On the Way to the Slammer...
from No Compromise Issue 6
 

By Jeff Watkins

Time... lately this word has taken on a new meaning to me. As a matter of fact, lots of things have taken on new meaning in the last few weeks. I'm embracing my friends a little tighter because soon I won't be able to embrace them at all. Lately, every hour that goes by is more sand in an hourglass that I just want to smash, because when the bottom half of that hourglass is full, my freedom will evaporate.

Allow me to explain...

On the morning of February 28th of this year, I will be placed into the custody of the Onandaga correctional facility to serve a sentence of no more than six months.

This sentence is a result of my fight against the fur industry and an obviously corrupt and brutal Syracuse police force.

I'll begin telling this story from fur free friday 1996. My roommate and close friend Joel Capolongo and I were identified by Bonwitt Teller security and local cops as organizers of the demonstration at hand. Joel was charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing. I was charged with the same, plus a misdemeanor resisting arrest, bringing my total existing charges to six.

That night was another one spent in jail and we were released about 24 hours after we were arrested.

When we arrived home, we ate and went out with friends.

Due to the legal turmoil that the following incident produced, I am unable to offer a full account, but here's a little overview...

In a large, suburban grocery store, a woman wearing a black 3/4 length fur coat, was doused in red paint. Minutes later, I was surrounded by store security and officers from the Dewitt police and arrested. The assistant DA handling my case was called from the store and she could not have been happier about my arrest. I was transported to the Dewitt police department, where my clothes were taken as evidence. I was interrogated to the most intense degree I have ever experienced. I was denied use of a bathroom and pulled by my hair.

I was informed that my girlfriend was outside crying. Everything the cops could employ to coerce me or trick me into forfeiture of my civil liberties was gainfully deployed against me. Luckily, to no avail. I was jailed for five days and four nights. After all this time, Joel, at my request, called my mom and pop and explained the situation. They then accumulated the necessary $3,500 for my release.

For the time being, I was free, or as about as free as an animal liberationist can be in Syracuse. But I now had four more charges hanging over my head like a rain cloud. A count of harassment, two misdemeanors and a felony criminal mischief. Aside from the usual, everything was pretty normal for a little while. Until January 2nd.

An underground musical event had attracted people from all over, and a lot of those in attendance were vegan and/or active in the animal liberation movement.

So on the morning of Jan. 2nd a group of us congregated for a demonstration against the fur trade and the downtown Syracuse police. Our message was simple; no longer would we accept blatant disregard of our rights. No more beatings, no more macings, no more bullshit arrests when some asshole cop has an ego problem. NO MORE!! And to get the point across, we had the aid of some great activists like Seth from Indiana and Jerry and Pam from Connecticut.

Given, this was going to be a challenge, but nothing could have prepared us for that ugly turn of events. By now, everyone is aware of the chaos and violence inflicted on the group of protesters. Eight activists were violently arrested and placed in the county jail, to undergo more abuse inside those walls.

The following morning, a city judge had refused to even arraign the activists in jail, let alone release them.

We (supporters) were instructed by police to evacuate the court room immediately. Between the injustices we were presented in court by crooked cops (one of which held a gun to Joel's head a year prior) and waning media focus, I thought that someone had to do something. Also, none of the eight jailed activists had ever been in that particular jailand were being mistreated. When I saw a police squad car parked outside the courtroom, a plan hatched inside my head and I didn't hesitate to put it into action. I then climbed (not jumped) atop the squad car and confronted the police as vocally as possible. I was arrested pretty quickly.

After a televised arrest and a not so televised ass-kicking, I was in jail and due to the fact that the guards knew me, I asked to see my friends right away. When the deputies brought them down to me, they had John Doe identification bracelets and they were being lodged in the facility's psychiatric ward. I demanded that the bracelets be changed in front of me... they were. I also stated that the jail had no business housing activists in a psych ward... we were placed in our correct pod shortly thereafter. I joind the hunger and thirst strike underway and three days later and 15 pounds lighter, I walked out of jail and into the arms of friends, supporters and the other activists who were released a half hour later.

I've been told by some people, even a few in the animal liberation struggle, that I was wrong for climbing a police car and that it was irrational. I strongly disagree. I had accomplished all of my goals for that day, by that single action. I stand by that. I will continue to do so.

Shortly after that incident, I was offered a plea bargain that would dismiss all 12 charges pending against me in a court of law.

I would plead guilty to criminal mischief and the other 11 charges would be dropped. On my part, however, I would have to accept a six month sentence and pay restitution on the fur coat that was damaged. I was given some time to think it over. It was a lot to kick around. I stood before a county court judge and plead guilty.

It hurt... a lot.

Bottom line though, it was the best decision. Again, let me explain.

The grocery store where I was said to have had thrown red paint at someone, had actually produced a video tape of the whole thing. I don't doubt that I would be found guilty. I also have wanted to leave Syracuse for a while now. I'm really just banging my head against a brick wall here. I'm not allowed within 500 feet of a fur coat and every cop knows me by name, face and worst of all, license plate. (See Joel's submission in this issue.) The harassment here seems to focus on Joel and I and to say that it hinders my activism is an understatement. So, for the time being, l'll be communicating with you all via mail and collect phone calls, but only for a while.

Because when I walk out of those slamming jail doors, it's a new game, with new rules and a new stadium. I haven't made a permanent decision as to where I'm going yet. (And I have plenty of time to think about it.) But whatever city I move to, l look forward to rejoining the struggle for animal liberation... LOOK OUT FUR TRADE!!!

Thank you to everyone who has lent me support, thus far, and I welcome any incoming support from friends and activists ... thanks again... ANIMAL LIBERATION.

Look for more on this next issue.