Let freedom ring

Peaceful activists resist grand jury, further solidarity

Resisting a grand jury may not seem like the best way to get out of legal trouble, but that’s exactly what Leah-Lynn Plante and others have been doing these past few months.

By Emily Lakehomer
Peaceful activists resist grand jury, further solidarity

Resisting a grand jury may not seem like the best way to get out of legal trouble, but that’s exactly what Leah-Lynn Plante and others have been doing these past few months.

On May 1, Seattle police dealt with what they believed to be violent activism. On July 25, police forcefully broke into Plante’s Portland home. The same thing happened all over the Pacific Northwest, including in Olympia and Seattle.

The task force had search warrants for computers, phones, anarchist literature and black clothing. Because, y’know, those zines and black crewnecks are definitely a serious threat to the public and the government’s well-being.

Plante and her housemates were forced outside—in their pajamas—while FBI agents removed questionable items from their Northeast Portland house.

While it’s understandable that law enforcement should do their jobs, they need to be done based on ethical reasoning. That seems to be something that doesn’t jive too well with police activity these days. Why were these searches and arrests necessary?

The Seattle May Day protests were peaceful until a group of weapon-carrying, black-garbed demonstrators joined in. Seattle’s mayor was forced to declare a civil emergency, which resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of damage. There were also multiple arrests for various reasons, including assault and vandalism.

Despite being involved with the May Day march, there was no insinuating evidence that Plante et al. had been involved with the demonstration’s more violent parts, which makes the whole grand jury thing suspect.

A panel of civilians comprises a grand jury. After seeing the evidence, they decide if a crime was committed in the first place. Jury members aren’t vetted for biases, and there’s no judge. Grand jury sessions are also closed to the public, so for all we know they might not even take place.

Despite all the secrecy, information gathered by a grand jury can be used against testifying witnesses. For the most part, grand juries protect witnesses who are working to gain back their freedom, but they can also be used as a means to pressure the witness to give information when they’d otherwise remain silent to protect themselves and others.

The fact that Plante was arrested in the first place is, well, problematic. According to her own account, she wasn’t even in Seattle during the May Day march. After that was substantiated, Plante and three other activists, Dennison Williams, Matt Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik, were granted immunity from criminal charges—something they didn’t even ask for.

“This is a common tactic used by federal investigators. By removing the specter of criminal prosecution, prosecutors preclude ‘immune’ witnesses from invoking their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to avoid self-incrimination. It’s a way to make people talk,” according to Vice magazine.

Plante and her fellow activists chose to stand up for their beliefs and their personal rights when they refused to speak to a grand jury. Rather than giving away evidence that could have incriminated them, as well as their friends and fellow activists, they chose to act in solidarity.

That’s incredibly admirable and brave and speaks to their character much more so than that of the justice system.

Since their initial arrests, Dennison has been in prison since Sept. 26 and KteeO since Sept. 28. Plante was jailed on Oct. 10 but released two weeks later.

Little is known of why Plante was released, and she refuses to speak with media representatives. This is a smart move on her part, since incriminating herself is the last thing she needs to do.

Since she’s been released, however, she’s been silenced. She can’t speak about her ordeal or share her story with others. The group of Portland activists had been under government surveillance prior to the May Day marches.

This, coupled with the fact that FBI agents searched for anarchist literature, shows that the government acted in an Orwellian or Bradbury-ian manner—controlling what they think, what they read, and determining what’s OK and what’s wrong.

It’s great that Plante was released. Online photos show her to be a happy, smiling young woman. Whether or not she believes in dismantling the government is her prerogative. When it comes down to it, the FBI, police, etc. have no right to do what they did to her and her fellow activists.

The Pacific Northwest has anarchistic roots, and that’s something we should be proud of. Our little corner of the world seems to breed the ability to think outside of prescribed notions of what it means to be free.

At the time I’m writing this, we’re two days away from electing the leader of our country. Whether it’s Romney or another four years of Obama, we need to always, always, always remember that we have our own agency, and if something doesn’t seem right we have the ability to enact change.

I’m not telling you to don ski masks and burn flags, but take some time, maybe stop by Laughing Horse Books over in Northeast Portland, and think about your personal freedom and the freedom of others.