Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Madisons and the Riot Act, part one

Elliott and Elena Madison are in trouble, and if you're an anti-capitalist activist in particular, their trouble is your trouble--because police presence at economic summit demonstrations, WTO conferences, and sites of confrontation between capital and the anti-capitalist movement are always heavy-handed (there's a reason for this, folks). For starters, Elliott "was arrested on September 24 at a motel room for allegedly listening to a police scanner and relaying information on Twitter to help protesters avoid heavily-armed cops -- an activity the State Department lauded when it happened in Iran."

It got worse. And more surreal. An interstate rioting law?
Prosecutors revealed yesterday that Elliott Madison, 41, and his wife, Elena, 39, are under investigation for allegedly violating a little-used interstate rioting law. FBI anti-terror agents raided the couple's Jackson Heights home on Oct. 1 and seized riot gear, including a dozen gas masks, fireworks, books, photographs and electronic equipment.

I assume it's this interstate clause of the Federal Riot Act. When does a demonstration become a riot? Rhetorically, when the state has an interest in disrupting it. I am contacting Martin Stolar, the Madisons' attorney, who, in his motion to throw out the search, said
In this day and age, federally authorized agents entered the private home of a writer and urban planner and seized their books and writings. The warrant's vagueness and lack of specificity encouraged the agents to use their own discretion and their own views of the political universe to seize, or not to seize, items which they thought were evidence of a violation of the federal anti-riot statute. The law and the Constitution do not allow this. If there really is a grand jury investigation with possible future prosecution under [a federal anti-rioting law], the use of this statute as applied to demonstrations, demonstrators, and their supporters has profound 1st Amendment implications.

A nod to an "Examiner" -- Milwaukee Progressive Examiner Jerome McCollom -- who while disagreeing with the tactics and possibly even the message, nevertheless recognizes how an injury to one is an injury to all.

An individual, Elliott Madison, who used twitter to inform fellow protestors of police movements during the arrest has been arrested. Weren't we in the US (rightly) praising Iranian protestors who used twitter in Tehran when their rights were violated? The "rationale" of this arrest is that he was interfering in prosecutions. But that rationale assumes that those who are engaged in exercising their fundamental free speech rights are guilty of some crime. That is and should not be the mentality of a law enforcement arm in a free nation.

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