Volume 75, Number 50 | May 3 - 9 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

The Grandmothers Against the War celebrated after their court victory last week.

Grannies not guilty of blocking recruiting station

By Jefferson Siegel

After a six-day trial, a State Supreme Court Judge last Thursday ruled that 18 members of Grandmothers Against the War were not guilty of blocking the entrance to the Times Square Armed Forces recruiting station.
The group tried to enter the recruiting station on Oct. 17 of last year to enlist. They said they wanted to take the place of younger people with longer lives ahead of them.

Thursday morning was the culmination of the nonjury trial as both sides, including the Grandmothers’ defense lawyer, Norman Siegel, presented closing arguments.

“I think Norman Siegel was eloquent,” City Councilmember Rosie Mendezsaid during a recess for deliberations. “I’m hoping that the judge will do the right thing and let the grannies go.”

Judge Neil Ross, in declaring the protesters not guilty, said his verdict was neither a judgment of the police or a statement of support for the grandmothers’ antiwar message.

“There was no blockage of pedestrian traffic during this incident,” Ross said. “Thus, my verdict should be understood for what it is — the letter of the Constitution must be considered.”

After the verdict, a gasp of relief came from the jury box, where the women had been allowed to sit so they could hear trial developments better. A handful of people in the court slowly broke into applause.

Using her walker to slowly leave the courtroom, Lower East Side resident Batty Brassell, one of the defendants, said, “We got a chance to speak out against the war. They have heard us around the world.”

“The judge focused narrowly on the facts,” Siegel said. “The arrests were wrongful arrests. If you don’t exercise your rights, they disappear.”

Outside the Criminal Court building, there were tears, cheers and hugs among the women and their friends and family members. At one point, they began singing several songs, including, to the tune of “God Bless America”:

“God help America, we need you bad

’Cause our leaders are cheaters And they’re making the world really mad.”

“The important thing is the message got out,” said Joan Wile, the Grandmothers group’s director. Wile has also organized a weekly protest in Rockefeller Center since the war began. “I think it’s very important that people in other countries see this. I think we’ve had an affect on the American people,” she said.

The Grannies took a victory lap last Saturday as they marched and rolled in wheelchairs down Broadway in the United for Peace and Justice antiwar march. Siegel walked with them, wearing a bright blue Dodgers baseball jacket. Their appearance along the march route elicited cheers from bystanders all the way to Foley Square.

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