By Lu Mountenay
Jan 22, 2014
No probation, no fine, no community service, no jail time—just essays. Amazing! Nine defendants represented by Henry Stoever, and cheered on by 27 supporters, spoke out in Municipal Court of Kansas City, Mo., about why they had stepped onto property in KC leased to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Protesting the continued production of nuclear weapons parts that will occur at the new plant on the property, 24 activists on July 13 refused to obey the security guard’s warnings to leave the property. They were arrested. Some of them pled “not guilty” at hearings so they could have their say in court, and nine of the 24 stood trial on Dec. 13 (Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, from Tacoma, Wash., was represented in absentia by Henry).
Judge Ardie Bland granted Henry’s request to make the group’s “door” a physical exhibit for the defense. This is the door through which activists pass to a “nuclear-weapons-free world” during demonstrations against the plant. Judge Bland agreed to wait to start the trial until the door was placed in the courtroom for all to see.
Prosecutor Kendrea White called William Birkner, a Honeywell security guard. He testified that security at the plant had been notified ahead of time about the protest. He gave no trespass warning until the protesters crossed the property line. After a prayer service, 24 went through the door and onto the property. Birkner read the warning twice. He told the judge he had been there to protect personnel, property, and classified material from the peace activists, and that under the Atomic Energy Act, he had authority to have them arrested. He agreed that the activists did not stop traffic, but said that Honeywell was the victim.
Cross-examination by Henry disclosed that Honeywell is not the owner, but the operator of the plant. And, no, the property is not subject to military rule (no check points), and other vehicles drive up to the buildings without being challenged by guards, as the activists were.
Henry presented the entire 10-minute video created by Marc Saviano from the July 13 line-crossing as another exhibit for the defense. Birkner agreed the video was accurate.
First witness for the defense was Jane Stoever, Henry’s wife. She said the city ballot results in April showed that 23% of the voters asked for no further city involvement in financing the new plant. She said the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is being violated by the plant, and she expressed concern about contaminants at the current plant site at Bannister Federal Complex. She said the purpose of crossing the line was “to put ourselves on the right side of humanity.” As a Catholic Worker House volunteer assisting the homeless and hungry, she said the funds to produce parts for nuclear weapons could be used for better things.
Prosecutor White noted that the NNSA would challenge the defendants’ method of protest. She said there are other ways to get a message across to the public.
The next defendant, Lauren Logan, said she is a concerned citizen who wants to draw attention to the nuclear weapons issue, she is a Buddhist who takes a peaceful stance, and she won’t cause pain and suffering to any creature. The prosecutor asked if Lauren couldn’t reach more people with her message in another manner. Lauren said she was reaching people in the court, and has indeed informed people by writing letters and articles and being interviewed on the radio (KKFI-FM, 90.1).
Janice Sevre-Duszynska, ARCWP, a woman priest, used the witness stand to paraphrase words from Daniel Berrigan, SJ (she held his book The Feminine Face of God in her hand)—“We are a people parched in the wilderness of the death and destruction caused by nuclear weapons. … We suffer from amnesia. Are we putting God to the test? Have we forgotten where we come from?” She insisted, “Our God is a God of abundance. Nukes are evidence of insanity.” She called the KC Plant “a place of death and destruction.”
Carl Kabat, OMI, testified about the immorality of nuclear weapons. He reviewed the history of his anti-nuclear-weapons activism and serving time for peace (about 17 years in prison). He said that the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council urged resistance to violence against humans, and he has participated in Plowshare activities. He compared peace activism to the civil rights movement. He declared, “I’m 80. I’ve got a conscience!”
Cele Breen, SCL, told the court about her family’s patriotism and closeness to Harry Truman, her father’s captain during World War I. She said she wants to make sure Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happen again! She added that she works with the poor and doesn’t understand how a beanfield could be labeled “blighted” in the process of obtaining property for the new plant. She cited the recurring theme that money for weapons could be better spent. “I am guilty of being so late in putting my body and my voice on the line,” she stated.
Jerry Zawada, OFM, described nuclear weapons abolition as the number one issue in his heart and spirit. He has witnessed children dying of hunger, he said, repeating that the money for nuclear weapons production could be better spent. He added that he feels blessed to be associated with peaceful resisters. Some 25 years ago, he trespassed five times at missile silos in Missouri. Zawada said, “We are a family of people with a conscience. … My bone of contention is with people who are making money from nuclear weapons.”
Betsy Keenan informed the court, “No other city in the world has welcomed nuclear weapons parts builders within its borders. It is death-dealing work.” She said she grieves that her country has used nuclear weapons against humans.
Georgia Walker, who works with former prisoners, helping them to find work and housing, said nuclear weapons resistance is a personal issue for her. She has two aunts who worked at the IRS office at Bannister Federal Complex, where the current nuclear weapons parts plant has been since 1949, and the aunts died at ages 61 and 62 from “strange cancers,” said Georgia. City council gave Honeywell a new place to devastate, she charged. Of 650 claims concerning workers’ compensation, only 75 workers have been compensated, she noted. “Stand up against injustice,” she urged. “Don’t repeat the same mistake of endangering employees at the new plant.”
In answer to the prosecution’s repeated question about the means of getting their message across, all defendants agreed that nothing matters like putting your body on the line.
In summation, Henry talked about the location of the line-crossing being an open road; nobody else gets stopped or checked there. He pointed to a copy of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by our country. “These weapons indiscriminately kill noncombatants, civilians, all life. ... Everybody is ignoring the elephant, the monster, in the room. It's a moral imperative (to oppose nuclear weapons). I think it’s a legal imperative.” He asked, “Would we convict George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson? They were called revolutionaries. We are agents of change.”
The prosecutor argued that trespass is the only issue; it’s not about freedom of speech.
Judge Bland decided all defendants were guilty as charged for infraction of the municipal code by trespassing on private property and that the Honeywell representative had authority to call for the arrests. The judge said he understood the argument of the defendants and appreciated Mr. Kabat’s reference to Rosa Parks’ refusal to obey an unjust law, but that Parks was willing to suffer the consequences, just as peace activists must be. Moreover, in civil disobedience cases, those who act out of conscience are willing to accept the punishment as a sign of their sincerity in their just cause, the judge said. “The world was changed because of what they did. Now I can sit up here before you as a black man doing justice.” He added that he took the case “because I've done this before with Mr. Stoever. I think you are educating, because every time I learn something.”
His surprising sentence was to give each defendant the opportunity to continue their stories. They must write a full-page essay answering each of six questions he put forth (see “Sensible Sentence” below).
The applause in the courtroom was appreciation for Judge Bland’s wisdom as well as for the defendants.
Lu Mountenay serves on the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors.
Photos from December 13, by Jim Hannah and Max Obuszewski
Judge Ardie Bland posed six questions to nuclear weapons resisters on trial Dec. 13, and he sentenced the nine defendants to writing a one-page essay on each question within a month. The judge spoke quickly in framing the sentences and gave no written copy to the defendants, but by Dec. 26, lawyer Henry Stoever, the prosecutor, and the judge had come to agreement on the questions, which follow.
1. If North Korea, China, or one of the Mideast countries dropped a nuclear bomb on a U.S. city tomorrow, would that change your opinion (about nuclear weapons)?
2. If Germany or Japan had used nuclear weapons first in World War II, would your opinion change?
3. What would you say to those who say, “If we (the USA) do not have the big stick, that is, if we get rid of our nuclear weapons, and other countries develop nuclear weapons, then we do not have the opportunity to fight back”?
4. You defendants say you are Christians and one is a Buddhist. Father (Carl) Kabat says you disobey a law that is ungodly. How do you respond to someone who believes there is no God? Who is to say what God believes, for slavery and the Crusades killed millions?
5. How do you respond to those who have a God different from you when they argue their religion is to crush others into dust with nuclear devices?
6. Who determines what “God’s law” is, given the history of Christianity in the USA and the world?