Please Forward and Post Widely
13 Dec. 2001
As this is written, two activists are jailed in San Francisco -- each held on
punitively high bail ($500,000) and facing charges carrying long prison
sentences. The stakes in this case are very great. I hope you will add your
name to an Open Letter of Concern. The letter and initial list of signers is
If you wish to sign the letter, please email me at email@example.com.
You may include your city/state and few words to identify yourself.
AN OPEN LETTER OF CONCERN
JAILED ACTIVISTS: WAR-TIME TERRORISM STANDARDS NOW THREATEN NON-VIOLENT
DIRECT ACTION ON AIDS
December 12, 2001
In a precedent-setting case, two activists were jailed November 28 in San
Francisco, with bail set at $500,000 each. Michael Petrelis and David
Pasquarelli are charged with a long list of felonies and misdemeanors
following their campaign against proposed AIDS quarantine laws. San
Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan declared in the San Francisco
Examiner, "We are talking about terrorism here" - although there are no
charges of violence. The men currently languish in jail with little prospect
of release. Beyond the charges under state law, there has been a serious
call for prosecution using new federal anti-terrorism legislation, the
We highlight two of the issues raised by this extraordinary episode:
- Size of bail. The $500,000 bails are shockingly high. The legitimate use
of bail is to ensure that defendants show up for court appearances. In this
case, it is being used to punish Pasquarelli and Petrelis by keeping them in
jail for many months until trial; one has already reported he was denied
necessary medical treatment. A judge has refused to reduce the bail amount.
- Determination of charges. The charges are out of proportion to the harms
alleged. District Attorney Hallinan has "dusted off the books" to bring a
laundry list of more than two dozen felonies and misdemeanors including
harassment and stalking, with possible penalties of many decades in prison,
suggesting a political motivation for the prosecution. "Terrorism"
characterizations appear cynically calculated to inflame passions.
Petrelis and Pasquarelli conducted a "phone zap" as part of a campaign
against possible AIDS quarantine. They called, and urged people to call,
public health officials and news reporters. Their vigorous efforts against
the proposed Model State Emergency Health Powers Act have stirred strong
emotions. While we (and others) may disagree with them on politics or
tactics, the history of AIDS has often compelled aggressive responses by
activists. The prospect of high bail and escalating criminal charges for
protest is a genuine threat to civil liberties.
A larger context for this case is the increased repression of political
dissent in the last several years. Certainly AIDS activists have been
- Kate Sorensen of ACT UP Philadelphia was held on million dollar bail and
later tried on felony charges for protesting at the 2000 Republican National
Convention. The Philadelphia arrests were notable for the determination of
prosecutors to press felony charges against activists by criminalizing such
innocuous acts as owning a cell phone -- which became "possession of an
instrument of crime."
- In February 2001, members of ACT UP/New York marched into GlaxoSmithKline's
offices to protest price-gouging for AIDS drugs. The Manhattan district
attorney's office responded with felony -- rather than the customary
misdemeanor -- charges. The prosecutions are still pending.
All of these cases send a clear message to others who might engage in
protest. In this new legal and political climate, activists must beware.
We call for fair legal treatment for Petrelis and Pasquarelli.
We call for their immediate release on reasonable bail.
Steve Ault, activist, co-coordinator 1979 March on Washington; Brooklyn, NY
Robert Atkins, editor, Artery: The AIDS-Arts Forum
Cathy Brennan, former board member, Gay and Lesbian Community Center of
Bill Dobbs, gay civil libertarian; New York, NY
Heidi Dorow, human rights organizer; New York, NY
Jim Eigo, writer, editor and activist; New York, NY
Jennifer Flynn, New York City AIDS Housing Network; Brooklyn, NY
Carl Goodman, communications consultant; New York, NY
Andy Humm, journalist, former Commissioner, NYC Commission on Human Rights;
New York, NY
Doug Ireland, writer; New York, NY
Judy Greenspan, prisoners' rights and AIDS activist; San Francisco, CA
Elizabeth A. Meixell, The Church Ladies for Choice; New York, NY
Ann Northrop, member ACT UP/New York; New York, NY
Angela Petrelis, New York, NY
Charles Stimson, AIDS activist; New York, NY
David Thorstad, former president, New York's Gay Activists Alliance
Scott Tucker, writer, health activist, editor of Open Letter:
Wayne Turner, member, ACT UP/DC; Washington, DC
French Wall, editor, The Guide; Boston, MA
Lisa Winters, activist, public interest lawyer; Bronx, NY
[List in formation]