By The Burning Spear
The future of the first amendment of the U.S. constitution and the right to engage in peaceful activism and free speech activities hangs in the balance with the case of the Uhuru 3 that includes African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) Chairman Omali Yeshitela.
African People’s Solidarity Committee Chairwoman Penny Hess and Uhuru Solidarity Movement Chair Jesse Nevel, two white organizers for reparations under the leadership of the APSP, were also indicted in the case.
On July 17, 2023, attorney Leonard Goodman filed a Motion to Dismiss the widely denounced, politically motivated U.S. department of justice (DOJ) indictment of fabricated charges that Chairman Omali Yeshitela and the Uhuru Movement, who have been fighting for 50 years for reparations to African people, are “Russian agents.”
This filing was in response to April 2023 indictments of the Uhuru 3 on federal charges that came nine months after the July 29, 2022 violent multi-city FBI raids on seven Uhuru Movement homes and offices.
The Motion to Dismiss reads,
“This case is about pure political speech and the right to advocate dissenting views. The Overt Acts charged in the indictment all relate to political speech and peaceable assembly. Every one of these charged offenses are protected political speech under the First Amendment.”
It documents evidence of Yeshitela’s decades-long consistent work advocating for reparations, opposing U.S. and NATO military aggression and accusing the U.S. government of committing genocide against the black population—all done exerting the agency of the African activist and not at the direction of the Russian government. It cites extensive supporting case law especially relating to protection provided by the U.S. constitution’s first amendment.
As the Motion to Dismiss argues,
“The government here is using a federal criminal statute to prosecute members of an activist group for political speech and activism in opposition to U.S. foreign policy. In so doing, this prosecution strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.”
“This is the first case in which the government has used the statute that criminalizes unregistered foreign agents (18 USC §951) to target political or dissenting speech. In short, if this case is allowed to go forward, it will reverse more than eight decades of Supreme Court precedent that prohibits the government from targeting dissenting political speech and dissent.”
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Summary of the Motion to Dismiss
Written by Uhuru 3 Legal Team Attorney Leonard Goodman
The government here is using a federal criminal statute to prosecute members of an activist group for political speech and activism in opposition to U.S. foreign policy. In so doing, this prosecution strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.
This is the first case in which the government has used the statute that criminalizes unregistered foreign agents (18 USC §951) to target political or dissenting speech. This indictment attempts to criminalize public criticism of U.S. policy with respect to Russia and Ukraine.
The Supreme Court has made clear that political speech is the core value protected by the 1st Amendment. See e.g., NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 431 (1963); Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 40 (1976).
The government is permitted to restrict political speech only when it creates a “grave and immediate danger.” W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 639 (1943).
The indictment here makes no allegation that the APSP Defendants’ speech creates any danger whatsoever. Instead it attempts to justify criminalizing their lawful political speech based on their alleged relationship to Russia.
It is clear on the face of the indictment that these defendants are not speaking for Russia. Their public opposition to U.S. interference in Ukraine long predates any association between these defendants and Russia or Russian nationals.
But even if it could be shown that the APSP defendants were influenced by Russia in their criticism of U.S. policy, their speech would still be protected under well established Supreme Court precedent. See De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 365 (1937) (The speakers’ alleged “relations” to the Communist Party is immaterial as long as their speech is protected by the 1st Amendment.)
Nor can the allegation that the APSP defendants were spreading “Russian propaganda and disinformation” justify criminal prosecution or suppression of political speech. The government does not have a monopoly on determining what is true and what is false. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, a healthy democracy depends on the “unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.” Meyer v. Grant, 486 U. S. 414, 421 (1988); see also Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 259 (1937); Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 270 (1940).
Even if it could be objectively proven that the APSP Defendants were wrong in their opinions about the war in Ukraine, “erroneous” speech “is inevitable in free debate,” and “must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the breathing space that they need to survive.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 271-72 (1964). “Even a false statement may be deemed to make a valuable contribution to public debate, since it brings about the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Id. at 279 n19.
In short, if this case is allowed to go forward, it will reverse more than eight decades of Supreme Court precedent that prohibits the government from targeting dissenting political speech and dissent.