. Cavalry-attired horsemen led last year’s parade in an open insult to Native people that speaks directly to a celebration of intimidation as parade (and protest) purpose. Russell Means, initially a defendant, ended up as a witness. Potential witnesses (essentially everyone, including reporters) were told they could not be in the courtroom. And so it went.
Ø Some in the courtroom were moved to tears when Glenn described a (documented) contest engaged in by Columbus’ men, who threw infants into the air and attempted to cut them in half with their swords, and when Julie and Kareena described their treatment during arrest. Kareena, who recoiled from police, was charged with resisting. Police Technician McKibben called Julie a “dumb bitch” when he told her to stand up, Julie said—a contention McKibben, of course, denied under oath. Although she was heard saying, “You’re hurting me,” he maintained that all she did was sing “We Shall Overcome,” which he agreed was not an “angry” song. He acknowledged asking her, “Are you going to get up and walk?” rather than issuing a command. He said the parade protest afforded him an opportunity to use his “technique,” which he described in this case as a wrist-lock, a form of pain compliance he continued to exert after she was walking to the jail bus. Lane noted that film showed some arrestees being escorted with light, upper arm guidance or practically no contact, and some were carried. McKibben agreed that he was a “pain compliance guy” rather than a “pick up and carry guy,” as Lane phrased it.
Ø Glenn prevailed in spirited testimony that demolished the city’s attempt to depict him as a collaborator in attempts to “stop” the parade, a term he said was erroneous, since protesters sought rather to confront or transform the parade. He reiterated that AIM/TCD had tried repeatedly over the years to urge the mayor, the governor, the legislature and others toward abolishing the parade, which contains “elements considered to be anti-Indian and ethnically intimidating.” He queried why, if the parade celebrates Italian heritage, it includes Hell’s Angels and faux conquistadors. The parade is not a cultural celebration, but is intended to show whites’ “racial superiority and racial inferiority of Indian people,” via tyranny of the majority. He said, “For us in AIM , the parade is the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan—the same reason burning a cross is ethnic intimidation.” He spoke several times with Police Chief Gerry Whitman—with whom he said he had had a cordial working relationship for several years—and told him, “I’m not the boss here—I don’t control everything.” At 15th and Stout Streets the parade was nowhere to be seen and “we did not stop the parade,” he said. He was arrested at 15th and Welton after he entered the street carrying sweetgrass, “a sacred element to represent purity,” with which to effect reconciliation with the paraders—a goal that had been sought for many years. He was not told not to go into the street. He parried question after question from Drazen-Smith, pointing out in many instances that he’d already responded to the same points she raised repeatedly. The parade was never stopped, it was started and finished, and the protest—a statement about the parade’s hatefulness—was a minor inconvenience, he said. The parade was a “celebration of the death and destruction of my people,” he said, and the protest was in compliance with basic human rights.
Ø Disrespect was kind of a hallmark of these proceedings, and it showed in several ways. The judge allowed the drum to be brought into the courtroom to replicate the noise of drumming on the street where police bullhorn commands went unheard. But although most people rose in respect for the honor song, the judge and other city employees remained seated. Too, Drazen-Smith refused to allow Irma Little, an elder in a wheelchair, to talk about her experience in being jailed despite age and incapacity, in an incomprehensible display of insensitivity. Irma, from Rosebud, was able to say she entered the street for the younger generations: “Now that I know the truth, I want them to know the truth.” She also said the only violence she saw was not from protesters, but from police officers making arrests, when those being arrested “yelled in pain.”
Ø Russell, who spoke from the perspective of an elder who is also a long-time activist for Indian people, said that years ago his daughter, then a first-grader, asked, “Daddy, where were the Indians before Columbus discovered America?” He said that from then on he tried for many years and in many ways “to tell our story.” He described today’s reality for Native people in the Dakotas, where life expectancy is 44 years and where his youngest son, age 22, is “already middle-aged.” American Indians have no constitutional rights and no protection against the police, the government, non-Indians, or corporations, he said; Natives cannot own our own land because it is held in trust by the government. “The Doctrine of Discovery that Columbus brought to this country was murderous to my people,” he said. Polio and TB have returned to the reservation, where there is abuse of all types. “When do we get to tell our story?” he said. “In the 21st Century we don’t exist.”