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Response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s press release regarding Sherman Austin’s sentencing

by JMR Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2003 at 8:27 PM
jmi4678@netscape.net

Response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s press release regarding Sherman Austin’s sentencing--Please FAX.

Thanks to Dr. Adrienne Carey Hurley, ahurley@stanford.edu, for taking the time to write a response to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s press release regarding Sherman Austin’s sentencing! I attached Feinstein’s original press release, and a copy of the letter. Please sign the letter and a fax to Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The fax number is: (415) 393-0710. Send faxes to Attention: Masha
It’s important to fax for immediate impact.
For additional impact, I would like to personally deliver YOUR letters to Ms. Feinstein in her San Francisco office. This is an opportunity for us to show our solidarity in disagreement of 18 U.S.C. 842(p), and protest how Ms. Feinstein’s law was used to pressure Sherman into signing a plea for a crime that he did not commit. In her press release Ms. Feinstein stated:
"I was pleased to learn recently that Sherman Austin was sentenced earlier this month in federal court in Los Angeles for violating 18 U.S.C. 842(p), a law I authored mandating up to 20 years in prison for anyone who distributes information knowing or intending that the information will be used for a violent federal crime. However, Thus, I write to request your assistance in ensuring that DOJ personnel know about section 842(p) and are aggressively enforcing it. Thus, I write to request your assistance in ensuring that DOJ personnel know about section 842(p) and are aggressively enforcing it.”
Ms. Feinstein’s press release clearly states that there will be many more to come. You can mail signed letters to:
Jennifer Martin Ruggiero
Attn: Dianne Feinstein PR
12115 Magnolia Blvd. #155
North Hollywood, CA 91607
I plan on delivering the letters, sealed in their original envelopes, to Ms. Feinstein’s SF office, so please include your return address and the number of signatures you collected on the front of the envelope. In addition, please feel free to mail, fax, e-mail, to Judge Stephen V. Wilson, Maria Stratton, John Ashcroft, and representatives in your area. The letter and additional contact information are included below. Thank you for all of your strength and diligence in dealing with this matter. Best, JMR

We, the undersigned, are united in our opposition to the selective prosecution and imprisonment of Sherman Austin, a twenty year-old African American webmaster and activist. Sherman¹s sentencing sets a dangerous precedent for the future of our right to express dissent and marks a troubling escalation in the criminalization of critical thinking and the erosion of the very civil liberties and rights our society purports to value.

On September 3, 2003 Sherman Austin surrendered himself to begin a one-year term in federal prison for the contents of a website that was authored by another boy and linked to Sherman's site, www.raisethefist.com, on a free-hosting area Sherman provided there. The other boy's site included a direct link to the "Reclaim Guide,² a manual that provides crude instructions on how to build explosives. While this boy has not been charged with any crime, Sherman, who had no part in writing or posting any of the offending material, was prosecuted under a 1997 law sponsored by Dianne Feinstein that makes it illegal to distribute information related to explosives with the intent to use that information in a "federal crime of violence."

Numerous websites feature bomb-making instructions, and while such
information is easily accessed via the internet and online bookstores such
as amazon.com, Sherman, who has no history of violence and who did not write the "Reclaim Guide,² is the first person to be charged under this law. The key element in the case against Sherman hinged on the question of "intent." Because Sherman's site is critical of U.S. government policy, police brutality, globalization, and racism, the prosecution and judge maintained that his politics provided grounds for proving intent.

Senator Feinstein, in a press release issued the day Sherman entered prison, expressed ³dismay² that prosecutors had not pursued the ³bombmaking² law ³aggressively² enough as a ³tool in fighting terrorism.² We ask, why is it that a nonviolent twenty year-old, someone whom the California Department of Corrections Senior Staff Psychologist determined ³does not represent a risk to society whatsoever² and described as ³a very, very peaceful, mild-mannered² person, has been sentenced under this law while others who present clear and identifiable threats, such as certain white supremacist and anti-choice organizations, have been permitted to distribute bombmaking information and make direct threats on individuals, clinics, and groups? We contend that the selective prosecution of Sherman Austin had everything to do with his race, his politics, his effectiveness as an internet activist, and his mother¹s lack of financial resources to mount an aggressive legal defense. We find it significant and telling that the actual author of the site directly linked to the "Reclaim Guide" is the son of affluent and conservative white parents.

We also question the validity of Sherman¹s plea itself. Sherman, who was eighteen years-old when this case began, was told a "terrorism enhancement" would be applied to his case if he went to trial. This meant that he could have been subjected to an additional 20 years in prison if found guilty. We challenge the notion that a plea made under such circumstances could be truly voluntary. Sherman accepted two plea bargain agreements one of which the judge rejected, sentencing Sherman to a term longer than what the prosecution suggested.

As is evident in the court transcripts, the decisions of U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson were neither fair nor impartial. He stated that he hoped Sherman¹s case would serve as a deterrent to other activists and ³revolutionaries² and that he wanted to "send a message" by subjecting Sherman to a harsher sentence. As activists, educators, artists, and concerned individuals, we stand together to send a message back to Judge Wilson. We will not be silenced or deterred.

Many of us have published, recorded, performed, or presented work that is critical of U.S. foreign policy, domestic examples of social injustice, and the effects of globalization. Some of us have made statements that could provide even more compelling grounds for applying the standard of ³intent² invoked in Sherman¹s case had we offered free-hosting website space that the author of the ³Reclaim Guide² could have used. Because Sherman is now serving time in federal prison for having expressed opinions not unlike our own, we feel compelled to speak out lest we be next.

Two days after entering prison, Sherman was moved into isolation because of death threats made by white supremacist groups. Thanks to numerous calls, faxes, and letters sent to prison officials, Sherman has now been transferred, but his safety in prison remains a concern. In the words of the Department of Corrections Psychologist, Sherman ³is likely to become a victim by virtue of his youth, slight build and naiveté. He is totally unprepared to defend himself in such a setting. He is more likely to become brutalized by the experience than to learn from it."

We support the efforts underway to challenge the terms of Sherman's plea and probation, and we demand that prison and government officials ensure the safety of Sherman Austin while he remains in custody.

Additional Contact information
Federal Public Defenders Office
Ms. Maria E. Stratton
321 East 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-4202

Judge Stephen V. Wilson
Courtroom #6
United States Federal Courthouse
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, California 90012





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