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“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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What This System Does to the People of the World Is Criminal — Dedicating Your Life to Emancipating Humanity Is Not

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:

The trial was replete with numerous “irregularities,” which exposed both the political nature of these charges and the actual functions of the “justice” system as the machinery of enforcing the class dictatorship that it is part of. Then, after spending nearly two months of my 300 day sentence in Cook County Jail, I was released on appeal bond and have been fighting these charges for the last two years. Earlier this year the appellate court upheld my conviction and the Illinois Supreme Court recently refused to hear my appeal.

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.

And tens of thousands of prisoners every day are held in extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in supermax and segregation units – conditions that amount to torture. As Carl Dix, one of the comrades standing on the front lines of the struggle against the faultline contradiction of mass incarceration and currently facing trial with other Stop-and-Frisk Freedom Fighters, has pointed out, “All this comes down to a slow genocide which could easily accelerate.” People who want to get deeper into this should check out  “Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide” Strikes a Visceral Nerve, and Ask a Communist: There Are 2.4 Million People in Prison in the U.S.—Why? What Do We DO About It? And How Does the Notion of a “Prison-Industrial Complex” Get This Wrong?.

Becoming Emancipators of Humanity

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.

Check out my November 2012 interview on The Michael Slate Show on KPFK Pacifica Radio.
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Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Political Persecution of Gregory Koger

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 adhoc4reason@gmail.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!

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