Please Forward and Post Widely

13 Dec. 2001

Dear Friends,

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 below.

If you wish to sign the letter, please email me at You may include your city/state and few words to identify yourself.


Bill Dobbs



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 PATRIOT Act.

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 hammered:

- 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
Richard Berkowitz Cathy Brennan, former board member, Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, MD
Bob Chatelle
Bill Dobbs, gay civil libertarian; New York, NY
Jim D'Entremont Heidi Dorow, human rights organizer; New York, NY
Jeff Edwards Jim Eigo, writer, editor and activist; New York, NY
Chris Farrell
Harvey Fierstein
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
David Rosenberg
Sarah Schulman
Charles Stimson, AIDS activist; New York, NY
Sean Strub
David Thorstad, former president, New York's Gay Activists Alliance
Scott Tucker, writer, health activist, editor of Open Letter:
Stuart Timmons
Wayne Turner, member, ACT UP/DC; Washington, DC
French Wall, editor, The Guide; Boston, MA
James Wentzy
Lisa Winters, activist, public interest lawyer; Bronx, NY

[List in formation]

Media contacts:

Bill Dobbs
(212) 966-1091

Wayne Turner
(202) 547-9404