Local Anti-Fracking Activists Sentenced, Prison Industrial Complex Alive and Well in Grand Rapids
This article is by Rachael Hamilton.
Friday morning at 8:30, the three local activists who were arrested last week during a protest in observance of International Anti-Fracking Day, were arraigned and sentenced at the Grand Rapids 61st District Court, in front of Judge Benjamin Logan.
All three activists plead guilty to the charge of trespassing, and received substantial fines in response to their action of occupying Wolverine Oil and Gas, a local company that has spent money lobbying in favor of fracking, and has purchased gas and mineral rights to frack land in Barry County.
Despite the action being executed as a group, and in contradiction with usual courtroom custom, Logan arraigned each activist separately and did not provide time for any of them to further explain their actions. This was in stark contrast to the other folks in the courtroom also being arraigned at that time, who were asked questions regarding their actions, albeit in a condescending tone, and at least given time to explain themselves. All those who stood in front of Logan that morning faced both his deadpan drone of bureaucratic law and procedure, and his condescending attitude of paternal lecturing and disrespect. It appeared that Logan’s intention was to patronize all those in his courtroom, and deny any further platform to the activists.
This writer and the three activists noted aspects of the prison industrial complex inherent in the courtroom. All others present for arraignment were young Black and Latino women and men, charged with petty crimes such as minor drug possession and driving on a suspended license. While some plead guilt and others not guilty, it is safe to say they too will be charged hefty fines to the court. They were also subjected to Logan’s humiliating and morally superior commentary with statements such as one declaring that the only people who are out early in the morning are police officers and criminals, wondering which of those groups this gentleman fell into, in response to the individual explaining why he was driving his car at 2:30 in the morning. This statement not only ignores the multitude of valid reasons someone may be out at that time, but forgets that in our country we enjoy the freedom of not having a state imposed curfew. It reflected a moralistic sense of what underprivileged folks should be doing with their time. Such a display not only affirmed the concept of the prison industrial complex, but also spoke to the criminal justice system as what author Michelle Alexander calls the new Jim Crow—the biased treatment of disproportionately young black and brown members of society.
Jeff Smith, one of the activists charged with trespassing, stated after the court appearance that he was “not surprised by the court’s indifference to what we did, but their treatment of people of color was yet another reminder of the white supremacist criminal society we live in”.
Deirdre Cunningham, another of the activists, acknowledged that her experience in the courtroom mirrored that of her experience in the holding cell a week prior while they waited to be bonded out by fellow activists. There she encountered only women of color, one of whom was pregnant with children at home and faced a bond of $3,000. Cunningham stated “never could I have imagined, or will I ever forget the look of her, as she tried to decide whether to stay a few days or owe such a fee as to guarantee she’ll be back when they catch up with her again”.
Yet companies and corporations such as Wolverine, guilty of acts that are poisoning our drinking water, will not face this ridicule and contemptuous language from a judge. They will not be held financially responsible for their actions. But they will be permitted to continue committing their crimes and be celebrated in our community.
For those of you for whom this does not sit well, please consider participant in an action against the next gas and mineral rights land auction on Wednesday, October 24th in Lansing. For more information, you can contact the local Mutual Aid group at firstname.lastname@example.org.