Today I attended a hearing for District of Columbia v. Daniel Choi, a sham trial against a national leader in the fight for the full equality and dignity of all people. When you have an opportunity to stand up and be counted for what it is right, even if that means sitting there to support someone you don’t really know, you should take it.
While many associate Lt. Choi with repeated acts of civil disobedience to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, this particular trial concerned Lt. Choi’s arrest outside the White House related to an ongoing effort to stop the nasty environmental Armageddon-monger commonly known as the proposed Keystone Pipeline.
Why the mere existence of today’s hearing was egregious, by the numbers:
1,253 — the number of Keystone Pipeline protesters arrested outside the White House in the summer of 2011 (including Lt. Dan Choi).
3 — the number of those 1,253 protesters who had charges brought against them (including Lt. Dan Choi).
1 — the number of those 1,253 Keystone Pipeline protesters arrested outside the White House in the summer of 2011 who had charges brought against them that were not subsequently dismissed (only Lt. Dan Choi).
For more than two hours, Capt. James E. Pietrangelo II, Esq., questioned the former prosecutor on Lt. Choi’s case as to why the cases against the other two were dropped, and not Lt. Choi’s. In essence both of the other two cases also involved “professional protesters,” so it is unclear why Lt. Choi was targeted … or is it?
Although there were many, two of the most troubling statements heard in the courtroom today came from Capt. Pietrangelo and raised the specter of bias on the basis of sexual orientation and ethnicity:
“It’s incredible to believe [the former prosecutor] didn’t know who Mr. Choi was given the historical situation.” Underneath this elegant understatement: Lt. Choi is openly gay. Could that be why he was the only one of 1,253 targeted?
“Mr. [referring to the name of one of the two men with charges dismissed], is he white?” Even without a photograph, it’s reasonable to believe that many people hearing Lt. Choi’s last name might assume he is a person of color.
The statement that bothered me the most, however, was not on record. It was in the gallery where I sat, where a man in front of me whispered first: “This is disgusting.” Followed by statements supporting the trial against Lt. Choi. Followed by a gesture toward the far corner of the room: “This guy is disgusting.”
Given the selective prosecution that Capt. Pietrangelo argued took place, from 1,253 arrested down to Lt. Choi all by himself, it’s scary to wonder if anyone with law enforcement power may have uttered (or been guided by) that same sentiment.
Ultimately, after a break, Lt. Choi was given the option to post and forfeit and pay a $50 fee for failure to obey and a $100 fee for blocking property so that charges would be dismissed, just as they were for the other two charged long ago. It was a victory, albeit a late victory that continues to raise disturbing questions.