Grand Juries Out West

I was driving through Virginia a week ago when I got a frantic text from a friend in NY. “Houses were raided in Portland. Is everyone okay?”

I lived in Portland for years, so I started calling around. And no. Not everyone was okay. Multiple activist houses were raided, guns drawn. Sealed warrants: we don’t know what their excuse for the violence was, and we may never know. We do know they were raiding the house looking for black clothes and anarchist materials.

Land of the free and all that.

But it gets worse than some guns-drawn-broohaha over the scary scary anarchists who may or may not have been involved with whatever protests. They subpoenaed two of my friends, Dennison and Leah (pictured above), to testify before the grand jury.

A grand jury is a strange creature. If you’re called to testify in front of a grand jury, you have to talk. Your constitutional protections don’t apply. Your right to remain silent doesn’t exist. You become legally required to snitch, to provide whatever information they ask of you, about whomever they ask. If you don’t talk (which, for the record, you should not), the judge can arbitrarily put you in prison for contempt of court. It’s not a criminal charge, so you’ve no right to those wacky things like “a trial.” You just go to prison because some bastard in a suit or a robe or whatever decides s/he doesn’t like that you won’t tattletale. If they put you in prison, it’s usually for six months. And when you get out? They can make you testify again. And if you refuse, right back in you go for another six months. Somewhere, Kafka and Orwell are fighting it out in some afterlife to decide who gets to use that idea for a book.

Grand juries demand resistance. Even if you don’t know anything they want to know, their very existence is so repugnant that they ought never be complied with.

My friends Dennison and Leah have announced their intention to resist the grand jury, that they will do nothing more than give their names. That they will refuse to answer all other questions. So they’ve announced to the world that they’re willing to go to prison without being convicted of any crime rather than play into the hands of the state. That they’re decent people.

The existence of grand juries is a secretive evil, one that must be dragged out into the light. We need people knowing about it, talking about it, condemning it. Resisting it.

One group in Portland that has come together to resist the recent grand jury is No Political Repression (okay, not the catchiest name, but it gets its point across). They’ve got a public statement against grand juries signed by a huge variety of political and cultural groups, and more importantly perhaps, a way to donate directly to those facing grand juries.

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