Bull Connor Rides Again

By C. Clark Kissinger

Revolutionary Worker #1089, February 4, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

An outrageous precedent of criminalizing political speech and protest is being set with the imprisonment of C. Clark Kissinger--revolutionary journalist and correspondent to the RW, founding member of Refuse & Resist!, and a leading organizer in the movement to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Clark has been behind bars since December 6, 2000, for "violating the terms of his probation" stemming from an arrest in July 1999 at a protest in support of Mumia at the Liberty Bell. On August 1, 2000, Clark, along with many leaders of the Mumia movement, went to Philadelphia to speak at the protests outside the Republican National Convention. For this, Clark was charged with violating the terms of his probation. At the hearing on these charges, the prosecutor revealed the real reason for this attack. He declared Clark's speech was "not lawful speech." He even quoted from the speech as evidence that Clark should be punished to prevent him from further acts of protest and to deter others from taking political action! Clark was found guilty and jailed for 90 days.

Clark's appeal for a stay of execution of his sentence was denied by the courts in January.

From behind bars, Clark Kissinger continues his revolutionary journalism and his work in support of Mumia. Following is a new article from Clark.

In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, was the eye of the storm of the civil rights movement. Birmingham's police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor had become the symbol of white supremacist police power. At Easter time, the leaders of the movement asked the city for permits to march and picket, which Bull Connor denied, telling them "I will picket you over to the city jail." The city then got a court injunction against any demonstrations.

Led by Wyatt Tee Walker, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and others, the people marched anyhow. Eight leaders were convicted of criminal contempt of court and sentenced to five days in jail and a $50 fine. These defendants carried the case to the U.S Supreme Court in a case called Walker v. City of Birmingham. In a controversial 5-4 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bull Connor, and upheld the convictions of the civil rights leaders.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, together with Justices Brennan, Douglas, and Fortes, strongly dissented. In a stinging condemnation of the majority decision, Justice Brennan pointed out that the Birmingham authorities were trying to shield an obviously unconstitutional local law restricting demonstrations by hiding it behind a court order. He wrote that it was unconstitutional to convict the petitioners for contempt of a court order which had invalidly placed prior restraint on their First Amendment freedoms.

Several years (and a large mass movement) later, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Birmingham demonstration laws and Walker v. City of Birmingham receded into the closet along with the Plessy v. Ferguson decisions and others upholding white supremacy, which embarrassed a federal government now claiming to enforce civil rights.

Now fast forward 35 years to the case of U.S. v. Charles Kissinger. While I am doing 90 days in federal custody as a leader of the movement to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, an appeal of that sentence was filed. In arguing to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that I was properly punished for violating a court order that placed prior restraint on my freedom of speech, the U.S. attorney's reply brief focuses on one main Supreme Court decision to justify my jailing--you guessed it--Walker v. City of Birmingham. "Walker holds that Kissinger's constitutional challenges to the sentence he violated are irrelevant."

We can only congratulate the U.S. Attorney for grasping the close parallels between the government's position and that of Bull Connor. At the same time, we see in the movement for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the spirit of Rev. Walker and all those who stood up to the dogs and fire hoses of Bull Connor.

As Justice Douglas succinctly put it in his dissent to Walker v. City of Birmingham, "the right to defy an unconstitutional Statute is basic in our scheme. Even when an ordinance requires a permit to make a speech, to deliver a sermon, to picket, to parade, or to assemble, it need not be honored when it is invalid on its face...

"...by like reason, where a permit has been arbitrarily denied, one need not pursue the long and expensive route to the Court to obtain a remedy. The reason is the same in both cases. For if a person must pursue his judicial remedy before he may speak, parade, or assemble, the occasion when protest is desired or needed will have become history and any later speech, parade, or assembly will be futile or pointless."

As always, to make justice happen, people must act with determination.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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