Score one for the Granny Peace Brigade – or, more precisely, 18.
On April 18, the Voice wrote about the 18 members of the Granny Peace Brigade, who got arrested for trying to enlist at the Times Square Recruitment Office last October and who went to trial in Manhattan Criminal Court last week.
Today, after five and a half days in court, Judge Neil Ross handed down his decision.
“Innocent!” says Joan Wile, a brigade member, calling the Voice from outside the courthouse as she and eight or so other freshly vindicated defendants walked to a nearby deli to celebrate with sandwiches.
According to courtroom witnesses, the judge handed down his verdict just before noon, acquitting the anti-war grandmas of disorderly conduct charges. Ross determined that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had failed to prove the grandmothers blocked the entrance to the recruiting center when trying to enlist as a way to protest the Iraq war. And he played up the importance of upholding the grannies’ constitutional right to free speech.
“The verdict was definitely correct,” says defendant Carol Husten, seizing the cell phone as she stood in line at the deli. Until the last minute, Husten and her colleagues feared the worst – a guilty verdict. “All of the grannies are looking at me and they’re all nodding, ‘Yea, we were nervous the whole time,'” she says.
The idea of prosecuting grandmothers seems a public-relations nightmare, of course. But it’s anybody’s guess whether the DA’s office regrets taking this case to trial in the first place. The office’s spokesperson confirmed the verdict for the Voice, but declined further comment.
Leading New York civil-liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, who represented the brigade, described it as a triumph for all. “It’s a win for the grannies and for the right to engage in peaceful protest and for the anti-war movement,” he says. These days, people have become timid about speaking out against the war. And so, he adds, “Perhaps the grannies will be an example to show people that you do have a right to protest.”
Now that their trial has ended, the grandmas are gearing up for the next big action. On April 29, the day of a mass anti-war rally in New York City, the brigade will be marching and wheeling themselves along in wheelchairs through the Manhattan streets. And rally organizers seem to be giving the grannies their props; they’ve secured a second-place slot in the parade line right behind Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Families for peace.
So, as Wile has it, “A bunch of old broads like us still have a life to live and still matter.”