“I Will Continue to Break Laws”: A Statement at Sentencing

Jeremy John was sent to prison for six months for civil disobedience. This is what he said to the judge at his sentencing. 

 

November, 2003, my partner and I cut the lock on a small pedestrian gate leading on the Fort Benning US military installation as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Fort Benning is home to the notorious School of the Americas, a US training school for Latin American soldiers from whence emerged 12 dictators who seized power through military coups. We knew that we would go to prison for our action.

These are the words which I spoke to the judge just before he sentenced me to six months in prison, a year of probation, and a $1000 fine, in 2003.

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Your honor, I am here before you because I violated a law. Fort Benning Georgia I cut a lock and injured federal property. I committed a criminal act, and I take full responsibility for that act. I am a criminal. I understand that Your Honor has received a number of letters pleading leniency on my behalf. I want you to understand that I am not here before you to shirk punishment.

Consider with me today the difference between laws and morality. Jesus best summed up morality when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is a human sense about these words, a rawness, a simplicity, the sort of thing that can only be decided face-to-face.

Laws, on the other hand are systems; and in order for a person to be analyzed by a system one must first transform them into an object, an object for the scrutiny of that system. A person is not a person before the law, but instead a violator of the law.

There is a psychosis inherent in the paradigm, a schism from reality. In order to judge a person guilty of a crime against humanity the laws first strip them of their humanity: of who and what they are, the systems that created them and the parents that raised them.

In Columbia, for instance, one cannot consider the plight of a poor peasant farmer driven by economic destitution to grow the coca plant without first considering the political and economic systems that impoverished them.

However, that person is guilty of an infraction of the law. Which is why there are soldiers trained at the SOA/WHISC to fire submachineguns at them from helicopters provided by the United States.

We all know the people out there getting shot are not the drug lords in their mansions and Lexuses, they are the individual subsistence farmers out there trying to feed their families.

The men up there in helicopters are carrying out the “will of the law.” Instead of carrying out the will of the law or system, they should be working to reform the political and economic systems that caused that infraction.

I accept full responsibility for my violation of the law. However, the laws are like a hammer. If your hammer keeps bending up the nails, then pitch it out. When a law causes men to shoot submachineguns from helicopters at other men, then pitch the offending law.

Judge Land (interrupting): Now which statute partularly are you suggesting that we “pitch out.” Are you suggesting that we “pitch out” the law that prevented you from damaging federal property?

Jeremy: I am not…

Judge Land (interrupting): Just tell me yes or no.

Jeremy: (pause) Well I can’t answer that question with a simple yes or no.

Judge Land: (nodding) Go on.

Jeremy: Systems have no inherent value other than their application: their practical human-to-human morality. So long as atrocities are committed in the name of the laws, as long as the laws are enabling the soldiers in the helicopters rather than the reformers of the system, I will continue to break the laws.

Judge Land: The court has a obligation in this case to assess whether or not the findings of the pre-sentencing report in regards to your acceptance of responsibility and your statement of responsibility are legitimate. Do you regret violating the law?

Jeremy: No, I can’t say that I do.

This post was previously published on Jeremy John’s blog, glassdimly.com

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About Jeremy John

Jeremy John is the Food and Faith Network Director at the Quixote Center, where he builds alternative economies in faith institutions for food justice, where he landed after Occupy DC remade his hopes and dreams. Jeremy has been an activist ever since he accidentally ate the red pill instead of the more harmless blue one. He converted to Christianity, to his horror, while serving a six-month prison term for civil disobedience to close the School of the Americas. He blogs about faith and activism and tweets about whatever catches his fancy, usually faith.

Comments

  1. Good for you, Jeremy. That’s exactly the right approach to defying unjust laws–nonviolently, publicly, and with full acceptance of the consequences in order to make your point. Civil disobedience is one of the noblest acts a citizen can perform.

  2. John Anderson says:

    I’ll say one thing, Jeremy–your writing in GlassDimly is much more focused than this blast-from-the-past. I’m surprised you didn’t quote extensively from Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” with a few pithy comments from Robert Nozick thrown in for good measure.

    • Glad you like the blog. Yes, this is old content. When you have these biographical moments, it’s about expressing yourself exactly as you see it, rather than striving for academic originality.

  3. The man knows his Thoreau: If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.

  4. Well, yes, sure. But at the same time, the statement reads to me as justifying contributing to teh poisoning of other human beings. Cocaine is poison. What responsibility will the disadvantaged poor take for turning to crime, to poisoning others, as a way out of poverty? I myself am grateful I don’t have to answer this question, but I like to think were I destitute, I would choose to maintain my condition before I would contribute to poisoning others, to enabling the murderous cartels by providing them with product.

    You are quite right though that the solution to the drug war is not shooting; it’s economic reform and justice. And that the “School of the America’s” is an abomination.

  5. Oh, I see, you are thinking about the “coca farmer” bit.

    The problem is that US-funded spray planes in Colombia blanket large areas with Monsanto roundup to kill coca plants. Ironically, coca is the most hardy plant, and, if the leaves are harvested immediately, will put out another crop in 3 months, whereas legit crops like cacao (chocolate) will never grow again.

    So people in these war-torn regions have little option but coca production.

    There, that’s a justification for coca production. ;)

    Here’s a link to a project that I’m involved in related to displacement from coca spraying in Colombia: http://www.giveusnames.org/

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