Time Served

posted by Mike on May 25th, 2005

Seven American activists were found guilty of unlawful assembly today in D.C. Superior Court before Chief Judge Rufus King III. They were on trial for a February demonstration at the Sudanese embassy to protest the ongoing genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

defendants rejoice at being free to go
May 25: Tom Lewis, Harry Duchesne, Brian Kavanagh, Liz Fallon, Brenna Cussen, Ken Hannaford-Ricardi, and Scott Schaeffer-Duffy are happy to be outside after a day in D.C. Superior Court. Click on the photo to download a high-resolution version.

After stipulating to the physical facts, the defendants introduced evidence in support of a “defense of necessity,” which justifies the breaking of minor laws to prevent greater harm.

The first to testify for the defense was defendant Brenna Cussen. She told of her trip to Sudan in December 2004 with a Catholic Worker Peace Team. While in the country she travelled to the Darfur region. The CWPT visited four camps for “internally displaced people” outside Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. “While in Darfur, we found that the IDP camps were horrendously under-protected,” she testified. They delivered $18,000 worth of food, clothing, and blankets to some of the more than 95,000 camp residents. They observed horrific conditions, which included primitive housing, lack of sanitation, food, and clean water, and an appalling lack of security. During their visit, women from one camp were raped by government-sponsored Janjaweed militiamen, government troops attacked a nearby village, and NGOs were barred from delivering essential services to the Drieg camp of 5,000 residents.

Next, renowned Sudan expert Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College testified to the extent of the government-sponsored genocide in Darfur, and to the inaction of the world community. Over 400,000 have died there in the past two years, and hundreds of thousands more will die this summer as “government-manufactured famine” sweeps the area.

Professor Mark Lance of Georgetown University testified that non-violent civil disobedience has been effective in “literally thousands” of situations involving otherwise uncooperative, sometimes murderous, regimes. His examples included the Indian struggle for independence from Britain and the American Civil Rights movement.

Mwiza Munthali, of TransAfrica Forum, gave firsthand testimony on the effectiveness of protests at the South African embassy in the 1980s in ending Apartheid. He added that protests at the Sudanese embassy in 2004 may have been crucial in pushing then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to admit that the atrocities in Darfur constituted “genocide.”

Peace educator and public policy analyst Barbara Wein, of Peace Brigades International, gave more examples of successful non-violent civil disobedience. Of the protestors on trial, she said, “I think they’re raising critical consciousness within the American public.”

Next, several other witnesses testified briefly. When asked why he had moved from more mild means of political action to civil disobedience, Brian Kavanagh said, “It’s important to keep in mind the immediacy of the situation. I’m rather cynical. When I see a problem, I like to cut through the red tape.”

Liz Fallon was asked why she was willing to be arrested, rather than heed police warnings before the arrest. She said, “The action would be incomplete if I were not willing to suffer on behalf of the people of Darfur.”

The defense next called Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit. The bishop, who has a doctorate in Canon Law, testified that, for Catholics, “If the civil law is not in accord with God’s law, then it’s not really a valid law.” A long-time activist and clergyman, he then
stated that, “I could not conceive of an act of civil disobedience without it coming out of prayer.”

The rest of the defendants then testified. Ken Hannaford-Ricardi was asked to explain why he didn’t just pay a fine after he was arrested and skip jail time and a trial. He said, “One policeman told us that we were the only group he knew that did civil disobedience at the embassy and didn’t just pay the $50 fine. When the cameras were gone, they paid the $50 and left. Well, the kids dying there are worth way more than $50.”

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, who also travelled to Darfur in December 2004, was last to testify. He said, “I could not face my children, I could not face myself, I could not in the end face my God, unless I really put myself on the line to stop this.” Commenting on why he went to trial, rather than have the case dropped for a fine, he said, “I did not want to do civil disobedience as theater, for the media, to assuage my conscience.”

In the end, though telling the defendants that they “presented the case very effectively,” Judge King found that “legal alternatives [to civil disobedience], although they may not appear effective or desirable to the defendants, were nonetheless available” and found them guilty of the charge of unlawful assembly.

The sentences for each defendant were:

  • Brenna Cussen, 26, of the Saint Peter Claver Catholic Worker community in South Bend, Indiana, who had no prior convictions: 2 days time served. (Each of the defendants had spent 2 days in jail following the initial arrest.)
  • Harry Duchesne, 43, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who had no prior convictions: 2 days time served.
  • Liz Fallon, 23, of the Saint Peter Claver Catholic Worker community in South Bend, Indiana, who had no prior convictions: 2 days time served.
  • Ken Hannaford-Ricardi, 58, of the Saints Francis & Therese Catholic Worker community in Worcester, Massachusetts, who had several prior convictions for non-violent civil disobedience: 2 days
    time served, a 20-day suspended jail sentence, and 6 months unsupervised probation.
  • Brian Kavanagh, 61, of the Saint Martin de Porres Catholic Worker community in Hartford, Connecticut, who had several prior convictions for non-violent civil disobedience: 2 days time served, a 60-day suspended jail sentence, and 6 months unsupervised probation.
  • Tom Lewis, 65, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who had an extensive record of non-violent civil disobedience, including property damage: 2 days time served, a 90-day suspended jail sentence, and a year of unsupervised probation.
  • Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, 46, of the Saints Francis & Therese Catholic Worker community in Worcester, Massachusetts, who had several prior convictions for non-violent civil disobedience: 2 days time served, a 30-day suspended jail sentence, and 6 months unsupervised probation.

After the trial, the defendants were free to go. Holding signs with pictures of victims of the people of Darfur, they marched to a White House vigil against the genocide organized by Africa Action and the Armenian National Committee of America. Schaeffer-Duffy addressed the crowd and urged them to do civil disobedience to oppose the genocide.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy addresses a Darfur vigil in front of the White House

Thanks to xradiographer for posting the initial version of this report.

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4 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On May 26, 2005 at 00:38 Adam Villani said:

    The BBC reports today that the US is sticking by its claims of genocide in Darfur: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4227835.stm

  2. On May 26, 2005 at 03:58 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    The BBC report mentioned above was posted Tuesday, 1 February, 2005.

  3. On May 26, 2005 at 16:46 David Gardner said:

    Yesterday, we the LA Catholic Worker, went to court to be present to one of my co-defendants Sara Suman a JVC member. She got time served as well, except she only did 2 hours and $5 to the victems restitution fund. We did a write-up about it on our site: http://lacatholicworker.org/2005/05/25/sara-suman-civil-disobediance-update/

  4. On May 27, 2005 at 18:39 Adam Villani said:

    You’re right; that was an old article. Somehow I had been confused by it and thought it was new.

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