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Weymouth Activist Blasts Police Methods

By Julia Steinberger and Saurabh Asthana

The MIT campus is covered with fliers advertising parties and events and raising consciousness about various social issues. In the South Shore town of Weymouth, however, high school students and a local activist were arrested and charged with “tagging” for putting up posters advertising an event in support of Mumia Abu-Jabal last fall. The legal battle since that event provides perspective on current tensions between local activists and police.

Last September, two high school students and Weymouth activist Nick “Red” Giannone were postering telephone poles on Route 3A to advertise a forthcoming high school walkout in support of death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Although garage sale advertisements and local elections were publicized on the same telephone poles without incident, the students who posted the fliers for Mumia Abu-Jamal were arrested by the Weymouth police.

Bias alleged in arrests

Giannone, 24, said he believes their arrests were politically motivated. Giannone, the principal Boston area organizer of the activist group Refuse and Resist, has long protested police brutality. He is also an advocate for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American journalist who many believe was framed by the Philadelphia police for the murder of a police officer.

Recalling his arrest for tagging, Giannone said, “[The Weymouth police] brought us to the station and, you know, gave us the, ‘What are you guys doing? You guys weren’t even born when this happened.’ They actually referred to us by racial slurs. They called us the n-word. All of us were white, by the way, but that just shows the open racism of the police.”

According to Captain Jim Thomas of the Weymouth Police Department, Giannone’s arrest was unrelated to the cause he was advocating. Thomas said, “I’m sure the content of the fliers had nothing to do with the arrests.”

Thomas also said that he was certain the police had followed all the required guidelines in the subsequent arrests and charges.

Police made arrests at walkout

At the time of his arrest for posting fliers, Giannone was on probation for a prior disorderly conduct charge stemming from a 1998 protest against police brutality. He also helped to organize opposition to a proposed police “emergency response unit” which he believe raised opposition to him among the police.

Giannone did not believe that his probation could be violated by organizing a walkout at his old high school in Weymouth. However, he was eventually arrested twice: first for “tagging” while advertising the event, and then on the actual day of the walkout.

“We kept on promoting the walkout anyway [despite the tagging charges],” Giannone said.

Police were waiting at the high school when he arrived and Giannone took several photographs, he said. “One of the cops said `We’ll be taking your picture too, you moron, when we arrest you.’ That’s before I had done anything. That just shows they had already isolated me ... It was a premeditated arrest,” said Giannone.

Giannone and two students were arrested at the walkout for trespassing on school grounds and disorderly conduct, and three other students were later summoned to court on the same charges. The high school students involved were offered probation on the condition that they complete high school.

Giannone jailed for ten days

Giannone faced charges in Quincy District Court, where he appeared with his court-appointed lawyer at a February 7th surrender hearing. His lawyer had prepared to argue against the legitimacy of the arrests on First Amendment grounds. The tagging law Giannone was accused of violating has been declared unconstitutionally vague in a Charlestown court.

Despite this precedent, Giannone’s lawyer was not able to present his defense. “My lawyer said it might take an hour to argue the case. [Judge Coven] said `You’re probably going to lose, your client will do six months jail time.’ ... The judge said I was going to lose before hearing the case,” Giannone said.

Giannone’s lawyer decided to strike a deal with the prosecutor rather than argue the case before a hostile judge, Giannone said. He eventually accepted a sentence of 10 days in jail and maintains he is certain that he is being singled out for his political beliefs.

Among those who agree is a parent of a high school student who participated in the walkout. In a letter to the Patriot Ledger (Quincy), Bill DeTellis wrote “Prosecuting someone for putting up fliers on telephone poles is pure hypocrisy. [The police] should not use power for their own personal issues.”