We Can And Should Resist Grand Juries: A Pacific Northwest Case Study

In 2010, a series of high profile murders by the Portland Police led to  large mass mobilizations in the city. During this time period, there was a great deal of property destruction in the city including heavy damage to the Portland Police Associations headquarters. The Portland Police and FBI focused on a small network of anarchists in the city that had been involved in these actions and spent over two years surveilling them and building cases on certain people. 

In May of 2012, there was a large anti-capitalist march in Seattle, WA which broke a window at a federal courthouse. The FBI used this low level property damage as the pretext for calling a special grand jury and investigating a regional network of anarchists that had been developing since 2010.

Everyone subpoenaed to this grand jury decided to resist the grand jury and to stand in solidarity with each other and the movement by refusing to testify (i.e. giving any information) at the grand jury. People created a defense committee called the Committee Against Political Repression (CAPR) that included the people subpoenaed, the targets of the investigation, other comrades and supporters. This committee created a strategy and plan for resisting the grand jury and supporting the people subpoenaed and its targets. 

This grand jury resistance took several forms:

  • A statement signed by several hundred national organizations calling on the government to withdraw the subpoenas and expressing support for people who refuse to testify
  • Demonstrations at the courthouse where people appeared before the grand jury to state their refusal
  • Rallies and press conferences to spread the word and get out our narrative
  • Some people who were expecting subpoenas just made themselves scarce
  • Media work and fundraising- these were often tied together
  • Call-in and fax in days when people called or faxed the US Attorney’s office, demanding an end to the investigation
  • Semi-famous scholars and people wrote personal statements calling on the government to withdraw the subpoenas and expressing support for people who refuse to testify

 

This group succeeded at some of their goals and also made some mistakes . The main thing success was making the narrative a fight over the legitimacy of the investigation and repression against specific political groups.  The main mistake was not having a realistic assessment of how prepared people were to go to jail and whether there might be better options for them.  In the end four people went to jail for refusing to testify; one of them broke and testified in order to get out however no one was indicted by this grand jury.