OccuBarn trial: Background

Thinking back to December 4, 2011 when Occupy DC erected the OccuBarn in McPherson Park, it’s worth remembering that violent police confrontations with the Occupy movement were happening with great frequency. Paramilitarized police of metropolitan areas had the opportunity to try out on Occupy protestors all the techniques they had learned–and many of the toys they had acquired–in their post-9/11 homeland security training. Moreover, iconoclastic events like the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from New York’s Zuccotti Park were still fresh news. That eviction had only just taken place on November 15.

In light of the recent clashes with police forces, it took a lot of chutzpah to raise the Barn–the “temporary structure” intended to shield General Assemblies and other meetings from the winter cold.  And, as trial witness Sara Shaw put it, it also “served as a symbol. We were protesting foreclosures, the rise of homelessness. [With the structure,] we were providing a shelter.” Wooden, rectangular, about 30 feet long and at least 15 feet high, the OccuBarn was a provocation, and there was no question that National Park Police were going to respond.

Moving in early that crisp December morning, Park Police demanded that the structure be disassembled. In spite of a somewhat confused emergency General Assembly, which ultimately decided to comply with the order, 23 people conducted an autonomous action, stationing themselves within the structure or climbing into the rafters. An all-day stand-off ensued.

More than six months later, 14 defendants are on trial for minor offenses–all of them charged with failure to obey in an emergency situation, and one additionally charged with public indecency and urinating in public. The trial is actually being conducted in traffic court by Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Wingo.

It’s speculation, but Judge Wingo may be enjoying defense counsel’s approach–challenging the basis of the statutes on Constitutional grounds. In his motions to dismiss, Occupy DC attorney Jeff Light essentially asked the judge to strike down District laws on obscenity and public indecency, public urination and failure to obey police.

Talk about chutzpah.

A reminder: the recurring theme of the preliminary hearing on May 30 was Judge Wingo’s excoriation of the prosecutor’s office for failing to meet filing deadlines. She opened Day 1 by asking, “Is the government ready for trial?”

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6 thoughts on “OccuBarn trial: Background

  1. Pingback: OccuBarn trial: Emergency situation « Cool Revolution

  2. “…which ultimately decided to comply with the order…”

    The quoted portion is false. No Occupy DC activist participated in the dismantling of the structure after it was condemned and the NPS demolished it themselves. Although there was consensus to build the barn from the GA in early November, there wasn’t a consensus to dismantle it on December 4th. Otherwise, really good story!

    • Drew, I’d like to talk to you later about that. My understanding was that the emergency GA came to a consensus to dismantle, but the police got impatient and came in to cordon off and order everyone out. (My fault for not including that.) Of course, demolition happened after dark. I’d like to get the facts straight–all of you can help me with this.

  3. Pingback: OccuBarn trial: Architect vouches for safety « Cool Revolution

  4. Pingback: OccuBarn trial: Outcome « Cool Revolution

  5. Pingback: Jeff Light: “Will work for cupcakes” « Cool Revolution

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