- On Wednesday, November 4, 2009 the Omaha and Des Moines
Catholic Worker communities and friends held our fourth annual protest
and ‘Die In” at the Qwest Center in Omaha at SRATCom’s Space Weapons
Bazaar called the Strategic Space Symposium in Omaha NE, Nov 2-4.
The effort began with a group of over 30 people gathered across the
street from the main entrance of the Qwest Center at 11 a.m. We moved
in mass across the street to the main entrance, set up our “Space
Weapons = Death” banner. We gathered around the banner and read of our
statement. (See a copy of the statement below.)
After the statement was read a number of people, including the 8 who were arrested laid down on the ground in front of the banner, enacting a “Die-In”.
After 5 minutes people were called to their feet and directed to take the “Die-In” into the Qwest Center where the Space Weapons Bazaar was taking place. The protesters were stopped just inside the front doors by Qwest security people and Omaha police officers. The protesters proceeded to reenact their “Die-In” just inside the building at the feet of the security people and police. Our statement was reread.
Qwest security people informed all protesters to leave the building or face arrested. All but eight people left the building. Each of the eight was asked by an Omaha police officer to leave the building or face arrest. All eight were place under arrest, hand cuffed and walked out the of the building into a police van or police car.
Among the eight people arrested was 91-year-old Peg Gallagher, “Grand
Dame of the Omaha Peace Movement”. Peg was ticketed and released right
on site. The seven other people who were arrested were taken to the
Douglas Co Jail, processed by the police and charged with City of Omaha ordinance “20-155 Request to Leave” - a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a five hundred dollar fine. The seven were:
Fr. Jack McCaslin, 80, Omaha, NE
Mark Kenny, 52, Omaha, NE
Daniel McCarville, 22, Omaha, NE
Friar Louis Vitale, OFM, 77, Oakland, CA
Fr. Jim Murphy, 55
Steve Clemens, 59, Minneapolis, MN
Frank Cordaro, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker, Des Moines, IA
The four Omaha residents were cited and release and given a Dec 9th
Amazing Day in Court!By Frank Cordaro, Des Moines Catholic Worker
Nov 5, 2009
The four out of state “Space Weapons Bazaar” protesters who were arrested Wed. Nov 4th at the Qwest Center in Omaha spent the night at the Douglas County Jail. We were Fr. Louis Vitale of CA, Fr. Jim Murphy of WI, Steve Clemens of MN and me Frank Cordaro of IA. We were all charged with a City of Omaha ordinance “20-155 Request to Leave” a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a five hundred dollar fine.
On Wed Nov 5th we appeared before Judge Darryl Lowe in what is called ”jail court” with sixty other Douglas Co Jail inmates at 1:30 p.m. for what turned out to be the most entertaining and perplexing two hours I have ever spent in a court room.
Jail courts are the places where people who get arrested and booked into county jails, and do not bond out, get to see a judge for the first time. This is the time when most inmates can plead guilty or innocent, be assigned a court appointed attorney and have their bail reviewed. The vast majority of inmates who appear in these jail courts are poor and people of color. Ninety percent plead guilty, knowing ”you get the justice you can afford” in this country and if you’re poor, you’re better off pleading guilty and doing the time up front than pleading innocent and doing more time awaiting trial, a trial in all likelihood you would end up losing whether you are innocent or not. It’s not a pretty picture to watch. It’s often done with out feelings or human concerns for those being judge.
This time it was different. The officer who talked to the sixty of us before we were lead into court told us that Judge Lowe is a very different kind of judge. “He’s liable to ask you the strangest of questions.” The officer was not wrong. In the two hours we spent before Judge Lowe he made inappropriate comments, asked questions way beyond the scope of his professional obligation as a judge, and delved into people’s personal non-legal issues.
Yet Judge Lowe was also one of the most caring and humane judges I have ever seen work from the bench. Beyond his extremely large public, entertaining ego, he showed real concern for the people who stood before him. For those who plead guilty, he went to great efforts to find a sentence that really matched what the inmate needed in order to make right for the crime committed and help them get their lives back together. Judge Lowe meted out justice that day unlike I have ever witnessed in a court of law. It was justice with a heart.
Before the court session started Judge Lowe made some introductory remarks. Among them was his admonition that people take personal responsibility for their alleged activities. “If you are innocent, plead innocent and if you are guilty plead guilty. And if you plead ’no contest’ you better have a good reason cuz I don’t take lightly to people who are just trying to not take responsibility for their actions.”
As the two hour session was coming to a close it was clear the judge was speeding up his pace, wanting to be done by 3:30 p.m. The order of the cases was presented to him from the most serious to the least serious. We four protesters were the last four cases of the day. We were all in our orange jail-issued outfits. By the time Fr Louis Vitale was called to the bench we were the only ones left in the court room, with the judge, the prosecutor, the two court recorders and the four jail police officers.
As Fr Louis approached the bench the prosecutor told the judge that the last four of us were all here from the same charge and that the arrest took place at the Qwest Center the day before. Judge Lowe did not even look at any of the paper work. He talked about his being at the Qwest Center on many occasions for concerts and basketball games. That was all he needed to know. Judge Lowe asked Fr Louis “What do you plea?”
“No contest,” said Fr Louis.
And before Fr Louis could say anything else Judge Lowe said, “Five days!” and pounding his gavel saying, “If you had plead guilty it would have been three days. Next.”
Fr Louis was dumbfounded. He tried to explain to the judge that all he wanted to do was make his plea and ask that the sentencing be postponed until the four local Omaha people went to trial. Fr Louis needed to be on a plane Saturday morning for a speaking engagement and Mass obligations Sunday. A five day sentence would make it impossible for him to make his commitments. Judge Lowe would hear none of it. He pounded his gavel and told Fr Louis if he wanted to appeal the sentence he would have to come up with a $100,000 bond! “Next,” shouted the Judge Lowe as the guards led Fr Louis out of the court room.
Fr Jim Murphy approached the bench. And Judge Lowe asked him “What do you plead?”
“No contest” said Fr Jim, and then he immediately changed his plea to “Guilty!”
“Three days” said Judge Lowe pounding his gavel. “Next!” shouted Judge Lowe as Fr Jim was lead out of the court room.
Steve Clemens approached the bench. By this time everyone had a chance to catch their breath. Judge Lowe finally asked Steve, “What were you guys doing at the Qwest Center in the first place?” Judge Lowe just assumed the four of us were arrested for intoxication. He just thought we were four old drunks.
Steve said, “Your honor, we were there to protest the Strategic Space Symposium. We were there to protest the selling of space weapons technology to STRATCom!”
And from the inmate sitting area, I shouted out to the judge, “And you just sentenced two Catholic priests to jail!”
“Catholic priest! Protest!” exclaimed Judge Lowe as the blood went out of his face, “Bring those two priests back before me. Give me their files.” The judge asks me to join them all at the bench. We explained to him what our nonviolent protest was all about. He congratulated us for our witness. He said he believed in nonviolent civil disobedience. He said more of it needed to be done. He told us his father was active in the civil rights movement in the south. He added, “of course I was only four years old at the time.” He shook each one of our hands. Fr Louis knelt down with his hands raised in prayer and thank God for the Judge’s change of heart.
We were all sentenced to time served, given a pat on the back and in essence told ‘Job well done good and faithful servants! He ended the session by saying “I hope you all come back again next year!”
I have never ever been treated so well. Justice, not necessarily the Law was served that day in the Douglas County Jail.