Judge Moves Activism To Back Of Bus


October 07, 1990|By Maria Archangelo

Carroll County students learn a lot about civil disobedience.

They study the Boston Tea Party, the 1773 uprising in which Boston residents dumped tea into the harbor to protest an unjust tax.

They are taught that Rosa Parks was a brave woman whose refusal to get up and move to the back of a lawfully segregated bus was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

The legendary figures who performed these unlawful acts are touted as leaders. They are among the few who have had the courage to stand up for what they believed in, even though the status quo and the law books said injustice was acceptable.

But if those same students had heard Adams County (Pa.) Circuit Judge Oscar F. Spicer's comments Sept. 19 to a group arrested for trespassing while protesting nuclear weapons at a military site, they might be a bit confused, or at least discouraged.

I was. It's not that I think people who trespass on government property should not be arrested, it's just that I think that as long as their actions don't hurt others, it's their right to stand up in a courtroom and say what they believe in.

But Spicer clearly disagrees.

During the group's sentencing in Gettysburg, Spicer and Adams County prosecutor Roy Keefer said the thing that concerned them the most about the group's actions was that the protesters used county time and money to inform the public about their personal opinions.

"I am deeply troubled that you have used the court system to make your public statements," said Spicer, adding that he was not moved by the fact that the seven expressed moral justifications for their actions.

The group -- dubbed the "Site R Seven" for the name of the top-secret military command center just over the Pennsylvania border where they protested -- was arrested in August 1989 during a vigil to commemorate the atomic bombings of Japan.

Site R would be used to direct military forces in the event of a nuclear war.

With their signs and their voices they told the military guards at the site that they were driven there by deeply held beliefs that nuclear buildup and nuclear war are crimes against humanity. Crimes they said they could not idly stand by and watch. Crimes they don't want to pay for with their tax dollars.

Court records show the group did not damage the site and did not resist arrest. Group members were even termed polite by the Pennsylvania state troopers who arrested them.

But during group members' sentencing, Spicer and Keefer told them a lot more than just how much to pay in fines or how many hours of community service to do.

"The jails are full of people making statements and doing things without thinking about the consequences of their actions," said Spicer.

"Conscience abounds in the criminal community," said Spicer. "There are plenty of people who think they are justified in committing criminal activity."

The statement seemed to send an almost visible shudder across the courtroom.

I'm sure Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi thought long and hard about the consequences of their actions.

I'm glad they didn't back down.

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