Becks Kolins took a plea deal this morning (10/04) in Raleigh County Magistrate Court. They were sentenced to twenty-four hours beginning this morning. This is what they wrote before being taken to jail:
On July 20th, 1 year, 3 months, 15 days ago, I ascended a tree on the Bee Tree Permit of Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County. There I stayed for two weeks, helping, alongside my comrade fern, to halt blasting. I descended that same tree after two weeks to take the anger I have, the anger so many have at the destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, into the court room. As I’ve discussed in posts before, the coal industry is able to get away with demolishing the land, poisoning communities, and erasing a culture by using their power to control the court, to make backroom deals, to not be held accountable for their blatant violations of laws and regulations. The State is so much more willing to prosecute activists for the few misdemeanors than to do the same to this powerful industry, an industry that murders, an industry that manipulates, an industry that literally blows up mountains. The importance of going to trial for me had always been to challenge that—to challenge the way the coal industry is able to escape any sort of consequence. By going to trial (something we all have the legal right to do, without facing consequences for) and being able to stand up, it’s just another jab, another way to subvert.
I say all this with the understanding that going to trial is a huge risk. It’s not something everyone is able to do and it is a huge privilege to be able to put oneself in that position, a position where one could be jailed, not making money, put in a violent, unsafe, incredibly heteronormative and rigidly gendered space. Sometimes it also just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been thinking and rethinking strategy and what would make my choice to go to trial strategic. After the Mountain Mobilization — after it became clear that conditions in West Virginia are changing, that the market for MTR coal is declining, that workers are being laid off, that alternative economies are still non-existent and that we, the activists who put our bodies on the lines, are continuously used as scapegoats— I wondered what made sense for me to do. On top of all these things, when I spoke with my lawyer the other day about potentially taking a plea deal, he informed me that assuming we went to trial on Thursday, he’d have to get a continuance, another continuance. This would be the third continuance, the first coming after he, my lawyer, forgot to go to (or chose to not go, or had something better to do, or or or…) pre-trial motions for me, thus both delaying the possibility of an earlier trial and allowing for the issuance of a warrant for my arrest. The second continuance came after my arresting officer requested time for vacation. Fortunately he, Officer Mitchell, was able to get that time for vacation from his demanding job, and I got to wait another three months.
After hearing that my trial would need to be continued once again (and perhaps once again after that) for some undetermined length of time, I decided that taking a plea deal was what I needed to do. While I would love to go to trial, while I find it necessary to go to trial, to challenge the legal system that prosecutes the poor, but won’t touch the rich, to stand up and clog the system that wasn’t made for people to go to trial, but for people to take plea deals, to put an end to the criminalization of certain, minor, minuscule “crimes” in order to profit the prison industrial complex … putting my life on hold, dealing with a lawyer who treats me like I’m an incompetent five year old (hey Stanley Selden!!!), is not the most effective use of my time, of RAMPS’ time, and, to some degree, is not an effective way (right now) for me to challenge that same destructive, corrupt, violent system.
With such a changing climate, with the layoffs happening and the decline in coal, it is important that we are mindful of how we continue on, so as not to continue to be blamed for worker layoffs. But at the same time, it is absolutely essential that we not back down, that we continue resisting, disrupting, and fighting back against the coal industry, fighting back against MTR, fighting back against State-driven violence, control, and the obliteration of bio-diverse mountains, communities, and people. I look forward to seeing how we will continue doing this, and despite taking this deal, don’t you worry, this won’t be the last of me.
Becks is the last person to be prosecuted for the 2011 treesit; all cases associated with this action are now closed. In May 2012, the Bee Tree permit was idled. Since the Bee Tree permit was still the only active permit on Coal River Mountain, there is almost no mining happening on the mountain Becks fought to save. However, we want Alpha to withdraw its operations on Coal River Mountain completely and permanently. Since Becks will only be in jail for one day, you won’t be able to write to them. You can, however, show your support by sharing their story far and wide and by donating to their legal costs (make sure to specify what the donation is for). Becks has court costs as well as lingering fees from Alpha’s lawsuit.