Accepting a Plea Deal is Never an Easy Choice…

 An activist’s statement on the court process and system

grayson

On Feb 24th Grayson Flory locked his neck to 4 other activists blockading the entrance to Florida Power and Light’s HQ to protest it’s plan to build one of the largest fossil fuel power plants in the country next to the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation.

On Friday, October 11, 2014, I accepted the State’s plea deal for
charges stemming from the February 24 Earth First! action at Florida
Power and Light headquarters in Juno Beach, FL.

The plea deal required me to plead guilty to one count of trespassing
with a warning, and one count of unlawful assembly, though both charges
were “withheld.” My two other charges—two counts of failure to obey a
lawful order—were dropped. I was given six months of probation, with
the caveat that I could leave the state of Florida for work or to visit
family. I am also not permitted to visit FPL headquarters during the
six-month period. My probation fees ($50 per month) were waived, and I
was allowed to pay off the over $350 in court costs with community
service hours.

Accepting a plea deal is never an easy choice. If the state is going to
throw wild accusations at me, and put me at risk of going to prison, I
want them to at least have to work for my punishment. Accepting plea
deals supports the State’s ability to “throw the book” at activists and
anyone else—to accuse people of a list of vague crimes that they don’t
even define (nowhere and never was it stated, for instance, which two
lawful orders I supposedly failed to obey), because they know that
oftentimes we’d rather just take the stupid charges than deal with
months or years of court, or the prospect of harsher punishment, however
unlikely.

During the legal process for this case I had gone through two
prosecutors and two public defenders because of the ridiculous
rotational system of the Palm Beach County courtrooms. If I had not
taken this deal, next week my public defender would have been switched
again, and I would have been essentially starting the already over
7-month process from scratch, which would have meant many more months
(at least) of this song and dance, during which time I would essentially
be on probation already, since any arrest could result in the revocation
of my bail and a stay in the county jail for the remainder of the legal
process.

I made the decision to take the deal for many reasons, including being
tired of dragging myself out of bed and dressing up for these clowns,
getting strung along by the State, and leaving my future in the hands of
an old white man with a gavel who doesn’t give a shit about freedom,
justice, equality or truth, and a prosecutor and public defender who, no
offense, are not qualified to have influence over the fate of a human
being. But that’s true of all cases, and wouldn’t be enough lead me to
make this decision in a different context. My primary reason for taking
the deal was because of responsibilities I have to my community and to
the Earth First! Journal Collective. By making sure my plea deal
included the right to leave Florida for work and family, I increased the
chances that I could fulfill the EF!J’s commitment to be present and
accountable at the Earth First! Organizer’s Conference every winter, and
to be able to visit my grandparents before I can no longer do so.

In some ways the decision didn’t feel like a big deal at all. It was a
couple of misdemeanors, a largely symbolic protest, and a decent plea
deal in the stupid context of our legal system. After all, unlike some
of my co-defendants, my court documents originally donned a blue sticky
note that simply said “NO OFFER” in all capital letters, and the
original prosecutor had said he was “unable” to offer me a non-guilty
plea because of the accusations made by Miami-Dade Police and DHS in
regards to the Smash HLS 9 case from October 2013. So in some ways it
seemed like an easy out.

However, when deciding whether or not to take a plea, there was a voice
in my head telling me that I was giving in, and that voice only got
louder as I approached the bench, held up my right hand, and told a liar
and a thief sitting high up above me that I “swear or affirm” that I
will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in
front of the blood-red stripes of the American Flag. And even more so as
I spoke into the microphone, saying the word “guilty” twice in a row. It
is an odd feeling—knowing that you are actively choosing to be
manipulated and coerced by the most violent entity on Earth.

But the “practical”/cynical voice in my head assured me that in reality
it wasn’t that big of a deal. After all, I had already given in to their
violence and coercion. By not fighting the police as they dragged me and
my friends to jail. By showing up to this courthouse for the 8th time.
By putting on a capitalist-approved outfit in hopes of being treated
better by these fucking assholes. And I knew that I’d be giving in again
if I showed up to trial, and by participating in whatever punishment
they handed down to me.

I guess the only difference was the silence. There was silence
throughout the whole process—as I was dragged to jail, every time I
showed up to court. But this time I stood up there, looked the enemy in
the eye, leaned into the microphone and said, “Guilty….”

Two of my co-defendants are still going through the legal process. Ryan
was with me in court on Friday, and was offered a similar deal, but he
refused to take it, for which I admire him. He will have a new public
defender next week, and will be returning to court in a little over a
month. Rachel has court on October 27*, and if I know her as well as I
think I do, she won’t be taking any sort of deal either.

I would urge everyone in Everglades Earth First! to take advantage of
these activists’ commitment to the cause, and to do whatever we can to
use their upcoming trials as an opportunity to bring attention to
Florida Power and Light, to the importance of preserving the Everglades,
to the rights of the Seminole people, to the threatened state of the
Florida panther, to the destructive practice of fracking, and to the
importance of fighting for what you believe in. During the trials,
whenever they may be, let’s show up to the courthouse with numbers, get
what media we can to come to the event, and share a loving, proactive,
conservation-based anti-industrial message to the people of the world,
who deserve to know all the ways they are being exploited by government
and corporate collusion, and what they can do about it.

And if anyone wants to give Rachel and Ryan a ride to their court dates,
that would be nice.

—Grayson

*See “Activists facing trial” tab for court updates

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