Tuesday, May 15, 2007


mass rabbinic arrest
mass rabbinic a.c.d.
mass rabbinic impact

or:  בָּרוּךְ מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים
or:  What Do You Mean 'No Cameras'?
or:  No one Actually Had to Watch the
      Jacket & Mishna But I Did It Anyway

A little less than a month ago, R' Avi Weiss and 21 other protesters (mostly rabbis, with a few rabbinical students and a communal leader mixed in) were ARRESTED for obstructing pedestrian traffic as part of a civil disobedience protest at the United Nations.

Today was their day in court.

I apologize for the lack of pictures;
recording devices aren't allowed in the court building.

I arrived at the Manhattan Criminal Court building at 100 Centre Street at around 8:10am (and sat on a bench and caught up on last week's parsha). The arraignments for the protesters' Desk Appearance Tickets took place in room AR2, a long courtroom with somewhat weak acoustics (I found it difficult to hear everything the bailiffs and judge were saying).

The first identifiable protesters, R' David Kalb and R' Steven Burton, arrived at around 8:35. Attempting to be a better amateur reporter, I asked if they would like to make a statement. Rabbi Burton (of Shaarei Shalom), who also happens to be a lawyer, said that while he has been in court many times before, this was his first time being arrested and arraigned.
This issue, he said, is "central to everything that my rabbinate is about..." It's an "issue of klal Yisrael." He explained: "We and those who live in Eretz Yisrael are one people, and the threat that Iran presents directly to those in the Land of Israel — I and my congregation consider [it] a threat to us."
Other protesters arrived soon afterwards, including R' Jason Herman and Ben Greenberg. Their lawyer arrived around 9:10, and began the process of representing his clients. Some of the arraignees, watching the action from the back of the room, theorized that their lawyer probably needed to get their case delayed, since there was a bris in Riverdale that morning that many of the people involved had to attend.

At 9:15, the judge arrived, and a few of the rabbinic protestors stood up, yeshiva-style, as she entered the courtroom. Almost all of my knowledge of court procedure coming from the media, I expected a bailiff to make a loud announcement for everyone to have respect and rise when the judge enters, but no such announcement was made.

The court came to order about ten minutes later. For the next hour and a half, protesters trickled in while other cases were brought before the judge. A few marijuana possession charges; some unlicensed driving; a few cases of possession of stolen property... Most of the defendents were given ACD — Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal. As the judge said many times this morning to many different people,
If you stay out of trouble, your case will be dismissed and sealed thereafter.

In other words, all of these minor violation charges were put on hold for 6 months (12 months for marijuana); if, during that time, the defendent gets into no more trouble with the Law, the charge is automatically dropped and erased from their record. However, if they do get into trouble during that time, The People have the right to reopen the case.
While waiting for his case to come up, Ben Greenberg told me about some of the other causes he has demonstrated on behalf of. Just last night, as a matter of fact, he was at a labor rally in support of the workers at the Congress Hotel in Chicago who have been on strike since June, 2003. One of the owners of the hotel, Albert Nasser, was being honored by the International Sephardic Education Foundation at a benefit in New York, and Rabbi-In-Training Greenberg, with 40 workers from the hotel and many other supporters, demonstrated in front of the benefit in order to inform the people attending just who it is that they are actually honoring. Other protesters included R' Jill Jacobs of the Jewish FundS (sic) for Justice, R' Michael Feinberg of the New York Labor-Religion Coalition, and Rev. Dr. Charles H. Straut Jr. of the Riverside Church.

Getting back to the aftermath of this protest, though...

At around 11am, the rabbinic protesters' case came up. Their lawyer made a statement on behalf of all of them, pointing out that the civil disobedience protest was coordinated respectfully with the Police Department, and that there was no intent to cause a public disturbance — instead, their sole intent was to raise the public consciousness about the threat that Iran poses to Israel, the USA, and the rest of the world. The judge granted the protesters an ACD, and they were called up four at a time so that she could give the detailed spiel about what exactly an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal is. It all took less than 15 minutes, and afterwards, outside the courtroom, the lawyer explained to the protesters that with a successful ACD — 6 months of not getting into trouble and then the automatic dismissal of the case — they can legally answer the question "have you ever been arrested?" with a 'no' and be telling the truth.

After being released of the consequences of their previous protest, the protesters promptly left the courthouse and protested again. I was unable to attend and play photographer again, however, since unfortunately I had to go to a friend's grandfather's funeral. I hope to get in touch with my sources soon so that I can describe what happened after I left.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, man, I was hoping that they would wait six months before they tried it again and not six minutes...

5/16/2007 4:05 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Yeah, well, i assume that the mini protest/march/rally whatever it was they had (or at least had been planning to have) was just a short declaration of principles. No 'disorderly conduct' civil disobedience involved.

However, my sources (or at least the one of them i've reached so far) are keeping quiet as to what exactly went on; there may have been some super-secret who knows what going on, but even if there were, i'm not interested in that part; only the public events, if anything actually happened.

5/16/2007 4:35 PM  

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