In a ruling on Thursday hailed as a vindication, a Manhattan court has determined ten climate activists "not guilty" on charges related to a thousands-strong climate protest that "flooded Wall Street" in New York City's financial district in September of last year.
Over 100 people—including one dressed as a polar bear—were arrested at the civil disobedience, which took direct aim at the role of capitalism in driving global warming and overall planetary destruction. Timed to coincide with a United Nations summit of heads of state and corporate leaders, the direct action followed the People's Climate March, which featured over 400,000 participants and was led by communities from the front-lines of the climate crisis.
The ten people who were cleared on Thursday had chosen to fight their charges in court.
"We decided to fight the charges because we felt, given the climate crisis that we face, and the central role of Wall Street in perpetuating it, the protest was not a crime, but was the direct action and civil disobedience we need to see a lot more of," John Tarleton, one of the defendants and executive editor of The Indypendent, told Common Dreams.
According to a statement from protesters, New York City Criminal Court Judge Robert Mandelbaum ruled that the dispersal order issued by the New York Police Department constituted an unlawful violation of demonstrators' First Amendment rights.
Going beyond the "not guilty" ruling, however, Mandelbaum also took judicial notice of the fact that climate change is real, human-made, and requires drastic action. Defense Attorney Martin Stolar said that this acknowledgment is "unprecedented and has significance for future litigation involving climate change."
"This is an important precedent, not only for climate change demonstrators, but everyone who engages in protest activity," said Jeneen Roybal, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who was one of the defendants.
"I was proud to be arrested standing up for what was right, and it was good for the community, the environment, and the planet," declared Lewis Chiu, a data analyst who was arrested at the sit-in.
The protesters say the ruling is important, because it "vindicates Flood Wall Street's political message" and clears the path for more mass direct actions to come.
"Wall Street companies fund and profit off disaster for all us, and finance capitalism won't be able to deal with the social fallout of climate change," said Jason Woltjen, one of the defendants. "We urgently need to act to save our planet and futures."