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Great political acquittals of history

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R Totale's picture
R Totale
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Apr 4 2018 20:43
Great political acquittals of history

Just read this article on Jewish anarchism (which feels very topical this week), which contained, among other things, a description of how the Ukranian nationalist and notorious pogromist Symon Petliura was eventually shot dead in the street by Jewish anarchist Sholem Schwartzbard, who was then tried in court and found not guilty. Which made me think, someone should really compile a list of the greatest ever court verdicts - cases where the accused obviously did something completely illegal but still managed to get the jury to accept they were justified. A few I could think of:

London, 1833 - the Met attack a working-class rally, a policeman is stabbed and killed in the attack, an inquest decides that no crime took place because the cops started it, everyone involved in the inquest becomes great popular heroes

Genoa, 1949 - anarchists attack the Francoist Spanish embassy, fail to assassinate the consul because he's out, but hang the red and black flag out the window and set fire to the interior, are arrested and tried and are then acquitted because the jury accept the moral case for direct action against fascism, but two other anarchists get sent down in a separate case for writing too sympathetically about the action.

Paris, 1926-7 - as mentioned above, the court accepts that shooting pogromists is not a crime

And, less spectacularly, I suppose you have anti-fascist cases like the Bradford 12 in the 80s, Rotherham 12 t'other year, and various other recent anti-arms trade and climate change actions more recently... so yeah, does anyone else have any great favourites? Are there any other famous cases of the legal system ruling that stabbing cops is fine, or was Clerkenwell 1833 a total one-off?

Mike Harman
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Apr 4 2018 20:48

Mangrove 9: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/nov/29/mangrove-nine-40th-anniversa... / https://libcom.org/history/black-panthers-london-who-were-they-why-they-...

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Steven.
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Apr 5 2018 16:57

It would be great if you could compile these into a buzzfeed-style list for libcom! I think it would be really popular.

Off the top of my head, this one comes to mind: Big Bill Haywood and a couple of others blowing up a former Governor. Acquitted by the jury even though the jury thought they were probably guilty:
https://libcom.org/history/haywood-mayer-pettibone-case-louis-adamic

4 of the Stoke Newington 8 in the Angry Brigade trial were acquitted, although I guess that's a bit different, as the jury believed (rightly) that the police had planted evidence

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Apr 5 2018 18:45

Ooh, I'll have a think about doing that... yeah, I suppose that first group of the anti-Trump J20 defendants all getting unanimous acquittals last year was also impressive, but that would have to be a whole other article, more along the lines of "crappest attempted frame-ups in history" - the Orgreave trials would probably deserve a mention in that as well. Don't really know enough about the Angela Davis trial to say that one fits.

Just found another one: the Wounded Knee trials of 1973, where two defendants from the American Indian Movement conducted a defence based around the terms of a treaty signed in 1868, and the defence were able "to shift the focus of the trial from Banks' and Means' alleged crimes to the history of crimes committed by the federal government against American Indians over the past century" - that one was technically dismissed by the judge rather than ending in a straight acquittal, but it made enough of an impression on the jury that most of them wrote a group letter to the attorney general saying that "In our view a government that cannot in an eight-month trial present enough evidence against the two leaders of the Wounded Knee siege to secure a conviction on any count should for moral and ethical reasons drop the criminal charges against all the other Indian people and their supporters".

Oh, and then there's the grand jury thing, where innocent people can be imprisoned coercively to get them to snitch, but not imprisoned punitively, so they can get out by demonstrating that their will to not snitch is unbreakable - Jerry Koch was a good example of this, he was sent to prison because his refusal to testify meant that he was in contempt of court, and then released after arguing that the longer he was held, the more contempt he had for the state.

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Apr 5 2018 20:26

Also, there's not been much written about the second Welling trial group, but my understanding of that is that was more in the unsuccessful fit-up/prosecution over-reaching mode.

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Apr 8 2018 15:15

OK, knocked this together: http://libcom.org/history/not-guilty-nine-amazing-legal-defences-unlikel... Left the Mangrove 9 out as that seemed like more of a fit-up, and I wanted to concentrate mainly on cases where the defence was some variation on "yeah, I did it, so what?" A list of greatest ever unsuccessful fit-ups would also be worth doing, but it might also end up being very long.