Phoenix court dates scheduled for many UU arrestees

Phoenix court dates scheduled for many UU arrestees

Most expected to plead 'not guilty' for protesting Arizona anti-illegal immigration law.

Donald E. Skinner


Many of the Unitarian Universalists who were arrested July 29 in Phoenix during a religious witness against that state’s anti-illegal immigration measure SB1070 will appear in Maricopa County Court in Phoenix this month to answer charges in connection with their arrests. Most are expected to plead not guilty and to have their trials in front of a judge as part of the same appearance.

All who will appear this month are charged with blocking a thoroughfare––the street in front of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office in downtown Phoenix. In a separate action that day other UUs, including Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales and the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, were arrested when they blocked a prisoner entrance to the Maricopa County Jail. Court appearances for people arrested at that location will be scheduled sometime after January.

In all, some 1,500 people, including several hundred UUs, demonstrated on July 29. Eighty-three were arrested, including 30 to 35 who were UUs or had another connection to UU congregations. The UUs were generally held overnight.

Those UUs who are scheduled to appear this month, starting January 20, are: the Rev. Colin Bossen of the UU Society of Cleveland, Ohio; Asa Duffee of the UU Church of Tucson, Ariz.; the Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer of the UU Church of Kent, Ohio; Katerina Sinclair of the UU Church of Tucson, Ariz.; Jolinda Stephens of the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio; the Rev. Greg Ward of the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, Calif.; Shawna Foster of the First Unitarian Church of Omaha, Neb.; Annette Marquis, district executive of the UUA’s Thomas Jefferson District; Elka Cartmell-Ladd of Meadville Lombard Theological School; Leslie Mills of the Groveland UU Fellowship in St. Paul, Minn.; Bill Dishongh of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla.; Trent Tripp of the West Valley UU Church in Glendale, Ariz.; the Rev. Pallas Stanford of the UU Fellowship of Santa Cruz County in Aptos, Calif.; Audrey Williams of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Jan Meslin of the Tapestry UU Congregation in Mission Viejo, Calif.; and Lee Marie Sanchez of the UU Church in Anaheim, Calif., at the time of her arrest.

Three will be in court January 20, three on January 21, and five each on January 27 and January 28. Many other UUs who were arrested July 29 are pleading either guilty or no contest and will not be required to appear in court.

Some of those who decided to plead not guilty said they did so as a way of drawing as much attention as possible to a broken immigration system. The Rev. Greg Ward, minister of the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, Calif., is one of those. He told UU World, “I am guilty—in the strictly legal sense. I did block the thoroughfare. However I don’t feel guilty in the sense that the larger issue that we were calling attention to is still being largely unaddressed [and that is] . . . we are engaging in an immoral practice every time we lure immigrants to our country by hiring them, then turn around and profile and pick them up, detain, and deport them as if they are a disposable commodity.”

He added, “I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that my case can fix a broken immigration system. But it can continue the conversation and give strength to people too frightened to speak out.”

Jolinda Stephens, director of religious education at the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio, is also pleading not guilty. She said she went to Phoenix to represent the youngest students in her Sunday school program who saw the injustice in SB1070 when it was explained to them, and because she had just become a great-grandmother. “I wanted to tilt the moral arc of the universe just a bit more toward justice,” she said. “Living in an unjust world is pernicious. Doing this work heals us.”

Bill Dishongh will travel from his home in Florida to a court hearing this month in order to plead guilty. A lay leader of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla., he told the congregation at a recent worship service, “I have never felt more alive than when I stood with 25 to 30 other demonstrators in downtown Phoenix on the Day of Non-Compliance, July 29. It was an honor to share a jail cell with about a hundred men and women of all faiths. My daddy told me years ago, ‘If you are going to talk the talk then you have to walk the walk.’ I had no choice but to go to Phoenix.”

Frederick-Gray, who will appear in court February 22, said she is pleading not guilty because Sheriff Arpaio said that even though a federal judge last summer blocked parts of SB1070 from going into effect he would not be bound by that. Another reason for Frederick-Gray is that she believes fundamental human rights were violated inside the jail, and she wants to draw more attention to that issue and the general treatment of people inside the jail.

She said, “I want to bring to the public’s attention, through the courts, the problems in the jail, specifically the unequal application of the law based on ethnicity and language, the basic human rights violations, and the lack of training, preparation, and professionalism of the sheriff’s department. While we were in jail a guard told a group of arrestees that ‘all SB1070 did was to write into law what we have been doing all along.’ This was exactly my fear and why I felt it necessary to get inside the jail to see what happens, and in particular how we arrestees were treated differently because of our accents or skin colors.”

She said she also hopes to publicize the case of one young Latino man who was beaten by sheriff’s officers the night she was in the jail. “I am taking my case to trial, in part to bring to light his case, to tell on the stand what I saw happen.”

Four other people arrested July 29 were to have their trials December 15, but charges were dropped against them the day before. The four included UU Mar Cárdenas, South Bay ministry team coordinator for the UU Church of San Diego.

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Correction 1.18.11: An earlier version of this story omitted part of Lee Marie Sanchez's name. Sanchez was serving as consulting minister of the UU Church of Anaheim, Calif., at the time of her arrest.