A few weeks ago, WISH was asked to endorse the following statement from the Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective which aims to both oppose the existence of grand juries and to offer support to grand jury resisters. We had several great discussions about whether or not to do so, and in the end decided to sign on to the statement, but also wanted to offer a short statement of our own about why, despite endorsing, we have reservations about some of the language used in the statement.
WISH (Washington Incarceration Stops Here) seeks to support grand jury resisters, including those in our own communities, but also challenges the narrative that resistance as it is laid out in the Bay Area Grand Jury statement is the only way to fight back against the grand jury process.
WISH is a group opposed to prisons, criminalization, immigration enforcement, and other punishment-based approaches. Necessarily then, we also reject the validity and deeply question any purported usefulness of courts in solving problems those in our communities face. Grand juries in particular exist to tear communities and movements apart. WISH agrees that grand juries should be opposed when possible and that those resisting participation (and often facing incarceration by doing so) should be supported and celebrated. Spreading the word about what grand juries are and letting people know they can resist with support is vital to dismantling these harmful systems.
However, we also know that the state intentionally tries to get us to fight each other instead of fighting it. To say that anyone who talks to the FBI or a grand jury is untrustworthy ignores the realities of living in a police state. While some people bravely face incarceration as a result of grand jury resistance, many people cannot. Disabled people, trans people, people who care for children or others, immigrants, and anyone else who decides that they need to resist incarceration if at all possible are no less trustworthy. Incarceration is horrific, and we would never ask or expect anyone to be put in a cage for any reason—though we do seek to support those who are, especially activists from our own communities. To say that non-cooperation with the grand jury process is the most “ethical” choice ignores the histories of who is targeted by grand juries and why: we know that people of color led organizations have a long history of police infiltration and sabotage, and that grand jury investigations often target those who are already facing isolation and oppression. As we work together to develop ways to support grand jury resisters, we must remember to reach out and support those already marginalized.
Shaming people and isolating them further because of their decisions around survival does nothing to build our movements, is in opposition to our core beliefs, and ultimately plays into the state’s goals of dividing us from each other. It is with these ideas in mind that we chose to sign on to the statement by the Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective while also pushing ourselves to develop strategies that reflect our strongest beliefs.
The Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective‘s Statement:
Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective:
The Bay Area Grand Jury Resistance Collective is a group of activists from the animal rights, environmental, anarchist, and anti-imperialist movements who collectively have decades of experience organizing against grand juries and other State repression. Recently we came together to discuss the increased use of grand juries as a tool by the State to disrupt and gather information on radical movements and the ways in which these communities have chosen to address them. We are writing this because we are aware that certain individuals have cooperated with a grand jury in San Francisco within the last year. These people have been neither transparent about their involvement nor what transpired during the grand jury proceedings. Their lack of accountability has the potential to weaken our ability to resist and to build our movements. We are further concerned that the affected communities have not been adequately prepared to address issues of transparency and accountability. This is a problem. A strong resistance to political repression is hinged on activists’ ability and commitment to foster a culture of solidarity, support, and accountability. It is vital to engage in discussions about what notions like “solidarity” and “accountability” will materially look like prior to them becoming necessary. This statement has been collectively written in the spirit of encouraging all those engaged in social and revolutionary change to have these conversations now, in preparation for the next grand juries.
Resist Grand Juries!
We offer this statement in solidarity with all grand jury resisters. We acknowledge the
strength and courage of those who have been steadfast in their non-cooperation with the State.
The government utilizes grand jury investigations as a tool against our communities and we the undersigned stand firmly against all cooperation with these proceedings. Grand juries have been used as tool to silence and intimidate activists connected to AIM (American Indian Movement), Black Liberation, Chicano, and Puerto Rican Independence movements, as well as antiimperialists, anti-war activists and the women’s liberation movement. More recently anarchists, animal liberationists, Black Panthers, radical environmentalists and individuals from Indymedia and Wikileaks have been called to testify. Arab Americans and Muslim communities in particular have been targeted.
When subpoenaed to a grand jury we have the responsibility to resist. Cooperating with a
grand jury validates the State’s efforts to destabilize movements and fosters distrust. Noncollaboration is a political and ethical stand against illegitimate authority and builds greater resistance to the injustices of the government. Transparency about any contact with the State builds trust within our movements and exposes the machinations of the State. The purpose of grand juries is not solely to indict individuals in order to prosecute, convict, and incarcerate them. The larger goal is to dismantle social movements through a campaign of harassment and intimidation while simultaneously collecting information that cannot be obtained by other legal means. Grand juries are an attempt to map our relationships, beliefs, and activities and sow seeds of fear through movements for social change. These goals are accomplished by intimidating individuals and coercing their cooperation.
While there is not one right way to respond to a grand jury subpoena, sharing information
with the government is never acceptable. Even seemingly innocuous information can be used against us. The most common forms of resistance have been refusing to enter the grand jury room and/or entering the grand jury proceeding and giving only your name. Whichever stance is taken must be accompanied by a path of transparency and accountability.
Although many lawyers have supported decades of non-collaboration, do not assume that
your attorney shares your goal of resistance. It is important to retain your political power and maintain your stance of non-cooperation. It is an attorney’s job to advocate for their clients, but it is our job to advocate for the movements under attack. Resisting grand juries is not just an individual issue, it is an issue of mutual care and respect for our communities and struggles. Therefore, any strategy that is based on secrecy or which isolates you should be viewed with great caution.
We believe that no one should talk to the FBI or a grand jury. People from our communities
who knowingly give information show themselves to be untrustworthy. Everyone has a choice to make when the State calls on us to testify: We believe non-cooperation is the most ethical choice. Resisters have found they had strong support and we have found that grand jury resistance has enabled us to organize solidarity far beyond the boundaries of our own movements. When we resist grand juries, we choose to be part of a long legacy of resistance that strengthens our movements and in turn weakens the State.
Long-term political, material and emotional support for those subpoenaed must be swiftly
organized. The path of non-cooperation can be difficult as the government aims to isolate and punish those who resist. Building movements of resistance requires that we support and stand alongside anyone who risks their personal freedom for the health and safety of the greater community.
Only by practicing transparency, utilizing a strategy that benefits movements as a whole,
and working together, can we begin to build movements that are capable of resisting the
crushing weight of government repression.
We the undersigned oppose grand juries and pledge to offer support to all resisters.
[complete list of supporters forthcoming]
For more information:
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Civil Liberties Defense Center: Dealing with Grand Juries
National Lawyer’s Guild
Committee Against Political Repression
Free Tarek Mehanna – http://www.freetarek.com/
Committee to Stop FBI Repression
Green is the New Red
Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Resistance
CrimethInc: Support the Northwest Grand Jury Resisters
New York Times: Brooklyn Man Refusing to Testify Before Grand Jury in Times
Square Bombing Case
Free the SF8