I was immensely disheartened to hear the magistrate’s flat-out denial of my lawyer’s request that our witnesses be allowed to testify on my behalf.
During the past few weeks, I had been strengthened and moved by the willingness of so many people to make personal sacrifices to testify in my trial. Some of the witnesses I had wanted were personally affected by living in a mining region, while others had an expert knowledge of years of violations by the coal companies and neglect of the DEP. But the prosecuting attorney objected to bringing these witnesses in on the grounds that it would confuse the jury.
Now, I have the choice of having a trial without witnesses (testifying on my behalf) in magistrate court, or appealing for a possibly fairer trial in circuit court, where other local activists have had cases held over their heads for years. It’s a weighty decision. Back at my status hearing, my lawyer told me that the police were pressuring the court to send me to jail for thirty days–one day for every day I spent in the oak three. But I wasn’t disappointed to hear the magistrate deny my witnesses because I’m afraid to go to jail; I expect to be convicted at this trial whatever I do. I was disappointed because I have a particular ardor for accuracy and for fullness in understanding. I really, really like it we humans feel out truth while groping about in the obscurity of a deceit meant to subdue and oppress us.
Personally, I feel that, if we were allowed to explain in court how we know that birth defects(1), cancer, and liver diseases are higher in communities near strip mines, if we were able to list the years of violations and hazards created by Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources and the DEP’s non-responsiveness, if we could only share the potential impacts of stripping Coal River Mountain, I don’t think that we would confuse the jury: I think that we would allow the courtroom to understand what was really going on when my friends and I chose to oppose Alpha’s ruination on its own turf.
There was of course the “danger,” though, that the prosecuting attorney wanted to avoid by excluding any witnesses who could bear testimony to these things. The “danger” is that, if a jury heard these things, they might not want to convict me, whether or not I was technically breaking the law. They might just decide that breaking a law to save the lives of people and the beauty of these mountains was actually right. We should all try to remember the threat that we pose to oppressive governance when we understand the greater, more complex dynamics at play in our world.
And we should strive to be dangerous, toppling artifice wherever it obstructs justice.