Occupy Wall Street Goes to Court

| November 3, 2011 3:20 PM video

Occupy Wall Street protester Ann Shirazi appeared in court on disorderly conduct charges on Nov. 3. Shirazi, along with most others who appeared in court Thurs., insisted on going to trial. AP/Steven Hirsch.

It was standing room only in a Manhattan Criminal Courtroom on the morning of Nov. 3 for the first court appearances of Occupy Wall Street protesters. Fifty-three of the 63 defendants who appeared in court today declined a deal from prosecutors and opted to proceed to trial. The crowd was a mix of police, members of the media, people wearing bright green hats identifying themselves as attorneys for the National Lawyer’s Guild and dozens who looked to have been sleeping in Zuccotti Park for weeks.

Those making an appearance at the Manhattan Criminal Court at 100 Centre St. were part of the first mass arrest, which occurred when Occupy Wall Street Protesters marched to Union Square on Sept. 24. That was the day when four women were pepper sprayed by police.

The first defendant called to the stand Thursday was MetroFocus editor John Farley, who was arrested while interviewing two of the women who were pepper sprayed. Farley’s charge of disorderly conduct was the only charge dismissed outright. Assistant District Attorney Michele Bayer read from a letter that WNET President Neal Shapiro sent to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. on Monday, requesting a dismissal. “As head of WNET, the former president of NBC News, and a lifelong news producer and television news executive, I am gravely concerned about the First Amendment implications of the New York City Police Department’s actions in this matter,” the letter said.


MetroFocus editor John Farley, arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protest, gets disorderly conduct charges dismissed to a round of applause from the courtroom. Pool video courtesy of NY1.

    Presiding Judge Neil Ross explained that nearly all of those appearing Thursday had been charged with disorderly conduct, with two protesters also charged with resisting arrest. Ross said the district attorney would offer protesters an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, known as an ACD.

    A defendant who accepts an offer of an ACD does not have to decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty. Instead, if the defendant avoids arrest for a certain period of time, then all charges will be dismissed and the case record sealed. For the Occupy Wall Street protesters, this probationary term is likely to be six months. But, as MetroFocus reported earlier this week and as National Lawyers’ Guild defense attorney Martin Stolar explained, “It means that if you get arrested in the next six months you can be tried and face more serious consequences.”

    That’s not a particularly appealing option for people who want to continue to protest and in doing so thus stand a reasonable chance of being arrested again.

    MetroFocus Web Editor John Farley, kneeling, was arrested while reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protest. The district attorney asked for the disorderly conduct charges against Farley to be dismissed after receiving a letter from WNET President Neal Shapiro. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis.

    Many of the protesters felt they had not committed a crime. “In the interest of justice we will address the fact that you were told to stay on the sidewalk and wouldn’t be arrested, and low and behold you were arrested,” said Stolar, alluding to how police corralled the protesters — and at least two incidental bystanders — into nets after the protesters had followed police directions to move out of the street.

    Recent Fordham University graduate Johanne Sterling is one of those who choose to go to trial rather than accept an ACD.

    “I don’t feel I should take it just because it’s convenient,” said Sterling. She has continued to participate in Occupy Wall Street as well as Occupy the Bronx on weekends and said, “I’m hoping I don’t get arrested again because it really sucks.” But concern about being arrested again while protesting wasn’t the main factor in her decision to reject the ACD. Rather, like many of the protesters, she said she wants her day in court because, “I strongly feel like the charges brought against me were erroneous.”

    Asked why he wanted to proceed to trial, Wesleyan University freshman Ross Levin gave a succinct response: “Because I’m not guilty and my arrest wasn’t legitimate.” Crushed on the crowded bench in the courthouse lobby next to her son, Levin’s mother, who traveled from their hometown of Philadelphia in support, smiled and said she was proud of her son.

    The protesters who refused the prosecution’s offer will appear in court for pre-trial hearings on Jan. 9.

    While many of Thursday’s defendants were students or recent college grads, Ross — who also presided over the case against protesters arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention — claimed to recognize a few familiar faces as seasoned protesters, including a petite, ebullient former social worker with graying bobbed hair name Ann Shirazi. In court, Shirazi cheerfully sported a large button identifying herself as a member of the “Granny Peace Brigade.” Her t-shirt read “We Will Not Be Silent.” She too is looking forward to her day in court.

    • stan chaz

      America used to work The people had work. The system worked. It was far, far from perfect, but it we all had some share in the struggles AND the rewards. But somewhere along the way, we lost our way. Because now we have an economy and a political system that works only for the rich. We need to get back to what America was, and what it should be, and what it can be. Occupy Wall Street is no longer just  a place called Zuccotti Park — Zuccotti Park is everywhere. You can try to pen us in, you can take away our generators, you can beat us, you can mace and tear-gas us , and you can try to “permit” us to death….but you can’t kill an idea. You can’t keep down people’s hopes and dreams for a better life…..a life with dignity and freedom….for themselves and their kids. More power to Occupy Wall Street, as it spreads to every town and city – because OWS is us, and for us, and by us. America has found it’s voice, and it demands fairness and justice. This land IS your land! We want it back! We want our lives back!

      • Rosemary

        yes Occupy wall street is the voice of the people! power to you! & power to the people no more power to wall street the 1% they have it all and leave the 99% with nothing
        time to take our country back from the greedy bankers, corporations and insurance companies! our representatives represent the 1% and we have no representation!
        but now we have the OWS! thank you & God Bless you all!

        • Jeanne Nolasco

          And most of all take back our government at all levels: federal, state, and local. Government of, for and by the people!

    • amanda

      comments for op-ed

    • Maurice

      I am completely in sympathy with the frustrations of the protesters. I do think, however, that maximum effectiveness in New York and other cold climes would be accomplished by suspending the movement until April with an announcement that if no political action is achieved by April, the protests will continue as a mass movement until election day ahen the public can express itself at the ballot box.

    • Robert C Gumbs

      Every American should be supportive of Occupy Wall Street – we have to face the fact that we are losing our Democracy and if we don’t fight to keep it, maybe we don’t deserve to have it.

    • merrel

      please keep me updated on a ‘johnny come lately issue’ ; I just evicted a roommate who accused me falsely of actions NEVER taken by me and had me handcuffed and jailed because she was an imposter and I am 77 years educated female who never would consider touching another’s belongings or person and have had to borrow money to ‘clean up my act?’ She abused my belongings and me; verbally accused me of psychiatric non-sequitors and left me financially and psychologically debilitated. Anyone who stands up for their inalienable rights needs to be heard and LISTENED to. Thank you.

    • Johanna B.

      Yes, its about the 1st. & 4th amendments, but this is also about holding onto & defending our Democracy. In the past 20 years, the USA, now known around the world as the United States of Goldman Sachs, has been copted by Wall Str. & all those corp. who now have a strangle-hold on the inner workings of the our Congress, as well as the Senate, as well it would seem, on future general election results.
      We need this movement, “Occupy Wall Str,” to engage everyone in conversation w/each other, no matter what age group…open your eyes & ears & understand the meaning of what has been lost for 98% of the people in the “USA.” START BY LISTENING & PARTICIPATING. Unless we understand the issues & are able to devise methods to circumvent existing policies, that continuously strip away the people’s rights, nothing will ever change & we will ALL BE THE POORER FOR IT…literally.
      So, make yourself aware & make yourself known before its truly too late.
      Get on your smart phone, Facebook, Twitter, read, talk to friends & family, whatever; just get involve…your voice counts, but if no one ever hears it from “U” then nothing will ever change!
      Thanks PBS

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    • Lisle Freeman

      The occupiers need to be in court because that is the only avenue of change within our current system. People challenging the laws that put them there (demure) and demanding better treatment from the police. Change needs to be brought to them on a silver platter. Their platter is a court room. If civil disobedience is what gets the publics eye on the issues and gets those protesters to court, then so be it! The whole idea is to stay unified and not be seperated by the police or the politicians or the corporations writing their own laws. We have a right to assemble (be together for common support and exchange of information) This is a Constitutional guarantee. No permit need be filed…for good reason! When the Police were used to not only quash a protest but route cold and hungry homeless and poor from being together…they made a statement about what these government and corporate entities thought about us. I hope their day in court means and changes something. Because a protest is about raising awareness. After that, something must be done.

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