“The people have the power, all we have to do is awaken that power in the people… We are the government.”—John Lennon
Saddled with a corporate media that marches in lockstep with the government, elected officials who dance to the tune of their corporate benefactors, and a court system that serves to maintain order rather than mete out justice, Americans often feel as if they have no voice and no recourse when it comes to holding government officials accountable and combatting rampant corruption and injustice.
We’re impotent in the face of SWAT teams that break down doors and leave toddlers scarred for life. We’re helpless to prevent police shootings that leave unarmed citizens dead for no other reason than the police officer involved felt “threatened.” And we’re defenseless against a barrage of laws that render virtually anything and everything is a crime nowadays (feeding the birds, growing vegetables in your front yard, etc.) to such an extent that if a prosecutor, police officer and judge were so inclined, you could be locked up for any inane reason.
[sharequote align="center"]You start by changing the rules and engaging in some (nonviolent) guerrilla tactics.[/sharequote]
This is tyranny dressed up in the official garb of the police state. It is the self-righteous, heavy-handed arm of the law being used as a decoy to divert your attention to the so-called criminals in your midst (the fisherman who threw back small fish into the ocean, the mother who let her child walk to the playground alone, the pastor holding Bible studies in his backyard) so that you don’t focus on the criminal behavior being perpetrated by the government.
So how do you not only push back against the police state’s bureaucracy, corruption and cruelty but also launch a counterrevolution aimed at reclaiming control over the government using nonviolent means?
You start by changing the rules and engaging in some (nonviolent) guerrilla tactics.
Employ militant nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, which Martin Luther King Jr. used to great effect through the use of sit-ins, boycotts and marches.
Take part in grassroots activism, which takes a trickle-up approach to governmental reform by implementing change at the local level (in other words, think nationally, but act locally).
And then, while you’re at it, nullify everything the government does that is illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.
Various cities and states have been using this historic doctrine with mixed results on issues as wide ranging as gun control and healthcare to “claim freedom from federal laws they find onerous or wrongheaded.”
Where nullification can be particularly powerful, however, is in the hands of the juror.
According to former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, the doctrine of jury nullification is “premised on the idea that ordinary citizens, not government officials, should have the final say as to whether a person should be punished.”
Imagine that: a world where the laws of the land reflect the concerns of the citizenry as opposed to the profit-driven priorities of Corporate America.
Unfortunately, as I point out in my book "Battlefield America: The War on the American People," with every ill inflicted upon us by the American police state, from overcriminalization and surveillance to militarized police and private prisons, it’s money that drives the police state. And there is a lot of money to be made from criminalizing nonviolent activities and jailing Americans for nonviolent offenses.
This is where the power of jury nullification is so critical: to reject inane laws and extreme sentences and counteract the edicts of a profit-driven governmental elite that sees nothing wrong with jailing someone for a lifetime for a relatively insignificant crime.
Of course, the powers-that-be don’t want the citizenry to know that it has any power at all.
Police make arrest during the civil disobedience protest for "stop and frisk" in front on the 28th Precinct as part of Occupy Wall St. Credit: Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
They would prefer that we remain clueless about the government’s many illicit activities, ignorant about our constitutional rights, and powerless to bring about any real change. Indeed, so determined are they to keep us in the dark about the powers vested in “we the people” that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1895 that jurors had no right during trials to be told about nullification.
Moreover, anyone daring to educate a jury about nullification—clearly protected by the First Amendment—runs the risk of prosecution. Just recently, for example, 56-year-old Mark Iannicelli was charged with seven counts of jury tampering for handing out jury nullification fliers outside a Denver courtroom.
In an age in which government officials accused of wrongdoing are treated with general leniency, while the average citizen is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, jury nullification is a powerful reminder that, as the Constitution tells us, “we the people” are the government.
For too long we’ve allowed our so-called “representatives” to call the shots. Now it’s time to restore the citizenry to their rightful place in the republic: as the masters, not the servants.
Jury nullification is one way of doing so.
The reality with which we must contend is that justice in America is reserved for those who can afford to buy their way out of jail.
For the rest of us who are dependent on the “fairness” of the system, there exists a multitude of ways in which justice can and does go wrong every day. As I’ve said before, when you go into a courtroom, you’re going up against three adversaries who more often than not are operating off the same playbook: the police, the prosecutor and the judge.
If you’re to have any hope of remaining free—and I use that word loosely—your best bet remains in your fellow citizens.
They may not know what the Constitution says (studies have shown Americans to be abysmally ignorant about their rights), they may not know what the laws are (there are so many on the books that the average American breaks three laws a day without knowing it), and they may not even believe in your innocence, but if you’re lucky, they will have a conscience that speaks louder than the legalistic tones of the prosecutors and the judges and reminds them that justice and fairness go hand in hand.
That’s ultimately what jury nullification is all about: restoring a sense of fairness to our system of justice. It’s the best protection for “we the people” against the oppression and tyranny of the government, and God knows, we can use all the protection we can get.
Most of all, jury nullification is a powerful way to remind the government—all of those bureaucrats who have appointed themselves judge, jury and jailer over all that we are, have and do—that we’re the ones who set the rules.
If they don’t like it, they can get another job.
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