Banner Drop Crime

When Tony Hayward, BP president, recently met with Congress, he obdurately refused to accept blame for the mess in the gulf of Mexico. The head of the largest contractor in the area, and his colleagues, will likely face civil penalties for the April 20 catastrophe, but no criminal prosecution.

By way of contrast, Ted Glick, policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, will be sentenced in a D.C. district court on Tuesday for having hung two banners “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work,” inside the Senate Hart Office Building in September, 2009. What is it CCAN wants Congress to get to work on? Climate change, something presumed to be top priority for this administration.

Still, law enforcement cuffed Glick, took him into custody, and he was convicted in May of “unlawful conduct,” and “disorderly conduct.” This is his third conviction for acts of civil disobedience. Penalties increase for repeat misdemeanors, but it is the U.S. Attorney, in D.C., who is reported to be working sedulously to make an “example” of the green activist who will likely face months, and as much as three years behind bars for nothing more than hanging two banners urging environmental action from inside a Senate building.

The larger question, of course, is what is it the U.S. Attorney’s office wants to make an example of? Everything is upside down when, as Mother Jones reports, a human rights group keeping track of CIA excesses like torture is now themselves the subject of an investigation by Attorney-General Holder’s appointee, Patrick Fitzgerald.

The U.S. Attorney’s office might want to make an “example” of BP, and their fraudulent claims that they are environmentally-friendly.

Okay, so, Tony Hayward wasn’t caught holding a sign saying “Get to work” in the Senate, but if he had it would have been considered laudable not actionable.

More to the point, isn’t Mr. Glick’s behavior covered by free speech, or is the First Amendment rights only applied to protect corporations?

Few will dispute that the prohibition of unlawful conduct is a good thing, but the ones who should face prosecution aren’t, and instead those who have abdicated responsiblity for their actions are. From the outset, Mr. Glick has embraced accountability. His actions are based on his principles not on his profit margins. The same is not the case with BP, and others who circumvent the law with impunity. No executive, or policy director from BP will face jail time.

On Tuesday, July 6, District Judge Frederick Weisberg will be sentencing Ted Glick in a Washington, D.C. courtroom. Surely Judge Weisberg may be prevailed upon to acknowledge that without civil disobedience he would have no job, and indeed we would have no country. Surely Judge Weisberg may be entreated to apply common sense, and support the framers respect for dissent.

Ted Glick hung two banners, last year, from inside a Senate building on the day senators returned to work after summer recess. What an egregious statement about our criminal justice system, and our legal process, if he were to find himself behind bars when Congress returns from summer recess this year.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.




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JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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