West Virginia Court Violates 8th Amendment Rights

posted by scott parkin

The injustice coming out of Appalachia these days is deafening. And disturbing. In fact, it’s bat shit crazy.

On May 17, two Climate Ground Zero activists, EmmaKate Martin, 18, and Ben Bryant, 23, stopped traffic into Massey’s West Virginia headquarters with a lockdown device known as a tripod.

The cops showed up got them out of their blockade and took them to jail.

EmmaKate and Ben eventually went up before Boone County Magistrate Porter Snodgrass who promptly slapped them with $100,000 bail for four misdemeanors– trespassing, conspiracy, obstruction and littering. Yeah, that’s right, one hundred fucking thousand dollars for four measly misdemeanors.

A thoughtful person might reflect that we’re in what Gandhi called the “then they fight you” phase of the campaign to end mountaintop removal. King Coal has ignored us, he has laughed at us, we’ve been harassed, threatened, mountaintop community leaders have been shot at (and lots of other really bad stuff) and now we’re seeing the state authorities upping the ante as well.

Massey CEO, darling of the tea party and certified right wing nut job Don Blankenship rules southern West Virginia like a feudal kingdom while sending underground miners to their deaths and blasting the tops off of mountains. The anti-MTR movement sees Massey as the anti-Christ. The rest of the industry spends their time distancing themselves from the outlaw CEO’s attempts to burn down the whole shebang in a crusade to make as much money as possible. The distancing is happening so much that the Feds are conducting a criminal investigation around Massey’s safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine, and none of his peers in the mining industry will have anything to do with him publicly.

But locally, Massey’s minions are fighting like bees defending the hive. Their intent is to discourage and intimidate future actions. They are using bail as punishment for speaking out politically, and it is certainly excessive and spits in the eye of traditional concepts of fairness and justice.

There used to be this thing called the Constitution and in we had the 8th Amendment-“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” I learned about it in 6th grade social studies class. Magistrate Snodgrass seems to have skipped civics that day.

And of course, there are the endless comparisons to violent offenders in the region. Here are a couple of quick facts about the criminal justice system in southern West Virginia:

On the more political end, pro-MTR actors received the following penalties from local authorities:

  • On July 4, 2009, on Kayford Mountain, Adam Pauley threatened to kill families who had gathered to celebrate Independence Day at the Mountain Keepers Festival. He was not arrested, but was given a $100 fine and six months unsupervised probation when found guilty of verbal assault in a February 2010 trial brought against him by Mountain Keeper Larry Gibson. (About a thousand times less than the tripod team.)
  • Rock Creek resident, Ruth Tucker, slapped Judy Bonds, outspoken mountaintop removal abolitionist, at a non-violent protest on June 23, 2009. She was released on personal recognizance and given a $100 fine six months after the fact. (Another fine that is a thousand times less)
  • And of course Don Blankenship, responsible for thousands of mining safety violations, the destruction of hundreds of mountains, the death of 29 deep ground miners, and just for being an out and out asshole, has yet to see the world from behind bars or the inside of a criminal court.

In places like Appalachia where there is so many “haves” and “have nots,” the systematic pattern targeting political opponents of the local establishment and fossil fuel gentry is no surprise. Now it’s a matter of fighting these injustices one by one.