I’m back down after a long legal and political battle, including two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in solidarity with the California prison hunger strike. Got some reading and writing done as well. Will have more to say soon. Much love – Gregory
“I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me.” – Gregory Koger
Over 50 people came together in Chicago on Saturday, November 2 to celebrate Gregory Koger’s release from Cook County Jail. Gregory’s release came after he served the remainder of an outrageous sentence that should never have been imposed, for a political act that was never a crime. (See “Revolutionary Gregory Koger Sent Back to Jail” for background.) The evening of music, hugs, and conversation was sponsored by the defense committee that has fought for his innocence and freedom for four years, warmly welcoming him back to the “outside” where he vowed to continue to fight to liberate humanity.
Sunsara Taylor, whose statement protesting censorship Gregory was filming when he was arrested, sent a beautiful statement.
Statement from Sunsara Taylor, sent to the celebration of Gregory Koger’s release:
I don’t know if this will reach you while you are all together celebrating—but either way I want to send the biggest virtual hug imaginable. I have been furious and agonized every day knowing that you have been unjustly and outrageously held behind bars and denied very basic freedoms. Yet, even behind bars your determination and strength and revolutionary understanding shined. Even as I know that millions of others remain in America’s hellholes and even though I know the world is teeming with unbearable and unnecessary suffering due to this outmoded, illegitimate capitalist-imperialist, life-crushing system we live under—my spirit is lifted and I am deeply happy to know that today you are out. Even more so to know that you are celebrating with people who know and love and deeply respect you. With people who have been touched by you and learned from your courage and strength. I am, as always, proud to count you as a friend and a comrade. It is great to have you back—we have much to accomplish together!
Until all are free,
A member of his defense committee, the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason, spoke for many when she said, “Speaking as a visitor to that hellhole, spending even one hour there was too much. How anyone incarcerated under those conditions could be expected to survive, much less be rehabilitated is unrealistic. Gregory did manage to survive and no doubt had some damned good discussions with his fellow inmates and will continue his fight against injustice.”
Gregory’s heartfelt talk was the highlight of the evening. We want to share this with the readers of Revolution, especially those who are locked down in the hellholes of this country:
“In talking to someone earlier tonight, I recounted that in the last 19 years of my life, I have had 9 months when I wasn’t in jail, in prison, on parole, on probation, or on bond. Including over half the time of the [seven years] since I’ve been out of prison has been spent fighting this case.”
“It didn’t surprise me what the criminal injustice system did in this case, but there were aspects that I think surprised all of us. The fact that I was charged with criminal trespass for just standing there holding an iPhone, which every legal scholar and lawyer we consulted with said there is no way that is trespassing; the fact they tried to hold me in contempt of court because my defense committee had a website that talked about the larger political questions related to this case; the fact that at the very end of the case, the judge issued a secret ruling without any notice to my attorney or myself that there was a hearing happening and then issued a warrant for my arrest. The fact that none of the substantive legal issues we raised were ever addressed by the court was not all that surprising to me because I know how the system works.”
“People have spoken about where I come from. It was very much in the conditions of torture, conditions in which tens of thousands of people in U.S. prisons are held in solitary confinement, where I began to really grapple with the broader questions of society, including why is the world this way. And that is where I ultimately came to conclude, through reading Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature, that there is absolutely no reason for this system to do what it does to people—billions and billions of people in the world—ruining their lives and offering them no hope whatsoever. There are the resources on this planet to feed, clothe, provide housing, healthcare, and education for everyone, and to provide intellectual and cultural life for the millions and billions of people who are systematically locked out of those realms. All that could happen, but it doesn’t because of the capitalist-imperialist system. But we can get to that world through revolution—nothing less. This is what I firmly believe.”
“During the course of this battle I have made friends with so many people who don’t all agree with what I believe, including many who do not agree with communism. But we have united together to oppose the glaring injustices of this system, of which one small part is this case we have fought for the last four years. To me this is an expression and an example of what needs to happen much more in society. An example of both the core strategic approach and outlook of the Revolutionary Communist Party—that we have to bring together people from the bottom of society and people from middle class backgrounds who don’t have the direct experience of that kind of oppression and injustice. We will never get to another world without people from the bottom and people from other parts of society being firmly committed toward humanity. We really had a great expression of that throughout the course of this case.”
“On a personal level, just seeing and knowing everybody here, many of whom I first met through the work of struggling against this case, people from many different backgrounds—writers, intellectuals, and people who don’t have a fucking thing. Artists like [the world-renowned jazz musicians] who are performing here tonight. Other people who know what torture is like [a friend at the party] who was tortured in Chile under Pinochet, who was out there fighting against the torture that’s happening to prisoners in solitary confinement in the U.S. People like me, and like this brother here, who was in the same prisons as me in the same conditions, who are now revolutionaries fighting against the system. I was on a hunger strike the first two weeks I was in jail in solidarity with the California prisoners’ hunger strike against torture…”
“I want to thank everybody. This has been a very trying and difficult four years, but we have built a tremendous amount of strength taking this on. On the biggest level in society, the core fault line contradictions that were embodied and encapsulated in this case—from the role of prisoners in this society, and mass incarceration, to the repression of voices of dissent and critical thinking. I will say that we lost the case legally, but we won it politically.” [cheers]
“This is a big inflection point, not the least for me. This has been a major component of the last 4 years. The last time I was in Cook County Jail three years ago there was a point when I was depressed, recognizing that the place they had me—in that jail cell—was exactly where they wanted me and people like me. But this time I didn’t get depressed, I got pissed off. My life will continue to be dedicated to fighting against this system and its outrageous manifestation of mass incarceration, against the degrading oppression of women and LGBT brothers and sisters; against the oppression of immigrants and all the things this system does to people here and around the world. I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me. So I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight from the bottom of my heart.”
Gregory asks that all those who wish to celebrate his release donate to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Thousands of dollars are needed to continue to send Revolution newspaper, BAsics, and other revolutionary literature to all the prisoners who are requesting it. Donate online at prlf.org. Or contact PRLF at:
1321 N Milwaukee Ave. #407, Chicago, IL 60622 773-960-6952 contact@PRLF.org
On July 8, 2013, over 30,000 prisoners in over two-thirds of California’s prisons began a hunger strike to demand an end to the systematic torture they face through long-term solitary confinement. Prisoners in several other states have joined them in work stoppages and hunger strikes. 2.3 million people are in prison in the U.S. and over 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States – under conditions that amount to torture under international law.
Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuse and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. Dr. Martinez has been recognized by UNESCO for his lifelong work treating survivors of torture and human rights abuses.
Gregory Koger, torture survivor who spent over six years in solitary confinement in Illinois prison. He is a revolutionary who works with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and has spoken in universities and high schools regarding torture in U.S. prisons. Mr. Koger – a jailhouse lawyer in prison and a member of the National Lawyers Guild – was a homeless teenager in a street gang when he was sent to an adult maximum security prison; he transformed himself in solitary confinement and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice. He will be joining the hunger strike on July 23 when he faces a court hearing to jail him to serve an unjust 300-day sentence for recording a statement against censorship on an iPhone at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago. More details on his case available at www.dropthecharges.net
During the initial California prison hunger strike in July 2011, Mr. Koger organized a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons. Dr. Martinez spoke at that Forum, and compared the widespread, systematic use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries: “What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? …”
Three weeks from today, on July 23, 2013, a court hearing has been set where the State will move forward with their attempt to put me back in jail for documenting a political statement opposing censorship at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) with an iPhone – a “crime” for which I received a 300 day jail sentence. Further details of our nearly four-year-long struggle against this political prosecution are available on my defense committee’s website: www.dropthecharges.net
Being under imminent threat of days, months, years of vicious, violent repression at the hands of the State within their timeless tombs clarifies the mind. Uncertainty coalesces into preparation and determination. Instantly the mind shifts to political battle mode, recognizing keenly that one is directly on the front lines of the class struggle – a gravedigger of the bourgeoisie. That you are being called on to reaffirm boldly – and in starkly visceral terms – your commitment to standing with the wretched of the earth, and of your dedication to struggling with them towards the liberation and emancipation of all humanity.
On July 23, 2013, I will attend the court hearing and my legal team will challenge this baseless political prosecution and outrageous sentence. However, I am fully prepared for the State to lock me up. This will be happening as hundreds of prisoners being tortured and held in indefinite detention without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, and during the National Prison Hunger Strike called by prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU – which is set to begin on July 8, 2013.
I am prepared to follow their courageous example and join them on the National Prison Hunger Strike for as long as the State intends to hold me captive along with the millions of others entombed within the United States’ criminal system of mass incarceration. I will spend every day that I’m held captive working with other prisoners to take up the call for the National Prison Hunger Strike and to step forward as the powerful force for revolution that we have the tremendous potential to become.
I know personally the hopeless life far too many of the youth are caught up in – and I know the horrors of spending many years in solitary confinement. As a teenager, my family lost our home and I got involved in a street organization (aka “gang”) to survive on the streets. After being sent to an adult maximum security prison at the age of seventeen, I became increasingly politically conscious in the midst of spending over six years straight in solitary confinement – conditions that amount to torture under international law.
Since my release from prison nearly seven years ago, my life has been dedicated to opposing and bringing to an end the crimes and injustices of this capitalist-imperialist system. I’ve been in street protests, abortion clinic defenses, human chains defending parents sitting-in to oppose their children’s schools being shut down. I’ve debated and discussed the prospects of and necessity for revolution and a radically different world from prison yards and street corners to universities and high schools.
I firmly believe another world is possible – a world drastically different than the current oppressive and exploitative capitalist system of private appropriation of the vast wealth produced by billions of people globally. This completely outmoded and unnecessary system is enforced by brutal police terror and a court and prison system unparalleled in the history of human society domestically, and by bloody imperialist military force abroad.
The world does not have to be like this! Collectively, we can dismantle these oppressive institutions and bring into being a world without nations or borders, a world of voluntary economic, political and social structures devoted to meeting human needs and unleashing humanity to express its highest potential – a communist world.
Getting to that world will take revolution – nothing less. I would encourage anyone seriously grappling with how to end the injustices of this system and transform the world to check out the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. In this talkBob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets deeply into the historic roots of the development of this oppressive system and the strategy for how we could make a revolution and unleash those who are counted as nothing by the rulers of this system to transform themselves as they transform the world in the interests of all humanity.
And that is what this political prosecution has actually been all about. Those who rule this system do not want those of us born into life at the bottom of society – that this system has absolutely no future for – to recognize our revolutionary potential. They do not want people from other backgrounds and social strata to see that those most demonized and degraded by the rulers of this sytem can become the backbone of a movement to radically transform all of society. And they will use any means they feel necessary to crush the potential of those most oppressed from stepping forward.
I call on you to stand with the prisoners being tortured in the dungeons of this criminal capitalist system. One way you can do that is by signing the EMERGENCY CALL! JOIN US IN STOPPING TORTURE IN U.S. PRISONS! statement being circulated by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and donating to have the statement published in the Los Angeles Times. You can sign the Close Guantanamo Now statement being circulated by The World Can’t Wait to support the men on hunger strike in Guantanamo. There are many other bold and creative actions we must develop to support the hunger strikes and to end the torture being committed upon tens of thousands of men, women and children by the rulers of the United States. And I ask that you stand with me in the final stages of opposing this political prosecution, including coming out to the court date on July 23rd.
With Hope and Determination for a Liberated World for All Humanity,
A court hearing has been set for July 23, 2013, where the State will move to put Gregory Koger in jail to serve the remainder of his 300 day sentence for peacefully videotaping a statement against censorship at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) on Sunday, November 1, 2009.
July 23, 2013 at 1:30PM
Cook County Courthouse – Courtroom 104
5600 Old Orchard Rd Skokie, IL
Neither the Court nor the Cook County State’s Attorney has responded to the Post-Conviction Relief Petition that Gregory’s legal team filed in March. This Petition exposed the lies at the heart of the false charges against him and provides documentary evidence (suppressed by the judge at trial) of the perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct that laid the basis for his conviction – and demands that his wrongful conviction and outrageous sentence be overturned. For more details, see www.dropthecharges.net
In his youth, Gregory spent years in solitary confinement while in prison. He transformed himself and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice and struggling for a liberated world for all humanity. Gregory’s legal team will vigorously oppose any attempt to put him back in jail.
We call on you to come out to stand with Gregory and demand:
Three years ago I was arrested for attempting to document a political statement opposing censorship by Sunsara Taylor at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC). What began as a brief but principled statement opposing the censorship of her long-scheduled talk and an invitation for those who wanted to hear her talk to join us at the home of a now-former member of the EHSC was rapidly transformed by powers in the ruling class into a three-year-long political and legal battle against a political prosecution and 300 day jail sentence for non-violent misdemeanors.
Leading figures within the EHSC joined forces with the police and prosecutors to press fabricated criminal charges based on false statements – statements which changed dramatically after the video I recorded of what actually transpired was turned over to the prosecutor the day before my trial. You can read their claims in the police report – as well as public statements sent out to the atheist/humanist blogosphere – and watch the video of what actually occurred for yourself:
After numerous pronouncements declaring that there is “nothing political” about this prosecution, in the first paragraphs of the Appellate Court ruling Sunsara Taylor is described as a “self-avowed” communist – a description that was not allowed by the judge in the original trial and appeared nowhere in the trial record of proceedings in open court. The Courts have tried to have it both ways – refusing to allow us to raise the extremely relevant political nature of the trial, while themselves signaling the political nature of my arrest and the charges. In the final move by the prosecution, when they filed a motion to have me sent immediately back to jail, they included the completely irrelevant – but highly political – information that I had once asked the Court for permission to travel out of state for matters relating to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund.
A Criminal System of Injustice
Many people who have heard about this case look at the severity of the reaction of the State and think, “Well, there must be something more to this story…” There absolutely is something about this case that the rulers of this system know has tremendous potential to shake this rotten and unjust system to its core – and that is not someone standing silently holding an iPhone attempting to record a political statement, although preventing Sunsara from speaking and her statement from being documented was what precipitated this case.
More and more people of all different backgrounds are becoming aware of, and beginning to stand up in opposing, the historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration in the United States, which proclaims itself the “greatest and freest country in the world” without the least sense of irony. The sheer number of people subjected to the dehumanizing and degrading violence of the State through its injustice system is difficult to wrap your mind around. Nearly 2.4 million men, women and children are in prison at any moment. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has pointed out, more Black folks are in prison or under the control of the “justice” system than there were slaves just before the Civil War. There are five times the number of Black men incarcerated in the U.S. than in apartheid South Africa, where a white supremacist colonial regime subjugated the indigenous Black population for decades and is universally considered one of the most racist regimes in the history of the world. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youth in New York City alone are fucked with by the police every year under “stop-and-frisk.” Whole families – including young children – who come here from around the world seeking a better future due to the depredations of U.S. imperialism on their home countries are criminalized and locked up in immigration prisons.
From deep within the belly of this monstrous imperialist beast, from the bowels of the torture units and the concrete and steel prison-tombs springing up across the prairies and plains of this country, brothers and sisters that this system has cast off as worthless are beginning to understand the historical and social forces that led them to the point of being locked within these hellholes, and beginning to see the pathway to a radically different future for all humanity. Prison cells designed to destroy human beings are being transformed into universities of revolution, where the tremendous potential of the wretched of the earth is beginning to be unleashed, and prisoners are one of the powerful sections of people beginning to transform themselves into emancipators of humanity.
That potential — and that reality — is the core of what is driving forward my political prosecution and their demands to put me back in jail. Because I am one of those wretched of the earth that this system has no future for. I got involved in a street organization to survive on the streets as a teenager after my family lost our home, and I was serving a long sentence in an adult maximum security prison by the time I was seventeen years old. I began to question what brought me and everyone else locked down in those hellholes to be there. And as conditions became increasingly repressive and more inhumane, I was placed into an indeterminate period of segregation – solitary confinement – where I was confronted with surviving for years in a living tomb until my release.
It was there, in those many years of torture that I spent in total isolation from human contact surrounded by crushing State violence on a daily basis, that I regained my humanity through the course of resisting those conditions and beginning to study and understand the world. Among other things I was studying, I began to receive revolutionary literature from the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, including a donated subscription to Revolution newspaper. And Revolution presented to me a real analysis of the historical development and functioning of this monstrous capitalist system, a serious strategy for organizing and making a revolution to sweep this system away, and a viable framework in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism for actually running society after a revolution: to increasingly break down the divisions of class society as people struggle together to create a whole different way of life in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction, in all parts of the world, can throw off the chains of tradition, rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced or even fully imagined – a communist world.
My thinking and understanding of course did not change overnight. Both before and after my release from prison, I struggled with many questions – from individuality and leadership to the oppression of women—and comrades struggled with me—in making the radical ruptures to becoming a communist. But through the course of that struggle and being involved in many different realms of revolutionary work in building the movement for revolution, I’ve dedicated my life to serving the people and being an emancipator of humanity.
From oppressed communities under the gun of constant police brutality and repression, to standing with immigrants against demonization and deportation, from discussions in classrooms in high schools and universities to defending clinics and women’s right to abortion, from protesting torture and war crimes to demanding liberation for the LGBTQ community – I’m constantly amazed and inspired by all of the places I’ve been and people I’ve met and gotten to know while engaged in revolutionary work throughout the course of the few years I’ve been out of prison.
Political Repression for Serving the People
That is how I came to be at the EHSC on the morning of November 1, 2009, to document Sunsara’s statement and then record her talk at the off-site location, as I had done without incident the previous day at the same EHSC auditorium. And that is what this prosecution is really about. As Revolution wrote previously, in an article on my sentencing hearing while I was in Cook County Jail:
“Should a whole section of society (there are over 2 million people incarcerated right now in American prisons) be denied the right to participate in the full range of lawful social and political activity by mere virtue of being former prisoners, because the state will use prior criminal convictions to justify political persecution? A message is being sent to intimidate millions of others at the bottom of society, ‘Don’t even think about raising your head, participating in political activity or protest, much less taking up revolutionary politics, this is what we will do to you.’ We cannot allow this message to stand.
“The ‘public safety’ is hardly threatened by former prisoners stepping forward to take up the big social and political questions of the day, including those who become revolutionary emancipators of humanity. THAT is the life Gregory has chosen, not a ‘path of violence,’ as the judge asserted. THAT is what is ‘volatile,’ and threatening to their system, not Gregory picking up an iPhone.” (Judge Slams Videographer with 300 Days in Jail: FREE GREGORY!)
My dedication to exposing and opposing the crimes of this system, as part of building a movement for revolution to get rid of this system, is the real reason why they have pursued this political prosecution for three years and are now trying to put me back in jail. It will be a real defeat, and a real injustice, if they are able to do that. These outrages happened in a political prosecution in my case – however, they happen on a daily basis to millions of people herded through the courts into the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration.
Support Grows and Needs to Spread
Our struggle to defeat these charges has been a small part of the broader struggle against this oppressive system that inflicts monumental suffering on the people, here and around the world. Thousands of people from all different class and social backgrounds, from across the country and around the world, have stood with me through the course of this battle. Many who don’t agree with some or even most of my political views have opposed this vindictive prosecution. All of their support has been tremendously important and I’ve personally found it deeply moving. My defense committee has hosted numerous public discussions about the broader issues concentrated in this case, including speakers such as Bill Ayers and Cindy Sheehan. And this struggle is not over! We are calling on people to sign on to and spread the Not One More Day In Jail for Gregory Koger statement – which you can sign at dropthecharges.net.
Sometime within the next couple weeks, the court will set a hearing date where they will try to send me back to jail. We will let people know when that hearing is, and call on you to come out to that hearing and demonstration afterward, if you are able. We will continue to wage a legal and political offensive against these outrageous charges, and put this system – and the real criminals in the ruling class who preside over it – on trial.
Gravediggers of This System
I want to close by sharing a few words from two letters to Revolution newspaper from those who are still locked down in the dungeons who are also becoming emancipators of humanity:
“I was glad that the paper updated us on the predicament with Gregory Koger, by filling everybody in on the details of his case, all the way from the beginning up to this point. After seeing how they played the comrade, I’m even more determined to be about THIS when I get out. They do shit like that to deter muthafuckas like me, but it REALLY only fuels muthafuckas like me all the more so. I’ve been a rebellious dude my WHOLE LIFE, as I’ve related to you before. The difference between that being the case my WHOLE LIFE… and NOW, is that NOW I finally been able to put a circle around THAT THING, I’ve really been shitty at my WHOLE LIFE: CAPITALIST – IMPERIALISM and its whole decadent superstructure.”
“As I conclude these thoughts of mine as I reside in a solitary cell myself, I just want to reiterate how important it is for as many of us as possible to reach out to Gregory in some fashion in order to show our solidarity with him in a meaningful way… By the time he finishes those 300 days in the county jail or wherever he’s being held at, he should be able to leave those gates, knowing he did the right thing by leaving prison and choosing to dedicate his life to what this Party and this movement is all about. Conversely, we should send an unequivocal message to the bourgeois state, that they can’t indirectly squelch our determination by using legal repression; because in the end, we rally behind ours, and if we do happen to emerge from the repressive arm of its legal juggernaut, it only ends up magnifying our resolve, individually and collectively.”
Like these brothers and comrades, and many more behind the walls and on the streets, my life will continue to be dedicated to making revolution and emancipating humanity, whether I’m talking with students in inner-city high schools who face police brutality and repression every day, university students from more privileged backgrounds who are beginning to learn about how this system operates, or whether I am in jail learning from and organizing with other brothers locked down there. I will continue to be part of building this movement to end all of these injustices and bring forth a world where everybody can live a life worthy of human beings and flourish in ways undreamed of under this capitalist system – a communist world.
• NOT ONE MORE DAY IN JAIL!
• WE SUPPORT GREGORY KOGER AND OPPOSE THIS WRONGFUL CONVICTION.
Sign the above statement and add your own comments, here. Email this statement to friends here.
The Illinois Supreme Court has refused to hear Gregory Koger’s appeal of the vindictive conviction and outrageous sentence that were inflicted on him for peacefully videotaping a statement against censorship at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago almost three years ago on November 1, 2009. And now the State’s Attorney has filed a motion to revoke Gregory’s bail and send him back to jail immediately.
What does this mean? It means that the court’s dangerous interpretation of the Illinois trespass statute is affirmed and is now a threat to everyone who records protests and the actions of the police. It means that the court’s vindictive sentence of 300 days is affirmed, punishing a former prisoner for standing up to injustice and oppression. And by moving immediately to revoke Gregory’s bond, the State is continuing its ruthless persecution.
What has Gregory been doing with his life in the years since he was arrested for using an iPhone at the EHSC? In addition to his employment as a paralegal at a Chicago law firm, Gregory has continued to dedicate his life to the struggle against all forms of injustice. He has been invited to speak at universities, including Columbia College and Roosevelt University in Chicago, about mass incarceration and torture in U.S. prisons. He has spoken to students in high schools about police brutality, torture, and wars for empire. He has attended rallies against police brutality and murder, spoken on panels about the issues involved in his own case and the rights of prisoners around the country, and he spoke before the Chicago City Council in January in support of a declaration naming Chicago a torture-free city — to name just a few of his many beneficial and constructive activities.
Gregory should not be forced to spend even one more day in jail! He committed no crime – in fact, the police brutalized him. Videotaping is not a crime, and taking pictures is not the same as trespassing. Gregory has become a productive member of society who deserves appreciation, not punishment.
Gregory’s lawyers will file a motion to oppose revocation of bond. If that fails and Gregory is ordered to report to jail, we call on all of you to join us at the Cook County Courthouse in Skokie, IL [and at the Cook County Jail] to protest and show support for Gregory. We must put them on notice that we are standing with Gregory.
Gregory sends his most sincere thanks to everyone who has supported him in the course of this struggle, and he wants people to know that:
“My case shows quite clearly how the legal system in this country operates:
Evidence that exposes the lies of State witnesses was barred from the jury, and video evidence shown in open court multiple times was barred from the appellate court.
The judge imposed a sentence based on ‘facts’ that were never even alleged by any witness, when she claimed that I ‘chose a path of violence’ after being convicted of what are categorized as non-violent misdemeanors, and she then sentenced me to nearly double the maximum allowable sentence for criminal trespass.
The judge barred any mention to the jury of the events that led to the peaceful protest against censorship on November 1, 2009. But these events showed up within the first few sentences of the appellate court’s decision.
“These outrages happened in a political prosecution in my case, but they happen on a daily basis to millions of people herded through the courts into the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration. Our struggle to defeat these charges has been a small part of the broader struggle against this oppressive system that inflicts monumental suffering on the people, here and around the world.
“My life will continue to be dedicated to that end, whether I’m talking with students in inner-city high schools who face police brutality and repression every day, university students from more privileged backgrounds who are beginning to learn about how this system operates, or whether I am in jail learning from and organizing with other brothers locked down there. I will continue to build a movement to end all of these injustices and bring forth a world where everybody can live a life worthy of human beings and flourish in ways undreamed of under this system.”
Friends – As we enter the final stage of the legal battle against my ongoing political prosecution, I hope you will take a moment to sign and spread this public statement of opposition. Thank you. – Gregory
Stop the Vindictive Political Prosecution of Gregory Koger!
· Stop the Vindictive Political Prosecution of Gregory Koger!
· Videotaping is not a crime!
· Former prisoners who stand up against injustice and oppression should be supported, not repressed!
Signed by: Ad Hoc Committee for Reason; Cindy Sheehan; Dr. Antonio Martinez, co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture; Debra Sweet; Fred Lonberg-Holm; Sunsara Taylor and others.
Sign the above statement and add your own comments here.
At an historical moment when people are stepping forward in dissent and protest around the world from Tunisia to Wall Street, political attacks on those who document these courageous acts are escalating. For nearly 3 years, Gregory Koger has been fighting a completely outrageous political prosecution and 300 day jail sentence for attempting to videotape a statement by Sunsara Taylor opposing the censorship of her talk prior to a public event at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago.
Gregory’s prosecution is premised upon a dangerous attempt to reinterpret the legal definition of trespass, and the State is using his prior conviction and imprisonment as a teenager to justify his political prosecution and vindictive sentence. At his sentencing, the judge claimed that Gregory “chose a path of violence” and “endangered every single person in [the EHSC] auditorium that day” – for videotaping with an iPhone! That is a lie. The appeals court recently upheld this outrageous verdict and sentence and it is being appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
While in prison as a youth, where he spent many years in solitary confinement, Gregory transformed himself and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice and struggling for a liberated world for all humanity. In a country where over 2.4 million people, mostly Black and Latino, are imprisoned under a New Jim Crow system of injustice, tens of thousands are held in conditions of solitary confinement that amount to torture under international law, and millions more are denied basic human rights after they are released and have supposedly “served their time,” former prisoners who step forward to become part of challenging the injustices of this society and inspire others to do the same cannot be allowed to face political repression.
As Gregory put it in a statement before his trial: “Now my life is dedicated to the struggle to end all exploitation and oppression and getting to a world where people contribute what they can to society and get back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings.” Gregory needs to be out here in society continuing the fight to bring into being this new world.
To donate funds to publish this statement and for the appeal, as well as get updates on the case, go to the website of the Ad Hoc Committee, Gregory’s defense committee, at dropthecharges.net.
If you are on Facebook (Free Gregory Koger!) or Twitter, publicize this case and mobilize others to speak out and sign the statement.
The following is an article from Revolution newspaper about my ongoing political prosecution, please check it out – Gregory.
The Illinois Appellate Court in February continued and intensified the unjust persecution of Gregory Koger by upholding his conviction for three misdemeanors and upholding the outrageous 300-day sentence for documenting with an iPhone camera the attempts to suppress the speech of Sunsara Taylor. Koger was arrested in November 2009 at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) when he was videotaping a short statement by Revolution writer Sunsara Taylor. For that “crime,” the police grabbed, beat and maced him. Then they charged HIM with misdemeanor battery, resisting arrest, and trespassing. (See “A Grave Injustice Has Been Perpetrated… Free Gregory! No Jail Time!” in Revolution #211, September 12, 2010.) In its ruling, the Illinois Appellate Court went even further than the prosecutors and the original trial judge in twisting the facts and interpreting the record to advance this highly political and vindictive attack on Koger.
Koger’s lawyers have recently filed a petition for leave to file an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. A powerful outcry against this outrage is needed!
An examination of some of the key findings of the appeals court will show the political nature of this attack on Koger through the legal system. This is revealed by what they chose to emphasize, concentrate, and even add to the record, and what they omitted and refused to consider.
First, at Koger’s trial in August 2010, the continual mantra from the judge and prosecution was “politics has nothing to do with this case, the defendant is on trial for his conduct, not his politics.” The judge vehemently denied every effort by the defense to provide the highly political context for his arrest: why he was documenting Taylor’s statement protesting the cancellation of her speech at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) and why the EHSC was trying to prevent exposure of this censorship.
So it was striking that the ruling by the Appellate Court prominently refers to Sunsara Taylor in an introductory paragraph as a “self-avowed communist.” This fact was completely banned from the trial itself! Even the defense’s request to probe potential jurors’ political prejudices, including regarding communism, was turned down. The original trial judge stated that Taylor could have been speaking about anything—”organic farming or feminism”—it was all irrelevant. The word “communism” appears nowhere in any of the official record of the proceedings in open court. One of the big claims of America is that there is supposedly no political suppression, that there is no such thing as a political case. Yet here in black and white the appeals court is boldly signaling that, yes indeed, this is a political case where political acts (documenting a controversial event) are on trial, depicted as criminal acts, and in the trial the actual events are twisted to fit that framework.
Second, the Appellate Court refused to consider the video that played a key role in the trial. This was the video Koger himself taped as he and Taylor entered EHSC that morning and took their seats in the auditorium. Provided by the defense, the video was actually introduced as Exhibit 1 by the prosecution in an effort to put their own spin on it for the jurors.
This video is now posted on the defense committee website (www.dropthecharges.net), along with the original police report. The prosecution received the video the day before trial, and by the next day they rewrote the charges with coaching from the judge who then denied the defense’s attempts to enter the original police report into evidence. This revealed the American justice system in action—if the defendant presents hard evidence proving his innocence, the state is allowed to change their story. Now people can see for themselves how the judge and the prosecution worked together to twist the facts in any way necessary to get a conviction. And this has been upheld by the appeals court. The EHSC president claims in the police report that he told Koger three times to stop filming and that Koger replied by saying “fuck you” to the EHSC president, who then told him that if he didn’t stop filming he’d be arrested for trespassing. A cop claims in the police report that he witnessed this. The video refutes all of that: Koger is completely silent and the president of EHSC is heard telling Koger only that he has to “stop filming,” which Koger does and the video shows that he put the camera down on the seat next to him. The only aggression on film comes from the president of EHSC when he pushes his hand aggressively into Koger’s camera.
The Appellate Court tried to have it both ways: bolstering its decision by using the politics that were banned from the trial, while refusing to consider documentary evidence that was part of the trial record.
New misrepresentation of trespass law is upheld
The Illinois trespass law states that in order to convict someone of trespass the state must prove that a person was ordered by a property owner to leave the premises, and then must prove that the person showed an intent to remain on the property after having been given notice to depart. Koger was never told he was trespassing at the EHSC, nor was he given notice that he must leave. After the video evidence refuted the previous statements from the witnesses in the police report that the EHSC president told Koger that he would be arrested for trespass if he didn’t stop filming—which the cop witnessed, the EHSC president directly testified in court that he never ordered Koger to leave. And the cop who grabbed Koger then changed his story and testi-lied at trial that he “whispered” into Koger’s ear after he put his camera down that he would be arrested if he didn’t stop filming—a whisper in a room with loud music blaring (as can be heard on the video). A convenient “whisper” that could not be documented.
A major legal argument in Koger’s appeal brief drew out the danger posed by a significant misinterpretation of the trespass law employed by the prosecution and upheld by the judge during the trial. Koger was never told that he must leave the premises. However, the prosecutors repeatedly equated giving “notice to stop filming” with giving “notice to depart.” The defense argued at trial and in the appeal that such conditional notice is not sufficient to convict. The prosecution went so far as to argue that if you do anything that a property owner asks you not to do, that makes you a trespasser—without any requirement that they give you explicit notice to depart, a fundamental element of the crime of trespass. To quote from the prosecutor’s closing arguments in the trial transcript: “Even if they were eating a sandwich, it’s not the filming, defendant’s eating a sandwich, ‘Sir, you can’t eat your sandwich in here; if you do it again, you’re going to be asked to leave.’ The moment he takes that sandwich back out, he becomes a trespasser.”
Astonishingly, the Appellate Court simply adopted and expounded upon the prosecution’s novel and dangerous theory of trespass and failed to even comment on, let alone refute, the legal arguments raised in Koger’s appeal brief. Those arguments are now a key element in his petition to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Additionally according to Illinois law, after being given notice to depart by the property owner, a person must be given an opportunity to leave before they can be convicted under the trespass statute. The Appellate Court ignored this too and twisted Koger’s alleged resisting arrest charge into “complete resistance to leaving” after he had “overstayed his welcome,” allegations which even the prosecution hadn’t made. Again, witnesses had testified that Koger was getting ready to leave to record Taylor’s speech at an alternate location when he was grabbed by the police. The Appellate Court wrote these witnesses out of the record when it said that his intent to leave “was not supported by the record,” despite citations to that testimony in the appeal brief itself! In fact, Koger would have been off EHSC property within minutes if the police had not grabbed him, beaten him up and maced him, but that’s the point: His crime was never trespass or “overstaying his welcome.” It was documenting a public statement of protest at a venue open to the public, and that’s a key part of what is chilling about this case.
The Appellate Court went even further than the prosecution in rewriting the record. In its summation of the defense witnesses’ testimony, they conveniently omitted any reference to two witnesses for Koger who were former members of EHSC, including a member of the EHSC Board at the time of his arrest, who did not know him before the events in question and who subsequently quit EHSC in protest of this very prosecution. Leaving out these key defense witnesses allowed the Appellate Court to claim that the defense witnesses “could be found wanting given their close relationship to defendant.” One of those EHSC witnesses for the defense testified that, in his recollection, no one had ever been prohibited from taking photographs or videos at EHSC. But the Appellate Court simply wrote that testimony out of the record too. In contrast, the Appellate Court deemed the prosecution witnesses to be “objective.” The Court didn’t see fit to acknowledge the fact that the EHSC witnesses for the prosecution—the president and a Board member—had every reason to want to see Koger convicted in order to cover up their censorship of Sunsara Taylor and their desperate attempt to prevent documentation of her statement that morning. The EHSC boasts of being an open forum, and the outpouring of opposition to their unprecedented cancelation of Taylor’s speech had stung them. They were determined to stop more exposure, and the videographer who was merely documenting the events—Gregory Koger—became the target of their vindictive counterattack. That targeting is both extremely cruel to Koger and dangerous for anyone attempting to document controversial or newsworthy public events.
Blatant Political Repression
Many people have asked incredulously why there has been such determined vindictive persecution throughout the whole legal process of this case, continuing with the Appellate Court. The EHSC played an important role in this unjust attack insisting that charges be brought, refusing to drop the charges against a huge national public outcry, including among humanist circles and many other people. But through the pre-trial phase and the trial itself, it became clear that the state itself was taking up this political persecution way beyond the vindictiveness of the EHSC. At a key pre-trial hearing the prosecution filed a contempt petition against Koger because his defense committee’s website talked about his case. While the judge did not allow this to go forward, he warned Koger that having a defense committee was going to harm his case—an unmistakable threat to back off the political struggle, all the while asserting that “this is not political.” At the trial itself, two prosecutors were assigned, unheard of for minor misdemeanors, which rarely go to trial at all. The judge, a former prosecutor herself, coached the prosecutors on pre-trial motions and repeatedly ruled against the defense.
But the fangs of the state were openly expressed and the essence of the very political message became clear at the end of the trial when the judge revoked Koger’s bond and sent him immediately from the courthouse to jail on the basis that he was a danger to society because of a past prison record. In Illinois the default sentence for misdemeanors is probation. At the sentencing hearing the judge viciously attacked Koger’s character and his very humanity in response to moving testimony from his employer, lawyers, professors, a priest, a student he had mentored, and several others who all described his transformation from a juvenile convicted of a serious crime to a person dedicating his life to helping people and emancipating all humanity.
The outrageously long sentence Koger was given—300 days, close to the maximum for simple misdemeanors, was also a subject of his appeal. The judge at the trial equated Koger’s conviction for violent crimes as a teenager almost 15 years earlier with his filming at EHSC that day and said he “chose a path of violence” there that “endangered the safety of everyone in the room.” There was absolutely nothing in the trial record to support these outrageous claims and in fact, right before trial, the prosecution had reduced the battery charge to “making contact of an insulting or provoking nature” because they knew they couldn’t prove Koger engaged in violence. Instead, he was the victim of police brutality, which required treatment at the emergency room when he was released from jail. The defense is appealing this outrageous sentence.
This is another chilling feature of this entire prosecution. The state is using Koger’s prior conviction to justify this political prosecution and vindictive sentence. When former prisoners step forward to become emancipators of humanity and participate in changing the world, they are treated even more vindictively in an attempt to dissuade anyone else from following their example. This cannot stand in a country where over 2.4 million people, mostly Black and Hispanic, are in prison at any time, and many millions more are denied basic rights after they are released and supposedly “done their time.” (See “Stop the Vindictive Political Prosecution of Gregory Koger!“)
In its portrayal of Koger’s conduct, the Appellate Court once again outdid even the prosecution in distorting the already twisted trial record. The Appellate Court went to great lengths to concentrate a portrayal of Koger as “belligerent,” citing his alleged “abusive language” as part of satisfying the elements of resisting arrest. The defense had requested that the jury receive an instruction based on a State Supreme Court decision that held that even the most abusive language is NOT resisting arrest and the trial judge had denied that request, but that didn’t deter the Appellate Court from using these false allegations against Koger. So the Appellate Court finds that recording with an iPhone constitutes trespass and swearing is evidence of resisting arrest!
This cannot be allowed to stand. Send statements of outrage and support for Gregory Koger to email@example.com. Funds for the appeal can be donated at the website of his defense committee, dropthecharges.net, or checks made out to Gregory Koger Fund can be mailed to the Ad Hoc Committee, 1055 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, 60660.
Visit the committee’s website and if you are on Facebook (Free Gregory Koger!) or Twitter, publicize this outrageous decision and mobilize others to understand its significance and speak out too. Stay in touch and join the fight to overturn this verdict!
I was attacked, pepper sprayed and arrested by the police at the behest of the President of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago for filming a statement by Sunsara Taylor regarding her disinvitation to speak there on November 1st. Please contact the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago and its parent organization, the American Ethical Union, to demand that they drop the charges against me and to condemn the suppression of Sunsara’s talk!
On my attorney’s advice, given the pending serious charges I face, I am not commenting on the specific details of my arrest and I’ve made parts of my website private until after the legal proceedings are resolved and I can speak freely.
The following is a news release issued on November 2nd:
On Sunday, November 1st, plainclothes and uniformed police who had been called in earlier by officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) dragged out, maced and arrested a man for videotaping Sunsara Taylor as she stood near her seat and made a statement before the start of that morning’s program about the shameful cancellation of her long planned talk to EHSC that day on the topic “Morality without Gods.”
The shocking incident took place at the insistence of the president of EHSC. About 40 people witnessed the videographer being brutalized by the police in the foyer of the facility. An attorney demanded that the police stop brutalizing him when five officers piled on him as he lay face down on the floor. 6 police cars arrived within minutes.
The day before, during a workshop on the same premises which the president and other board members of the EHS were at, Sunsara explained very clearly that she would be attending the opening of the EHS’s Sunday gathering and giving the EHS the opportunity to do the right thing and allow her talk to go forward, up until the last minute. If the EHS still refused to let her give her talk, she explained that she would leave and give her talk in “exile” at the nearby home of one of the EHS members.
Video of Sunsara’s statement on Oct. 31st at EHS-Chicago:
In her brief statement at the EHS on Sunday morning, Sunsara Taylor challenged the very wrong decision to cancel her speaking engagement and pointed out how this is contributing to a chilling atmosphere in society as a whole and has happened all too frequently to people who challenge the dominant narrative (like Ward Churchill, Noman Finkelstein and the director of Milk who was recently “disinvited” from Hope College, etc.). Taylor stated that while the group had the “bureaucratic right” to disinvite her, it didn’t make it any more “right” than the voters in California passing Prop 8. She also invited those who wanted to hear her speak to come to her “talk in exile” at the home of a member of the EHSC.
At no point during her brief statement was Sunsara asked to stop speaking or to leave the premises. And at no point was anyone who was there to support her, including the photographer, asked to leave. It is telling that the only person singled out by the police, at the request of the president of the Society, was the man documenting what Sunsara was saying.
The videographer was simply trying to document and guard the truth of what Sunsara was saying in her brief statement. Sunsara’s words had been grossly distorted and taken out of context by some members of the EHSC who were the driving forces behind canceling her speech.
What kind of ethics and morals is the EHSC upholding and modeling through the great lengths it has gone to in suppressing Sunsara Taylor’s talk on Morality without Gods? A number of their own members expressed disagreement with the cancellation and a number of prominent people from around the country wrote statements in support of Sunsara’s speaking and called on EHSC to rectify its wrong-headed decision. Instead, the board fortified and increasingly defended its decision and created an atmosphere of anti-communist hysteria, fear and rumor-mongering that had no relationship to reality.
The EHS had no legitimate basis to feel the police needed to be there in the first place, except for the rumors and hysteria that they themselves had created. Then, by choosing to set the police upon the person filming they went after the one person who was documenting the truth of Sunsara’s words and the fact that Sunsara and others there to support her were acting in no way to disrupt the replacement talk the EHS had planned.
What kind of Ethical Humanist group would create a situation that led directly to the brutal arrest of someone simply for filming Sunsara giving a statement at that point with simply a cell phone? In their zeal to suppress Taylor they went repeatedly against the stated purpose of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago which includes “the supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane society…Our commitment is to the worth and dignity of the individual and to treating each human being so as to bring out the best in her or him.”
This attack was in stark contrast to the day before at the EHSC where Sunsara led a well-attended and lively discussion with much audience participation on “Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of Humanity.” This whole program was videotaped by the same volunteer photographer.
To call upon the EHSC to drop charges against the photographer and to continue to express their disagreement with their decision to dis-invite Sunsara Taylor contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 847-677-3334