News: Trying for Peace

Anti-war protesters continue to move through the justice system

Jymi Bolden

Barbara Wolf and Michael McCleese link arms — this time without fear of arrest — at a party in support of the activists.

Four months after being arrested in a protest against the war in Iraq, three peace activists are still awaiting the outcome of their legal cases.

Cincinnati Police arrested Michael McCleese, Barbara Wolf and Nathan Goedl during a March 20 peace rally at Fountain Square. All three face charges of obstructing official business for allegedly blocking rush hour traffic and refusing police orders to move. Goedl was also charged with jaywalking.

McCleese's trial began June 17. But after defense attorney Robert Newman made a motion to dismiss the case, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Nadine Allen stopped the trial pending a ruling. She denied the motion July 22 and resumed the trial. After hearing testimony by McCleese and Linda Newman, who also participated in the protest, Allen continued the trial for another month, saying she will issue a verdict Aug. 25.

McCleese planned to be arrested in order to protest the war, Newman said in closing arguments. But McCleese didn't do what police officers charged, according to his lawyer.

The complaint filed by police said McCleese "had locked his arms with others and refused to desist after several orders by police." He allegedly struggled with the arresting officer while being removed.

"There was no interference with the business of the police officer," Newman said.

Newman cited Ohio case law to the effect that disobeying an officer's order to move doesn't constitute obstruction of official business.

"He was out in the crosswalk and was occupying one lane of traffic," Newman says. "The police officer testified he was arrested for his own safety. He talked to the police officer about the war as much as the police officer would allow."

McCleese, 44, a resident of Northside, testified that he "invited his arrest and cooperated in his arrest."

Having tried other means of influencing U.S. policy, McCleese said he decided the street protest was a necessary step.

"I could not not step into that street," he said. "I had written to (U.S. Rep.) Steve Chabot, I had e-mailed and faxed the U.N. Security Council about not going into this illegal war of aggression. The people of the earth had spoken out and said, 'We do not want a preemptive strike on Iraq.' The Bush administration was spinning widely out of control on this."

McCleese says he's concerned that history will look back upon American culture and civilization and view the preemptive strike on Iraq the same way it has judged the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany.

"We do not look back at Nazi Germany and say, 'Well, there were the good Germans,' " he says. "We don't look back on the Roman Empire and say, 'Well, there were the good Romans.' "

Also on July 22, Allen continued Wolf's trial. Her new trial date has not yet been set.

Wolf, of Walnut Hills, is a documentary filmmaker. She went to the March 20 protest to videotape it.

"I realized I didn't have the battery for my camera," she says.

So she picked up a sign.

Officers arrested Wolf, 62, after she "refused to desist in locking arms with others," the police complaint said. "When police tried to pull her away, (she) tried to maintain (the) lock."

Wolf says she joined the street protest after trying other means of influencing U.S. policy.

"Essentially I had gotten an e-mail that there would be a protest after the war started," Wolf says. "I had signed a number of petitions. I had been calling every representative I know. This attack on Iraq, for me, was very scary — and 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq."

By attacking other countries, the United States has invited more attacks on itself, according to Wolf.

"What are we doing to the world?" she says. "We are asking to be attacked. Rather than fixing anything, we are making things worse."

Goedl, 27, a resident of downtown, is awaiting the verdict in his trial, which was heard June 23. Like McCleese's trial, Goedl's began last month. Judge Elizabeth Mattingly is scheduled to announce a verdict Thursday.

"We expect that, because of the evidence that was introduced at the trial, he will be exonerated of the charges," says John Coleman, a Hamilton County public defender representing Goedl. "I think the case went very well from a defense standpoint. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I think that, for justice to be served, the verdict has to be not guilty."

All three defendants, if convicted, face a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail.

Police arrested the protesters after 40 to 50 people had blocked traffic on Fifth Street for a few minutes.

"I think that we, as the American people, have a responsibility to act on our conscience," McCleese says. "If we think that what is happening is wrong, then we need to say so. There are no innocent bystanders. If we are bystanders, we are not innocent."

Two other peace protesters arrested March 20 have had their cases resolved. Hamilton County Juvenile Court informally handled charges against Ben Hergert, 17, and he received no sentence. Prosecutors dropped charges against CityBeat News Editor Gregory Flannery when he agreed not to sue the city of Cincinnati for civil rights violations in the incident. ©

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