Boertje-Obed and Garbison refuse fines & community service; jailed one week for Kansas City nuclear weapons factory protest

Art Laffin (Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Community, Washington, DC) writes from Kansas City:

Dear Friends,

It was a long fruitful day of truth-telling in Kansas City Municipal Court for 27 peacemakers, mostly Catholic Workers, arrested last May 2nd at the site of the new Kansas City nuclear weapons plant. Those arrested were part of a larger nonviolent witness, including 26 others who were also arrested, calling for the transformation of the Bomb parts plant currently being constructed. Ruth O’Neill and Henry Stoever, who were exceptional throughout the trial, represented all but two of the defendants: Greg Boertje-Obed and I went pro-se.

The day began with nine people pleading guilty and receiving the following sentence: 1 year probation, 25 hours community service and court costs.

This was followed by a trial for 16 people before Judge Ardie Bland. The city prosecutor called three witnesses: a police officer, a supervisor from J.E. Dunn Construction Co., and Jim Cross, the senior VP who works for Centerpoint Properties, a real estate developer who claims his company is the owner of the construction site. However the real owner of the site, many contend, is a municipal entity called Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA). Following their testimony, and cross examination by the defense, which sought to clarify legal questions of trespass, establish true ownership of the plant site, and invite Mr. Cross to consider the moral implications of building a new bomb plant, the city prosecutor rested.

A motion for judgment of acquittal offered by the defense was presented and quickly denied.

The defense case consisted of six people testifying. Eric Garbison, Ron Faust, Chrissy Kirchoffer, Dan Wilson, Jerica Arents and Josh Armfield. Each gave eloquent testimony about  their faith and why the new plant should not be built from a human, economic, environmental, legal and moral perspective. The defense rested and closing statements were offered. (see below Art’s closing statement). Our motion for acquittal was renewed and denied again by the judge. The judge then took a short recess.

Upon his return to the bench, the judge dismissed charges against Gina Cook and Amy Nee as the city witnesses could not identify them. He then began by applauding us for our convictions stating that this country is great because of people like us who stood for change. He also said that as a man of faith he admired the faith aspect of our testimony and witness. He then proceeded to find us guilty. He then stated that anyone who was part of the Catholic Worker, and didn’t have jobs, would be given a sentence of community service. And people who had jobs would be given a fine plus community service. This part of the sentence would be amended. Greg and Eric told the judge they would not accept or cooperate with fines and community service and requested jail time instead. When all was said and done the following sentences were rendered: 16 people were given one year probation, one year stay away order from the plant, 10 days suspended jail sentence and 50 hours community service. Greg and and Eric movingly told the judge why they would prefer jail over the sentence he pronounced and Greg appealed to him to speak out against nuclear weapons. They were both given 7 day jail sentences. Deo Gratias for their life-giving witness!!!

The truth was once again proclaimed loud and clear in a court in the heartland of the U.S. Yet once again we were found guilty. Another deeply held conviction!!! I thank God for everyone who witnessed today in court, especially those who spoke for the first time. Meanwhile, the structure of the new bomb plant has neared completion. And the nonviolent campaign to stop it full construction continues!

With deep gratitude to all who have been praying for those of us in court today as well as for the judge and the prosecutor!

We keep our yes on the prize and hold on!

Art Laffin’s Closing Statement

We come before you, Judge Brand, as Catholic Workers who serve the poor and work for peace.  Our May 2 action at the site of the new Bomb complex is rooted in a long tradition of nonviolent dissent and resistance, dating back to biblical times and up through our own American history, including the abolitionist movement, the suffragist movement, the union movement, the civil rights movements, anti-Vietnam war movement, and multiple other social justice movements. We act in the nonviolent tradition of people like Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Caesar Chavez and Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker of which I and many of us on trial today are members.

The evidence you have heard in our case is compelling. The city prosecutor has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
–No city witness testified that they told us we were on private property.
–We did not trespass but rather went on the road near the locked gate of the construction site to pray and sing. None of the three city witnesses ordered us to leave the property.
–There was no signs where we were saying “No Trespassing”, or whose property we are supposedly trespassed on. There were only signs on the fence which we did not enter.

Judge Brand, you have heard evidence that we acted to stop the construction of the new Kansas City Plant. We acted on May 2 because we believe that there is a causal connection between the action we took and and the immediate effect it would have on creating political change, namely that the US government stop making weapons of mass destruction.

We live with the daily constant threat that nuclear weapons could be used.The stated Pentagon policy is that we must be prepared to use whatever military means is necessary, including the use of nuclear weapons, to protect our national security interests and to make sure another rival superpower does not emerge to challenge US interests.

The Obama Administration’s new Nuclear Posture Review, released last April, asserts that the U.S. defense system requires nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies.

The Kansas City is a key part of the US nuclear weapons complex which also includes new facilities at Los Alamos Nuclear Labs, and the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Kansas City will continue making 85 percent of the non-nuclear components for the bomb: plant produces such as high-energy laser ignition systems, microwave hybrid microcircuit production, and miniature electromechanical devices.

We acted on May 2 to also address am imminent harm posed by the Kansas City Plant. You heard testimony from Josh.regarding the 150 people who died at the old plant from toxic chemicals and how the site has been contaminated. Health concerns at the current complex were highlighted this past April when the administrator of the General Services Administration confirmed that detectable levels of an unidentified carcinogen were found at that site. We are deeply concerned that more workers will be exposed to health hazards at the new plant.

How is it possible that in this time of massive national deficits and debt, when so many cities, including my city of Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, are experiencing  a major economic crisis, when the Census Bureau reports that one out of six Americans live below the poverty line, that nearly
40 % of African American children live in poverty, that a new weapons facility, which is being built on 180 acres that used to grow soybeans, is being built for over $600 million and which will cost $1.2 billion over the next two decades? We believe the new KC Plant should be converted to make products that serve life. We call for transformation not annihilation.
Our action on May 2 was in accordance with our God’s law and International law.

With respect to God’s law, we sought to uphold God’s commands: Thou Shalt not kill, renounce all idolatry and do worship gods of metal, beat swords into plowshares, love your enemies.

We also call your attention to the words of Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations who  came to Kansas City on July 1st and declared the following statement: “Viewed from a legal, political, security and most of all – moral – perspective, there is no justification today for the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons.”

The Nuncio went on to condemn the current efforts to modernize the nuclear weapons infrastructures here in the U.S. as well as the other nuclear weapons states saying that, “With development needs across the globe far outpacing the resources being devoted to address them, the thought of pouring hundreds of billions of additional dollars into the world’s nuclear arsenals is nothing short of sinful. It is the grossest misplacement of priorities and truly constitutes the very ‘theft from the poor’ which the Second Vatican Council condemned so long ago.”

We submit it’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon!

You also heard testimony from Dan and Jerica about  International law.  We sought to call attention to the fact that the new KC plant is in direct violation of the treaties and UN resolutions binding on the US. We submit that treaties which the U.S. has signed, has been, and continue to be blatantly violated.  The Nuremberg Principles, which the United States helped write, state that individuals have a duty to prevent crimes against humanity from occurring and that if people don’t act  to prevent such crimes, they are actually complicit in them.  We, who are on trial today, along with many friends, refuse to be complicit in these crimes, namely the possession and intention to use nuclear weapons.

Specifically we want call your attention to the fact that the U.S. is in violation of the UN Resolution 1653. It reads in part:
“Recalling that the use of weapons of mass destruction, causing unnecessary human suffering, was in the past prohibited, as being contrary to the laws of humanity and to the principles of international law, by international declarations and binding agreements, such as the Declaration of St. Petersburg of 1868, the Declaration of Brussels Conference of 1874, the Conventions of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1888 and 1907, and the Geneva Protocol of 1925, to which the majority of nations are still parties.

Considering that the use of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons would bring about indiscriminate suffering and destruction to humankind and civilization to an even greater extent than the use of those weapons declared by the aforementioned international declarations and agreements to be contrary to the laws of humanity and a crime under international law.

Believing that the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear and weapons, is a direct negation of the high ideals and objectives which the United Nations has been established to achieve through the protection of succeeding generations from the scourge of war and through the preservation and promotion of their cultures,

I.  Declares that:

a. The use of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons is contrary to the spirit, letter, and aims of the United Nations and, as such, a direct violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Therefore, if it’s illegal to use nuclear weapons it’s also illegal to make them!

We acted lawfully, in accordance with International law’s and treaties that are binding on the US government and every U.S. court, including this one. International law is an integral part of U.S. constitutional & domestic law.  Treaties and international executive agreements that the U.S. is party to, such as the UN Charter & Nuremberg Charter, are “the supreme law of the land” under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. When the U.S. government clearly violates U.S. Constitution, when it develop and built the bomb in secrecy, when it used the Bomb twice in secrecy, when, now, a new weapons plant is being built without the consent of its citizens, we, as citizens, have no choice but to engage in nonviolent acts of resistance, such as we have.

We emphasize that our intent was not to commit a crime but to prevent a crime, to keep the law not break the law.Our action was in fact, an act of crime prevention.

The ultimate violence in our time is the existence and intent to use nuclear weapons which can destroy all life on earth. And Dr. King said that in a nuclear age the choice before us is not between violence and nonviolence, but nonviolence and nonexistence. We ask:  Where is the judicial system when it comes to confronting the criminal acts of our government? We urge all judges and those involved in the legal profession to follow the example of Judge Ulf Panzer and 21other German Judges who were arrested in 1987 for doing a nonviolence blockade at the US military base in Mutlangen to stop the deployment of  Pershing nuclear missiles.

This is an historic moment.  If real disarmament is to occur, it will happen because judges like you spoke out, and people from across the political spectrum took nonviolent action to petition our government to make this a reality.

William Penn stated: “Always put justice above the law.”  And St. Paul writes: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”  As you determine the outcome of this case, we appeal to your conscience to act in a spirit of justice that is rooted in love and find us innocent.

Judge Brand, you have legal ground to stand on in finding us not guilty. We appeal to you to exercrise your moral and legal responsibility and to uphold international law and work together with other judges to issue an injunction barring further construction of the new Kansas City plant. Please join us!