‘Peacemaking Circle’ could replace protester trials

May 20, 2014

By the Right Rev. Alan Scarfe, the Rev. Julius C. Trimble, David Hurd and the Rev. Russell Melby and 37 other signers - Des Moines Register

On St. Patrick’s Day, nearly 200 people gathered at the gates of the Iowa Air National Guard base in Des Moines to protest the use of drones by our country. Seven crossed the line and were arrested.

Each was charged with trespassing, a simple misdemeanor. A trial has been scheduled for June 23 in Polk County court. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 days in jail or be fined $100.

We have seen these trials before. They are expensive. Thousands of dollars will be spent. The trial could last as long as a week. Jury selection will be time-consuming. Each defendant has the right to exercise four “strikes.” A large pool of jurors will be needed so six can be chosen to serve. There will be a judge, a prosecutor, a court reporter, a court attendant and expert witnesses. And there could be as many as seven lawyers retained to protect the defendants’ rights and advocate for their cause.

We ask: What is the point? These defendants — “the St. Pat’s 7” — did nothing more than exercise their consciences. No property was damaged and no one was injured. They acted peacefully and submitted themselves to the authorities.

It is a fact that these dissenters, and others like them, know they will be arrested. They stage their “actions” before reporters and cameras, hoping the brief news coverage will somehow influence public opinion. They believe that by telling their story to a jury, their truth will be heard and others will take up the cause.

Perhaps this is the way it should be — that our criminal justice system with its police, prosecutors, judges and jurors should be used in the service of public discourse on issues important to all of us.

But perhaps there is a better way.

What if a “Peacemaking Circle” were held? What if the seven defendants, and an equal number of National Guard personnel, sat in a circle with a skilled neutral who would facilitate the conversation? What if a microphone were used so each could speak without interruption? And what if, like a trial, the process were open to the public? Anyone could attend, sit outside the circle and listen to everything said.

There would be truth telling — by the defendants and by the National Guard. There would be no attempt to reach consensus. It wouldn’t be possible. The protesters abhor the use of drones. The Guard personnel, while perhaps sympathetic to the protesters, have chosen to join the Guard and have a job to do. Each side has a truth.

While a jury trial would result in a determination of guilt or innocence, the circle process would honor each person’s truth no matter the chasm between.

And wouldn’t a great service be rendered by the sharing of these truths in the presence of the community at large?

We support such an effort and call upon those in authority to give it deep consideration. The National Guard, the seven defendants and the community deserve it.

— Right Rev. Alan Scarfe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; Rev. Julius C. Trimble, bishop, Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church; Dave Hurd, retired president, Principal Financial Group; Rev. Russell Melby, retired director of Iowa Church World Service; Rev. Alejandro Alfareo-Santia, pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church; Rev. Ryan Arnold, senior pastor, First Christian Church; Bob Brammer, retired assistant, Iowa attorney general’s office; Rev. Brian Carter, Iowa United Methodist Church legislature lobbyist; Rev. Kathleen Clark, retired United Methodist Church pastor; Rev. Denny Coon, senior pastor, Walnut Hill United Methodist Church; Patricia A. Coon; Eloise M. Cranke, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Iowa coordinator; Charles Day, Ph.D.; Fr. Tom DeCarlo, Des Moines Diocese; Catherine Dietz-Kilen; Cathy Dodds; Laura Douglas; Dr. David Drake; Kathleen Ferguson; Rev. Eric Guy, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church; Dennis Groenenboom, executive director, Iowa Legal Aid; Trudy Hurd; Carmen Lampe-Zeitler, Children and Family Urban Movement director; Grace W. Liddon; Diane Krell; Dr. Keith Krell; Mike W. McCarthy; Matt McCoy, state senator; Rev. Brian K. Milford, United Methodist Church district superintendent; Kathleen McQuillen, Des Moines American Friends Service Committee coordinator; Rev. Steve Melby, retired United Methodist Church pastor; Elsie P. Naylor, United Church of Christ; Fr. David Polich, Des Moines Diocese; Rev. Sarai Rice, Presbyterian minister; Mark Smith, retired union leader; Rev. William Steward, retired pastor, Grace United Methodist Church; Rev. Mark Stringer, senior pastor, First Unitarian Church; Susie Tierney, Des Moines Just Faith; Virginia Varce, lay church leader; Jerry Wiener, Jewish community.

the REV. ALAN SCARFE, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; the REV. JULIUS C. TRIMBLE, bishop, Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church; DAVID HURD, retired president, Principal Financial Group; the REV. RUSSELL MELBY, retired director of Iowa Church World Service; and 37 other signers.

See the original article HERE.