Law and Disorder Radio – Irvine 11 Case Update – Joe Allen on People Wasn’t Made to Burn – Hosts: Heidi Boghosian, Michael Steven Smith & Michael Ratner – Produced by Geoff Brady


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Irvine 11 Case Update

Earlier this year, 11 Muslim students were arrested for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. The incident took place last year on the campus of the University of California at Irvine. The local District Attorney claims that the students had no right to disrupt the event, charging them with conspiracy to shut down the ambassador’s speech, even though he was able to complete the speech. Supporters claim that the Muslim students’ actions are protected by the first Amendment, and that they are being charged for being vocal critics of Israel.

Last month, an Orange County court found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors. Facing up to one year in jail on multiple misdemeanor charges, they were sentenced to three years of probation, 56 hours of community service and fines. Each was convicted of one misdemeanor count of conspiring to disrupt Oren’s February 8, 2010 speech and a second count for disrupting it.

Attorney Lisa Holder:

  • I knew there were some very difficult challenges in this case. The students modeled their protest after a protest that took place in Chicago.
  • There 11 students who stood up serially, one after the other, with about 3 or 4 minutes in between.
  • Each student made a short statement of protest. None of the protesters in Chicago were arrested.
  • A lot of the students who had a pro-Palestine perspective were targeted.
  • The prosecutor framed his whole case on the notion that the students shut down the First Amendment rights of the speaker.
  • This is the way they framed it at the beginning; in the statements they made to the media.
  • In terms of their framing, it makes no sense from a legal perspective.
  • The way the Bill of Rights works, is to protect individuals from the government, in terms of the First Amendment which protects free speech, the Fourth Amendment that protect against unreasonable searches and seizure.
  • It protects the individual from the government impeding on those rights.
  • An individual can’t impede or violate another individual’s First Amendment rights, only the government can do that.
  • The prosecutor should not have been allowed to argue to the jury that these students violated Mr Oren’s free speech rights.
  • These are wonderful young men, they’re very gracious people and there’s no way that the judge could lose sight of that. It was outrageous, because really what was being prosecuted in their conspiracy charge was their First Amendment right to assemble.
  • Penal code section 403a violates the First Amendment; it essentially says you can’t disrupt a meeting, violates our First Amendment to free speech.

Attorney Dan Stormer:

  • Islamophobia is really taking hold.
  • I tend to believe it is Islamophobia, 9/11 hysteria, more Arab/Muslim focus than Israel/Palestine focus.
  • The use of conspiracy in this case allowed them to get in all sorts of evidence that might not otherwise be admissible.
  • Penal Code 403 says if you upset a meeting and substantially interfere with its progress, you can be criminally prosecuted.
  • I think the statute is unconstitutional and that’s going to be a primary basis for our appeal.
  • The district attorney was calling for jail time. The D.A. attacked the judge subsequently for failing to give jail time. I think it is a severe sentence but given Orange County, and given the nature of hysteria against our clients, I’m ultimately please with the sentence.
  • The background is they actually took this to a Grand Jury, and alleged they might file a felony conspiracy and felony allegation against them.
  • Its shocking and horrifying that this prosecution went forward.

Guest – Attorney Lisa Holder, Los Angeles-based criminal trial attorney since 2000. Ms Holder is a member of the California Bar, the National Lawyers Guild and the California Employment Lawyer’s Association. She is a member of the board of directors for the Southern California ACLU. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Occidental College, teaching pre-law classes. Ms. Holder graduated from New York University School of Law in 2000 after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree at Wesleyan University.

Guest – Attorney Dan Stormer, a civil rights, international human rights and constitutional lawyer for thirty-five years who has been recognized internationally, nationally and locally as one of the top attorneys in the United States. A graduate of New York University School of Law and Wagner College, Stormer has lectured and published extensively and has taught law school at Hastings College of Law and Loyola Law School. He has obtained a number of important verdicts in gender discrimination in employment, civil rights violations, and age discrimination. He has appeared before the US Supreme Court and is currently one of the attorneys on a Guantanamo Bay case.


People Wasn’t Made to Burn – Joe Allen

People Wasn’t Made to Burn is the shocking personal story of a Mississippi Black sharecropping family that faced incredible hardship and tragedy after moving to Chicago in 1947. Within the year, 4 of their young children perished in a massive blaze in an overcrowded tenement. The father, sickened with grief, took justice in his own hands and shot the landlord, thought to have the set the fire. James Hickman was jailed and facing murder charges. As the story takes off, author Joe Allen gives the reader an inside look into the strategy to defend Hickman in the most racist area of the country.

Joe Allen:

  • I think his story is really symbolic of a whole generation of African-Americans who left the South for the North or the West to find a better life and a measure of dignity and freedom.
  • He came to Chicago and permanently settled here in 1945. He got a job in the steel industry, which was very typical of African-American men who came to the Midwest.
  • While you were sort of welcomed here for the hard work and labor you would give, particularly to the big steel plants, finding a home was a source of incredible frustration and humiliation.
  • Housing is the thing that Joe Hickman’s trial really revolves around.
  • The African-American population, really up until the second world war, was confined to a thin sliver of land on the south side of Chicago.
  • It was overcrowded, and what the banks do is try to use this limited space to make as much money as possible.
  • Kitchenette apartments, one room hovels, that didn’t have running water, no electricity, rat infested.
  • Richard Wright’s book – Native Son.
  • James Hickman would go from one end of the city to the other looking for a place and would have the door slammed in his face each time.
  • Black landlords were not very common at that time. Coleman took his money and never gave him the apartment that he wanted. When James Hickman raised the issue of what happened with the money, Coleman threatened to set fire to the place.
  • On January 16, 1947, a fire breaks out, it spread so quickly that Annie Hickman, the mother and wife, and one of the eldest sons, made it out of their attic apartment and jumped to safety.
  • Because of the speed of the fire and incredible smoke, the four youngest kids, they suffocated and burned to death.
  • Six months to the day of the death of children, he confronted Coleman at his home.
  • The police acted very quickly in this case. He faced execution in the electric chair or a minimum of 14 years in prison.
  • They pulled together a Hickman defense committee. They organized a very broad based campaign.
  • Even though he was a man wracked by grief he went out to find some measure of justice for his children when he couldn’t get that from the criminal justice system.
  • Housing is still a crucial issue for working class people.

Guest – Joe Allen, a frequent contributor to the International Socialist Review and a long-standing activist, based in Chicago.