Over the years,
because all of our work has targeted the most powerful forces
in the county (law enforcement) and because we've so effectively
exposed them for all to see, the Purple Berets have been the targets
of a wide array of repressive tactics, from revoking our jail
visiting privileges to whisper campaigns to outright threats.
Often we feel
the effects of these campaigns, but can't prove who's doing what.
Recently, though, the attempts to silence and discredit us by
a sitting judge were so outrageous that people stepped forward
and told what they knew.
from the Bench
two separate instances, Judge Pat Gray taunted and bullied organizations
which had scheduled us to speak on medical conditions in the jail.
Now the fact that a sitting judge would attempt to suppress free
speech, especially on a highly politicized community issue that
directly involves the criminal justice system, is despicable on
But Pat Gray
wasn't just any sitting judge; she was sitting on the three-judge
appellate panel that would soon pass judgment on our case: a case
directly involving the Purple Berets and our actions protesting
the jail conditions. Yikes! (See D.A.
Goes Down for the Count.)
different responses of the two groups Gray pressured is an object
lesson in how repression either succeeds or fails. The local chapter
of NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill) stood up to
Gray's threats, claiming their right as a free and independent
organization to invite whoever they choose to their meetings.
NAMI's entire board of directors stood behind their decision to
invite us; the group reported the pressure by Judge Gray and by
Mental Health Services Director Cathy Geary to us directly, and
spoke about it openly in their meeting.
the Santa Rosa Democratic Club canceled their scheduled forum
"Jail Deaths," which featured prominent national experts on prison
medical and mental health conditions as well as a Purple Berets
speaker on the local deaths. Club president Liz Basile admitted
privately to board members she had caved into pressure from Judge
did finally happen in March, by the way, before a packed house
at the Unitarian Fellowship, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Richard
Redalia and the sponsoring community groups. Audience members,
including defense attorneys, former inmates and inmates' families,
not only confirmed our information but also made their own first-hand
charges of medical neglect and incompetence in the jail.
It does the
heart good to know that, when the smoke cleared, it was the Purple
Berets who were still standing and not Judge Gray (who defeated
herself in her 2000 re-election campaign.) But the lesson here
is not about karma; it's about solidarity.
Works That's Why It's So Dangerous
the powers-that-be set out to discredit us and our work, their
goal was not just to marginalize the Purple Berets, but to silence
the people who really knew what was going on inside the jail.
Only we had brought forth the voices of the inmates and their
families and the voices of those working in the jail -- people
who had risked their jobs, maybe their lives getting information
out to us because they couldn't stand silent in the face of what
they were seeing inside.
real target of the repression was not the Purple Berets, but the
the good work of community organizers can only be marginalized
if those who support them stay silent. Our deepest thanks to the
local NAMI folks for knowing that instinctively. Beyond that,
we hope that the next time you see the power-heads trashing our
work or that of other activists you know and respect, you'll take
a visible stand. Write a letter to the editor, speak out at a
public meeting, participate in the group's actions and demonstrations
-- whatever it takes to show which side of the line you stand