There's a saying among lawbreakers: "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." There's also another saying for law-keepers: "Make the punishment fit the crime."
The latter was not the case July 10 in the Town of DeWitt where local Judge David S. Gideon handed down a one-year jail sentence to Ithaca grandmother, Mary Anne Grady Flores, stemming from her involvement in an Ash Wednesday anti-drone protest at Hancock Field Air Force Base. Grady Flores' civil disobedience was nonviolent and faith-based.
Her actions were carried out in broad daylight, and in full view of police officers. Acting in the nonviolent tradition of Indian pacifist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, she joined others who stood opposed to the use of military drones, which are the key component in President Barack Obama's "targeted killing" program.
Grady Flores and her family are among a cadre of some of the nation's best-known anti-war activists who have maintained a regular presence at Hancock to say to no to violence and war. With the "war on terrorism" raging and nuclear weapons proliferation always expanding, there has never been a time when humanity has been more imperiled by the folly of war.
Grady Flores is following a noble U.S. abolitionist tradition in which people of conscience take a stand, risk personal freedom and subject themselves to arrest in order to challenge unjust government policies. In past eras, civil disobedience has been successfully employed to oppose British tyranny (the Boston Tea Party); to stop slavery and segregation, to gain suffrage for women. to stop child labor and in opposition to the Vietnam War.
Those who are war abolitionists believe modern weapons represent the pre-eminent threat to human survival. Preventing war is the life's work of many of those arrested at Hancock. These are good people who devote their lives to warning the rest of us about the moral imperative of disarmament and peace.
While most readers likely believe some form of punishment is in order for the Hancock protesters, it is also critical that said punishment be reasonable in light of the offense. The response of the Hancock officials, and enforced by Judge Gideon, was unreasonable. Gideon imposed an overly punitive sentence on Grady Flores for what was a minor transgression of the law. As a mother of four, grandmother of three, Grady Flores will miss Thanksgiving, Christmas and numerous birthdays with her family in the coming year because of Gideon's harsh sentence.
Democracies function best when a system of checks and balances is in place to hold governments and political leaders accountable when they fail to uphold democratic principles or when the excesses of government needs to be checked. While the three U.S. branches of government often function as a system of checks and balances, that is not always the case. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all three branches of government have essentially marched in lock step in support of the seemingly endless war on terrorism, the torture of prisoners and the use of drones for extra judicial killings of even our own citizens. Reports also confirm the devastating lose of civilian life from U.S. drone attacks.
That's why it's important for nonviolent citizens of conscience, like Grady Flores, to step up and take prophetic action to address the reckless policies of the government. Gideon obviously thinks it was important to impose a stiff sentence on Grady Flores as a deterrent to both her and others who may be inclined to join her. Gideon has also sent other protesters to jail, although for far less than a year.
Rather than concern himself with deterrence, Gideon would have better served society if he had recognized the important role the Hancock protesters play in keeping a check on the U.S. military-industrial complex. Our democracy needs people like Grady Flores and her cohorts, who resist violence and war by placing their bodies on the line. Why deter them? Grady Flores and the other Hancock protesters are good people of conscience who are doing the time for the rest of us.
We deter them at our own peril.