Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Occupy Wall Street protesters demand proof they broke the law - am New York

Occupy Wall Street protesters demand proof they broke the law

Supporters (L) cheer OWS demonstrators attempting to cross

Photo credit: Supporters (L) cheer OWS demonstrators attempting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. (Getty)

Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters are in court this week to face charges stemming from an October rally at the Brooklyn Bridge that resulted in more than 700 arrests.

Despite being offered plea deals to have the charges dismissed if they stay out of trouble for six months, more than 40% of the protesters that faced a judge Wednesday rejected the offer, pleading not guilty and demanding officials prove they broke the law.

"Taking the plea only holds the protesters responsible without holding the police responsible for their part," said Sara Howard, 30, of Amherst, Mass., who turned down the plea deal Wednesday. She said she and her partner, Penny Tucker, never heard police tell protesters they weren't allowed on the bridge.

Robert Grodt, another one of the 67 people to plead not guilty Wednesday, scoffed at the idea he would accept a plea deal, saying, "I didn't do anything wrong."

"Even if I take [the plea deal], I'm going to end up having to come back to court anyway," added Grodt, 24, of Santa Cruz, Calif., who said he has been arrested more than 30 times, including three times during the Occupy Wall Street protests. "In the event I get arrested protesting again - which is very likely - I'll have a bigger problem."

In total, 94 people took the plea deal Wednesday, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office, and the dozens who pleaded not guilty are due back in court in February. More than 350 other cases will go before a judge today and tomorrow.

"The people who don't take [the plea deal] are people who don't want to feel like they're on probation on any form that might affect their ability to continue protesting," said Martin Stolar, a lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild who is representing many of the protesters. "

Stolar said he has asked the courts and the district attorney to drop the charges against the protesters "in the interest of justice," but they haven't shown any indication they would. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment on whether or not he would consider it.

The court appearance for the Brooklyn Bridge protesters came on the same day that Time magazine named "the protester" its "Person of the Year."

"It's kinda awkward," said Grodt, of the honor. "In time, I think we'll earn it."

Follow reporter Marc Beja on Twitter: @marc_beja