While charges against most of the protesters arrested during the BIO 2004 conference in June were either never filed or eventually dropped, some protesters still face fines and misdemeanor charges from District Attorney Kamala Harris. In response, Reclaim the Commons (RTC), the activist group responsible for organizing the protests, claims that the D.A.’s decision to prosecute some protesters contradicts a March 2004 agreement her office made with the National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG) San Francisco chapter.
According to information on the Reclaim the Commons web site (www.reclaimthecommons.net), the D.A.’s office told NLG San Francisco representatives that it would “only prosecute protesters charged with assaults and vandalism,” but Rachel Lederman, one of 25 NLG lawyers representing the protesters, says that the D.A.’s office never made “sweeping statements” about protection for protesters.
Lederman did confirm that a meeting between representatives from the D.A.’s office and the NLG San Francisco took place in March, but said that the agreement cited by RTC never formally happened. Even so, Lederman described the charges against protesters as a waste of time for the D.A.’s office.
The charges affect roughly two-dozen protesters who staged a sit-in outside the Moscone Center on the morning of June 8. The protesters allegedly held their sit-in in the street and linked themselves together using lock boxes. The group faces infractions charges for blocking the street at 4th and Howard and failing to disperse. According to Lederman, the second group of protesters faces misdemeanor charges for delaying an officer.
The official press release from the San Francisco Police Department reports 33 arrests on the morning June 8. According to the SFPD statement, the arrests were made due to a variety of illegal acts, including assault with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery, misdemeanor battery, battery on a police officer, malicious mischief, obstructing traffic, refusal to disperse and resisting arrest.
At the Wednesday hearing, Lederman said lawyers representing the protesters will file a motion with the court that, if granted, would require the D.A.’s office to submit more explicit descriptions of the protesters’ illegal activities before the court proceeds. The language of the charging document, defense lawyers will argue, is simply too vague.
While lawyers debate the charging document at the hearing, RTC activists are focused on the larger issues surrounding protesters’ rights in San Francisco. The group views the June 8th arrests as an attack on peaceful protesters and an infringement upon civil liberties. According to it a petition, which now counts 114 signatures, and sample letters opposing the arrests, the RTC blames the SFPD more than it does Harris. In fact, the group praises Harris’ decision to not to seek the death penalty against David Hill, the man charged with shooting and killing Officer Isaac Espinoza in April 2004. In addition to criticizing the police department, RTC claims that protecting the right to peaceful protest is of utmost importance in “post-Patriot Act America.”
Initially, RTC organized the BIO 2004 protests to publicly oppose the biotechnology industry and its corporate sponsors.
According to RTC’s mission statement, “The biotechnology industry is a prime example of how global corporations are eroding democracy, threatening our health and environment, and concentrating control of our food and resources in the hands of a few profit-driven companies. With almost no public debate, over 100-million acres of genetically engineered (GE) crops are planted each year in the United States. That’s almost 70% of the world’s GE crops. Once released into the environment, these GE life forms can’t be recalled, and there’s no way to predict their effects on our bodies, eco-systems, and future.”
Despite request for further information, RTC representatives did not respond by press time. For more information about the protests, check out Casey Mills’ articles in the BeyondChron archives. Stay tuned for updates on the arrests and future court hearings.
Upcoming hearings are scheduled for Sept. 1, 2PM at 850 Bryant St. in Dept. 22 and Sept. 21, 9AM at 850 Bryant St. in Dept. A. Both hearings are open to the public.
You can contact Lorraine Sanders at lorraine(at)lorrainesanders.com.