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Tim DeChristopher: Do crimes of civil disobedience deserve a lesser penalty?

July 26, 2011 |  1:21 pm

Photo: Andrea Bowers exhibition, "The Political Landscape," Susanne Vielmetter Gallery. Video stills: "The United States v. Tim DeChristopher," 2010, single-channel video. Tim DeChristopher, the environmental activist who disrupted a 2008 government auction with fake energy lease bids, faces sentencing after his March conviction. He could go to jail for up to 10 years. To some, it's a justifiable sentence for an audacious man who tried to take the law in his own hands and ultimately created a costly mess in an already struggling economy.

 Take the point of view from such readers as edwardskizer

Unlike 1940's Germany, the US is a functioning (well, mostly) democracy, as such if This DeChritopher guy wanted to change federal policy he would have to just convince enough people to change it. But it's much easier to take the law into your own hands, just like that nut in Norway. He felt he had a worthy cause too.  

…andTimBowman...

DeChristopher is no more of a hero than other environmental zealots who burn SUV's and sabotage developments.  For those content to look at nature while starving and freezing all in the name of preventing despoilage, go ahead and do so, but do not deprive the rest of us of our natural resources. 

…and 802mrbill:

Just another case of unelected arrogance presuming to make decisions for all of us, based on what HE thinks. He knows the drill, pun intended. run for office, change the law, if you can get the votes. I hope his attempt to shortcut the democratic process lands him in jail.

To others, it's too harsh a punishment for someone who was acting in the best interest of the environment -- which, of course, plays a huge factor in all aspects of our future, including the economy. Would African Americans still be riding in the back of the bus were it not for the civil disobedience of Rosa Parks, they ask?

The folks at Public Citizen are among DeChristopher's supporters. An excerpt of their official statement is quoted in Nicholas Riccardi’s July 25 news story:

"Since when did protecting the environment become a crime?" the group Public Citizen said in a statement Monday. "When large corporations escape punishment for when they destroy the environment and harm their workers, Tim DeChristopher's trial looks all the more unjust."

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame has also lent his support to DeChristopher. In Tuesday’s Op-Ed pages, he writes:

Part of committing an act of civil disobedience is facing the penalties. But because Tim's act was part of an attempt to prevent greater harm to humankind, I hope the judge will be merciful and will give him a token or suspended sentence.

At his trial, Tim was prevented from explaining the ethical and moral motivation for his acts to the jury. It is appalling that both the judge and the government's prosecution team have pursued Tim's civil disobedience trial as if he were a simple criminal who broke the law without reason or conscience. Doing so deprived him of the opportunity to sway the jury with the moral force of his motive. […]

There is a massive complicity in America today between the corporations that fund elections and the officeholders they elect. Actions like Tim's are aimed at disrupting that complicity. For our children, for our country and for the world, we should honor his courage and self-sacrifice and pledge to follow in his footsteps, each in our own way.

And in a 2008 editorial, the board also hoped for a compassionate sentence:

If prosecutors decide his actions were illegal, DeChristopher must face the consequences, and maybe even go to jail. That's the price of civil disobedience. You break the law, you take the rap.

DeChristopher will learn his sentence Tuesday afternoon.

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Andrea Bowers exhibition, "The Political Landscape," Susanne Vielmetter Gallery. Video stills: "The United States v. Tim DeChristopher," 2010, single-channel video.

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