Charleston 5 free & clear after international solidarity campaign
Yesterday for picketing in defense of their jobs, 5 members of overwhelmingly African American South Carolina Longshore local unions faced felony charges and 5 year prison sentences. Today, the state of South Carolina has dropped those charges. The Charleston 5 have agreed to plead no contest to a magistrate-level offense, walking away from their nearly 2 year ordeal with $100 fines.
South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon "had called for 'jail, jail and more jail'. He even said he wanted these guys to be placed under the jail" commented Longshore local 1422 union president Ken Riley. Under tremendous pressure of worldwide protest mobilizations, he bowed out of the case a few weeks ago. According to Riley and the Puget Sound Charleston 5 Defense Committee President Bill Proctor, the demonstrations and possible port shut-downs worldwide that had been planned for the first day of trial on November 14 will be cancelled.
The Charleston Five are Elijah Ford, Jr., Ricky Simmons, Peter Washington, Jason Edgerton and Kenneth Jefferson.
Four are members of overwhelmingly African American Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and one a member of ILA local 1771. Local 1422 is a backbone of the African American community in Charleston, South Carolina-a source of stable, well-paid jobs and an engine of organized political power.
The Local played a key role in the historic march to demand removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State Capitol. Days after that march, on January 20, 2000, the State of South Carolina attacked a peaceful Local 1422 picket line, with 600 riot police aided by dogs, horses, armored vehicles and helicopters. For well over a year and half, the Charleston Five were under house arrest, confined to their homes from 7 pm to 7 am unless at work or a Union meeting.
Political pressure from an international campaign freed them from this restriction just in time for the trial. Some 7000 labor and anti-racist activists rallied in the capital of South Carolina on June 9 to demand that all charges be dropped.
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