Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.5.09

Justice Deferred
Is justice denied
By Paul Prensky

“Dense clouds, no rain for our Western region”   — I Ching

If justice is a flower, blooming only within the proper pre-conditions, we’ve seen very little of this hallmark of our democracy lately. Under the regimes of George W. Bush and Douglas Harcleroad, our now-retired district attorney, an area of extreme drought has prevailed.

Precipitation occurs when a super-saturated cloud of water vapor meets a cloud of gritty particles. Water droplets condense around them and eventually fall as rain. The wholly unnatural cause of our recent justice drought is that ideology which values power-over rather than power-with. Harcleroad left us with the proposition that those in positions of authority have more rights than the rest of us. Power-over. Newly installed DA Alex Gardner has done nothing to indicate he has a less oppressive point of view, at least as regards the case he inherited from his predecessor.

What was and is at issue stems from the May 30, 2008 demonstration by UO students and others against the use of pesticides to control roadside weeds in Lane County. The Tasering and arrest of Ian Van Ornum and two others ended the demonstration at Kesey Square in downtown Eugene. Van Ornum still faces serious felony charges. A hearing on his case was scheduled for Feb. 18, but has been delayed; the others had their felony charges dropped and pleaded guilty of a misdemeanor. Also dropped has been any investigation into numerous allegations of the use of excessive force by two of the arresting officers, thanks to Harcleroad’s ruling.

One of those arrested, Day Owen, in a Register-Guard commentary (1/5), describes obtaining the police reports on the incident. Two reports were under the letterhead of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), written by two Homeland Security (HS) agents of the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which is under the jurisdiction of ICE. Owen called one of the agents and verified with him the following “job description” of Homeland Security agents: “The FPS has shifted its emphasis from the fixed guard post concept of security to a mobile police patrol and response … FPS officers perform all duties attendant to the normal interpretation of a police officer function including maintaining law and order, preventing or deterring disturbances, and investigating both felonies and misdemeanors.” Owen went on to write, “That means that we now have a mobile secret police force that patrols Eugene to ‘deter’ disturbances before they happen.”

As the local spokeswoman for FPS, Lorie Dankers told R-G reporter Jack Moran, it is now “routine” for them to monitor legal demonstrations and groups. To me this is chilling. It brings to mind the regimes of Franco, Hitler Stalin and Pinochet, all of whom used a national secret police force to lethal effect. The version we are experiencing is home-grown, a Bush Justice Department ruling, based on their interpretation of the recently renewed but still mis-named PATRIOT Act.

The Eugene police were ordered into action last May 30 by the two HS agents, who justified their involvement by telling EPD officers that Owen and others were potentially dangerous and a potential threat to national security.

We should be able to call the HS agents to account for all that followed, the Tasering, the arrests, the use of force against harmless activists, but we can’t. We can’t even question, nine months down the road, via our police auditor, whose charge is to investigate complaints “in a timely manner,” the officers against whom numerous complaints have been lodged.

Harcleroad, in ruling to shield the officers until all criminal proceedings are exhausted, has violated the constitutional rights of the three activists, and of the police officers as well, specifically the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. A federal court would likely confirm that, if he could be brought to trial, but that’s unlikely — he’s protected by the traditional immunity against suits based on his actions while in office.

So, we will have to take the next best route to counteract this Justice Department rule, which is all that establishes that earmark of fascism, not democracy, a national secret police force controlled by the party in power. Look forward to resolutions in the Eugene City Council and in the Lane County Commission for us to opt out of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

Indeed, by joining with similarly impacted communities nationwide, we may be able to get President Obama to cancel this authority by executive order.

The super-saturated cloud is the audacious hope in the minds and hearts of we, the people. The gritty particles are those of us who insist on responsibility and accountability, especially from those in positions of authority. Let the rains come.


Paul Prensky is a longtime Eugene activist and former newspaper publisher.