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Judge O’Malley issued an unconstitutional stay away order that prevents me from holding peaceful protests in front of D&E Pizza because the owner Chris Albert is a “witness” (kind of, but not really) in the Karen Read case. In doing so the Commonwealth has effectively weaponized the witness intimidation statute to insulate anyone they deem to be a witness, potential witness, OR family member of a witness, from First Amendment protected speech.
The statute is so broad that you merely have to “attempt to cause emotional injury” which includes hurting someone’s feelings with your speech.
You can be charged with witness intimidation if you “punish or harm” a witness.
And if the police believe that you are attempting to punish or harm someone with your speech, then you can be charged with a felony.
However, I was one of hundreds of people who participated in the allegedly illegal “rolling rally” in Canton on July 22, so why am I the only one being charged? Is it because I have a large platform at Turtleboy? Is it only against the law if you have a certain amount of followers on Twitter? What would happen if a dozen, or hundreds of people, decided to protest “witnesses” in Canton? If I didn’t direct them to do so it wouldn’t be a violation of the stay away order, but would OTHER people be charged the way I was? Is the only reason I’m being singled out because I have the microphone/platform of millions of social media and website followers?
A group of peaceful protesters headed down to Canton today to find out.
They stood across the street from D&E Pizza and occasionally crossed the street to peacefully protest where I once did. When they did so Chris Albert came outside and filmed them, immediately playing up his victim status (knowing that the police and DA’s Office have his back unconditionally), and reminded them that they were “protesting in front of a witness.”
“Protesting in front of a witness, huh? Protesting in front of a witness? You must be proud of yourself.”
That is a man who knows that he can pretend to be a victim in order to weaponize the police and witness intimidation statute against free people exercising their First Amendment rights in a free country. The arrogance is seeping out of his pores, just as it was when he told me that I was “gonna get it” for doing the same thing months earlier. Just as it was when he left the Board of Selectman meeting last month and told my camera guy “we know about you.” Just as it was when he turned to his personal under cover cop at the same meeting and made sure he was still there to escort him to his car. Just as he was when he called his cop brother Kevin, who sent the police to disrupt my peaceful protest at his pizza shop.
Chris made sure to film everyone who was there, and immediately got on the phone and alerted his friends at CPD, who exist to protect and insulate him from free speech by labeling him as a “witness,” despite the fact that his son and brother allegedly helped murder John O’Keefe.
Soon after that a half a dozen cops, who should be thoroughly embarrassed to be doing this, descended on the peaceful protesters and threatened to arrest and charge them with the same crime I’ve been charged with.
Officer Zepf, who responded twice when I was protesting outside of the same location and told me my actions were perfectly legal, was one of the responding officers. He and another officer, who couldn’t contain his smile as he filmed the protesters with some sort of boomer iPad, had printed out papers of MGL Chapter 268 Section 13A. They were escorted by a sergeant.
I was charged with 4 counts of picketing a witness for the rolling rally, despite the fact that I was not intending to interfere with, obstruct, or impede the administration of justice. Chief Helena Rafferty clearly has a stack of these printed out at the station in case anyone else dares to exercise their First Amendment rights in Canton. If you want to be a free person please go to Westwood, or another community where “witnesses” don’t live.
Officer Zepf informed the protesters that Chris Albert was immune from being protested because he was witness to a criminal crime.
Someone may want to tell Officer Zepf that “criminal crime” is a bit redundant, and you don’t have to witness the crime itself to be a witness. The statute is so broad that even people like Chris, who has not been accused of being inside Fairview Road when his son and brother allegedly murdered John O’Keefe, are immune from public criticism.
Officer Zepf wrongly told the peaceful protesters that they were violating the law because they were “within eyeshot” of Chris Albert.
They’re just making up laws in Canton as they go along in order to protect a group of well connected cop killers. And please, spare me the excuse of “these cops are just doing their job.” The correct response when given an order like this is to refuse to do it. The problem is that we’ve trained police officers to blindly follow commands, which is something that has led to mass genocide on an international level when the wrong people gain power.
But what even is eyesight? What if the witness is blind? Does the statute stop existing? What if they were hiding around the corner and couldn’t see you? According to Officer Zepf it meant that if the protesters could see the pizza shop then they were in eye sight.
Zepf also said that Chris was immune from being protested against because he “appeared in front of a grand jury.”
But how would the officer know that? Grand jury testimony is sealed. Chris Albert’s son Colin was subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury when 2 FBI agents visited his dorm room, but to my knowledge Chris was not.
Zepf said he “wasn’t debating it,” when the protesters argued that they weren’t intending to alter Chris Albert’s witness testimony.
Which is good, because there’s no need for a debate. They have a right to be there, and that’s the end of that.
Zepf told them that the reason their protest was illegal was because they had signs that said, “Colin Albert was in the house” (he was), and “Free Karen Read.”
In doing so the CPD are stating that it’s the messages on the signs that are actually illegal in Canton. If the signs said, “Karen Read is Guilty” they would most certainly be allowed.
Zepf stated that they could protest anywhere, as long as it wasn’t in eyeshot of Chris Albert.
But the town of Canton is full of “witnesses” in the Karen Read trial. There are hundreds of names on the Commonwealth’s witness list. Canton Police have effectively prevented protesters from protesting anywhere in the town.
Luckily the protesters are skilled at the art of something the Alberts aren’t – reading. They showed Zepf that the statute didn’t mention anything about being in “eyeshot” of witnesses.
Zepf also asked for their names and ID, which the protesters knew they didn’t have to provide and refused to do so.
I have no doubt that Helena Rafferty is contemplating how she can charge this group of peaceful protesters with a crime. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s drafting a criminal complaint as we speak. Either way, it’s become clear that the Town of Canton seems to believe the First Amendment no longer exists, simply because they have designated a group of well connected people, who are family members of cops, as “witnesses.”
What would happen if dozens, or even hundreds of peaceful protesters, were to show up at the same spot and film themselves holding signs? How many people are the Canton Police willing to arrest or charge for the crime of exercising their First Amendment rights? Maybe we’ll find out.
I will leave you with this piece of history. In 1961 racially diverse peaceful protesters jumped on 2 buses and stopped at interstate bus stops throughout the south to see if they would be arrested for exercising their rights to use segregated bathrooms. When they got to Mississippi they were all arrested and sent to Parchman Prison. But this unlawful arrest only emboldened more peaceful protesters to come to Mississippi. The problem wasn’t just the police, it was the law itself that needed to change. Within months hundreds of people from across the country flooded the state and attempted to integrate their bus stop facilities, knowing they’d be arrested. Eventually the prisons became too full and it forced the federal government to FORCE integration.
The witness intimidation statute is as unconstitutional as racist Jim Crow laws. They have arrested me for violating this law, but I’m not a sympathetic person to many. What would happen if the town of Canton were invaded in such a manner by women, children, the elderly, and other peaceful protesters? Maybe we will find out. I can’t currently do so, but to my knowledge others without a stay away order can.
In the meantime, please contact the ACLU at [email protected] to alert them to this blatant first Amendment violation. You can also call their intake line at (617) 482-3170.