Judge to war protesters: Ideals are fine, but it's a country of laws
The judge let the defendants say their peace.
But in the end, U.S. Magistrate Judge Byron Cudmore found two Chicago men guilty of a pair of misdemeanors for failing to leave U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s Springfield office when ordered to do so during a protest against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan on March 28.
“It’s great to be young and have ideals,” Cudmore told Neil Brideau and Ron Durham, both of Chicago. “This is a great country, and it is a country of laws. If it’s not, it’s a country of disorder.”
Brideau and Durham, who represented themselves in a bench trial before Cudmore Tuesday, were arrested about 3:05 p.m. March 28 after they refused to leave Durbin’s office in the Shutt House, 535 S. Eighth St. in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
The two were among three people who spent about an hour at Durbin’s office talking to staff members about their opposition to Durbin’s votes supporting continued funding of the war in Iraq.
“I informed the staff I was concerned with the war in Iraq and the funding Sen. Durbin has been approving, and said I wouldn’t leave the office until Sen. Durbin publicly pledged to stop funding the war in Iraq,” Brideau testified.
The action was part of Voices For Creative Nonviolence’s Occupation Project, which the group says is a campaign of sustained civil disobedience against war funding that started Feb. 5. It has resulted in 316 arrests at the offices of 38 senators and representatives in more than 25 states, the group says.
According to testimony, one of the three protestors left when ordered to do so, but U.S. Park Service rangers arrested Brideau and Durham.
Assistant U.S. attorney Gregory Gilmore said the protestors were offered the porch area of the home for a sit-in, but refused to leave the office.
Durham said he felt it would be “more difficult, if not impossible, to petition the government” from outside the office.
He said he didn’t go to Durbin’s office planning to be arrested.
“I don’t think that’s a fun experience at all,” he said.
He said he was willing to be arrested, however.
“I felt a personal responsibility to try and stop what is going on over there,” he said.
Cudmore told Brideau and Durham that their defense — that they should be allowed to trespass and disobey a lawful order to leave in order to try to prevent a greater harm — isn’t a valid defense.
Gilmore recommended that each man be fined $1,000, but Cudmore said it isn’t his policy to impose fines on people who can’t afford to pay them.
Brideau has a janitorial position with a not-for-profit agency in Chicago and uses a bicycle and public transportation to get around. Durham said he lives and works at a Catholic Worker home supported by donations. He receives no salary, he said.
Cudmore fined Brideau $100, which included court costs, and Durham $105 because he wasn’t as quick as Brideau at following courtroom rules. He gave the men six months to pay.
Cudmore commented that he grew up during the Vietnam War.
“Go vote and work to change the laws,” he said.
“Protest wherever you want to protest, but understand the First Amendment doesn’t give you carte blanche,” he said. “You’re not the first group of folks who ever tried to use protest to change this country.”