C. Clark Kissinger vs. the Court
Revolutionary Worker #1087, January 21, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
Revolutionary journalist C. Clark Kissinger continues to be held behind bars at a federal prison in Brooklyn-- a target of the government's political persecution.
Clark is a contributing writer to the Revolutionary Worker, a founding member of the organization Refuse & Resist!, and a leading organizer in the movement to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Early last year, the federal court in Philadelphia imposed outrageous probation terms on Clark because of his participation in a July 1999 protest in support of Mumia at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Clark was forbidden to travel outside the New York City area without official permission. On August 1, 2000, Clark appeared at the protest outside the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to speak to the people in the streets. For making this speech, Clark was charged with violating the probation terms, and the government brought him into court once again. On December 6, a federal judge sentenced Clark to 90 days in jail.
The December 6 hearing highlighted the reality that Clark is being punished for his political activity in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal and for refusing to allow his revolutionary views to be silenced. The judge and the prosecutor insisted that the jailing of Clark Kissinger was "not political." But the very first words out of the prosecutor's mouth at the hearing was a quote from Clark's August 1 speech. The prosecutor openly talked about punishing Clark in order to prevent him from further acts of protest -- and to deter others from taking political action. And the judge told Clark's attorney Ron Kuby, "There seems to be a trail of disruption wherever your client goes.
This kind of political persecution cannot be tolerated. The people need this revolutionary brother back on the streets, helping to build the kind of movement that can defeat the power structure's moves to execute Mumia. The government cannot be allowed to set a very dangerous precedent for criminalizing political speech and protest.
Following are excerpts from the December 6 hearing -- where Clark took on the court, presided over by Judge Rapoport.
THE DEFENDANT, C. CLARK KISSINGER: Well, first off, I'm glad we have enough security here today for a dangerous criminal like myself.
THE COURT, JUDGE RAPOPORT: Don't start off on the wrong foot, Mr. Kissinger.
THE DEFENDANT: And I'm also sorry for the inconvenience that's been caused to the Probation Office because--however, I would lay that more at the door of the court because I don't think the Probation Office is really set up or designed to monitor political prisoners.
And I would comment, in fact, the conduct of the people in the Probation Office. In fact, Mr. Macolino has been nothing but gentlemanly to me. I even invited him to my birthday party, but he didn't come.
My lawyers had come today prepared to make the arguments around the First Amendment issues that are clearly involved when the Government seeks through prior restraint to stop somebody from giving a political speech directed at Government policy; however, the court has shut them down on that issue, and they were not able to argue it fully. And as the court has indicated, it would be argued...
THE COURT: Not true. They could argue that fully before the District Court. Have you not argued that already?
MR. KUBY: We have made that argument in our state papers. That argument is still pending on appeal before the District Court. Ultimately ...
THE COURT: You've made the argument?
MR. KUBY: It will be before the Third Circuit. Yes, we've made the argument, but there...
THE COURT: Good. Well, then, Mr. Kissinger, they've made the argument.
THE DEFENDANT: And we also have a motion pending for the--to change the terms of my probation dealing on some of the same issues.
THE COURT: Right.
THE DEFENDANT: Which the courts have seen fit to ignore since July. However, since my lawyers have not been able to address the legal questions that were involved in this case, I do want to speak to some of the political questions that are involved.
THE COURT: I don't think so, Mr. Kissinger. This is not a political forum, and you're not going to turn it into one. This is whether or not you violated the terms of your probation. Don't make political speeches. You're in the wrong place. Now, let me make that clear to you.
MR. KUBY: Judge...
THE COURT: You, too.
MR. KUBY: Judge, this is to determine what is to--at this point, if I understand where we are in this proceeding, is to determine what is to happen to Mr. Kissinger, is that correct?
And if that is correct, then I believe that Mr. Kissinger is entitled to a certain amount of latitude to explain to THE COURT why it is he believes he should not be sentenced to the term that Mr. Goldberg has requested.
THE COURT: Because matters of conscience rise above the application of the law, if I anticipate.
THE DEFENDANT: That's your argument, Your Honor, not mine. However, I would like to continue with my allocution, and I think even Gene Debs got to give a speech before the Government put him in jail for giving a speech against World War 1.
THE COURT: Okay, Mr. Kissinger, just get to it.
THE DEFENDANT: Thank you, Your Honor. I think what's really involved in this case is the attempt to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal, and I'm very glad that Mr. Goldberg brought that up.
THE COURT: This is not what's involved in this case, Mr. Kissinger. Let me make that clear to you. That is not the issue.
THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, you and I have different views as to what is involved.
THE COURT: And you are not going to get into that.
THE DEFENDANT: And I would like to thank Mr. Goldberg for bringing up the issue of general deterrents that's involved in my sentencing because that's precisely what's going on here. The purpose behind my sentencing and restriction has been in effect to try and put a brake on a political movement that the Government does not like.
THE COURT: Mr. Kissinger, none of this is relevant. You know, I've heard it all before. This has--this matter is whether or not you violated the terms of your release. Now, sit down.
THE DEFENDANT: Your honor, I think I was very...
THE COURT: Sit down.
THE DEFENDANT: ...patient in listening to the arguments that were made...
THE COURT: Sit down.
(Numerous voices heard in the background.)
THE COURT: Unless you have something to address--take these people out of the Courtroom if they interrupt. Unless you're going to address whether or not you violated the terms of you--your probation, the death penalty is not the subject here. Now, let me make that clear to you.
THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, I'm not speaking to the question of the death penalty itself. I am speaking to the question of what has motivated this Court to impose these penalties on me that I'm now charged with violating.
THE COURT: You're going to tell me?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir, I am.
THE COURT: Oh, I see, I don't think so.
THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, are you saying that not only did I not have a right to come down and speak at a major political event covered by international media --I do not even have a right to speak in this court as to why I did that? Is that your ruling?
THE COURT: I know why you did it. You already told me that.
THE DEFENDANT: No, I have not told you why I did it.
THE COURT: You were here to address the whole issue of the death penalty.
THE DEFENDANT: Do you want the newspapers tomorrow morning to say that not only was I not allowed to speak at a major political event in this country's history, but I'm not even allowed to speak in this court?
THE COURT: I hardly have any control over what they're going to say.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes you do, Your Honor.
THE COURT: I want you to address the issue of whether or not you violated the conditions of your probation, period.
THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, we each address these issues in our own manner. The court has its feeling as to how the issue should be addressed. I have my feeling as to how the issue should be addressed, and I will not take more than about five minutes of the court's time.
I just want to point out that I again wanted to thank the Government for saying that general deterrents is involved here, because that is, in fact, what is going on. The purpose behind these restrictions was, in fact, to put a brake on a political movement that the Government does indeed not like.
THE COURT: Not true. Not relevant. Stop that. This has to do only with whether or not you violated the terms of your probationary release.
THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, the Government did not walk into the courtroom the day that I was tried back in April and say, gosh, here's a guy who just violated a park summons order, let's throw the book at him.
The Government knew perfectly well what I had been involved in altogether, and they knew that I had published a detailed rebuttal of the Government's--an exposure of every media attack that's happened with regard to Mumia. They knew that I developed a series of resources and fact sheets on this case.
They knew that I was a principal organizer of the first and the second national conferences of organizers for Mumia. They knew that I've worked for unity in this movement, and they knew that I had consistently worked for broadening the movement.
They also knew that I have upheld and --every outbreak of determined resistance, including civil disobedience to what has happened to Mumia. That was the motivation behind their asking for the penalties that they did, and I believe the motivation behind the court giving me those penalties. It was--I was not treated the same way that anybody else who was given a park summons violation for some minor infraction, a class B misdemeanor in the parks were given.
It was overtly political from the beginning. You know that, I know that. The audience knows it. Mr. Goldberg knows it. The media knows it. There have been articles about it in the newspapers here, and we all know why I'm here today. The question is whether the Government can shut down that kind of speech.
Now, Mr. Goldberg argues that the public has to be protected from me, that somehow the public had to be protected from my coming down and giving a speech at the anniversary of the MOVE bombing, it's the people of Philadelphia who need to be protected from the Philadelphia police, not from me.
And when I came down and spoke on August 1st about governmental policy, are we talking about protecting the people or are we talking about protecting the Government officials whom my arguments and whom my speech was directed at? I think that's who the Government and this Court was trying to protect, not the public.
I came down to draw the political links that went on between this assemblage of executioners, including the states and this Government who had the greatest number of people on death row in the United States. The State of Texas alone has executed more people than any other political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere.
And I also came down because there was a whole new generation of young people being criminalized but yet who have stood up against the despoiling of the environment, against the impoverishment of millions, against state-enforced religious dogmas and against the mass incarceration. We live in a country that's a nation of prison houses with two million people in prison and over 3,000 people waiting execution.
If they were willing to come out and demonstrate on those days and against those types of policy, could I have done anything less? Could I have remained at home when they were willing to put themselves on the line? Wasn't there a political message that needed to be delivered, and weren't the eyes of the world, in fact, on Philadelphia? So it was in these circumstances--it was in these circumstances that the Government felt the need to fall back on prior restraint.
And I put in my letter to the Probation Office, I said in my letter when I asked to come down here that I am sure that the Government would not want to engage in prior restraint of free speech, yet that's just exactly what they did. And they have allowed me to make other travel as long as it didn't entail free speech. But the moment I wanted to open my mouth and criticize this Government, then I was not allowed to.
They say, yes, I could make a speech in New York. Sure, I could make a speech locked in my bathroom, but the point is that there's an important connection--the issue of free speech is not the words escaping my lips. The issue of free speech is that the intended audience be allowed to hear it. And on that day, the intended audience was in Philadelphia.
I think the Government is wise in backing off on prosecuting me on the issue of turning over the names of people that I associate with and the names of people who contribute money to me. I think that when people that I work with help me, that they have every reason to believe and expect that I will not be turning their names over to the Government, and indeed, I will not.
The Government has also said that I have not shown sufficient remorse. I'm really not sure what I am supposed to be remorseful for. Am I supposed to be contrite for fighting for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal? I will never show remorse for that, Your Honor.
The Government's been forced to admit now that Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt was fraudulently convicted and sentenced and held in jail for 26 years, and he's been freed now. The Government's been forced to admit the fraudulent conviction of Dhoruba bin-Wahad who was in jail for years on a phony prosecution.
And the day is going to come when Mumia Abu-Jamal's prosecution will also be demonstrated to be fraudulent. And on that day, those prison doors will swing open, and the people will be able to throw their arms around Mumia and he will walk with us again in peace and justice. This Court and the Government as a whole should understand that every attack on us only makes us stronger.
And while this Judge--this Judge and this Court and this Government has the power to imprison me, to fine me. They can fine me, they can jail me. They can jail my wife. They can jail my cat. They can jail whoever they want to jail, but there's absolutely nothing that is going to stop this world-wide movement to provide justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
(Applause from audience.)
[The Judge then began to impose sentence, saying to Ron Kuby, "There seems to be a trail of disruption wherever your client goes". Someone in the audience laughed. The Judge ordered the courtroom cleared, and anyone who verbally objected was dragged out, thrown to the floor outside, and a crowd of 60 was ejected from the building. C. Clark Kissinger was then sentenced to 90 days, handcuffed, and taken immediately into custody of the U.S. Marshalls.]
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