The experience of a “dissident” in the ISO (I): The Trial

[Prefatory note from the Renewal Faction Committee. The following document was submitted by Shaun J to the ISO Pre-Convention Bulletin on December 23. As of January 10, he has not received even an acknowledgement of receipt; therefore we are publishing it on External Bulletin. Although it contains internal material that we normally would not publish, we cannot deny Shaun the right to reply to the misleading document “Boston Response to ‘Appeal for Shaun,'” which makes a number of attacks on him personally.  Any blame for the publication of internal material lies entirely with the ISO Steering Committee, which should have published his reply in the Pre-Convention Bulletin.]

Introduction

This is a reply to the “Boston Response to ‘Appeal for Shaun J’” signed by some members of the Dorchester branch of the ISO. The “Response” is basically dishonest, and on occasion overtly lying about events with which at least some signatories are completely familiar. In order to demonstrate this, I will present documentary evidence and name all sources of information whenever possible. All documentary evidence has, furthermore, been available to the Center since October 6 or earlier.

In order to make my reply manageable, I have broken it into installments. This, the first installment, will deal with the question of my trial against false charges brought by the state, and how the leading members of the Boston district failed to prioritize my defense.

Before going on, however, I should explain why I am writing this lengthy reply. It is not because I enjoy going over this material; it is, in fact, very painful, and I should prefer to leave it all behind me in order to discuss political ideas. But ideas do not come out of nowhere, nor emanate disembodied from the Conjuncture; they are developed by people, by concrete individuals. It is no coincidence that my experience in the ISO became steadily worse as I persisted in my criticism of the group’s perspectives. This document is therefore also a kind of warning to comrades: to either act to reverse the degeneration of the organization’s political culture; to commit yourselves, in advance and permanently, to agree with whatever the leadership says; or to quit.

The trial

A brief summary of my case, from my arrest at an antiwar protest in September 2011 to the conclusion of my trial in March 2013, can be found here: http://socialistworker.org/2013/03/27/charges-dropped-against-rumsfe. A video of my arrest is here: http://youtu.be/Vg35bRIRyIg. From the video, comrades should note particularly the central role of Keegan O, who is holding the bullhorn immediately prior to my arrest.

The charges against me–assault on a police officer and resisting arrest–were serious, carrying a combined maximum of 2.5 years imprisonment. Although the maximum penalty was extremely unlikely, given my lack of criminal record, even non-custodial penalties could have had devastating consequences on my employment prospects. In short, I was at severe personal risk for an intervention on behalf of the organization.

The “Response” says: “Never once before October 2013 did Shaun ever raise the idea that the ISO didn’t do enough to defend his case to anyone….” This is a lie.

My trial had been scheduled for March 7-8 since early December. In addition to me, three ISO members were to be called as witnesses: Amanda A, Keegan O, and Lindie N, all members of our then-existing branch at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). (There was also another witness, not an ISO member.) The comrades had been aware of being witnesses since late 2011.

In early February 2013, the Boston district scheduled two events with Haymarket author Aaron Dixon to take place on March 7: one in the afternoon at UMB, and another in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston in the evening. On February 24, I wrote an email to Amanda, Keegan, and Lindie (copying District Organizer Khury PS) reminding them of the trial date. I recognized the conflict with the Dixon event, writing, “I’m of course willing to have the witness order designed in order to help the event, although any discussions of this should happen through my lawyer and not with me directly.” (Defendants are advised not to discuss their trials with potential witnesses.)

It may be worth mentioning here, for comrades who have never experienced a criminal trial, that the defendant is typically regarded with irritation and disdain. Most defendants plead out, so going to trial is itself considered an act of defiance. Although judges will readily delay hearings and trials at the request of prosecutors–this happened in my case multiple times–they have zero patience with the defense. If the defense isn’t ready, too bad–the process goes on. If defense witnesses aren’t present, judges can and will force trials forward, even if it destroys the defense case. Therefore having witnesses prepared and ready to go is critically important to the defendant.

On March 1, my lawyer emailed me to say that he hadn’t heard back from my witnesses. I immediately sent another email to them, in which I reemphasized that “it will probably not be possible for all of you to avoid testifying on Thursday afternoon, the possible conflict with the Dixon meeting notwithstanding.” That afternoon, my lawyer wrote back to say that Amanda had told him that she “absolutely” couldn’t come to court on March 7, and thus Lindie or Keegan would have to appear on March 7.

(My emails of February 24 and March 1 are reproduced below in Appendix A.)

On the night of March 2, I received a text from Keegan informing me that he would not testify on March 7 due to the conflict with the Dixon event. This was very distressing to me, since it showed that a key UMB branch and Boston district leader was prioritizing testifying in my defense below a book event–an example that I suspected (correctly) was being followed by Amanda and Lindie. I immediately sent a text to Khury PS requesting that he resolve the situation. Over the next 12 hours or so, I would send Khury an additional text and call him twice without any response.

On March 3, I received another email from my lawyer saying that he still had no witnesses lined up for March 7. Frustrated with this unbelievable situation only four days before my trial, I sent an email to Khury and Keegan, writing:

Comrades, the trial has been scheduled for over three months. Thursday is the first day, and I have to call witnesses. This is not under our control. SOMEONE from the UMB branch has to testify on Thursday afternoon.

A week ago I asked you to develop a plan for the trial witnesses to minimize conflict with the Dixon event. Instead every comrade seems to be operating with an eye to his or her own preference. This is unacceptable. I am facing serious criminal charges stemming from a political intervention on behalf of the organization, and I have every right to expect comrade witnesses to treat this with the highest possible priority.

Please let me know as soon as possible how we intend to resolve this situation.

This email drew a reply from Keegan, copying Amanda and Lindie. Keegan points out, first, that “the tone your [sic] taking and the way you are approaching this is uncomradely and not useful.” He goes on to complain he was not “part of a collective discussion about weather [sic] or not something like this even makes sense tactically to take to trial in the first place,” suggesting that I should have plead guilty to false charges in order to free up his afternoon. He says, “It’s understandable that comrades who have built this forum for weeks are trying to prioritize that while also making the time for testifying at your trial” [emphasis added]–thereby admitting what his sense of the priorities were.

Keegan does, finally, “agree someone should be there to testify on Thursday,” but neither volunteers himself nor says how to decide who that “someone” should be–even though this is what I had been asking comrades to do for a week.

At this point, Amanda volunteered to testify on March 7–her formerly “absolute” conflict was, of course, the Dixon event–and the immediate problem was resolved. An hour after that, Khury chimed in with a completely superfluous intervention that fortunately made no difference.

(The email exchange of March 3 is reproduced below in Appendix B.)

So far from never “rais[ing] the idea that the ISO didn’t do enough to defend [my] case to anyone,” I was frantically trying to get comrade witnesses to agree to show up a mere four days before the trial began! This was known not just to the participants in the March 3 exchange, but to the entire Boston District Committee. Therefore at least five signatories on the “Response”–Alpana M, Amanda A, Ann C, Khury PS, and Lindie N–have put their names, knowingly, to a lie.

The comrades who authored the appeal on my behalf were, of course, fully aware of the true situation regarding my trial. I imagine that they did not put the full evidentiary record into light for basically the same reason that I did not: a reluctance to expose the misconduct of individuals before the whole organization. It was my hope that, recognizing the truth of the criticisms made in the appeal, the comrades who were criticized would reflect on their errors and make corrections. Instead they have decided to exploit our discretion; and in the process to mislead the entire organization.

Incidentally, I forwarded the March 3 exchange to Keeanga T of the Steering Committee on September 9. Her response: “There is more to say but I’m really sorry this happened. It’s shocking. I wish we had known. We hear you.”

I suppose they have stopped “hearing” me now.

The trial in context

To the extent there was an effective ongoing campaign in my defense, it was due, in the first place, to my lawyer and his colleagues in the National Lawyers Guild; in the second place, to antiwar movement activists; and finally, in the third place, the ISO. I say this without rancor; it is a political evaluation. At the time of the trial, I did not have a clear understanding of this. Today, with a better knowledge of the context, I think I do. There are two main issues involved: one general, one specific.

On the general level, the organization has a deficient understanding of what is involved in legal defense campaigns. Comrades tend to think of these campaigns as “movements”–which they are not, even though they can (and should) have certain movement-like aspects. Legal defense is long and typically boring. It’s not “democratic”–defendants have the final say because their lives are on the line. Defense lawyers will impose restrictions on activity–restrictions which are sometimes but not always stupid. These campaigns are unlikely to “get contacts” or “raise our profile” as much as other types of activity.

Nevertheless, if we are aiming to build an organization of committed, life-long militants, then our members are inevitably going to run afoul of the bourgeois legal system, meaning that we are obliged to conduct defense campaigns. If serious radicals determine that this is an organization that abandons its people to the courts in favor of a sexy forum or whatever else, they will want nothing to do with us–quite rightly. Learning about other cases where comrades were not properly defended has convinced me that we have a general problem in our approach to legal defense.

More specifically, it became easier to understand the indifference of the key witness in my trial (Keegan O) when I discovered that he had been arguing for my expulsion from the ISO since the Convention. The comrade was simply not eager to inconvenience himself for someone he wanted to throw out of the group anyway. I will discuss this situation in the second installment.

Appendix A: Emails of February 24 and March 1

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2013 12:43:02 -0500
Subject: Reminder: My trial on MARCH 7-8
From: Shaun J
To: Keegan O, Amanda A, Lindie M
Cc: Khury PS

Comrades–

This is a reminder that my trial is coming up on MARCH 7-8. Keegan O, Amanda A, and Lindie N are all witnesses.

This overlaps, unfortunately, with the Aaron Dixon events on March 7. Now with any luck, the prosecution will not be ready for trial, and the case will be dismissed in the morning of the first day. (The judge ruled last time that it cannot be delayed any longer.) However, this cannot be counted upon, so you all need to be ready to appear.

I’m of course willing to have the witness order designed in order to help the event, although any discussions of this should happen through my lawyer and not with me directly. (This is to avoid any discussion of your actual testimony.) I recommend that you all discuss this among yourselves–not including me–and then contact Myong to make any necessary arrangements: [REDACTED] or [REDACTED] (cell).

thanks,
shaun

Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2013 10:51:08 -0500
Subject: Fwd: Witness for trial
From: Shaun J
To: Amanda A, Lindie N, Keegan O, [FOURTH WITNESS]

Comrades, please contact my lawyer Myong Joun as soon as possible to discuss your availability to testify. His email is below, and his cell is [REDACTED].

As I explained in my earlier email, if the trial goes ahead, it will probably not be possible for all of you to avoid testifying on Thursday afternoon, the possible conflict with the Dixon meeting notwithstanding.

thanks,
shaun

Appendix B: Email exchange of March 3

From: Shaun J
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 12:38 PM
To: Khury PS, Keegan O

Comrades, see the message from my lawyer below. I do not know if Lindie and Amanda are unable to testify Thursday because of unavoidable conflicts, or because they are taking the same line as Keegan.

Comrades, the trial has been scheduled for over three months. Thursday is the first day, and I have to call witnesses. This is not under our control. SOMEONE from the UMB branch has to testify on Thursday afternoon.

A week ago I asked you to develop a plan for the trial witnesses to minimize conflict with the Dixon event. Instead every comrade seems to be operating with an eye to his or her own preference. This is unacceptable. I am facing serious criminal charges stemming from a political intervention on behalf of the organization, and I have every right to expect comrade witnesses to treat this with the highest possible priority.

Please let me know as soon as possible how we intend to resolve this situation.

shaun

———-

From: Keegan O
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 8:48 PM
To: Shaun J
Cc: Khury PS, Amanda A, Lindie N

Hi Shaun,

While I agree that comrades testifying at your hearing should be a priority, the tone your taking and the way you are approaching this is uncomradely and not useful.

While individual comrades voultenereered to testify at your trial nearly a year ago, none of us were part of a broader conversation about how to approach this trial, nor were any of us part of a collective discussion about weather or not something like this even makes sense tactically to take to trial in the first place. It isn’t fair of you to simply demand that we should all drop everything and make this our #1 priority when none of us were a part of any broader conversations to begin with.

Also, our Aaron Dixon forum is probably one of the most important events our branch has ever built at U Mass and has the potential to be a significant break through in terms of our anti-racist organizing and periphery building with black students. It’s understandable that comrades who have built this forum for weeks are trying to prioritize that while also making the time for testifying at your trial.

That said, i agree someone should be there to testify on Thursday. Basic solidarity is a must for any serious revolutionary organization.  We should figure out if it is in anyway possible for whoever is testifying on Thursday to be out of the court and back to campus by 3:15 for the forum.  Every comrade has an important role to play at our event on Thursday, it would be a huge loss for any of  us to miss it.

Keegan

Sent from my iPhone

———-

From: Shaun J
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM
To: Keegan O
Cc: Khury PS, Amanda A, Lindie N

> While individual comrades voultenereered to testify at your trial nearly a year ago, none of us were part of a broader conversation about how to approach this trial, nor were any of us part of a collective discussion about weather or not something like this even makes sense tactically to take to trial in the first place.
>

So did you want me to plead guilty?

shaun

———-

From: Amanda A
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 9:55 PM
To: Shaun J, Keegan O
Cc: Khury PS, Lindie N

soooo I didn’t realize that it was necessary for one of us to be there on Thursday and didn’t think it was a big deal to testify Friday. is it possible that testifying on Thursday wont interfere with the forum? what time frame did the lawyer tell you guys for Thursday? can we just figure out what comrade should be there? I think Lindie should definitely be at the forum and can change my time to testify to make that possible.

aa

———-

From: Lindie N
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 10:46 PM
To: Amanda A
Cc: Shaun J, Keegan O, Khury PS

 The lawyer said 3PM for testifying on Thursday so it seems as if whoever goes will most likely miss the forum unless they dismiss the case in the morning.  I could do Thursday if need be, but it might make more sense for those of us taking classes at UMB to be at the forum.

———-

From: Khury PS
Date: Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 10:48 PM
To: Amanda A
Cc: Shaun J, Keegan O, Lindie N

hey comrades

 Just a word on what’s transpired so far, and then a point about moving forward.  As Keegan points out, we haven’t had any kind of systematic discussion regarding any of our comrades facing charges from last year.  This was a mistake and in the future there needs to be some strategic/tactical discussion, in a branch or the DC in the event of legal action.    While there was minimal discussion in the City Branch (basically, the City Branch was aware that Shaun was facing trial), that was it.  Given the fact that UMB comrades were key witnesses to Shaun’s arrest, there should have been at least a discussion between Shaun and that branch about the upcoming trial and the role UMB comrades would need to play.  That didn’t happen, so now we’re trying to figure it out with an important event taking place for the branch the same day.  Obviously, the fact that Shaun faces serious penalties if convicted makes this trial incredibly important.  But it’s also the case that we can’t drop the ball on the Aaron Dixon event, which is the biggest event for the UMB branch so far this semester (arguably the biggest event they’ve ever done), with a Haymarket author coming in from Seattle.  So what we need now is something that should have happened a little while ago: a discussion involving Shaun and the UMB branch about Thursday.  Who exactly needs to be present to testify?  Are the transportation and other logistics of the Aaron Dixon event set?  And if Shaun’s trial ends by mid-afternoon, is there a plan to get comrades from the BMC to UMB asap?

-khury

———-

From: Amanda A
Date: Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 12:12 AM
To: Khury PS
Cc: Shaun J, Keegan O, Lindie N

I will call the lawyer tomorrow and tell him I can now testify on Thursday so Keegan and Lindie can be at the forum. I will keep folks updated on when I can be at the forum.

aa

———-

From: Shaun J
Date: Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 7:49 AM
To: Amanda A
Cc: Khury PS, Keegan O, Lindie N

Thanks Amanda.

Keegan, please contact Myong today.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

shaun

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3 thoughts on “The experience of a “dissident” in the ISO (I): The Trial

  1. If my freedom were on the line in such a way, I too would me a little impolite if I were appealing for people who could help me in court to show up, and they blew me off.

    I am so sorry that this has occurred. But after reading about what happened in 2010 in New York about the comrades of colour wanting to bring in more non-whuite members and the way that was handled, it does not surprise me.

  2. Pingback: Who crossed what line? A response to the ISO Steering Committee | External Bulletin

  3. Pingback: A new publication policy | External Bulletin

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