A court has dismissed most of the charges against Unitarian Universalists who were arrested while protesting Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070 in July 2010.
Some 30 to 35 Unitarian Universalists were arrested in Phoenix, Ariz., July 29, 2010, in a nonviolent religious witness against SB 1070. On January 20, the Phoenix Municipal Court dismissed cases against 17 of the 20 UUs who were scheduled to appear in court in January, and found three others not guilty. Other cases are pending in Maricopa County Justice Court against Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales and Margy Angle and the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the UU Congregation of Phoenix in the next several months.
Most of the cases thus far have involved charges of obstructing a public thoroughfare, for blocking the street outside the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in downtown Phoenix. The rest of the cases to come, including those of Angle, Frederick-Gray, and Morales, are for people who were arrested while blocking a county jail entrance at the same time as the street protest.
In addition to the UUs arrested on July 29, more than 50 other people were also arrested that day. Many were members of Puente Arizona and other immigrant rights groups. Sun Principe, the social justice director at the UU Congregation of Phoenix, said that many of their cases were also being dismissed or they were being found not guilty. In some cases they had the same lawyers as the UUs.
“We’re helping all the ones that we know about from those groups,” said Principe. The Phoenix congregation created a legal defense fund last summer, and it is being used to pay some of the fines, travel expenses, and legal fees for those arrested.
One of the lawyers for those arrested, Sunita Patel, applauded the dismissal of the cases. She wrote in an email, “For centuries, democracy has included peaceful protest and civil disobedience. The July actions in Phoenix, Arizona, were part of this long history of telling power to change unjust laws. The dismissals of the Unitarian Universalists and other advocates is a triumph for justice.”
Principe added, “Those arrested on July 29 need to be heard. Listen deeply to them. They are witness to a moral outrage of abuse and destruction that most Americans can not comprehend. Our neighbors are being abused and sometimes killed at the hands of state and federal law enforcement. We must all say ‘no more,’ now.”
The Rev. Colin Bossen, minister of the UU Society of Cleveland, Ohio, was found not guilty. He went to Arizona in July, he said, “because I know that if the injustice of SB 1070 is allowed to stand in Arizona it will spread across the country. Already it is being used as a model for anti-immigrant legislation in my home state of Ohio and others.”
One of those other states is Nebraska, where Shawna Foster, of Omaha, was spared a return trip to Phoenix when her case, scheduled for January 27, was dismissed. She used that day to lobby Nebraska state senators in an attempt to dissuade them from considering an SB 1070 clone. “I urged them to stand on the side of love,” she said.
Annette Marquis, district executive of the UUA’s Thomas Jefferson District, gave the Phoenix law firm of Navidad, Leal & Silva “all the credit for our dismissals. Their support . . . has been amazing. I am proud of the stand that Unitarian Universalists took in Phoenix, and I also recognize the importance of our partners such as Puente and these committed attorneys who made it possible for us to take this action.”
Those whose cases have been dismissed are Elka Cartmell-Ladd of Meadville Lombard Theological School; Bill Dishongh of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla.; Shawna Foster of the First Unitarian Church of Omaha, Neb.; Annette Marquis, district executive of the UUA’s Thomas Jefferson District; Jan Meslin of the Tapestry UU Congregation in Mission Viejo, Calif.; Leslie Mills of the Groveland UU Fellowship in St. Paul, Minn.; Lee Marie Sanchez of the UU Church in Anaheim, Calif., at the time of her arrest; Katerina Sinclair of the UU Church of Tucson, Ariz.; the Rev. Pallas Stanford of the UU Fellowship of Santa Cruz County in Aptos, Calif.; Jolinda Stephens of the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio; Trent Tripp of the West Valley UU Church in Glendale, Ariz.; the Rev. Greg Ward of the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, Calif.; Audrey Williams of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Mark Williamson of the UU Church of Phoenix; and Peter Wilson of the UU Congregation of Santa Rosa, Calif.
Those who have been found not guilty by a judge are the Rev. Colin Bossen of the UU Society of Cleveland, Ohio; the Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer of the UU Church of Kent, Ohio; and Asa Duffee of the UU Church of Tucson, Ariz.
Charges were dropped in December against Mar Cárdenas, South Bay ministry team coordinator for the UU Church of San Diego.
Several other people pleaded guilty and paid fines prior to their trial dates. The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, minister of the UU Church of Marblehead, Mass., pleaded guilty on January 18 to failure to obey a lawful order and was fined $445. A second charge, obstruction of a public thoroughfare, was dismissed.
Von Zirpolo used her court appearance to draw attention to the case of a young Latino man who she and others said was beaten by sheriff’s deputies inside the Maricopa County Jail while they were there. She said the man was dragged past her and then ten minutes later brought back beaten. “It was clear he had been beaten,” von Zirpolo told the judge, adding, “Today, while it saddens me to find breaking a law of our land necessary, my God calls me to participate; my faith requires I not be silent. My faith calls me to stand with my Latina and Latino sisters and brothers and other people of color who are victimized, scapegoated, and hunted by those who deform the laws of our human soul and construct evil legislation.”
Carolina Krawarik, of the Valley UU Congregation in Chandler, Ariz., was arrested July 22 in Phoenix in an earlier protest against SB 1070. In August, she pleaded guilty to obstruction of traffic outside the federal courthouse.