UPDATE: Ninth Time's the Charm? Nah, But Arrested Stop and Frisk Protestors Finally Go to Trial in Brooklyn
Update: It turns out that the tenth time was the charm for the four defendants who have been fighting charges stemming from their arrests during a stop-and-frisk protest in Brooklyn in November 2011.
A judge granted the defense counsel's motion to dismiss the remaining charges against the four defendants Gbenga Akinnagbe, Luis Barrios, Carl Dix and Morgan Rhodewalt in Brooklyn Criminal Court yesterday, according to a release from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
The dismissal puts an end to a near 16-month court battle for the defendants. The judge denied the defense counsel's motion to have the charges dismissed when the trial first began on Feb. 14. By the end of day 2 of the trial, she'd apparently heard enough. As we originally reported, video evidence and testimony from one of the arresting officers made it pretty clear that the defendants did not engage in disorderly conduct while protesting in front of the 73rd precinct in Brownsville that day.
Six other defendants arrested during the Brownsville protest are due to stand trial beginning March 12, and the defense counsel is confident that the court will dismiss charges against them as well, according to the release.
Original: After nearly a year-and-a-half and nine court appearances, the case against defendants arrested for disorderly conduct and obstruction of government administration during a November 2011 stop-and-frisk protest finally went to trial yesterday in Brooklyn Criminal Court.
The defendants were protesting the controversial NYPD practice in front of the 73rd precinct in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office has stalled the case for more than 15 months--a case which video evidence thoroughly debunks.
"It's just a matter of wearing people down," Gbnenga Akinnagbe, a defendant in the case and a former star on the HBO show The Wire, told the Voice. "You have citizens who are trying stand up for something [but] have jobs and families and so on. They think that if they can keep them coming back...leaving their jobs and leaving their families...that they can wear them down."
Akinnagbe and his fellow co-defendants are four of 13 individuals whom the DA's office targeted for prosecution. That's out of the some 28 protesters who were arrested during the 2011 rally. A number of those individuals reluctantly decided to accept ACD (adjournment of contemplation of dismissal) deals because they couldn't afford to keep going back and forth to court.
"At this point we have to assume it must be political," Julie Fry, one of lawyers representing the defendants told the Voice. "They are taking a stand against the cause that our clients were standing up for. They want to somehow tell people that they should stop protesting against stop-and-frisk."
The court has already dismissed the obstruction of justice charge against the defendants, which carried a maximum sentence of one year behind bars. But, the DA's office is still out to prove its charge that the defendants disobeyed a lawful order by police to unblock the entrance to the precinct.
The only problem is the order can't be considered lawful if the protestors weren't actually blocking the entrance to the precinct. Based on the police surveillance footage presented in court yesterday, the protestors weren't blocking the entrance to the precinct.
NYPD officer John Blanco--who arrested co-defendant the Rev. Luis Barrios of St. Mary's Episcopal Church--was the first of five cops to deliver testimony in the trial. Blanco repeatedly indicated that he didn't observe any protestors blocking entry into the building. In fact, he testified that he never even saw anyone attempt to enter the precinct through that entrance.
Prior to the protest, officers set up a row of metal barricades which carved a path to enter the precinct. A ways down from the actual entrance to the police station, the officers set up an opening to the roughly 10-foot-wide pathway they created.
Roughly six auxiliary officers blocked entry to that opening and placed to barricades beside them to keep protestors confined to either side of the opening. The defendants decided to stand in front of the officers, but never attempted to push past them, according to Blanco.
"There's no law mandating that people have demonstrations inside of metal cages right?" Fry asked Blanco during cross-examination. "And, there's no law mandating that their demonstration has to be to the side of barricades?"
Fry implied that the barricades were arbitrarily set-up. Thus, if the protestors were occupying a space that wasn't lawfully restricted, then they couldn't have been disobeying a lawful command by choosing to remain in that area--even after the police ordered them to move.
The judge denied the defendants' motion to have the case dismissed based on the fact that the court already dismissed the separate case of Gregory Allen, who was also arrested during the protest and charged with the same crimes.
Carl Dix is one of the defendants in the case and is the man largely responsible for spear-heading the city-wide campaign against stop-and-frisk. Dix has been a defendant in cases related to Stop-and-Frisk protests in Queens and Manhattan as well. While he has had to drudge from court to court for the last year, he believes that the cases present an opportunity to spread awareness for the cause against stop-and-frisk.
"It kind of drags you out, but we are determined to fight this, so we approach the court as if we're just fighting the battle," Dix told the Voice. "If you're going to bring us in there, we're going to bring the fight against stop-and-frisk in there... Bring us into your courts and we'll bring the message that 'stop-and-frisk don't stop no crime. Stop-and-frisk is the crime.'"
An NYPD report released Monday revealed that 50 percent of the nearly 690,000 stop-and-frisks in 2011 were conducted on black New Yorkers, 40 percent on Hispanics, but only 10 percent on whites and others.
"It has to stop. The racial profiling on the street. The warehousing of people to prison--treating them like criminals after because we're going for the whole thing of mass incarceration," Dix said. "We started with Stop and Frisk but we're going for the whole thing, and we're saying it has to stop."
The defendants will likely have to make at least two more court appearances, as the remaining four arresting officers still must testify. They'll be back in court on Feb. 27 for the second day of the trial.
Here's footage of the Nov. 1, 2011 protest:
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