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Over the years, because all of our work has targeted the most powerful forces in the county (law enforcement) and because we've so effectively exposed them for all to see, the Purple Berets have been the targets of a wide array of repressive tactics, from revoking our jail visiting privileges to whisper campaigns to outright threats.

Often we feel the effects of these campaigns, but can't prove who's doing what. Recently, though, the attempts to silence and discredit us by a sitting judge were so outrageous that people stepped forward and told what they knew.

Repression from the Bench
In two separate instances, Judge Pat Gray taunted and bullied organizations which had scheduled us to speak on medical conditions in the jail. Now the fact that a sitting judge would attempt to suppress free speech, especially on a highly politicized community issue that directly involves the criminal justice system, is despicable on its face.

But Pat Gray wasn't just any sitting judge; she was sitting on the three-judge appellate panel that would soon pass judgment on our case: a case directly involving the Purple Berets and our actions protesting the jail conditions. Yikes! (See D.A. Goes Down for the Count.)

Do the Right Thing
The different responses of the two groups Gray pressured is an object lesson in how repression either succeeds or fails. The local chapter of NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill) stood up to Gray's threats, claiming their right as a free and independent organization to invite whoever they choose to their meetings. NAMI's entire board of directors stood behind their decision to invite us; the group reported the pressure by Judge Gray and by Mental Health Services Director Cathy Geary to us directly, and spoke about it openly in their meeting.

By contrast, the Santa Rosa Democratic Club canceled their scheduled forum "Jail Deaths," which featured prominent national experts on prison medical and mental health conditions as well as a Purple Berets speaker on the local deaths. Club president Liz Basile admitted privately to board members she had caved into pressure from Judge Gray.

That forum did finally happen in March, by the way, before a packed house at the Unitarian Fellowship, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Richard Redalia and the sponsoring community groups. Audience members, including defense attorneys, former inmates and inmates' families, not only confirmed our information but also made their own first-hand charges of medical neglect and incompetence in the jail.

It does the heart good to know that, when the smoke cleared, it was the Purple Berets who were still standing and not Judge Gray (who defeated herself in her 2000 re-election campaign.) But the lesson here is not about karma; it's about solidarity.

Solidarity Works — That's Why It's So Dangerous
An Injury to One is an Injury to AllWhen the powers-that-be set out to discredit us and our work, their goal was not just to marginalize the Purple Berets, but to silence the people who really knew what was going on inside the jail. Only we had brought forth the voices of the inmates and their families and the voices of those working in the jail -- people who had risked their jobs, maybe their lives getting information out to us because they couldn't stand silent in the face of what they were seeing inside.

The real target of the repression was not the Purple Berets, but the truth.
But the good work of community organizers can only be marginalized if those who support them stay silent. Our deepest thanks to the local NAMI folks for knowing that instinctively. Beyond that, we hope that the next time you see the power-heads trashing our work or that of other activists you know and respect, you'll take a visible stand. Write a letter to the editor, speak out at a public meeting, participate in the group's actions and demonstrations -- whatever it takes to show which side of the line you stand on.


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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