Floridian arrested after protest of U.S.'s deadly Iraq embargo
This is a report about the arrest and incarceration of the chair of the Workers' World Party in the state of Florida on trumped up charges of destruction of federal property. (Workers' World Party candidates Monica Moorehead and Gloria La Riva were on the ballot in Florida.) The state chairman of that party, Wil Van Natta was arrested on election eve for his involvement in a peaceful demonstration on August 6, 2000. This raises serious questions about the tampering with the electoral process. When one scratches beneath the surface of the headline news of missing ballots and voter intimidation in Palm Beach County, the account of this arrest based on false accusations by the federal government should raise the ire of all honest people in this country. It is the opinion of this writer that this was nothing short of the federal government's attempt to intimidate and terrorize a representative of a third party whose votes may affect an election already riddled with fraud.
On November 6, 2000 three Federal Marshals appeared at Ocean Reef Park to arrest Van Natta, publisher of Reality Newsletter and Lifeguard/ EMT on the Palm Beach County Beach Patrol. This belated arrest was for the charge of "willful damage of Federal Property" stemming from the peaceful protest and civil disobedience at the Federal Building in West Palm Beach on August 6, 2000.
On that date, Van Natta and several other peace activists presented themselves in front of the building at 701 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, with a 10'x4' sign which read:
Friends, help us stop the genocide on Iraq.
Over a million innocents dead.
After making a statement about the atrocity (which continues to this day despite the fact that Iraq has no ability to wage war on neighboring countries), Van Natta placed a statement which included Secretary of State Albright's words, "we think the price is worth it," referring to the 200 Iraqis who die each day as a direct result of the US led blockade on that country. The statement, (placed on the building by Van Natta for the group) made it clear that we do not think "the price is worth it."
A security guard came out of the building immediately and informed Van Natta that what he was doing was illegal. Van Natta then applied a non-toxic "fake blood" on his hands and placed his hands on the building. each finger representing one year of the 10 years of genocidal policies against Iraq. At that point, several West Palm Beach cops appeared, requesting a surrender of Van Natta's I.D. which they took into the building while detaining Van Natta outside the building for about an hour and a half. Van Natta was then released without charge.
It took three months for the Feds to decide to apprehend and charge Van Natta with "damaging Federal Property." Of course, there was no damage to the building. One of the officers at the scene even admitted that the fake blood was disappearing as Van Natta's license was being "run."
At the scene of the arrest (Ocean Reef Park), the Federal Marshal who applied the hand and ankle cuffs to Van Natta, literally at the foot of his lifeguard tower, taunted Van Natta by stating that he hoped the sanctions " killed all those fucking Iraqi children" and sardonically stated that he "hoped Van Natta didn't lose his job over the arrest." While being led away to the parking lot , Van Natta was shouting out the fact that he was being arrested for a peaceful protest of the genocidal policies of the US government against the innocent people of Iraq. As he did so, the Federal agent lifted Van Natta up by his arms, which were in hand cuffs behind his back. This was witnessed by beach patrons and at least one other lifeguard on duty that day.
While being booked at the county jail, one jailer, a veteran of the Gulf Massacre, told Van Natta that "Saddam gassed me and I suffer the effects of the attack that myself and other US soldiers suffered while protecting your (Van Natta's) right to protest". (This is fascinating since Van Natta and so many others are arrested daily for peaceful protest on trumped up charges).When Van Natta expressed his sympathy with the jailer's condition, and explained that he was used as a pawn in protecting US corporate interests in the region, not democracy and freedom, the jailer made some vague threats to Van Natta. The jailer said that he did not believe that Saddam Hussien had been on the CIA payroll and that he did not believe that the US encouraged the Iraqi government to wage war on Iran.
Van Natta reported that the prisoners in his block were courteous and very interested in hearing about the US role in global destruction and destabilization. Van Natta reported that most prisoners were there on charges of drug possession or sales, many of them repeat offenders who were well aware that they were in need of treatment for addiction. Most of the prisoners were black or Hispanic. Sadly, Van Natta saw, and spoke with a young black male who was a student at the Palm Beach Marine Institute while he was teaching there several years agoÉanother drug charge, possession of crack cocaine. Van Natta said that he was a nice kid, as most kids are.
Van Natta said that while in a holding tank, waiting to be transported, he was able to speak to a group of about 15 prisoners about the social and historical conditions that exist in Amerikkka. One of the black prisoners blamed himself for his situation stating that he had been on drugs since he was 13. He is now about 25 and facing about 20-40 years in prison. He grew up fatherless and poor and he blames himself. Van Natta encouraged the group to stick together in the system and to study Marx, Engels and Lenin, and to try to obtain Workers World Party literature. He encouraged them to recognize the state's interest in keeping them divided by race and to recognize the reality of class struggle.
While waiting for Van Natta's hearing , the Federal Prosecutor told this writer that "he's not entitled to a lawyer, we're not looking to send him to jail". Of course he had already spent a night in jail. I asked why the feds didn't simply call or write Van Natta to notify him that a hearing was required instead of violently arresting him at his workplace. She replied "we tried another avenueÉwe sent him something in the mail but he refused to pick it up". I asked if she sent it to a post office box and she looked rather bewildered and turned away. Van Natta insists that he received no notification whatsoever from the federal government on this matter prior to his arrest. Apparently the prosecutor lied. She also lied about Van Natta allegedly damaging a federal building, and there's evidence on videotape to support that fact.
Due to the faulty nature of the prosecutor's case against Van Natta, she agreed to drop the two charges relating to "damage to federal property" and "loitering, disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance". Van Natta plead guilty to "knowingly and willingly posting or affixing materials to a federal building" . He paid a fifty dollar fine, plus a five dollar "special assessment fee" (NewSpeak for the federal government demanding a "tip"). Even though it was stated by the judge and the prosecutor that jail time was not being sought, he was "credited with time served". This is an obvious contradiction coming from the judge and prosecutor.
Van Natta expressed his great appreciation to this writer and all his supporters during this brief but important harassment by the feds. He was impressed with the inhumanity displayed by the system towards prisoners during his brief incarceration. He also was impressed with the solidarity and cooperation amongst most of the prisoners he encountered.
Finally, all progressives and people of conscience should be aware of the sadistic nature of the criminal injustice system in the United States. Van Natta's final advice: "We should be working to expose the system for what it is: a form of neo-slavery which exists to keep the historically revolutionary class of the poor, and especially people of color, from obtaining their freedom in Amerikkka."
This article was reprinted from the Winter 2000 edition of Reality Newsletter of Palm Beach County, email email@example.com or call 561-833-7815 for more information on this publication.
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