Sunday, September 30, 2012

Our own little dystopia: Rockford Files version

Granted most of the books I have been reading are more about collapsing societies, rather than really awful ones. But a fair amount of those (sort of) fictional collapsing societies have a dystopian/negative aspect to them that plays into the story. In some cases the dystopia comes about after the collapse (Handmaiden's Tale being a classic example) or they are the agent that helps bring about their collapse (Planet of the Apes with its simian slave-state). So while we are not all about disfunctionality, it does play apart in our final thoughts.

So when our government works so hard to let us live out fictional dystopian scenarios in ther real here and now, we get interested. Today's subject comes about from an interesting article by Truthout. Granted truthout is worrying about the fate of anarchist protestors, the problems are not specific to them. My first understanding of the problems with the grand jury system actually came from an old Rockford Files episode, when Jim Rockford gets dragged in front of the grand jury. He gets into all sorts of trouble, but actually gets off a little easy compared to what might have been the case.

Facing Grand Jury Intimidation: Fear, Silence and Solidarity
Natasha Lennard, Truthout, 30 August 2012 (hat tip: NC )

[T]he grand jury process has been long and regularly used as a form of political repression. According to Heidi Boghosian, director of the National Lawyers Guild (the NLG is a group with a long history of advising grand jury resisters), "abuse of grand juries includes attempts to gather intelligence or information otherwise not easily obtained by the FBI." As such, the grand jury process has been used to probe and intimidate activist groups of various stripes, from the Puerto Rican Independence Movement last century, to black liberationists, environmentalists and anarchists. For the grand jury resisters themselves, the time during which a grand jury sits (typically 18 months) is a harrowing one. As the NLG's Boghosian explained: "If someone receives a grand jury subpoena and decides not to cooperate, that person may be held in civil contempt. There is a chance that the individual may be jailed or imprisoned for the length of the grand jury in an effort to coerce the person to cooperate."
"It's actually lawful for the prosecution to hold an individual in order to coerce cooperation, but unlawful to hold the person as a form of punishment," said Boghosian. "In addition to facing civil contempt, in some instances a non-cooperator may face criminal contempt charges." For example, in 2009, Utah-based animal rights activist Jordan Halliday spent jail time for civil contempt and was sentenced to 10 months in prison for criminal contempt for his effusive noncooperation with a grand jury. And many resisters who were not jailed nonetheless recount traumatic experiences.

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