NEW YORK, NY—On July 8, 17 U.S. military veterans and their allies go on trial after being arrested as they marked 11 years of war and destruction in Afghanistan. The NYPD leadership had an opportunity to protect and honor the First Amendment. Instead, police arrested 25 as they read the names of the fallen and laid flowers in their memory at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“We are watching our First Amendment rights recede into a deep darkness, to a place where those who speak out could be detained indefinitely without trial and tortured. We see the day when dissent becomes impossible and we know that the only way to keep our rights is to challenge the system while we still can.”—Dr. Margaret Flowers
“I chose to travel 2000 miles to stand with my fellow Veterans For Peace in the cold rain on the night of October 7, 2012, because the effectiveness of the First Amendment is being chipped away at an increasing and alarming rate through the imposition of limits on the people’s exercise of their inalienable rights. We see coming to pass precisely the ‘abuse of its powers’ that the states feared would result of a strong federal government unfettered by these necessary restrictions.” —Major Ken Mayers, USMC Ret.
Dr. Flowers and Major Mayers were among 25 people, mostly veterans arrested on October 7, 2012, as they were peacefully reading the names of the fallen and laying white carnations at the wall in their memory at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The NYPD said the veterans were in violation of the park’s 10 pm closing time, a closing time that is rarely enforced. The real reason, as the veterans all knew, was that from 6 pm until 9 pm they had gathered to address grievances and condemn government lies and betrayals that precipitated wars where so many died. They gathered to respect those who died and the many more who were maimed in body and spirit and still suffer as some of the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans present that night still do.
The gathering that night, in keeping with the solemnity of the venue, was orderly and respectful, yet powerful, as Vietnam combat veterans like Bishop George Packard, Paul Appell, Army medic Mike Hastie and others spoke of the need to speak truth to power and expose the lies that send young men and women to wars for profit and empire to kill and be killed.
Paul Appell said, “I have some friends that were killed in Vietnam that I knew well enough to know that they would want me to stand for them. I want to disrupt the collective unknowing of war by refusing to be the good little boy and be out of sight, out of mind.”
On that cold, rainy night the veterans and their allies demanded an immediate end to the brutal 11-year war in Afghanistan and an end to all U.S. wars of aggression; they were there to remember and honor the fallen and they were there to stand up for their rights to assemble peacefully in a public place.
Veterans For Peace board member Tarak Kauff, also arrested that night, said, “Can you imagine if there were an independent-thinking judge who saw his or her duty to actually protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, specifically in this case, the First Amendment? The prosecution reads the charges, describing where we were arrested and what the circumstances were. I can just picture the judge: ‘Wait, are you serious? The veterans were arrested while laying flowers at a Veterans memorial? Were they disturbing the peace, desecrating property, using illegal substances?’ ‘No your honor.’ ‘Then what in God’s name are they doing in this court? Have the police nothing better to do? Case dismissed!”
On July 8, 17 of those are scheduled to go on trial in New York’s Criminal Court at 100 Center St. If their constitutional right to assemble peacefully in a public place is not upheld by the court, they will refuse to pay any fine, refuse to do community service, refuse to admit any wrong doing and will do jail time if necessary to stand up for their rights.