I started my day with Kit and Sue, colleagues and friends from MCCRC, meeting with our Maryland Senators’ aides at the Hart Senate Offices building. We lobbied hard against the indefinite detention provisions that just passed. Cardin’s aide indicating that these provisions were indeed why Cardin voted against the bill and we thanked him for that. Mikulski voted for the bill, and her aide said that due to the other aspects of bill, she felt she couldn’t vote it down. (BOO!) Kit asked each of the Senator’s aides what groups like MCCRC could do to support efforts by Congress to defend civil liberties and constitutional rights. To our surprise, both aides said that providing educational events to the public is the best way to build support and advance our cause. They also advised us that when we wanted to advocate on an issue, writing an actual letter and mailing it to our elected Congressional officials was considered much more seriously than sending form letters, signing online petitions or participating in a call-in action.
After the meetings we headed down to the capitol lawn to meet up with other occupiers and attend the GA. I attended a few meetings of the Occupy DC J17 Occupy Congress organizing committee earlier in January. The DC group worked with Occupy organizers all around the country to prepare for the event and I am so impressed with how quickly they pulled it all together. Many occupiers were against with the idea of meeting with congressional reps/aides (i.e. why should we bother when they’re already bought and owned by corporate special interests) and others planned to head inside the rep offices and demand to be heard. Organizers kept action positions flexible – those that wanted to go inside to lobby or even protest should do so but might risk arrest and those that wanted to stay outside and just protest should do so. I’m sure folks were expecting a higher turnout on the 17th but no doubt the cold rainy weather had an impact. I also noticed less police presence than usual for similar size gatherings. After an hour or so of mingling around and chatting with folks (I spotted Sgt. Shamar Thomas, the Marine that was captured on YouTube viral videos telling off NY cops, dancing to hip-hop that blared briefly – was there an amplification permit?) at around noon the mic-check calls began gathering folks in groups by state for the General Assembly. It was a large group, so facilitators helped us practice a 3 level “human microphone” process to ensure everyone could hear the speakers. They gave information and hand-outs on how to find representatives in the office buildings across the street, and warned folks to stay peaceful or risk arrest. It went on a little bit too long in my view, considering that everyone was fired up and ready to get going.
I ducked out of the GA to head to the Rayburn building to attend the briefing on new legislation sponsored by Rep. Danny Davis called the “The Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2012”. I heard about the briefing earlier in the week on WPFW’s Voices with Vision show, hosted by Naji Mujahid. Rep. Davis informed us about the history and need for such legislation, which primarily stemmed from the Jon Burge case in Chicago. Burge is the former Chicago Police Department detective and commander who gained notoriety for allegedly torturing more than 200 criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991 in order to force confessions. However, Burge was sentenced to only four and a half years in federal prison for perjury; prosecutors were unable try him for torture due to the statute of limitations. Flint Taylor of the Peoples Law Office, who represented many torture survivors, explained that it is time for Federal Law to treat torture as a crime against humanity with no status of limitations. He held up an old plastic electric typewriter cover and explained how Chicago police placed them over the heads of suspects to suffocate them, and also used electric shock, cattle prods and other horrendous methods to elicit false confessions. Naji had set up a Skype link and large monitors so we could see and hear Darrell Cannon’s tragic and moving account of how he was tortured repeatedly by Chicago police, and he said he’d never get over his anger and never forgive his torturers. He said he could tell the racist cops were enjoying torturing him. The details were so horrendous and brought some attendees to tears (myself included). There is a DVD out recounting Darrell’s experiences, and Taylor said that he is still representing Darrel in his quest for more adequate compensation for what he went through. Brigitt Keller of the National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers Guild presented examples of continued law enforcement torture and abuses around the country, including psychological and physical torture of children by police, again all to elicit false confessions. I was so moved by the panel that I want to become more involved in the issue, and our work with MCCRC to pass a Local Civil Rights Restoration Act in Maryland should also include sections/protections covering police interrogations.
During the panel Sue said she heard the chanting outside of Occupiers and so we didn’t stay for the second panel and headed outside to hear what was happening with Occupy Congress actions. I happened to bump into Ben again. He had a crew of fellow Marylanders with him, and we joined them in visiting Hoyer and Van Hollen’s offices. Of course the congressmen were also unavailable to meet with us (will I ever in my lifetime actually get to sit down with my real reps?) After the 10 or so of us entered the offices, taking up all standing space and hearing the rehearsed welcome greeting (we’re so glad you came into to speak with us) the young occupiers asked a simple question that took the aides off guard: “What is Hoyer (and then same at Van Hollen’s) doing to eliminate the influence of special interest money in our democracy?”.